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Activision Blizzard’s new Call of Duty League will begin play in January 2020, with 12 geolocated teams and a franchised approach inspired by the company’s own Overwatch League. The debut season will award more than $6M USD in prizing as teams host home series weekends in their respective home markets.
It’s a major change for the long-running first-person shooter, which played under the non-franchised Call of Duty World League framework over the last few years. To lead the transformation into a larger-scale effort, Activision Blizzard brought in Johanna Faries, previously the NFL’s vice president of club business development, in July to serve as Call of Duty Commissioner.
With all 12 team brands revealed and the initial schedule released, The Esports Observer asked Faries what her expectations are for 2020 and how her experience in the traditional sports world has helped inform the Call of Duty League’s construction.
Bringing in Brands
There are a lot of familiar faces in the Call of Duty League franchise pool, with 10 of the 12 teams owned by companies that also have an Overwatch League franchise. Only one company in the mix wasn’t already involved in the world of esports before joining the league.
Among those owners are companies that have been active in professional Call of Duty for years, including Envy Gaming and OverActive Media (Splyce)—and interestingly, a pair of brands that will be familiar to fans: Atlanta FaZe and OpTic Gaming Los Angeles. Unlike the Overwatch League, which didn’t allow teams to keep existing team branding, there’s some flexibility in the Call of Duty League model.
“Our first season will showcase a great balance of organizations who have been foundational within the Call of Duty esports scene for many years, as well as new organizations who hail from traditional sports and entertainment,” said Faries, when asked about balancing the interest in existing brands with that for new ones.
“On the endemic side, we love that we have endemic partners like Envy in Dallas, Luminosity in Seattle, OpTic in Los Angeles, Splyce in Toronto, and Hector Rodriguez co-leading in Chicago with NRG,” she continued. “At the same time, our other team organizations are leaders in their own right across multiple industries. It’s the powerful combination of expertise that has created a world-class ownership group for Call of Duty League’s inaugural season.”
Lessons from the NFL
Faries spent nearly 12 years with the National Football League, working her way up from a coordinator of innovation and business development to the VP of marketing strategy and fan development, and finally VP of club business development shortly before her departure. She said that her NFL experience has helped with the formation of the Call of Duty League’s structure, but that this is ultimately a much different kind of venture.
“There are several insights and structural similarities in traditional sports that have helped inform how we’ve designed a city-based franchise model for Call of Duty League. The ability to draw from my time at the NFL is a hugely helpful reference point,” she said. “That said, there is something totally new happening here with Call of Duty League and how Activision Blizzard is attempting to make waves in esports more broadly. It has been truly amazing to work with the incredible people across this company to deliver a vision for competitive entertainment that has never before been done.”
Transforming the more fluid and open professional Call of Duty system of old into a franchised league with fixed teams and new brands is a significant undertaking. Faries said that she and her team have the benefit of not only the Call of Duty brand’s success as a game franchise to build upon, but also Activision Blizzard’s experience establishing the structurally similar Overwatch League.
“Call of Duty has a uniquely broad and culturally relevant place in gaming, entertainment, and pop culture. This is a great advantage for us as we launch the new league,” she said. “We have also been able to learn quickly from our friends in Overwatch League about what’s worked in its early years, what’s been a challenge, and how we can apply those insights to our own strategy going forward.”
It’s Nearly Here
With major partners, significant investments, and a large geolocated push, there’s a lot riding on the Call of Duty League. Even so, Faries said that it’s just the start—and she believes that they have assembled the right partners and staff to bring the league to life and then continue building upon it.
“While we, of course, have high hopes for the league’s performance across the board, just knowing that we are in business with the best players, best team organizations, best partners, and best employees to turn vision into reality makes every day a truly awesome part of this ambitious journey,” she said.
“When the lights go up on Call of Duty League, our hope is that our fans are excited about the experience, whether they are spectating, competing, or engaging as a first-time viewer,” Faries added. “Rolling out our inaugural season for the first time will be an incredibly proud day for many of us, knowing that it’s just the beginning.”
Editor’s note: Trent Murray conducted this interview.
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