This article is part of our Beyond the Game series.
On Wednesday, Activision announced a handful of changes to the competitive scene, including the introduction of the CWL National Circuit and the return of weekly competition throughout Stage 1 and 2. Joe Bartel and Christiaan Kutlik sat down to discuss some of the ramifications of the major announcement.
CK: I can see nothing but good things emerging from the new format. This will allow for talent to get a varied and healthy amount of competition across all levels of play. While last year’s format was strong, there was a massive disparity in terms of talent, especially in the European and international scene. Only Splyce and Epsilon eSports managed to challenge American teams across the entire year, while regions like France and Germany were made to look like duds due to a lack of fair challenges. America had a stronger pool of talent but, again, the gap between the top-tier teams and the second-tier teams was staggering. This problem was really pronounced in the Australian region where even the top-tiers struggled to defeat European and American teams. A lot of this disparity had to do with practice and resources. Many teams that weren’t given professional resources struggled to find time to practice with players of their level, but that should be shored up with the CWL National Circuit. I even really enjoy the new eight team pools in Stage 1 and Stage 2. Last year’s four groups of four teams system did far more harm than good with teams having far too narrow of a victory-- a prime example being how Red Reserve lost to Splyce based on a single map. This new format will allow for more matches and a fairer assessment of skill. My one concern would be how teams late in the season can find their way into groups since Pro Points will still be the deciding entry factor.
JB: I think we will still see international teams struggle to start. And when I say international, I’m not talking about the Splyce’s and Red Reserve’s of the world. ANZ region and potentially a handful of the European countries, think like Italy and Germany, won’t be in a spot to compete this season. But long term, the CWL National Circuit is certainly a boon for the CWL. To me, this creates a wider pool for teams internationally, as I suspect CoD will still remain relevant competitively in the USA regardless of these changes. My pie in the sky hope - amateur level teams in the USA will start to produce and grow enough studs to create about 12-14 nearly equal competitive teams, while most of Europe and also the ANZ region will develop enough talent to foster diverse competition, both internationally, and in their respective region. I agree with you though, I’m jacked to see consistent competition over the course of a season, not a weekend. You mean to tell me you didn’t enjoy mini tournaments instead of “stages”? /s
CK: It was less that I enjoyed Stages and more that it felt unbalanced. Losing your first game on Friday basically meant you were disqualified from first place in your group. This made groups super competitive, but also put far too much weight on a single map. We all saw how uneven the competition level was last year. Teams needed to warm-up to their level of play - for example FaZe Clan during Stage 1. But when losing a single map meant life-or-death, finding your stride later in the weekend was next to impossible. This new system should fix that issue entirely. And it’s a plus, as a viewer, because we get a better long-term view of teams in a highly competitive level.
JB: As of this writing, I’m assuming each division will only play the other teams within their division, which I’m personally disappointed about because it could stymie some dream matchups.Truthfully I wouldn’t be surprised if Activision changes that come the actual start of Stage 1. I’m also curious as to how teams will be placed into the specific divisions, but that’s likely another question for another time. I’m most excited about the fact we are getting LAN action each and every week. It’s a natural progression for the CWL, but it’s one that I couldn’t be more excited about nonetheless.
CK: I'm assuming it’ll be lottery system like last year’s. If it is that again, I don't have any complaints. An aspect of luck is needed to keep things fair. It also still allows for dream matches (personally looking forward to a Red Reserve vs. Splyce this year). The constant action is something I missed from the Black Ops III year. Spreading it out over a week allowed teams to strategy and for viewers to not miss too much action on any given day. The way it was in 2016-2017 made it so that missing one day meant missing some potentially amazing matches. I do still wish for two minor things. I had hoped the league would add another region such as Asia or South America to help breed more international talent, and that they dropped the age limit again. I feel like a player playing while they're seventeen isn’t much different than if they were eighteen.
JB: Lowering the age restriction was never on the table, at least from everything I’ve heard, and I don’t necessarily blame the powers that be for that call, given it could be teetering on the edge of child labor laws, especially in this current...I’ll say political climate. But I agree with you on a third respective region introduced. My best guess - and that’s all this is, mind you - would be that Activision/CWL is hoping to see some positive returns from the CWL National Circuit for the ANZ region. They’ve invested a lot of money in that region in the past, with not much of a payout given most analysts treat the Australian/New Zealand competition as the ugly stepchild. I tend to think about the situation like the WWE - the worst thing possible for a professional wrestler is getting zero reaction from the crowd. It’s everyone’s job this season to try and get you, the viewer, to feel something, anything for team’s like Mindfreak or Tainted Minds. There is obvious talent on those squads, it’s just a matter of if anyone cares to watch it.
CK: Don’t get me wrong, I understand the age limit. It's just something I would’ve liked to have seen. As for The ANZ region… I don't think they’ll get much return this year. I mean, the most newsworthy thing that occurred last year for the region was Mindfreak Black getting a controversial technical win against eLevate. The region has the talent, but not the support. The reason being, at least in my estimation, is that CoD isn't very popular in Asia (China, Korea and Japan, to clarify). But I do know that Brazil is into competitive CoD with teams placing at the international competitions, which is why I found curious they didn't add a South America region.
JB: You take a look at a handful of other games - Overwatch, League of Legends, Dota II, even StarCraft during its heyday - that region that you mentioned already consumes A LOT of esports as it is. Adding a first-person shooter into the mix, well, I understand how there might not be a ridiculously positive reception. But I betcha Activision could cite a handful of numbers suggesting growth for that region in terms of CoD, and I don’t necessarily doubt the figures. In any case, this is probably the best case scenario possible for Call of Duty esports. We got a handful of events announced well in advance. We got a focus on both the top tier and middle tier of competition. And we got even more money introduced to the scene. To me, Wednesday’s announcement may as well have been a home run.