A newcomer to esports will take a look at some of the top tournaments being streamed on Twitch and see games like League of Legends, DotA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Fortnite. Despite Call of Duty being an acclaimed franchise with over 15 years of history behind it, the esports scene has struggled to find the success that other titles have enjoyed. Perhaps that's because the majority of the player-base is on console, rather than PC; maybe it's because there are simply too many random elements to the game that make it difficult to showcase the raw skill that so many of these players possess?
There's no definite answer unfortunately, but one theory often discussed in the competitive Call of Duty scene is that it boils down to esports not being readily available to those who don't know to seek it out. A casual League of Legends or CSGO player who jumps into a public match of their respective game will experience almost identical gameplay to the footage they'd see at a high-level esports tournament. With Call of Duty, public matches are vastly different to the events that play out in the Call of Duty World League. So how do you make Call of Duty esports more accessible to casual players? I took the question to some of the best players in the world to get their views on the challenge ahead.
Reward players with team cosmetics
During my time at the latest Call of Duty World League event in London, I posed the question to a bunch of the very best COD players in the world. One of the most common responses was that team skins for guns need to be a frequent inclusion from the very start of the game's life cycle. "I think they need to start integrating systems in the game, they've done it in the past but they always seem to slip up at the beginning of the year and never have it in the system until like halfway through," Preston "Prestinni" Sanderson of eUnited told me. "Something as simple as esport team camos for FaZe, OpTic, eUnited, stuff like that."
Catch up on all the results from the Call of Duty World League event in London (spoiler alert: the British teams did not do very well).
Sam "Octane" Larew, the MVP winner for the entire tournament and player for 100 Thieves, took it a step further and explained that team skins need to be rewards: "I think the casual Call of Duty player knows about competitive but they don't actively go and watch it, but I think if you throw something in there, like if you watch X amount of time, you'll get a weapon skin."
Something even as small as this could encourage players to get involved with esports, feeding them rewards until they get a feeling for the teams and players involved in the scene – it's not a bad idea, and one we'd certainly be behind a studio like Infinity Ward, rumoured to be working on Modern Warfare 4, explore in the future.
Throw it in our faces
One possible problem is that even if casual players know that Call of Duty esports exists, they may not know where to go or how to watch it. 100 Thieves' Preston "Priestahh" Greiner reckons that "having Call of Duty on the front page of Twitch" and "more promotion on COD esports" in general will "open up more eyes to esports".
Along with team weapon skins, Octane also explained that it's also a case of exposure. "I think it's just exposure, like throwing things in-game. I know there are some already, but something like there's a "Call of Duty tournament going on, watch it on the main menu" sort of thing would help. I think forcing it into people's eyes would be beneficial for everyone." Kenny added to that, noting that as soon as you jump on the game, if there's an esports event going on, there should be a stream pop-up inviting you to watch.
Given how closely integrated streaming services such as Twitch and Mixer have becoming with game platforms in recent years, it isn't out of the realms of possibility for something like this to exist, and it would certainly help improve visibility of top-level games, and with it, people's interest in competitive Call of Duty.
Improve league play
Recent Call of Duty iterations have featured competitive modes, commonly known as League Play, that anyone can jump into and face off against other players trying to be the very best. It's never been without flaws though, and Austin "Slasher" Liddicoat recommends Infinity Ward work on perfecting League Play to entice more people into esports:
"I think one of the biggest things is getting a ranking system in the game, like a good ranking system. Like League of Legends has, CSGO, something like that where people can hop on and try to climb the ladder. Or even Halo 2 for instance, the 1-50 ranking system, I remember as a kid wanting to get on and just try to get my number higher, I was addicted to trying to get to that 50. If people could experience that, they'd have a lot more fun and be more competitive, and I think that's a good place to start."
Call of Duty has always featured leaderboards and, as Liddicoat suggests, giving players a small window into what it's like to play in a competitive environment could help turn out new esports fans. For Call of Duty esports to continue to grow, more players need to get involved at the ground level, and this could be a fantastic way to make it happen – inviting players into the fold and getting them enthusiastic about playing competitively, with watching the top-level of competition a way to grow and improve at the game.
Franchising will be the start of a new era
News has recently surfaced that the Call of Duty World League will be entering a new format for the next season, and it's following in the footsteps of Blizzard with Overwatch. Wave goodbye to the days of OpTic Gaming, FaZe Clan and Team Envy, because franchising is coming and each team will be renamed after a specific region in an effort to make it easier to find a team to support. From a UK perspective, here's hoping we don't have a repeat of the Shanghai Dragons' recent poor form in The Overwatch League…
Seth "Scump" Abner, the most famous Call of Duty player in the world with over two million Twitter followers, believes that franchising is the change the industry needs: "I think franchising will help a lot because it'll be city based, I think it'll get a lot more people involved and hopefully with that, with the amount of money being put into it, they'll start giving us the support we deserve. I think we've been cold shouldered for the past decade – I've been playing Call of Duty for 12 years and it feels like it goes backwards, then forwards a little bit, then the next game goes backwards. I feel like they need to keep coming out with more consistent titles and support for esports."
Those who follow Call of Duty esports know that the energy at events is some of the most electrifying you'll find at any esports tournament, but when the audience watching is so much smaller than the most popular esports, it's clear something is going wrong somewhere. As we look towards the future with Modern Warfare 4, let's hope everyone involved can get it right and push competitive Call of Duty into the spotlight.
Photography credit: Joe Brady