The future of Warzone esports: Baka Bros & CDL GM explain Warzone 2 ambitions
Warzone 2 launced on November 16 and, with it, a new chapter in Call of Duty esports. After the original title totaled $10-plus million in prizing, we asked CoD Esports general manager Daniel Tsay and the Baka Bros’ Repullze and LuckyChamu about the potential for the new game’s esports scene.
Released in March 2020, Warzone became home to over 100 million players. Despite minimal competitive in-game integration, the esport followed suit. In two and a half years, the game saw 370-plus tournaments with the aforementioned cumulative $10-plus million in prizing according to EsportsEarnings.
Now, Warzone 2 has launched with the potential to build on that short, but storied history. And, unlike its predecessor, the sequel arrives at a time when the world has fewer restrictions and, consequently, the possibility for real LAN events.
And who better to discuss that possibility with than Tsay and the Bakas? The former oversees CoD esports, from the Call of Duty League to the World Series of Warzone, and the latter have played in tournaments, casted tournaments and, maybe most importantly, organized the only major Warzone LAN thus far: the $100,000 Baka WonderLAN.
The “electricity” of CoD on LAN
As Repullze recalls, Warzone esports definitely has moments worth experiencing on LAN: “I think of things like Diaz [Biffle] 1v2’ing Tommey and Almond last year and how crazy…this guy was screaming and commentating, I was in the corner jumping up and down…I could just imagine how that would feel with thousands of people watching you and the lights going crazy.”
Looking back at both the CDL and Warzone’s past few years, Tsay was candid about that experiential limitation: “it’s that in-person experience we’ve lacked a little bit … there’s nothing that quite matches that electricity of thousands of screaming fans … nothing quite like having players and fans all in the same room, screaming.”
As for turning that appreciation into tangible plans, the GM couldn’t share specifics but did share his team’s intentions — touching specifically on the World Series of Warzone and CDL’s Resurgence circuit.
While Tsay believes that “potentially there’s a LAN component” for the CDL’s Resurgence circuit, the WSOW is (fittingly) a bigger focus. Discussing the battle royale’s biggest tournament series (which has awarded $1.2 million across Europe and North America in each of its past two iterations), Tsay assured that LAN is on the table: “Certainly for that one, I would love to do a LAN. It’s something we’re trying to do.”
Incorporating the OG “MLG format”
The Bakas, meanwhile, have been in the lab trying to figure out precisely what Warzone 2 esports should look like on LAN. As competitors, Lucky and Repullze have over $100,000 in Warzone earnings. As hosts, they spent over a year planning the WonderLAN (which they then cast as well).
“We’re hard workers and we’re also competitors, entertainers, and we are, as well, watchers. Like we love watching CDL. We love watching other Warzone tournaments, so we know what we want to compete in. We know what the viewers want and we always like to deliver that.” As Lucky explains, their varied experience informs brainstorms for the franchise’s future.
And, apparently, that experience dictates that the ideal height of competition should be on LAN, should incorporate the MLG bracket-style format, and should feed off of competitive in-game integration.
“Our dream one day is to bring back the MLG format from back in the day. We have an open bracket where everybody comes, competes on a Friday in Warzone, top 10 teams, we have multiple sections advance to Saturday. Then, from there, you break it down, then Championship Sunday. It’s the best of the best, all competing in that huge tournament, spectators, thousands of people.”
While similar to the CDL’s weekend bracket structure for tournaments, Repullze describes a LAN event that differs by including the promise of an open bracket on Day 1—akin to the MLG format (and online qualifiers held for the WSOW). This would essentially level the playing field, allowing lesser-known players to compete for a chance at a major payday without hardware limitations or the possibility of cheating accusations.
Integrating competitive play: Ranked play & tournaments
As for determining who makes the trip out for the open bracket, the Bakas see competitive integration into the base game as a useful stomping ground for players who want to build up their reputation. Both Lucky and Repullze are wary of adding too many separate modes to Warzone 2, at the risk of splitting the player base too widely, but they see a path toward the same goal through CoD’s traditional weekly in-game tournaments.
The ranked discussion is a complicated one. Repullze cautioned that he’s “seen ranked kill Fortnite” by making the casual scene too “try-hard” while ‘splitting the audience in two.’
Lucky expanded, noting that the player-base fragmentation won’t be helped by Warzone 2’s new DMZ mode: “I don’t think they’re gonna take out the big map. So now you have two different types, and then now you’re gonna add a third one … They need to make sure they don’t split their audience too much.”
While both professed love for ranked play in the future, they have a simpler solution for the time being: weekly tournaments — like CoD multiplayer’s in-game Gunfight tournaments in Modern Warfare 2019 or, as Repullze noted, Fortnite’s “Cash Cups.” By adding open, online tournaments into Warzone 2’s playlist, the Bakas argue that the game can simultaneously build its competitive scene without splitting player counts.
“I think if we were to do something like every Friday, everybody knows there’s an open tournament. Everybody’s practicing for that. Anybody can compete and it’s integrated into the game. That would be amazing.” It’s an enticing picture painted by Repullze and one with broader implications for access to the highest stage of Warzone esports when coupled with the idea of a LAN tournament having an open bracket on Day 1.
Warzone 2 on LAN
Warzone 2’s first major tournament, the $100,000 OpTic Texas event, will take place on November 21 and 22. Around a week after everyone gets to drop into Al Mazrah for the first time, the event should give us a sense of how the game plays at a competitive level.
Past that, no events have been announced yet, but, as Repullze noted, the “future’s looking bright.” In an ideal world, Warzone 2 should add a weekly tournament so players can receive both recognition and ranks for their ability. Those players who have shown the most should then become eligible for qualifiers to play in the bigger, rarer events.
Of those bigger, rarer events, the potential is there for both a LAN World Series of Warzone and an MLG-style open bracket tournament.
No cheating, no internet problems, no hardware inconsistencies. Competitive play just makes more sense on LAN. And, as Lucky reinforced, “I don’t think we could do it without spectators.”
The Call of Duty League 2023 season kicks off on Modern Warfare II on Friday, December 2, as the 12 best teams in CoD start their fight for their world championship season.