With CDL rosters shifting and the Paris Legion officially moving to Las Vegas, there is guaranteed change for the Call of Duty League’s 2023 season. Less guaranteed, though, is the timeline fans should expect for expansion.
Expansion has remained a regular talking point within the CoD esports community since the dawn of the CDL (and, simultaneously, its franchised, city-based league model) in 2020.
In 2019, 32 different teams competed in the CoD world championship. In the three years since, the all-defining tournament has been restricted to between 8-12 organizations. Missing the previous era’s storylines and expanded talent pool, fans have clamored for more franchise spots to be doled out.
According to CoD esports general manager Daniel Tsay, fans are not the only ones thinking about expansion. While assuring that the league is primarily “focused on the 12 awesome teams that we have,” he explained that there remains interest in bringing more organizations into the fold—if the fit is right.
Call of Duty League “entertaining expansion”
In a way, the CDL has expanded into new territories with the Legion’s move to Las Vegas, Nevada. But that came at the cost of losing a Paris team, much like the Chicago team that disappeared upon OpTic’s merger with the Dallas Empire.
While intrigued by relocations, fans have been more interested in outright expansion—which the CDL’s Activision-Blizzard sister league, the Overwatch League, underwent with a shift from 12 teams to 20 back in 2019.
When asked if the CDL was actively pursuing expansion to fill said openings, Tsay was noncommittal but confirmed there is interest: “Right now, we’re welcome to entertaining expansion and we do receive interest from outside organizations.”
The vetting process for CDL expansion
While unable to discuss the specifics of interested “outside organizations,” Tsay did shed light on the CDL’s thought process regarding new partners.
“That is the most important thing: making sure we have strategic partners that will help grow the Call of Duty League.” And, with regards to those orgs that have shown interest, he clarified that “obviously there’s an evaluation process with that to make sure they’re the right fit.”
As far as that “fit,” a number of factors likely come into play. Being willing to meet the league’s multimillion-dollar franchise fees is one thing, but another aspect may be geographical presence.
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When discussing the Vegas move, Tsay emphasized that “Vegas is obviously one of the fastest-growing sports markets.” Further, he elaborated that having a team there is “awesome” for the org, but also for the CDL as a whole: “We want to be in really attractive regions … we just wanted to make sure that we place franchises in the best possible cities”
Patience is a virtue
Considering the past few years of CoD esports, it seems clear that the game’s talent pool is deep enough to add more pro-level teams. On the amateur side, former journeymen like Zack ‘Drazah’ Jordan have made names for themselves while young rookies like Amer ‘Pred’ Zulbeari have surged out of Challengers and into the limelight.
Conversely, on the veteran end, legends like Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter, James ‘Clayster’ Eubanks, and Sam ‘Octane’ Larew have turned the clocks back and won CDL championships.
Although more Challengers upstarts are making their debuts in 2023 (like the Toronto Ultra’s Thomas ‘Scrappy’ Ernst and Boston Breach’s Ben ‘Beans’ McMellon), others have yet to get their chance and vets like Crimsix have consequently retired.
From a talent level, there are likely enough players ready to play at the top level without decimating league parity. From a location level, community wishlists paint a similarly promising picture. As the Legion moved to Las Vegas and OpTic to Texas, the cities of Paris and Chicago are now left open — not to mention other touted locales like Washington D.C., and Madrid, Spain.
Ultimately, though, the CDL launched during a tumultuous period—both economically and socially—so it’s easy to see why expansion hasn’t taken hold as quickly as it did with the OWL. Nevertheless, as Tsay explained, the league is focused on putting its best product forward right now, while performing its due diligence and vetting interested franchise candidates.