The Call of Duty League is preparing to enter its third season in 2022. Despite a storied history and millions of dollars being plowed into the league, the esport is in as precarious a position as ever — and this year could be a make or break one for the CDL.
When franchising was first announced to Call of Duty for the 2020 season on Modern Warfare, it was presented as a huge step forward for the game and the esport as a whole. It imitates the infrastructure of America’s favorite sports leagues such as the NFL and NBA, and of course, following in the footsteps of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, launched in 2017.
Despite optimism from the league itself and the organizations that committed to paying upwards of $25 million for a franchise spot, however, fans were skeptical.
Two years later, little has been done to rid fans’ skepticism, and the CoD: Vanguard season in 2022 could prove to be make or break for the esport.
CDL franchise struggles
In the aftermath of the 2021 season on Black Ops Cold War, the layout of the league was thrown into disarray, with Envy and OpTic’s merger of their franchises, OpTic Chicago and Dallas Empire.
Forming OpTic Texas, Envy also agreed to purchase NRG’s Chicago slot as part of the deal, with NRG pulling out from the CDL completely. With Envy unable to field two teams, however, they’re stuck looking for someone to pay for the slot — or risk playing out a season with just 11 teams.
At a time where fans and players alike are calling for the league to expand to a higher number of teams, in a scene overflowing with elite-level talent, the CDL is struggling to even fill the 12 spots it started with.
Amid assurances from Envy founder Mike ‘Hastr0’ Rufail that they’re in the process of shifting the slot, fans have questioned why organizations haven’t instantly jumped to purchase it. This is further exacerbated by the Overwatch League’s Washington Justice owners’ deal reportedly collapsing at the last minute.
FYI, the league has been extremely helpful and hard working during this process. They want what's best for the entire community. Hope to give you guys good news as soon as we can.
— Mike Rufail (@hastr0) December 3, 2021
Challengers in the mud
This issue isn’t limited to just the CDL teams themselves, however. Call of Duty Challengers has kicked off the Vanguard season on a low note.
Organizations that have been funding amateur teams for years are pulling out, and, at the time of writing, no CDL franchise is fielding a Challengers team.
So with the Challengers season delayed and no third gamemode confirmed, amateur players are forced to struggle through another year and hope to earn a spot in the CDL or, in some cases, look for greener grass elsewhere…
Competition from Halo Infinite & Warzone
Players switching to Warzone might not be the worst thing in the world for Activision. Keeping some of the best players in the world within the Call of Duty sphere is always an advantage, as evidenced by Scump’s $100k World Series of Warzone Solo YOLO win.
That said, it’s an awful look for the League itself. While Warzone is looked at as a fun and challenging game, it isn’t desperate to prove itself as a truly competitive esport like Call of Duty’s regular multiplayer is, and most competitors in the CDL and Challengers would naturally prefer to compete in the CDL than Warzone given the option.
Looking at the success of former pros such as Tommey or Rated, however, could you blame those players for wanting to make the switch?
Even more threatening, of course, is the allure of Halo Infinite. We’ve discussed in the past how great of an opportunity switching to Halo could present for struggling amateur CoD players, but current pros have made no secret of how much they love Infinite — and how much they hate Vanguard. In fact, in the UK, Vanguard had the worst Call of Duty launch sales since CoD 4 back in 2007.
If some of the CoD Challengers who have switched start seeing success in Halo, don’t be surprised to see more transitioning over, leaving the grassroots foundations of CoD esports in even more of a dire state.
CDL viewership woes continue
Viewership has been a constant source of frustration for the CoD community, with live event viewership struggling to ever show any progress, as shown by the stats below, courtesy of Esports Charts.
Where other esports such as CS:GO, League of Legends and Valorant are consistently breaking their own live viewership records, the fluctuation month-on-month for the CDL is damning.
Live viewership isn’t everything, of course. With YouTube, the CDL sees a lot of views come from the VODs posted after matches or events have ended — but how do they convert these views to fans wanting to attend live events, or making sure the stream is a must-watch when it’s live? In essence, how do these casual fans become genuine CDL followers?
With Vanguard being so unpopular among the competitive community, similar to Modern Warfare in 2020, this could prove an arduous task — and may be the final straw for many fans as well as players.
The Call of Duty League is clearly facing daunting issues on multiple fronts right now, from waning player and viewer interest and a league that literally doesn’t have enough teams.
While fan sentiment has always been volatile towards how Call of Duty esports is run, the CDL itself opened a big new can of worms when it launched in 2020 — and the can is only growing larger year on year.
The question nobody seems able to answer, though, is how they turn things around. With that question seemingly impossible to answer, the 2022 season could really be a make or break one for the Call of Duty League.