I’m writing this because I think what I’m about to say honestly needs to be said and I don’t think there’s any other way to put it but in a completely blunt, honest way. Please keep in mind that these are my opinions and if you disagree or want to dispute my claims, you’re fully welcome to do so; in fact, I encourage it.
Over the last couple of months, I’ve not had much time to follow the scene as closely as I normally do. I’ve not watched an event live since X-Games in June. I don’t keep track of rosters on a daily basis and the results of every match aren’t analyzed every night like I used to do. Last week, I came back to the CoDCompetitive subreddit and started catching up on what I missed.
“Call of Duty is dying” is a phrase posted, spoken, and tweeted so often in our scene that it’s become a running joke. It’s nothing new. Most people in our scene are so tired of hearing about it that as soon as they think someone is about to say something like that, they click away or dislike the video or downvote and go on with their day. I was one of those people.
That was, until this last week.
Let’s look at the facts here. MLG has done a pretty decent job keeping our scene going and they’re constantly working to improve what our scene has to offer. We have at least 100,000 people who are willing to tune into events and watch their favorite teams play live. There’s money in the scene and sponsors and it’s growing slowly but surely.
That said, every year is a gamble for us. There’s no guarantee that a year from now, we’re even going to have a game for us to play competitively. There’s no guarantee that we’re even going to have a proper eSports scene at all a year from now. Success in our scene is entirely dependent on the quality of the game, and that changes every 12 months. That’s our cross to bear more so than any other eSports scene out there; hell, even Halo doesn’t switch games every year. No other eSport has to rebuild itself from the ground up every year when a new game comes out.
Let’s give credit where credit is due, though. Because of MLG and other organizations in our scene, we don’t have to start entirely from scratch when a new title comes out in the franchise like we used to have to do. But what will happen if something happens in the new title? What if there’s a huge bug or a hack that absolutely wrecks the playability of the game? What if the new game is so terrible that no one wants to watch it or play it? What if Activision doesn’t even release a new game?
The Call of Duty eSports scene at this exact moment is like a 79 year old grandmother with operable cancer: every time a new game comes out that doesn’t suck, it’s like a chemo treatment that extends our life by one year, but we’re running on borrowed time and eventually, we will die unless we do something about it. Our scene has quite a few issues that are- to extend the analogy- terminal- but the lack of autonomy from Activision (and lack of cooperation, for that matter) is what worries me most.
We don’t have developer support, and until we do, we’re in a stranglehold. We find our scene completely at their mercy. As soon as it’s no longer beneficial to them to keep the scene going, they may very well make a decision to no longer pander to our desires and that’ll be the end of Call of Duty eSports.
What we need more than anything is to treat Call of Duty eSports like the sport that it is, plain and simple. Believe it or not, all we need is a more organized way of running the scene and making decisions for the best of the scene (especially to protect the players inside of it). We need a governing body, more than what MLG currently offers us. We need more structure, and more rules and regulations to help guide this eSport into the amazing future that it could easy attain, and prevent it from finding a brutal end. We need a players’ organization to protect the people who make up this scene and allow them to pursue a prosperous livelihood.
I’m not saying MLG is doing a bad job. They’re actually doing a fine job with what they have so far, but at this point we can no longer entirely rely on the current system to sustain us. MLG might even be the best way for us to attain the additional structure that we require inside of our scene, but that’s a big responsibility for them and one that I’m a bit nervous giving to them, especially since at the end of the day they’re out to make a profit. This is not the most profitable option on the table, but neither is paying for insurance on your car, and we all know how glad you’ll be if you have it when you need it. This is a necessary expense, and we cannot abide cutting corners anymore. Our community, our players, and our eSports scene all need protection against whatever is to come. We’re not a dinky little niche anymore- we’re a fully-fledged eSport whose popularity is measurable against that of any other sport or eSport out there.
If we gain the structure that we require, then even if Activision does not make a new Call of Duty game in 2016 (or makes it an entirely casual game with zero skill gap and no eSports functionality), we could maintain the scene and continue to sustain our beloved eSport for years to come. We can grow our scene even larger while Call of Duty remains a prosperous franchise. We can increase the quality of life for the professional players in our scene and increase the likelihood that we can get some young players and fresh blood competing at the highest levels in our eSport. Most importantly, with that structure we can build on existing framework if Activision decides that we’re not worth their time.
It isn’t even hard to get this off the ground. All we have to do is get representatives from MLG, Activision, organization heads, pro players and experts from the scene into a conference room at MLG headquarters along with a few sports/entertainment lawyers, and pound this thing out in a weekend. Apart from the lawyer fees and maybe some refreshments, this isn’t going to cost much for MLG to implement and will pay huge dividends in the long run for their investments in our scene.
Call of Duty may very well be just beginning to hit its stride, or we may be seeing the sunset of the golden age of the console. Regardless, we’re running out of time before we no longer have the opportunity to hedge our bets against failure, and so I urge anyone and everyone to fight for this as our chief option to save our eSport. We may not have another chance or option, and we can’t afford to wait much longer.