This past weekend Call of Duty League (CDL) held its opening matches for the 2020 season, and the reception from the fans was incredible! The esports event was hosted by the home team, Minnesota Rokkr, at the historic downtown Minneapolis Armory. Clutch posted it’s Call of Duty League Initial Power Rankings based on the results.
That’s right, CDL has changed its format to match that of the Overwatch League, tying professional teams to cities in four different countries. Before we get into the details of the three-day opener, you might find yourself asking “what exactly is the Call of Duty League?” You wouldn’t be wrong for wondering either, as Call of Duty esports has underwent several changes over its decade+ run.
What is Call of Duty League?
Activision has done a full rebranding of Call of Duty League from previous years. Until now, teams were owned and managed by independent individuals or teams of people who sponsored players.
These sponsored tournaments were all part of a larger league known as the Call of Duty World League (CDWL). Teams would compete throughout the year for a chance to appear in the CDWL Championships and be crowned the best players in Call of Duty.
As you may have noticed, they dropped the “World” and it is now simply Call of Duty League. With that comes some changes to the format as well. Activision has decided to franchise the league, requiring an entry fee for teams that want to participate, leading to mixed results.
First, the bad. With that fee (roughly a minimum of $25 million) a lot of familiar names in the world of Call of Duty esports were forced to dissolve their teams. This includes the top two teams of last year, 100 Thieves and the reigning champions, eUnited. Fortunately, the players were able to find spots on some of the new franchised teams.
The good thing about franchised teams is the owners are committing large sums of money to pushing esports forward. When you’re invested financially to an endeavor you tend to put more effort into ensuring it succeeds.
With that the production value increases, increasing the viewership. With a higher viewership, more sponsors will be interested in investing. Hopefully CDL can find the same success as Overwatch League, who has managed to secure sponsorship from some big-name corporations like Coca-Cola and Toyota.
The biggest change coming with CDL is teams will be hosting the tournaments in their home cities. No longer will most league tournaments be held in regular venues. Therefore, teams must find locales in their cities to accommodate the tournaments. This brings a whole new feeling to esports as fans pack the stadiums to excitedly root for their home teams.
Home Field Advantage
Now that you have an idea of what CDL is and how it works, let’s look at the opening event! From the moment I left the parking garage and started walking to the venue I could tell there was an event going on.
There were signs and billboards all around plastered with the CDL and Minnesota Rokkr logos announcing the Launch Weekend event. The closer I got to the site, the more people I could see walking around in Rokkr hoodies. Minnesota definitely turned out to support its newest team!
As I was walking into the Armory, I could hear fans, young and old, talking excitedly about the event. Debates were common on who was going to be the standout players and teams this year. Some fans had already decided who was going to win each match based on their star players. They were throwing out stats just like it was any other sporting event.
Walking out onto the main floor, you can immediately tell that Activision and the CDL are all in on the production value of this event. There were lasers, spotlights, smoke machines, you name it, the CDL had it.
When the rest of the fans were let in the seats were surprisingly full for mid afternoon on a Friday. This attests to the anticipation of the event, as well as CDL as a whole. By the time the first teams were ready to be announced, the fans were amped and ready for it to begin.
This was all fascinating and the fans were just eating it up. However, what really stole the show is when the Minnesota Rokkr took the stage. They were the home team, so they got a little more flare on the walkout. There was pyrotechnics near the stage that would shoot flames high into the air for the Rokkr, literally making some fans gasp.
Every player received a standing ovation as their name was announced, and the fans were so loud you could barely hear yourself think! Whether or not this had any affect on the opposing teams when facing the Rokkr, I’m not sure, but what I do know is that the Rokkr took both of their series to end the opening weekend tied for first with two wins under their belt. I’m excited to see if the same holds true for other teams’ home tournaments.
Call of Duty Challengers
While the official CDL event was taking place, downstairs on a lower level there was another event happening at the same time, Call of Duty Challengers. This is where all the would-be pros are strutting their skills, hoping to one day be upstairs on the main stage.
Challengers is a pipeline for players who wish to become pros, allowing them to compete against other hopefuls and get their name out there. They compete in online and offline tournaments, earning points associated with their name. From these points teams are seeded based on the total score of the five players that make up the amateur team.
Having a healthy pool of players trying to break into the competitive scene is good for the future of the CDL. Outside of Challengers, the CDL teams are encouraged to host their own tournaments in their respective cities as well, further deepening the pool of potential pros.
Another pipeline onto the professional competitive scene is through Call of Duty League City Circuit. Launching later this year, City Circuit allows fans to sign up in teams of two to compete in Gunfight. It seems like the winners of these tournaments will get to represent their respective cities during an official CDL event, although the details have yet to be announced.
Call of Duty League Burns Bright
When the weekend was over and teams found either success or failure, one thing was certain: Call of Duty League is in it for the long haul. They have the production value, they have the franchised teams, now they just need to get CDL into homes and on mainstream media.
It is very clear that Activision and the CDL are putting in the effort to take Call of Duty esports to the next level. I’m so excited for the future of Call of Duty and am giddy just thinking about what the future holds, both for fans and professional players alike.
The League events are being held one to two weeks apart, taking place in a different team’s home city each iteration. The next event is happening February 8 – 9 in London. All 12 teams attended this opening weekend, however going forward, each event will have 8 teams attending, with the other 4 essentially receiving a bye week. Teams earn points based on their wins, and where they place during each weekend’s tournament.
At the end of the season the top 8 ranked teams will advance to the playoffs and compete in the CDL Championship Weekend. For a more in-depth look at the formatting of the League, you can visit the official CDL page for details.