Call of Duty is one of the most popular and successful first-person shooters out on the market, due in large part by the formula it follows. But since becoming a marquee franchise, that formula has become a double-edged sword.
This was a subject that Mark Rubin, producer at Infinity Ward, tackled just before the release of the criticized Call of Duty: Ghosts.
“You watch sports every year, but if you changed the rules dramatically of a sport every year who would watch that? I don’t think you would have as many people watching the sport,” he told Official PlayStation Magazine UK. “Like if soccer/football were all of a sudden to switch from ‘OK you can’t use your feet, you have to use your hands.’ Who’d watch that really?”
Call of Duty has pulled in an insane amount of money during each annual release as the franchise introduces new eras and storylines to their latest titles. These changes are generally welcomed by the series' casual players, but as a growing eSports title, it is detrimental to its competitive success.
From the day of a new title’s release, professional players have a year to hone their skills, learn the new maps and rule sets, and then use what they have learned to shape their continuously changing play styles. All of this takes place while they simultaneously try to compete at the highest level in tournaments, whose rules always experience change as the season progresses.
Combine that with the increasing amount of tournaments and league matches and you have a dose of seasonal inconsistency that alienates a team’s skill and adaptation to the specific title played which in turn creates a ripple effect in the form of unnecessary roster changes and shifting playstyles.
So what changes need to be made to add longevity and more value to the eSport? Perhaps it’s simple: Call of Duty Online.
The brand new game, developed by Raven Software with game producer and leading Chinese internet company Tencent Holdings, offers an experience which may appear as a Frankenstein-like title to Call of Duty fans. It combines maps and weapons from past titles inside the Modern Warfare and Black Ops worlds and includes familiar game types such as Search and Destroy, Domination, and the more casual Team Deathmatch. Activision’s faith in this game is undoubtedly driven by the market available in China, but the company believes the player base for Call of Duty Online could eventually overwhelm its other titles.
A lack of developer support and immersive production are one of the most complained about details surrounding Call of Duty eSports. One of the major areas driving success to titles such as League of Legends, Dota 2, and Smite is the intimate support of the titles’ developers. The very first Smite World Championship delivered a massive $2.6 million prize pool, double what is offered at the Call of Duty Championship, a tournament which is about to proceed into its third annual event.
One major difference that separates Call of Duty’s annual releases from other major competitive games is its price.
As a popular first-person shooter franchise primarily housed in entertainment consoles, it features a hefty initial price tag that doesn't include additions such as weapon camos, maps, and other forms of downloadable content.
This may be one of the largest barriers hindering Call of Duty’s progress in the eSports industry. While games like League of Legends and Dots 2 may be obtained for free, there are several different ways for players to pay in order to enhance their experience, whether it is through new skins or locked characters.
Call of Duty has managed to incorporate some semblance of cosmetic-focused micro transactions, but it alienates potential customers who have already been forced to pay the minimum $60 for the release title.
However, it seems that this issue may eventually be rectified through China’s Call of Duty Online, which introduces a free, micro transaction-fueled experience.
While Call of Duty Online may only be available in China, it is a movement which could potentially change how Call of Duty eSports is managed. Unfortunately, it could also shift Activision’s solidified formula of annual releases, an action the company may refuse to commit to.
The main question swirling around Call of Duty Online is simple: can it find similar success to titles such as League of Legends? Could this effectively switch up the usual sale formula and introduce a new way to experience this first-person shooter? If this occurs, Call of Duty could potentially become a primary PC title, which delivers its own set of issues and fixes.
In 2013, during the Call of Duty: Ghosts season, Team EnVyUs was invited to Shanghai to test the new title in an exhibition match that placed them against China’s top first-person shooter teams. Immediately traveling to China following their performance at MLG Columbus, the North American team was given two days to become accustomed to playing on a PC in an attempt to transfer their familiar console skills and reflexes over to the mouse and keyboard.
Inviting a professional North American team created a whirlwind of excitement for spectators and other competitive teams, and hopeful murmurings began to appear as people began to talk about their desire for an eventual international release.
While Activision has never denied or confirmed this possibility, it ignited an enthusiastic position which could undeniably help shove Call of Duty eSports into the spotlight.
Introducing a consistent, free-to-play title on a singular international platform could raise the franchise’s value, and also motivate Activision to become more involved with the eSports community. Micro transactions could help fuel tournament prize pools and create even more monstrous events. Player-created content, such as team emblems and other cosmetic creations, could build a larger presence for competitive squads and players. But while this may twist the focus away from the casual audience to more professional, competitive content, the inclusion of past maps and weapons could introduce a sense of nostalgia which will attract the fans and players of former titles.