Watching the CDL hurts my brain.

I just tried to sit down and watch some of the Call of Duty League stream from this weekend’s opening festivities in Minnesota and hoo boy, I dunno.

They’ve brought over the color scheme design ATVI’ve tried previously with Overwatch and while it works in a game set in an alternate future in the pretense of an ongoing battle between good and evil, I’m not sure that highlighting the colors during the gameplay is the ideal way to approach overcoming the catchability problem that CODXVI has.

I will never understand how they’ve allowed the game sets to include deathmatch-influenced game modes where, presumably, the random roll of where the spawn is going to put you or the randomness of the hardpoint location actually influences the match.

This is a battle for the soul of the FPS that I will freely admit to being on the losing side of.

The layout behind the stream makes a lot of sense. The info boxes on their perpetual rotation at the top of the screen is a nice touch, but they’re missing the point of giving us statistics on player performance. How about a running accuracy percentage? What about a small icon next to their name representing which of the four guns in the game they’re allowed to use that they’re actually using? I mean, at least it all looked slick.

Also, they’re promoting non-ATVI games during ad breaks? How hard up are these guys for money? Was YouTube’s exclusivity payoff not as flashy as Twitch’s from OWL’s debut?

Ahh, well, I admit I’m being slightly grumpy about the whole thing, but from what I could see, it was a solid start.

All except that part where they threw the amateur teams out in a parking garage for their tournament. Yeah, someone fucked up for not thinking through the idea that a parking garage was going to be a good venue to hold a tournament at, let alone a parking garage located in Minnesota in the middle of winter.

CDL upends format weeks before debut

ATVI recently announced a shift in the Call of Duty League’s format—or so they would have you believe.1

Originally, the CDL intended to run a series of events internationally to facilitate league matches. These events—a sort of CDL World Tour, if you like—would also play host to a amateur system’s tournament series.

In a statement published this past Christmas Eve, ATVI announced it would replace these league matches with what it calls “pro tournaments.” The CDL is quick to point out that this change means more professional matches will be played at each event and, as a result, it will build more hype for its on-site spectators and stream audience.

The CDL World Tour remains a huge risk for ATVI’s latest esports venture, but there are more warning signs in the statement that suggest the CDL might not be what fans expect (especially in the context of the Overwatch League).

If watchability is truly a focus for ATVI, you’d think you’d be able to cite OWL’s operation as an example of success. This is not the case.

However, CODXVI is, thankfully, simpler than its previous iterations. By abandoning a class-based meta preferred by previous series iterations, the game’s mechanics and weapon selection will have a chance to shine in the spotlight. Personally, I have concerns about the frantic pace and sheer complexity of a typical COD match being too much to digest in a single stream for the uninitiated viewer—especially on respawn-enabled game modes. This fundamental issue is something that most team-based esports struggle with the most, and OWL is no exception.

And what are “pop-culture infusions,” anyway? Concerts? Raves? A Call of Duty-meets-Ingress clone? Gimmicks like these might not turn out to be total train wrecks, but it’s hard to guess at what ATVI have in mind.

On the other hand, fan-first experiences have tremendous potential, though these might be as straightforward as announcements of new content for CODXVI. These experiences will more than likely mean on-site playable demos of new multiplayer content and new weapons. Though it’s a shame that those lucky enough to make the pilgrimage will earn this privilege, the hype it could generate will help maintain the stability of CODXVI going forward.

I, for one, do hope we are getting an expansion of what turned out to be an impressive re-telling of the early beats of Modern Warfare’s namesake.

The CDL remains something to keep an eye on, regardless of the turmoil currently embroiling ATVI’s other franchise-based esports venture—no—especially because of that other venture currently in meltdown mode. If the CDL took any lessons learned from OWL, I hope they found committed staff with fresh ideas on creating watchable content instead of relying on a sheer mountain of cash to attract the hype it needs to maintain critical mass.

Not changing games every year would be a start.