As one of the most popular shooting series in history, Call of Duty is no stranger to the spotlight. With their most popular games selling just over 30 million units, the series has entered a rare gaming club for those who reach over 300 million total sales. Many of our readers will remember the massive cultural phenomenon which was the first Modern Warfare game and the success of Black Op’s zombie mode.
So why is it that the best-selling FPS series of all time failed to reach the heights of other modern online eSports shooters?
The Modern Warfare Effect
In case some of our readers don’t know, when we say the original Modern Warfare was a revelation, we might be underselling it. This game made huge waves in first-person combat, finding its influence among other luminaries such as Doom, Half-Life, and Halo. For years afterward, games attempted to copy the MW formula, usually to lesser success.
A big part of this came down to the fantastic set-pieces within the game. Half-Life 1 and 2 had certainly set a precedent here, but MW adopted this in a military setting and raised the bar to an entirely new level.
In this way, CoD had effectively set the stage for what shooters could do but, as it turns out, that was not enough.
Creating a legacy is one thing, but maintaining the legacy is another entirely. It is true that CoD games are always popular, selling more than almost every other game out there, but this can be a double-edged sword. This is a series which relies on new iterations to maintain popularity, and new iterations require change.
Releasing a new game with the same multiplayer each year is going to draw complaints that customers are not getting their money’s worth. On the other hand, evolving a series beyond its roots means that it cannot establish a basis on bedrock.
Take two of the most popular eSports game currently around for example, CS: GO and League of Legends. These are among the rare games popular and established enough to find a place within bookmaker sites such as Betway. A significant component of their longstanding appeal is that these game remain fundamentally the same as when they started, which allows players and punters to easily follow along.
To succeed in eSports a game needs more than the gameplay, it needs to be appreciable by those who might be unfamiliar. This is especially important to newer games which don’t have prior legacies to lean on.
Overwatch is a great example of this. Released in May of 2016, this is one of the newer hits in eSports, yet it still enjoys a growing place of importance. This is owed, in no small part, due to the visually striking design. Each character in Blizzard’s Overwatch comes with their own distinct personality, and this is reflected through their appearance, abilities, and voice lines.
Call of Duty games can claim no such distinction, as their characters are comparatively bland. This makes it difficult for a newer audience to appreciate the game, which holds back the appeal for many newer viewers.
Accessibility and Price Point
The final points we need to look at which hold CoD back in eSports are those of accessibility and price point. For both of these, we’ll use Fortnite as a comparison.
Call of Duty as a series is notorious for its hardcore and dedicated community. Many players of CoD only stick to the series and have spent thousands of hours honing their skills over a very small number of maps. A single one of these players can be a wet blanket over an entire match, making it so no other player can have an enjoyable experience.
While it is true that players in Fortnite can still dominate to a huge degree, the open maps and huge player count make such a level of oppression much more difficult.
The price point is a concern because, combined with accessibility issues, it can hamper immediate access. People who see Fortnite and like the idea can download the game for free and try it out for themselves. Call of Duty games, however, are a premium-priced product, which can hold back many who might otherwise be interested in taking a look.
Will CoD Ever Hold the Gold?
With their current trajectory, it seems unlikely that CoD will ever hold a place on the podium of eSports popularity. With that in mind, we wouldn’t completely write them out of such popularity in the future. After all, they may not be at the very top, they still perform quite well in the overall eSports environment.
It’s entirely possible that a change in direction could lead a future CoD game to gain steam and rise the ranks. If we ever see a free to play CoD game with low requirements, which focuses on unique and quirky characters, we would put good money on it making progress. Whether or not this is right for the IP, though, is another question entirely.