Ben’s Top Ten Predictions for Black Ops III eSports
We all got to see some proper eSports play during yesterday’s Black Ops III eSports livestream, and I’m definitely not the first to say that I’m excited for this new iteration of the Call of Duty franchise. The gameplay looked fresh yet familiar, and it looks to be as fun and addicting as ever. Also, Mr. X’s hair was on point as usual, so that’s always a good thing. Pair all that with the great news we’ve heard as of late about a dedicated eSports division at Activision, ESL’s entry into our scene as one of the main organizations running the new Call of Duty World League, and the announcement of Arena being available for play and ranking on Day 1 and this is already turning out to be a great year for Call of Duty eSports. On that note, I have ten predictions about how I think Black Ops III is going to pan out for our scene, so let’s just get right into them. (Keep in mind that these are my opinions and views- you have a right to disagree with them. I also swear a bit so if you get offended, I apologize in advance.)
- Major eSports franchises will make their entry (or in certain cases, their return) into the Call of Duty eSports scene.
For the newcomers to the scene and those of you who didn’t know, the popular and successful eSports organization known as Evil Geniuses used to own a Call of Duty professional team. Actually, scratch that – they owned THE Call of Duty professional team. Aches. Crimsix. Teepee. Karma. Those four players and their team name struck fear into the hearts of Call of Duty pro players everywhere. They were arguably the most successful team in the history of Call of Duty eSports. About a year ago, though, the organization left the scene. Alex Garfield, the CEO of Evil Geniuses, said in an informal AMA on the Competitive Call of Duty subreddit that it was “the current structure of professional Call of Duty (that) made participating in the scene a real challenge” and that the situations that their organization had been placed in would deter other eSports teams from entering into the scene. However, he did say that Evil Geniuses would be happy to reenter the scene “if the right players were available and the industry model was more open.”
Let’s take a look at the scene now, shall we? The developers have control of the scene and are running it in cooperation with multiple eSports organizations – not just one or two. ESL, Gfinity, UMG, MLG, ACL and ESWC are all either confirmed or rumored to be working alongside Activision to grow and work the scene, and more are likely to come. Teams, events, and players no longer have restrictions mandating that they stream on MLG.tv apart from any unexpired contracts they might have. This was particularly an issue with Evil Geniuses, as they are currently owned by Twitch. Apart from some last vestiges of a dying stranglehold on the scene by certain organizations, the scene has been dramatically opened. There’s also a rumor going around that Activision is only going to allow one team per organization to take part in the World League, which puts viable players into free agency for taking by other organizations. There’s plenty of prize money and incentives for an organization to get into the scene now that Activision has control.
Sounds like there’s no better time for a team to get into the scene. Sure, later in the year- in between seasons, that is- there might be an opportunity for a team to pick up a great squad, but right now there are only so many spots in the Call of Duty World League. If I were an eSports organization, I’d start doing some team shopping now. There has been some interest from some eSports organizations already over the last few months, and I’m willing to bet my left foot that there’ll be much more to come. My prediction is that there’ll be many other teams that will be entering and returning to the scene in this coming year- and it’s going to be beautiful.
- Twitch will be the primary platform for all things Call of Duty once again.
This one is pretty much self-explanatory and also has been pretty much confirmed. MLG no longer has a stranglehold on the scene, and their product- MLG.tv- is the inferior streaming platform with a considerably smaller audience than other streaming platforms. We’ve already seen a shift over to Twitch by many players and orgs who have decided not to renew their streaming contracts with MLG. When Nadeshot and a few others follow at the end of 2016, it will be the final blow and will finally kill it. The only question will be what platform will be picking up the mantle from MLG, and my money is on Twitch. It’s the largest livestreaming platform in the world and it’s undoubtedly the home of eSports. It has a huge native audience that watches a massive variety of games and streamers who cater to those who are interested in the competitive scene as well as those who enjoy the non-competitive scene of each title (and there’s huge overlap between the two communities). Some of the organizations that Activision is working with on the World League (like ESL, for example) also have a track record for streaming on Twitch. It is therefore extremely unlikely we will see a shift to any other streaming platform or that many people will stay on MLG.tv. In the world of eSports, Twitch is king, and that’s going to become evident in our scene just as it has in every other- starting with Black Ops III.
