This past weekend I was invited to cover the Call of Duty World League in Dallas Texas. This was my first experience and introduction to the world of professional Call of Duty players, well, eSports in general really. Being a Gen X’er I honestly had never seen the appeal of watching others play a game when I could be playing. Watching others play was akin to just waiting your turn back in the old days. Feeling like a fish out of water, I was very nervous about attending, given my inexperience. What I found was a fantastic group of veteran writers that welcomed me, a supportive staff from MLG and Activision, and pro players and fans that were eager to share stories and experiences.
Call of Duty professional competition began 2013, it evolved over the course of the years and eventually became the Call of Duty World League, or CWL for short. Held in the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, the CWL Dallas attracted over a thousand people including 204 teams competing for points, spots in Stage 1, and over 3 million dollars in prizes! Many more fans who could not make it to Dallas watched the intense matches on MLG broadcasts or via Twitch, in record numbers. There will be two more events like this, in New Orleans and Atlanta for Stage 1.
I won’t pretend to be anything other than what I am when this weekend began, a complete and utter noob when it comes to professional eSports. Activision was nice enough to invite Electric Bento to to CWL Dallas though, and I wanted to share what the experience would be like for new fans and even new competitors. Check out my upcoming interview with Team 2050 for the latter. With that in mind, this article is not for veteran fans looking for stats and highlights, though they may enjoy the change of perspective. This piece is intended for folks who may just now be joining this exciting competition as either a fan or new player.
While I have of course played many Call of Duty titles over the years, I never got competitive and generally suck at online multiplayer. Even so, I have always respected the level of skill these pro players have and the amount of time they must dedicate to their profession. And that’s what it is. After talking with many pro players, and even up and coming ones trying to go pro, I learned it really is a job, hell they put in more hours a week than I do at my day job and working for Electric Bento combined. These players pretty much only eat, sleep, and play Call of Duty.
Any chance these players have to compete with other set teams is important, so the “in person” LAN events are essential to gauging the skill level of the team and improving on it. These players also have such a public persona, many with a large amount of fans watching their every move in and out out of game, and sponsors who they must keep happy, that even when not playing Call of Duty they must watch what they do and say or risk losing both. That has to be stressful at times.
When I walked into the CWL Dallas hall I was instantly in awe. The booming theatrical music of Call of Duty played, strobing lights were everywhere, there were huge banners representing previous winners along the walls, and then the gleaming trophy itself at the end of the entrance walkway. This gave me a thrill unlike anything I have experienced before. I got goosebumps before I even stepped into the main hall. That area itself has a huge stage where up to four teams can compete with a large amount of rows of seats facing it. Huge screens displayed the action all over the event. It is impressive. There are also other smaller areas for teams to compete scattered around the floor. In between are places for the broadcasters to work and vendors selling and promoting products that many pro players use, like Scuff gaming controllers and Game Fuel drink mix. I must give a special shout out to the Game Fuel guys for providing a great deal where attendees could buy a special cup for just five bucks and fill up on various flavors all weekend. I am enjoying the Strawberry Lemonade as I write this. Delicious and packed full of energy and vitamins!
A very large section of the hall was used for rows and rows of stations that open bracket teams could use to compete for points in scheduled battles. Many of these teams were comprised of players who, while they spend hours a week playing Call of Duty with each other online, have never met face to face until now. The competition was fierce and many fans flocked to some of the more impressive matches as they developed. While there was some smack talking during matches, everyone I saw was very professional with handshakes and fist bumps for opposing team members afterwards. It was nice to see that side of some of these younger players. Good sportsmanship is not dead!
I was always transparent about my lack of knowledge when it came to CWL, and nobody minded, in fact being honest with people I think allowed them to be more generous in sharing their knowledge with me. I also learned a lot just watching many of the amazing matches and by day two had learned many team names, player monikers, and was able to follow the action with ease. It was so exciting and honestly put any standard sporting event I have attended to shame. Fans were cheering and really getting into the action. Particularly one team seemed to have a very large and vocal fan base, Optic Gaming. For very good reason, I saw their team members pull off some incredible plays, plus as with any sport, fans are attracted to winners. I learned that unlike other traditional sports, teams seem to gain and lose fans very quickly based solely on performance as there isn’t a hometown connection. Cleveland Browns fans usually live in Cleveland or are from there for example. Other times fans will follow a particular player, sort of like how I kept up with Payton Manning when he left the Colts for Denver.
Watching open bracket was interesting, my favorite part was watching teams FaZe Clan and Echo Fox move up and out into the main stage competition and do so well. Many were surprised and this made for an interesting day. Many fans were also shocked to see Optic Gaming knocked down to the Losers Bracket by TK, only to then be defeated by Spylce there. By the last day, Sunday, the competition had dwindled down to the top teams competing on the main stage. At the end, Team Kaliber came out on top defeating Splyce to win it all.
Over the course of the three days I attended CWL Dallas I made so many new friends. The other journalists, fans, vendors, and players were so welcoming and helpful, educating me in the ways of all things CoD. Dallas residents were all friendly in and around the downtown area where I stayed. I learned so much about how the league works, and honestly how to be a better player myself just from watching matches. If you have ever been interested in eSports but were intimidated like I was, give it a chance. You will not be disappointed. The next stop for the CWL is New Orleans on January 10th through the 12th. Be sure to check back here for our coverage of the event if you enjoyed this unique perspective! We plan to grow in the level of detail with our coverage and over the course of Stage 1 hope you will join us and learn more, as I do, about this amazing section of eSports.
For more information about the Call of Duty World League and Call of Duty: WWII check out Activision’s official site.