The Call of Duty World League has only been around since 2016, but it’s already making an overhaul that could spell the end of its current format, which mixes weekly matches that have their own cash prizes with bigger bimonthly tournaments. Activision is planning for its blockbuster shooter series to follow in the wake of Blizzard’s Overwatch by channelling regional rivalries to help fuel its growth. This weekend the game’s top teams battle it out in London as the scene around it threatens to evolve once more.
During its earnings call yesterday, Activision announced it was partnering with organizations in five different cities—Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Paris, and Toronto—to create a city-based professional league around Call of Duty. Activision had previously announced its intention to make Call of Duty esports more like the Overwatch League, so it’s not surprising that the first five teams in the new league will be based in places that already have Overwatch teams.
But it is an interesting gambit overall. A new Call of Duty game has come out every year since 2005. It wasn’t until 2008 when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare released that the series really began to take off. That game was featured in the 2008 Major League Gaming National Championships in Las Vegas, with its sequels being played in later years, becoming a staple of the event and eventually ousting Halo as the premier competitive console shooter.
In 2016, Activision decided to take things in-house, organizing its own league called the Call of Duty World League. There were weekly matches and a world championship, but also random intermittent tournaments across various cities during the rest of the year. It was a sort of bridge between the old way of doing things in esports—haphazardly organized third-party events with cash prizes largely supported by commercial sponsors—and something more stable and professional, like traditional sports.
Now the game looks set to completely cut with its grassroots past and enter a new top-down era, where the main competitors are those able to afford spots in a league costing an estimated $25 million according to a report by ESPN.
There’s still CWL London though, one of the last big Call of Duty events leading up to the finals in July. Team Envy, whose parent organization Envy Gaming will be heading up Dallas’ Call of Duty team, will be competing there, as well as the game’s other top sides like Optic Gaming and Evil Geniuses. Matches started today and will continue on Saturday at 9:00 a.m. ET and go until 3:00 p.m. Then on Sunday the action gets underway earlier at 5:00 a.m. with the grand finals slated for 12:30 p.m. You can catch the entire event streaming live on the Call of Duty Twitch channel.