- NA will still be strong in Call of Duty eSports but they won’t have a monopoly on victory anymore.
If you watched the livestream today, you saw the pick-up squad from Europe tear the pick-up squad from North America a new asshole. Although I’m by far a fan of the North American scene more than any other, I have to admit it was very satisfying to watch someone besides the “usual suspects” from the United States come away with a win. Make all the excuses you want, but these were pretty decent players from North America against pretty decent players from Europe, and I think it was telling. I’ve also written in the past about how the European scene needed some investment and love from the Call of Duty scene and how successful they could become if they got it. I think we got the first taste of that today during the livestream. The Australian and New Zealand scene has been pretty decent in recent years too, but they rarely got the opportunity to play against or with North American talent. However, they’re going to get those opportunities now that Activision is empowering international Call of Duty talent. I’m genuinely excited for the scene- it is going to raise the overall skill level of talent in the player base, it is going to bring in more international fans and teams, and we might finally see some championships from ANZ and EU squads instead of just having one squad win the majority of competitions. Let’s face it- even if you are an OpTic fan like I am, it gets really boring having them win every event.
- MLG will be playing second fiddle to other eSports companies like ESL, and their streaming platform will become all but obsolete in the Call of Duty scene in 2016.
I did already touch on this subject a bit above, but I do have a few things to add to what I said.
ESL is the largest eSports organization in the world. They have a major presence on three continents. They run events for more eSports titles than I can count. Their events have massive amounts of prize money and are (usually) decently well-run. My prediction: they’re going to be leading the charge when it comes to setting up the World League due to their global presence and existing infrastructure. Gfinity, ACL, and even MLG, to a pretty big extent, are regional organizations with major presence only on one continent (and the same goes for other organizations too).
We’re not going to be seeing the absolute end of MLG.tv for a while. There are still teams and players (like Nadeshot) who have streaming contracts with them through 2016. Also, MLG-hosted events are still going to be streamed on their platform exclusively, as far as I’ve heard, and that could include World League events in North America. I do hope that Activision does something about that and forces all World League events to be streamed on Twitch (if not multiple platforms), but that’s to be determined. Frankly, if I were MLG I’d sell off their streaming service to some place like Hitbox, and sell the remaining streaming contracts to Twitch while they’re all still worth something. But that’s just my two cents. Twitch is going to be the home of Call of Duty eSports, and there’s not really much they can do about that anymore.
I do want to say this, though: I don’t hate MLG and I feel like some who read this article might have gotten the impression that I do- the dealings I’ve had with their company in the past have been nothing but positive. I have a lot of respect for the employees and executives at the company alike because we truthfully would not be where we are without them. Still, I am glad that the exclusivity that MLG had over the Call of Duty eSports scene has come to an end simply because I want the scene to grow as much as possible, and that’s not possible when they control everything about the scene. I do criticize them, yes, but that’s because I care about what happens to the scene- not because I hate them.
- The game will become more balanced than ever due to the ban/protect and picks system- any gun will be viable for use during an eSports match.
Look, there’s no doubt that there’ll probably be two or three guns that are superior to the others at launch. There’s no doubt that the players will pick a gun or two to be their weapons of choice. However, what is going to be interesting is when one team decides to ban those guns right away in an eSports match. The players will be forced to use less familiar weaponry and change their strategies. Of course, that will be something in the early months of the game that could easily cause upsets if a player or team is not prepared for it. This will force pro players to quickly adapt to the situation and adopt various different strategies based on play with various different pieces of weaponry and equipment, but it will also cause them to demand balancing when one weapon is vastly weaker than the others. This kind of activism by the players will cause the game to become more balanced than it ever has been before- and all due to necessity. Players will learn to use each and every weapon in the game and learn how it fits into the metagame in an attempt to pick the right tool for the job during a given eSports match. It will cause the widest variety of gameplay in Call of Duty eSports history to occur, and that will keep the game feeling fresh for spectators and players alike.
