To say that Activision’s favourite son is now a sport rather than a shooter is effectively a cliché. The series’ mix of rapid, tendon-testing skill and jaw-loosening spectacle makes for a very watchable combination. Plus, audiences are responding to it, with a combined 20 million views for this summer’s World Championship matches. Surely then, it’s a good idea to go all-in with it?
Not necessarily. Unlike other popular eSports on PlayStation, COD is on an annual release schedule. This means the development team needs to weigh the demands of a community whose livelihood depends on knowing its systems inside out against those of an audience who want something new for their money. Infinite Warfare is a perfect example of how important to the overall experience this can be.
You could argue that switching COD’s focus to eSports makes sense, as real-world sports have a much longer lifespan than games. Maybe, but they’re not immune to failure. Take the North American Soccer League, which came before the MLS. Despite recruiting players such as Pelé and George Best, its failure to capture the USA’s attention means it’s better known as an answer to a pub quiz question than as a sporting institution.
But COD has already captured attention, the pro-eSports camp will point out, and Activision’s huge marketing budget will ensure that it’ll retain its audience. Yet a growing viewership doesn’t guarantee players. If casual fans decide multiplayer is too complex or stagnating, they won’t stick around to play. A lot of eSporters retire in their mid-20s, so it won’t be long before playing talent starts to dry up as well.
All this puts the series in a difficult position. While there are people like myself who prefer the pace of a single- player campaign over the frenzy of competitive multiplayer, it’d be foolish to suggest the series’ fanbase feels the same. Neglecting eSports isn’t the answer, but if Activision doesn’t find way to reconcile the two groups it needs to please each year, it’ll see the once-impervious series quickly tumble.
This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here.