As COVID-19 rages on across the United States, esports have had to largely adapt to online competition and broadcasting. When the pandemic began accelerating in March, Activision had left open the possibility that its Call of Duty League (CDL) postseason could still be held in-person. Even in May, when CDL restructured its playoffs to include all 12 teams (up from 8), it wasn’t clear if the postseason would take place live in an arena. On July 5th, as coronavirus cases continue climbing in numerous states, CDL made it official: its postseason would be held entirely online.
This presents an enormous challenge to the CDL broadcasting team, as it needs to ensure the integrity of matches from afar while also preparing for any technical hiccups. Addressing the issue of potential cheating, CDL noted that all competitors would be provided (and required to use) a universal camera setup. League officials can then view and check each player’s console, controller, and monitor before signaling a “ready check” status. Additionally, CDL promised to beef up its production, technical and officiating teams in an effort “to be ready to handle any and all issues that might crop up in an online competition environment.”
The playoffs, which have a $4.6 million prize pool, do not yet have an official start date, but questions around viewership remain. As a consumer product, the Call of Duty brand is exceedingly strong, topping the sales chart in the US every year for over a decade, according to The NPD Group. From an esports perspective, Call of Duty hasn’t generated the numbers of veteran esports like League of Legends or CS:GO. What’s clear, however, is that CDL has a passionate fanbase, and that’s a good thing for Activision Blizzard and exclusive broadcasting partner YouTube. According to Interpret’s New Media Measure®, more than a third of esports viewers tune into Call of Duty tournaments, making it one of the most popular esports titles. In fact, over 25% of esports viewers who watch Call of Duty rank it as the game that is “most enjoyable to watch,” revealing the game’s popularity among its fans. Making esports fantastic spectating experiences will be key to the market’s growth, so that’s one feather in CDL’s cap that should not be ignored.