- Nadeshot will return as a player for at least one competition.
I’ve got my own opinions about Nadeshot as a person, and they all involve a desire to spoon and have long walks on the beach with him, but they’re mostly irrelevant to this article, so I’ll leave them be. Instead, I’ll say this from the perspective of someone who has watched his content for a long-ass time: Nade is positively obsessed about making his fans happy. It’s one of his greatest strengths but also one of his greatest flaws. The man caters to his audience, and that’s something that causes him a large amount of stress. When his audience strikes back against him like they did following the upset of OpTic Gaming at the 2015 Call of Duty Championships, he tends to take it badly (of course, I didn’t help that much, seeing as I made a video jumping into the Mississippi River while screaming “BLAME NADESHOT” due to losing my bet on OpTic). In fact, that stress is one of the main reasons why I think Nade left the scene. However, most of his fans would like to see him return, and it’s a vocal majority, too. He’s already said that he is going to grind the new title and give it his best shot, so I think mentally he’s preparing himself for a walk out of retirement and a step back into the ring. He might not end up in a permanent position on a team due to his current situation. (Dude is lowkey happy right now- and why wouldn’t he be? He’s living in California surrounded by beautiful women.) However, I can see him competing for fun at a UMG or a UGC event without too much issue, and I’m willing to bet that he’ll give the pro player life one last shot.
- The Xbox One will be as irrelevant in Black Ops III as the PS3 was in Black Ops II.
I remember when Black Ops II was out and Xbox 360 was the gold standard for console eSports. Of course, that wasn’t long ago. League Play was starting to take hold in the community as the preferred pastime of the competitive Call of Duty players, and eSports was starting to be something that the community understood. I, however, was a PS3 scrub. On PS3, League Play and GameBattles were the only “competitive” sides to Call of Duty in Black Ops II. That didn’t stop me from grinding it, however, and I went on to win a decent sized tournament at San Diego Comic Con in 2013 (on Xbox, no less)- but the point remains: Xbox One, which until this year was the console of choice for Call of Duty eSports, is only going to have GameBattles and the like for its “eSports” offerings. The PS4 is the new home of Call of Duty, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. People who think they’re decent because they’re good on Xbox One are not going to be taken seriously until they show they have game on the PS4- just like it was in Black Ops II with the two previous gen consoles.
- We’ll see the return of eSports gear in-game, and finally get the team camos we’ve been asking the developers about for years.
Treyarch was the first to add micro DLC to their games with the addition of paid camos in Black Ops II. They became massively popular and made Treyarch a fair bit of money. We’re certain to see that make a return in Black Ops III, and with Activision’s new focus on eSports – not to mention the somewhat successful eSports micro DLC in the OpTic Gaming and Denial eSports exo skins made by Sledgehammer Games for Advanced Warfare – we’re probably going to see some more eSports goodness in-game very soon. In fact, I would be surprised if Treyarch doesn’t have EXTENSIVE amounts of eSports micro DLC for Black Ops III by the end of the first stage of the World League. It’s basically pure cash for them and it also advertises their eSports venture.
- YouTube will have a huge impact on who succeeds in Black Ops III.
When I wrote the line above, I kept it ambiguous for a reason: in my opinion, there are two main reasons why I think the prediction will apply to Black Ops III.
