The thrill of seeing elite gamers throwdown, tossing out barbs and leaning into both team rivalries and the delightful chaos of a head to head match returns on Friday with the return of Call of Duty League, offering all the excitement of standard tournament play from the comforts of the homes of pros that are taking to the virtual battlefield.
Call of Duty League has been on pause since its March 8 event in Los Angeles due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the month off has allowed the organization to retool its setup to work at home. A lot has happened in the interim in the Call of Duty world. More than 30 million people have played the game’s Warzone battle royale mode and Playstation gamers have gotten a remastered Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
For the pros playing in CDL, however, the time off has been all about watching film, staying in shape, and honing skills that give them an edge in competition. Practices and scrimmages have continued, and there’s been a good amount of pickup gaming among pros to keep sharp. Having matches on the schedule is certainly welcome news for pros itching to get back to competition.
“It feels great, to be honest because just practicing without a tournament in sight or a goal in sight gets kind of tiring,” New York Subliners ace Lamar “Accuracy” Abedi told Uproxx. “Right when the schedule was announced it was a rejuvenation of energy.”
Here’s what to expect on Friday and moving forward for Call of Duty League.
The league’s inaugural season launched in January to raucous crowds, but Friday marks the return to tournament play with an online-only format that presents some interesting challenges for squads. Though teams will still “host” tournament weekends, each group will play from home on CDL servers while the action is streamed around the world.
Online play brings potential latency problems, but the league has protocols in place to combat this and ensure competitive balance between teams. CDL hopes it can return to LAN events before the season ends in July, but stressed it wants to keep its players and fans safe while providing fair competition for all sides. According to pros, though, the real change is taking the crowd out of the equation.
“The biggest difference is just not having the energy of an arena filled with fans and the energy that brings,” Accuracy said. “That hype when you step up on that stage, you go into a different zone. Now we have to get into that zone from the comfort of our bedroom or wherever we’re playing.”
Accuracy lives in New York with his teammate, Dillon “Attach” Price. They’ll play from their apartment once the Subliners start play against Chicago on April 24, and he said it’s a mental game to keep focused on the magnitude of each match regardless of where you’re playing.
A Welcome Opportunity
Call of Duty League has a unique opportunity in its return because it’s one of the few sports organizations that can safely hold competitions. It’s certainly not lost on anyone involved that there will be a big chance to attract new fans. Twitch streaming numbers are up as people look for things to watch, and though online-only competitions mean fewer camera angles, the action will feature casters and live gaming to watch on the league’s YouTube page.
It’s also a chance for CDL to offer a competitive, professional product at a time when people are looking for new and exciting distractions, as indicated by league commissioner Johanna Faries in a statement.
“I spent many years at the NFL, and saw firsthand how sports can lift the human spirit,” Faries said in a statement. “No one wants to be in this situation, but we are, and we’re thankful that Call of Duty League can forge ahead and deliver live competition to fans when it’s probably needed most.”
Crowded At The Top
There’s no surprise when it comes to what teams to keep an eye on this weekend and beyond. The Chicago Huntsman have lived up to the hype and are tied with the Atlanta FaZe for first place in the league. Just below them with 80 points is the Dallas Empire, while Minnesota Røkkr sit with 70 points in fourth place. Those four are the ones to beat through the season’s home stretch, and whether Atlanta and Chicago can shake off the rust and stay at the top of their game will largely determine how the season plays out.
“This late into the season we know which teams are really good and which teams are at the top top. ” Accuracy said. “Faze, Dallas and Chicago are the teams everyone has had their eye on. Those are the ones that everyone is like, ‘OK we have to really focus up for this match.”
Notable Additions And Exclusions
One big change for the Subliners — who have struggled and are tied for last place this year — is the addition of Makenzie “Mack” Kelley, an amateur who turned 18 and became pro-eligible in 2020.
Join us in welcoming Makenzie "Mack" Kelley @MackMelts to the #NYSL team. pic.twitter.com/wnXeqNtVd2
— New York Subliners (@Subliners) March 8, 2020
Accuracy raved about Mack and the energy he’s brought to Subliners practices.
“Him being that fresh young talent and bringing that new vibe to our team definitely helped us a lot,” Accuracy said. “He also gave us a new perspective on the game compared to how we were playing before. So being able to combine that with how we were playing previously definitely leveled our team up a lot.”
New York will have a bit more time to prepare for their next shot at tournament play as it’s one of four teams not playing in the tournament this weekend, including top-ranked Atlanta, the London Royal Ravens and OpTic Gaming Los Angeles. But that doesn’t mean it’s a weekend off for anyone in Call of Duty League.
“I love watching film. It’s one of the biggest things that’s helped me get better as a player,” Accuracy said. “And I’m gonna be watching these matches religiously this weekend, dissecting everything I can to take it back to our team and see what we can pick up on.”
The action kicks off Friday 4/10 at 4pm EST. You can tune in all weekend through Sunday and follow the rest of the season here on Uproxx.