On November 5th, professional Call of Duty player Seth “Scump” Abner took both an MLG 2K tournament and streaming platform Twitch by storm. Not only did he and his team – OpTic Gaming – bulldoze their way through the tournament without dropping a single map; he amassed over 100,000 concurrent viewers at the same time.
While this isn’t an amazing feat when you look at the likes of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins of Fortnite fame, Call of Duty has long been hailed a dying esport – whether it actually was or not – and this, for many, foreshadowed an upturn in the franchise’s popularity. The game got off to a great start in October when it was released, as a take on the ever-popular Battle Royale genre titled ‘Blackout’ accompanied the staple multiplayer and zombie modes.
After topping the charts in Twitch in terms of viewership for a little while, things naturally started to die down a little as the hype and mystique dwindled away. This is what both Call of Duty fans and players are used to: being in the middle of the pack in both spectatorship and competition. However, this potential anomaly got almost everybody in the community excited – and for good reason.
There’s a reason everybody is used to Call of Duty performing mediocre when it comes to viewership and popularity when it comes to esports, and that’s because it’s been that way for quite some time. Last year’s entry, World War II, was when things really dried up. Professional players didn’t enjoy the title, which meant they had no wish to play the game besides their obligatory practice time. This, in turn, meant hardly any content was created so interest in the game was at a bleak state.
For context as to just how poor viewership was during World War II, consider the viewership for some of the major tournaments that were held during the competitive circuit. While the Call of Duty World League Championship peaked at around 324,430 follows (according to Esports Charts), this was undoubtedly a one-off.
In fact, only one of the events throughout the entire year managed to top Scump’s impressive showing and that was the inaugural tournament: CWL Dallas Open. The likes of CWL New Orleans Open, CWL Atlanta Open, CWL Birmingham Open, CWL Seattle Open, and CWL Pro League Stage 1 & 2 all had lacklustre numbers that pointed towards the demise of the long-standing series.
Many attribute the poor performances in terms of viewership during World War II to the lack of enthusiasm and enjoyment the professionals had towards the game. This meant they’d stream on rare occasions, almost entirely neglect their YouTube channels, and simply express their distaste on social media.
If you’re unable to follow players’ progress throughout a title and even they don’t like what they’re playing, then that’s likely going to rub off on the fanbase, too.
This is exactly why Scump’s recent success is such a bright light in a period of darkness. This feat – albeit not big to some – is a huge bout of encouragement for not only the talented player but the community as a whole. Frequent content creators who produced regular videos in the past are back to uploading on a regular basis, scrims and tournaments are being streamed every single day, and players are actively discussing World War II’s competitive performance and how that can be improved. This is progress.
Is a single stream reaching a titanic number enough to say Call of Duty has been ‘revived’? Most definitely not, but it’s a large stride in the right direction and proves there’s a chance – no matter how big or small – for Call of Duty to fulfil the promise it once showed in the world of esports.
The first offline event for the Black Ops 4 season is CWL Las Vegas Open, taking place over December 7-9th. This, for many, is considered the real test. How will the game perform? Can the viewership be restored? Was Scump’s experience a flash in the pan? All of those questions, and more, will be answered in just a matter of weeks.