The CDL risks failing without major expansion and a format overhaul

Image of a CDL-branded stageCall of Duty League

The Call of Duty League has a lot of issues that have led to a decline in fan interest across the league’s first two seasons. Despite a rise in viewership in 2021, fans just don’t seem excited about the league’s third season. If the CDL wants to remain relevant, it needs to implement rapid expansion and overhaul its unpopular format.

The CDL should be riding high entering its third season. A team on the verge of founding a dynasty, the formation of several potential superteams, and an injection of new talent, are all factors in why the league should currently be at its peak.

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However, whether it’s players railing against league salaries or sharing mixed reviews of Vanguard, the league finds itself in a difficult situation.

This has been compounded by a general disdain for the franchised league, which many long-time fans see as a step back for the Call of Duty esports scene.

If the CDL wants to reignite fan excitement, they need to start by expanding the league and rethinking its format.

CDL logo over an image from OpTic ChicagoActivision/OpTic Chicago
While the CDL has many issues, league size and league format are two issues that can be easily addressed

Expansion could breathe new life into the CDL

The first change the CDL needs to make before anything else is a progressive expansion of the league.

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Currently, the CDL is comprised of 12 teams. 10 are in the continental United States while two are in western Europe.

Map showing locations of current CDL teamsGoogle Maps
Heading into the 2022 season, the CDL has 12 teams in 11 cities across the US and Europe

However, this has led to a number of issues.


While the CDL format also contributes to this, there is inevitable stagnation from playing the same 11 teams over and over. The league is still small enough that there are only so many times two teams can play one another. A prime example of this is Atlanta FaZe’s 7-1 record against the Toronto Ultra over the course of the 2021 season.

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Lack of geographical coverage

The 11 cities are fairly disparate, especially the further west you travel. The Seattle Surge are nearly 1,000 miles away from the closest other CDL team. Both London and Paris only really represent their home cities in spirit, as the teams spend a majority of the season in the United States.

Roster spots

Roster spots in the CDL are limited to 48 starting spots and 12 substitute spots. This means that there is always going to be talented players pushed out, or rising prospects unable to find a way into the league.

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Toronto Ultra playing in the 2021 CDL seasonCall of Duty League
With teams like the Ultra retaining its roster for the long term, places for new players are limited

While the CDL appears open to expansion, any action has been seemingly impacted by the ongoing global health crisis.

Rise Nation’s CEO Rodger Saffold told the Bussin’ with the Boys podcast in September 2021 that the CDL told Rise Nation the league wanted to include the org in a future expansion. Saffold also revealed that Rise were one of four organizations being considered for a CDL franchise.

However, health crisis or not, it’s a move that CDL needs to implement as soon as possible.

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If Saffold is to be believed, the planned CDL expansion would increase the number of franchises to 16.

A map showing the current CDL teams plus four potential expansion teamsGoogle Maps
A four-team expansion would go a long way to helping the CDL address some of its current issues

In this hypothetical example of a four-team expansion, Rise Nation would get a spot in Nashville and teams would also be added in Las Vegas, Detroit, and Ottawa.

No matter where they were based, simply adding four teams would be a major step in the right direction for the CDL. It’s four new teams added to the competitive rotation, helping alleviate stagnation. The geographical coverage of the league grows, especially if more teams are added in the western United States. This helps develop new fanbases and new media markets. While four teams also add 16 additional starting spots to the league.

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However, what the CDL needs to do is implement an expansion strategy for the coming years to develop steady and sustained growth.

A map showing a hypothetical 30-team CDLRiot Games
The CDL should be looking at a sustained growth roadmap to expand the league

Here we see a hypothetical 30-team CDL. It expands across the US and Canada, as well as growing a scene in Europe, which allows the EU players often neglected by American teams a chance to showcase their abilities.

The CDL’s ceiling is theoretically limitless. The important thing is that they introduce new teams in a measured and sustainable way.

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The MLS has added at least one team every year since 2017, and has plans in place to continue the trend until 2023. The NWSL added one team in 2021, and will add another two in 2022.

The key is to add teams gradually, rather than rushing into a massive, and potentially overwhelming, expansion.

But expansion on its own is not nearly enough to keep the CDL relevant. They need to pair it with a drastic overhaul of the league’s format.

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A new format makes the CDL more enjoyable

Let’s be honest. No one likes the current CDL format.

Five seeding round-robins, each followed by a standalone knockout Major simply feels disjointed and unconnected. The league needs a better way of running its season.

As much as people want to see a return of open events, it’s highly unlikely that Activision wants to return to that format.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to have a fun season format.

Victory screen for Minnesota ROKKRCall of Duty League
While glorifying for the winning teams, the Stage and Major format has not been well-received by fans

Before any league format changes occur, the league needs to be expanded to at least 16 teams.

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Once the number of teams increases, the CDL needs to look to leagues such as the NBA for inspiration.

Image from the 2019 NBA FinalsWikimedia user Chensiyuan/CCASA 4.0
The NBA, one of North America’s ‘Big 4’ leagues, has an 82-game season followed by single-elimination playoffs

Some form of round-robin with teams separated into smaller divisions, such as two divisions of eight or four divisions of four, would allow for a more consistent regular season as opposed to the current format.

Wider league events, such as All-Star Weekends, could be inserted into the calendar to break up the round-robin and provide more fan-centric experiences.

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At the end of the regular season, the overall standings would inform the seeding for a full 16-team, double-elimination bracket.

Rogue and Misfits in the LEC Summer playoffsRiot Games
Many esports, such as League of Legends, already use a standard round-robin league format

While it’s not the beloved open system, something that could be re-integrated by way of events during the regular season, it provides more consistency and structure than the league currently has.

The problems of the CDL go beyond the number of teams and its format. But adding more teams, and changing the way the league runs, is a quick and easy fix to give the CDL a platform to build on.

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