Activision announced major changes to its competitive Call of Duty structure Wednesday, including a reformatting of its Call of Duty World League Pro League and the creation of an amateur-level division, as well as a a competitive season prize pool larger than any in Call of Duty history for 2017-18.
It's part an overall push from Activision to further promote the burgeoning esport, with Michael Condrey, Co-Founder and Studio Head at Sledgehammer Games, suggesting this will be "the most invested the studio has ever been in esports." The prize pool for the year, Activision said, is around $4.2 million.
"We felt like we had to, from Day One, build a studio initiative to support Call of Duty esports," Condrey said.
The Call of Duty World League will now be split into two divisions of eight teams that compete in an LAN setting in two separate stages, Stage 1 and 2. Qualifying teams will compete at the MLG Arena in Columbus, Ohio, at least twice in a season for a spot in the playoffs and a shot at its $500,000 prize pool.
The previous format gave the top 16 teams with the most Pro Points accrued worldwide a spot in Stage 1, and those teams were put in in one of four pools of LAN competition at the MLG Arena in Columbus, Ohio, over the course of a given weekend. The top two teams from each pool then earned a spot in the Stage 1 playoffs, with the process repeating itself for Stage 2 and Stage 2 playoffs, respectively.
This season, Stage 1 will be played out Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of every week from Jan. 23 to March 22, with the playoffs taking place on April 6. Stage 2 will repeat the same format from May 15 through July 19 with the playoffs on July 27.
Kevin Flynn, Director of Call of Duty Esports, cites experiences from past iterations of the CWL as a chance for growth instead of falling into a bit of stagnation.
"I think the CWL is the manifestation of the franchise's commitment to esports," said Kevin Flynn, Director of Call of Duty Esports, "and I think on our journey from year to year, we are learning and getting better. The product and viewing experience is becoming slicker."
Teams unable to qualify for Stage 1 or 2 will automatically slot into the CWL National Circuit, a new layer of the competitive season designated to enhance the amateur-level talent in Call of Duty. The CWL National Circuit will take place in eight regions -- Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States -- with teams competing against their regional competition for a first-place prize package that includes an invitation to an upcoming Global Open event plus paid travel accommodations, a $1,000 cash prize and 3,000 Pro Points to each player.
The CWL National Circuit will have four stages, with the first taking place from Jan. 26 to Feb. 16.
"We know we have a wealth of teams and players that are trying to compete and get to that elite level. If you aren't one of those teams to qualify for the specific stages, you'll get a chance to compete online regularly," Flynn said. "We feel what this is doing is providing a really great angle for players' aspirations. For players and teams to keep shooting for, and competing against, the teams at the top of the level and hopefully broaden the reach of the CWL and build up the competition globally."
Pro Points will be earned in a similar manner to last season, with teams competing in both LAN and online tournaments as well as through daily competition on GameBattles. Unlike last year, there will be a hard cap placed on the amount of Pro Points earned in a given day (35) through GameBattles in an effort to promote healthier playstyles across the scene. Players can immediately begin earning Pro Points starting Nov. 3 upon release of Call of Duty: World War II.
Fifteen online regional tournaments known as 2K because of the amount of Pro Points awarded to each individual player (2,000) on the winning team, will take place throughout the course of the season, with some also expected to have a minor prize pool as well. There will also be six major LAN Global Open events during the 2017-18 competitive year. The first will take place from Dec. 8-10 in Dallas, with another scheduled for Jan. 12-14 in New Orleans and the third March 9-11 in Atlanta. The prize pool for each open LAN major is expected to be $200,000.
The Call of Duty World Championships structure remains unchanged, with 32 teams expected to qualify for the $1.5 million event. Sources suggest the event is likely to begin in August, but the location has yet to be determined.
Call of Duty: World War II launches Nov. 3 and will take the franchise back to its roots with the boots-on-the-ground movement system returning after a multi-year hiatus.