Call of Duty – A dying eSport?

Latest update: 7/8/2016 - 5:18:48 PMAuthor: Sebb

We're just a few months away from Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and with Activision pledging to support the franchise as an eSports title, I'm going to take this opportunity to focus on some of the different facets of the series, specifically highlighting where it's falling short. As an eSport Call of Duty has faced a lot of problems over the years, the chief among them being that the game just wasn't originally built for it. With a ton of different game modes, guns, perks, attachments and kill streaks it goes without saying that a lot of choices aren't allowed in competitive play - many things are banned as when coordinated, they become overpowered and unfair, diminishing the feel of the competition.

To really understand my point, compare Call of Duty to other popular eSports games, for example lets look at League of Legends. In League of Legends the end goal is to destroy the enemy nexus, there's a wide variety of heroes and items to facilitate it but the main objective remains the same regardless of whether playing ranked or unranked, competitive or casual, that's pretty much it. The concept of the game is basically the same for the average player as the pro player where as in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 there are currently 15 different game modes, 4 of which are in competitive play creating a confusing experience for anyone looking to make the transition between the two. Perhaps more surprisingly, despite Call of Duty's popularity as a franchise, less than 50% of people buying the game actually play multiplayer. Most of the people buying the game are purchasing it for the campaign, minimising the number of potential players in the competitive scene

In search of a game changer

In more popular titles such as League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive competitive play has been around for quite a long time, but it's only recently that there has been a surge in popularity and increase in prize money. It's easy to ask the question 'Why isn't Call of Duty as popular as these two games?' and to answer that I have a theory. League of Legends' core concepts have remained the same since it's initial release, and Counter Strike, whilst being the newest in the series is still mostly the same as 10 years ago, just with graphical improvements. It even uses adjusted versions of the same maps. I know it's not an exact clone of 1.6 or Source but the objectives and gameplay remain the same making it easy to understand and easier to watch, 'Less is more' as they say. In Call of Duty things have been a bit different, year on year revamps present a new Call of Duty, so far counting 13 since 2003. 13! To compare a few recent releases lets start with Black Ops 2; the game was a huge success, notably allowing kill streaks in competitive play, later Call of Duty: Ghosts saw no kill streaks in competition, new maps, an odd choice of game modes and new guns. A year after, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare introduced jet packs giving players the ability to propel themselves into the air and dash side to side. This new addition resulted in many players throwing in the towel because the game was just so different compared to every previous iteration. Another year rolled by and we now have Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 which allows players to wall-run and use special abilities. Many more players called it quits. Fans can play a game for one year, and then find themselves pushed onto a new one, experiencing the learning curve all over again. This results in many people not playing the next game at all.

Some people say, that it is refreshing to have a new game to play every year, but I believe it's killing the scene since casual viewers and players cannot keep up with the differences. If someone were to stop playing League of Legends or Counter Strike entirely, wait a few years and then start playing again the fundamentals would still help them to get started. This has also allowed retired high level players to return to the scene whilst annual changes force old Call of Duty professionals to relearn everything from scratch. Even though more funding has become avaliable, player and viewer numbers continue to dwindle, possibly due to the inability to remain relevant after any meaningful break. The only possible solutions are to make the game viable beyond it's yearly cycle or to stabilise on some core elements of play. This would result in a stronger scene allowing for an increase in viewership.

I could go on, and whilst nothing is perfect I feel that these two issues make it to the top of my list as problems worth addressing. What do you think? Is the Call of Duty scene in it's twilight years or could it be revitalised and survive as an eSport?