First off, YouTube has become a tool for professional players to cultivate a fan base. Since OpTic and FaZe started out as YouTube clans all those years ago, then moved into the pro scene, they brought with them the skills and motivation to build and target audiences online. We’ve seen so many succeed at YouTube and turn it into a career, and many pro players have started doing well themselves on the medium. Nadeshot is probably the best example (he just broke two million subscribers), but there are tons of current and former players who have used their status in the Call of Duty eSports community to build their fan base and turn it into a way to sustain their professional careers. This is going to become even more crucial in Black Ops III. With the increased focus on the World League, there will be many players who will try to get in but fall short. To sustain their careers until the next season, they will need to ensure their ability to practice and train as much as possible, and a YouTube and streaming career might help them sustain themselves. Additionally, if they have an established fan base through their online content creation, that will also count in their favor when teams are considering them for an open position on the team, because it’s pure marketability, plain and simple. That means sponsors and fans and viewers.
Secondly, YouTube is going to have as big of an impact as it has ever had for the average player. During Advanced Warfare, we’ve seen a larger shift towards teams using strategies in-game than ever before because it became necessary. You couldn’t just run and gun like before- heck, you couldn’t even do the same strategies that you did in Ghosts, because you had to deal with verticality and the increased inter-lane mobility of the game. Uplink especially drove the shift towards strategic play, because running towards the goal like someone’s chasing you with a big pair of scissors and trying to chop your balls off isn’t going to work. You have to learn and use strategies in this game, and with the increased depth of the maps in Black Ops III this is going to become even more crucial. Individual players have to learn the strategies somewhere, as well as the finer points of the game in general- and that’s where YouTube is going to step in and assist.
Need to learn which guns work in which situations? Need to learn the maps, or maybe just the jumps and spots? Need to understand different strategies and work on designing your own? Tips and tricks YouTubers are going to be coming back in force, and anyone who is going to be coming up with anything unique in that department will be quickly rewarded with views and subs. Sure, this scene gives TmarTn and Driftor quite a bit of guff, but newer players to the scene (as well as anyone who needs to brush up on information about anything in-game) will be glued to their computer screens. Pro players will also use the medium to learn about strategies, but simply for scouting- they will watch game film from other teams to learn from them and counter their ideas with their own, as well as using strategies from other individual content creators who have shown off their unique ideas online to their fans. It’s not just about reflexes and gun skill, it’s also about intelligence now. That’s why some teams aren’t going to do as well as they used to do back in the old days where it was much more run-and-gun.
- We will see eSports become a mainstream and widely known part of the Call of Duty franchise, just like it has for Counter Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends.
Up until very recently, most Call of Duty players knew nothing about the professional or eSports side of Call of Duty. Maybe they had heard of FaZe or OpTic, probably because one of their friends had made a gamertag with that moniker in it, or maybe because they were fans themselves. A few had heard a bit about it because they were subscribed to a YouTuber who was either in the scene or talked about it in one of their videos. Call of Duty eSports was a niche that catered to a select few until Black Ops II changed all of that with League Play. It brought eSports into the conversation, and more and more people came into our scene to stay. Ghosts barely did anything for our scene- if at all. However, YouTubers and other content creators still brought new people into the scene, although the flow was slow. Advanced Warfare, though, brought massive amount of interest into the scene, and Call of Duty eSports has now grown to the point where it’s the largest it’s ever been.
In Black Ops III, that process will finally reach its conclusion. With developer support and a dedicated eSports division at Activision, my prediction is that we’re going to see something in this title that we maybe never expected- near universal recognition of the eSports side of Call of Duty amongst all players. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends are perfect examples of this- nearly every player of the game knows about the title’s dedication to eSports and how the game has a large competitive side in which anyone can participate. Sure, not everyone will or even want to participate in the scene, but they’ll know about it and they’ll knowingly have the option to participate or spectate whenever they like.
So that’s it. We’ll see how these predictions pan out in the long run. Personally, I wouldn’t bet on anything I say because I tend to be wrong quite a bit, but hey, why the hell should I be wrong all of the time?
Oh, and one last freebie bonus prediction for you all: OpTic Gaming will not win the Call of Duty Championship, but that won’t stop me from betting on them anyway.