After battling through a pandemic during its inaugural year, during which the Call of Duty League was forced to operate competitions remotely, the circuit is set to kick off year two on Feb. 11. Online competitions and remote gameplay will continue as the league monitors the COVID-19 crisis. Live events have not yet been ruled out for the season, but the league wants to ensure that its players and faculty will be safe.
Despite the adversity, the CoDL set numerous Call of Duty viewership records, including having its most- watched esports event ever with 331,000 viewers on YouTube in August. The league was also up 23% among viewers in the 18-34 age range year over year. However, CoDL commissioner Johanna Faries said even though she has received interest, now is not the time to expand the league.
“I feel like the energy and the momentum around this year is quite high… [but] we really wanted to focus on our 12 [teams],” Faries said in a phone interview. “We have to make sure that our teams feel well-positioned and that we can be operationally sound…. We want to make sure that we deliver a bold and very successful season in 2021.”
Faries said that for the league to expand, a potential owner would have to demonstrate multifaceted managing abilities. “It requires world-class operational chops, world-class ability to develop fan bases and capitalize regions in a way that speaks to the longevity of the vision we have here.” Buying into the league comes at no small price compared with other esports, with franchises reportedly paying $25 million to secure their spots in the league, according to ESPN.
Though not expanding, the league did gain the gaming organization 100 Thieves, one of the most popular brands in esports. The team, to be called the Los Angeles Thieves, purchased its slot from OpTic Gaming Los Angeles. OpTic Gaming then took over and rebranded the Chicago Huntsmen franchise to become OpTic Chicago. The brand of 100 Thieves has more than 1 million followers on YouTube and a lucrative merchandise business. Its esports players will compete out of the company’s 15,000-square-foot headquarters in Culver City, Calif.
The league is also looking to bolster the role of Call of Duty’s battle royale mode, Warzone. Last year, the mode picked up 75 million players in less than six months, which enabled the league to organize Warzone Weekends, offering prize pools of $10,000 to winners. “It could be as early as this season where fans of Warzone can have a really bespoke esports experience,” Faries said.
The Call of Duty League can be exclusively streamed on YouTube.