Call of Duty League enjoys an esports rebirth with opening weekend

The death of Kobe Bryant forced the Call of Duty League to cancel a shootout between a couple of NBA stars, as a sign of respect for the fallen basketball legend. But most of the opening weekend for the Call of Duty League went off without a hitch, based on what I’ve seen watching it from afar.

For this year’s Call of Duty League, Activision Blizzard has reimagined the competition based on the city-like structure of the successful Overwatch League, with teams rooted in local communities as a way of building long-term loyalties and rivalries among teams and fans.

The league has 12 professional teams spread across 11 markets in North America and Europe, and Activision has collected an estimated $300 million in fees from the teams. The league will award $1 million in prizes for amateurs across online and local events, and the pro teams stand to win a lot more.

This weekend’s kickoff in Minneapolis (home of the Minnesota Røkkr) is the first of 26 events across 28 weeks in Season One.

I’ve watched the YouTube docu-series (dubbed “The Campaign”) on The Chicago Huntsmen team. It’s quite well done, and it’s a way of humanizing the team for fans and those who may not care that much about the individual matches. The team includes some stars that I’ve watched for years like Seth “Scrump” Abner and Matthew “Formal” Piper, after the implosion of the old OpTic Gaming team.

Above: The Chicago Huntsmen at the Call of Duty League opener.

Image Credit: Activision

While those two players are teammates, Piper, a 10-year Call of Duty pro player, chooses to live in Los Angeles while the rest of the team is in Chicago. And Abner refers to Pipe as a “diva” when he doesn’t show to an opening dinner hosted by the owner Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez.

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That’s good sports storytelling, the kind you see on the networks as they broadcast traditional sports. It’s enough to suck you in and get you attached to the players so that you’ll watch their matches. That’s the strategy behind the broadcasts, which ultimately could be the biggest source of revenues for esports events like the Call of Duty League. But it’s kind of funny because some of the gamers say they’re “not really camera-friendly.”

During this weekend, only four teams remain undefeated – Atlanta FaZe, Chicago Huntsmen, Minnesota Røkkr, and Paris Legion.

Minnesota Røkkr earned a perfect record in its hometown debut, defeating Toronto Ultra in the “Battle of the North.” Chicago Huntsmen beat the Dallas Empire and Optic Gaming Los Angeles. The Danish team Singularity won the Call of Duty Challengers amateur championship, earning the lion’s share of $250,000 prize pool.

The next stop is the London Homes Series February 8 and February 9.


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