Since the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops II in November 2012, esports has become a staple of the Call of Duty franchise. The jump between Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops II, with multiple large-scale tournaments and developer support, was astronomical, and one that very few saw coming. Since then, hundreds of tournaments have been hosted worldwide and prize pools have only continued to increase, a testament to the success and growth of the esport.
Although growth has continued, it has been slow in the last couple of years. That should (and likely will) change with the release of WWII in November. But what can be done by Activision and Sledgehammer Games for World War II to take Call of Duty esports to the next level?
Increased developer support
The first and most commonly cited issue with Call of Duty is the lack of developer support with esports in mind. One of the main things top-tier esports have are strong foundations of esports-focused developers, who create a game based around the competitive player as opposed to the casual player. With Call of Duty being the immensely popular casual game it is, this may not be as easily done as in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive or League of Legends, but this doesn’t mean that the game and its player-base can’t benefit from a competitive-centric game.
This means increased awareness from developers on map layouts, weapon balancing and the movement system, all of which are especially important in esports but also to the casual player as well. For example, the “jetpack era” saw a large number of casual and competitive players avoid the game, with Infinite Warfare being the worst selling Call of Duty title since Call of Duty 3 in 2006.
As well as this, the finer details of the multiplayer setup need to be perfected for a competitive game. Scorestreaks have become an essential part of the Call of Duty series, but need to be outlawed in competitive play from the start – this means no UAV or Counter-UAV outside of public matches. Though small, Infinity Ward’s attempt at creating a “competitive playlist” this year was laughable due to its complete disregard of the rules of a competitive match.
Not only streaks, but perks must also be set up to be flexible and to cover all the necessary bases. A common complaint of players and fans is that if there is more than one ‘important’ perk in one slot, it becomes much harder to make the most of your utility.
Something else that the top esports do is provide players with a fully-functioning ranking system for competitive players, in which those who are good individually and as a teammate are rewarded with higher rankings and better players to play with.
Call of Duty has not had a good ranked play system since Black Ops II, in which the top teams were even given spots at the inaugural Call of Duty Championships in 2013. Since then, we have seen plenty of variations of ranked play but none that function quite as well as the Black Ops II system which, despite its flaws, is really the best Call of Duty players have had yet. Only this year the community has been playing matches without an integrated competitive ruleset until midway through the season.
The fact that Ranked Play was introduced in the same year that Call of Duty esports really took off is clearly no coincidence. As well as being a game relatively well-suited to competitive play, allowing players to play with esports rules against top players, and giving them opportunities to attend events as a result, were crucial in getting people interested in Call of Duty esports.
Promisingly, Sledgehammer Games have already assured that there will be a Ranked Play system like the community has been rallying for for the last four years. Not only this, but they have promised to have Gamebattles integrated in-game at launch – something that was promised but not delivered by Infinity Ward for Infinite Warfare.
Gamebattles is the starting point for all those interested in playing competitively; where they can meet up with other like-minded players to compete solo or as a team. The integration at launch is particularly important as it allows casual players to explore this option early in the game’s life cycle, as well as making it easier to play for those already involved. With only 9 months of the Call of Duty calendar being dedicated to esports, bringing this feature in late would only end up causing issues and garnering complaints from the competitive CoD community.
— M.Condrey @ WWIIBeta (@MichaelCondrey) July 29, 2017
More events on a local and global scale
MLG, the leading tournament organiser for Call of Duty, are far and away one of the greatest in the industry at doing their job. The production value, consistency and investment into both player and spectator experience are beyond what is seen from many other top organisers.
For this reason, it’s disappointing to see them only host around seven events across the year. Although these are the biggest events available to fans and players, it often means a lot of time is available where there are no tournaments ongoing. Compare this to an esport like Counter Strike, which sees countless events both major and minor throughout a year, and the differences are prominent.
In addition to this, only one major international event was hosted outside of the USA this year – an event at ESWC in Paris which faced multiple issues across the weekend.
With a three-month off-season between the 2017 Call of Duty Championships and the release of WWII, it is a very slow time to be a Call of Duty esports fan. Personally, I would love to see one or two more events in this time, before the players get their well-earned rest.
Not only on an international level is this an issue, though. Local or regional LANs are often the only way for young up and comers to get noticed, and the community as a whole needs to get behind and support small tournament organisers that are able to host a Call of Duty event.
In the UK, we have plenty of events that could host tournaments; Insomnia Gaming Festival, epicLAN and EGL are just a few of the biggest. Though Insomnia and EGL host an event each year, so much more could be done to support young players. epicLAN, for example, do not host Call of Duty events, despite being one of the favoured regional organisers.
Though this does not sound like too big a deal, getting multiple organisers on board with Call of Duty can only benefit all parties, and to have them sponsored or assisted by the official Call of Duty World League would give the event and its organiser much more prestige.
— Warren Fish (@WarrenFish_) July 13, 2017
Overall, there is no denying that Call of Duty esports is in a solid place. Prize pools are regularly increasing, and the talent pool is continuing to grow and grow. But, this does not mean that fans, developers, organisers or players should get complacent. There is clearly space for Call of Duty to grow, and with the player-base Call of Duty has player integration shouldn’t be an issue as big as it is.
If more effort is made to push esports to the top of the Activision list of priorities, the game could see tremendous progress. To do so, a sufficient ranked play system and advanced developer support that puts competitive aspects to the forefront of the scene’s collective mind is the only real solution. There is no reason we shouldn’t aspire to see Call of Duty flourish to be as big as Counter Strike, League of Legends or DOTA 2.
First, though, we need those at the top to give their esport that extra push.