With the Call of Duty League underway, one of the major topics of debate is around how the home events that make up the regular season should be considered in comparison to the tournaments of seasons past.
Originally, the CDL was going to follow a league format similar to that of the Overwatch League, where each weekend would simply see teams face off in predetermined league matches, with the results only affecting the overall season standings.
Following backlash from Call of Duty fans and players alike – who have been used to a largely open, tournament-based circuit and saw the shift as a major downgrade – the format was changed almost at the last minute. Instead, each weekend after the launch in Minnesota will now operate a tournament style featuring eight of the 12 league teams.
While the shift is definitely an upgrade to the originally proposed league style, many fans have suggested that the new format still isn’t good enough. With not every team competing in every event, there will inevitably be tournaments from which the favorites will be absent, and when compared with the epic nature of past open events, a GSL-style group stage followed by a single-elimination playoff does leave something to be desired.
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All of these reservations have raised an important question – should CDL home events really be counted as championship wins for the victors, or are they merely league matches masquerading as separate titles?
Who cares if it counts?
First things first, why does it matter? The points and prizes distributed at home events are the same regardless of whether or not they’re considered real championships.
Before competing in Call of Duty was a viable career path, the glory of a championship win was all that really mattered – and several of the top players now have been competing since those days.
Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter is often cited as a candidate for the greatest Call of Duty player of all time. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one of the first statistics people reach for in his favor is the fact that he’s the player with the most championship titles to his name.
It’s not just a matter for those players whose trophy cabinets are already overflowing. There are plenty of players in the league who have never won a championship, for whom their career may be, to some degree at least, defined by whether or not they ever break through that barrier.
Meanwhile, young stars Tyler ‘aBeZy’ Pharris and Chris ‘Simp’ Lehr are coming off arguably the most impressive rookie seasons Call of Duty has ever seen. It’s still early days in these players’ careers, but already they’re on a path that could one day lead them into the conversation for GOAT status.
Exactly how these tournaments are considered when all is said and done will influence the legacy of every player who competes in them. It matters whether they really count.
Not all championships are made equal
It remains an inescapable fact that home events cannot possibly compare to the highest tier of Call of Duty events.
Call of Duty fans have gotten used to a circuit in which all of the top teams are always present at the major events. Not only that, but those events have in most cases followed one of the most rigorous formats in all of esports.
Call of Duty events typically operated a group stage which leads into a double elimination bracket, with every group stage team guaranteed at least one ‘life’ in the playoff stage. Not only that, but both the group stage and the lower bracket of the playoff stage are fed into by the open bracket, allowing any team of players to show up on the day and work their way onto the main stage through LAN play, if they’re worthy.
When it comes to determining the best team at a particular moment in time, there are few more thorough methods than a Call of Duty open event. By comparison, therefore, CDL home events feel noticeably flimsy.
If you compare home events to the most prestigious titles in Call of Duty, they obviously don’t hold up, but that’s not really a fair comparison for this purpose. Different events will always have different levels of prestige attached to them, but when it comes to deciding whether or not an event counts as a championship win, it’s not about matching the highest peak, but rather reaching the minimum requirements – and that’s a rather different matter.
So how do CDL home events compare to the least competitive events that have been granted ‘championship’ status?
Let’s assume the CDL teams are the top 12 teams in the world. It may not be strictly true at all times, but it’s rarely going to be too far off given the resources available to CDL teams compared to those in Challenger. In that case, each home event has, even in the weakest possible scenario, the majority of the top 10 teams at any given tournament. There are certainly championships in past seasons that don’t hit that bar.
In Modern Warfare 3, for instance, OpTic Gaming racked up several wins that are rightfully attributed to Seth ‘Scump’ Abner’s total. With the bulk of the competition taking place in Europe, however – and this being in the days before big budgets for pro CoD teams – many top teams and players from the US were absent for much of the season. That’s before you get into the various invitational events over the years.
Of course, retrospective consideration can be a tricky thing, as events that look less impressive by modern standards may have been deemed more important in the context of their time.
That being said, there are titles considered valid that even at the time were much weaker events than the likes of MLG opens – compLexity’s ESWC win in 2013, for instance. It’s included in stats about the legendary dominance of one of the game’s greatest dynasties, but coL were the only North American team in attendance at a time when a good result for a European squad was breaking top-eight internationally. Even accounting for the context of their respective eras, it would be hard to argue this win as being a greater accomplishment than winning a CDL home event, and it’s not the only example for which the same case might be made.
If, then, we’re to start discounting tournaments that don’t hit a certain level of rigor, then a reexamination of Call of Duty history is in order. Where do we draw the line? If the cut-off point is stricter than eight of the top twelve teams in the world attending, some players may find their stack of championship wins somewhat depleted.
The trophy matters
In the wake of the broadly successful CDL London event, one of the chief complaints was that victors Chicago Huntsmen didn’t get to celebrate their win as would be expected of a proper tournament – the was no trophy, no ceremony, no naming of an MVP. They simply walked off stage, their win over Dallas Empire seemingly only amounting to a few extra CDL points.
It may seem a superficial point, but whether or not the tournament is treated as a championship – and a trophy is awarded – does make a material difference.
In CS:GO, the reason that the Majors are the most prestigious event isn’t because they offer the most prize money and nor is it because they have the most rigorous format. There have been events that offered more prizes, and the qualification and tournament structure of the Majors have been among the biggest criticisms of them over the years.
No other tournament means quite as much as a Major, though, because no other tournament carriers that moniker. In short, Majors matter more because everyone believes they matter more.
The same is true, to varying degrees, of the prestige attributed to any competition. Perception isn’t a negligible factor, and so whether or not CDL home events are treated as real championships makes a difference to how much weight they actually have.
To that end, the lack of fanfare around the home event victors actually hurts their status a little. It wasn’t evem clear that these home events do actually have a prize pool, but for a tweet from Clayster confirming as much.
Fortunately, it seems like the trophy issue is set to be resolved at future events, and that will go some way to legitimizing these events as proper championship wins. A trophy may only be symbolic, but having something on the line for victory other than just CDL points does make a meaningful difference to whether the events are treated as proper championships or merely regular league matches that just happen to be arranged in a tournament format.
More context will always be necessary to distinguish CDL home events from epic championships like the MLG Anaheims of old. But if we’re keeping score – and we are – then to dismiss them from the count entirely goes too far in the other direction.
Ultimately, when it comes to matters of prestige and legacy there is no objective measuring stick by which a “correct” conclusion can be reached. These things are always a matter of consensus, and so how home events are considered will be determined by the majority judgement.
For the players who find success over the Modern Warfare season, however, it will be easy to feel hard done by if that consensus concludes that their wins weren’t “real”.