Can a Call of Duty neophyte enjoy the COD World Championship? Join me as I spend a day at Nationwide Arena in Columbus and try to figure it out!
08-19-18 9:30 AM
I am 46 years old. It is without shame that I say that Call of Duty intimidates me. I’ve never once played Call of Duty: WWII. I crank shooters down to “Easy” difficulty to play the campaigns, and completely ignore the scary online multiplayer. I don’t follow eSports. I don’t watch any videogame streamers. I’m not even sure I could name any (Karate Guy? Wolverine?). I think that YouTube is for trailers, and Twitch is the service that gives me free games every month that I never have time to play.
And yet, here I am, totally jazzed because I am going to the final round of the Call of Duty World Championships this afternoon. I have diligently packed my Gaming Nexus travel kit (phone, laptop, extra battery pack, antacid). I know where to pick up my press pass, which comes with carefully repeated instructions to not try to get on stage to take pictures during competition. Disappointing.
My 18-year-old son, who had agreed to act as my “Call-of-Duty-to-English” translator was forced to bail on the event in favor of attending some required Freshmen activities at his new college, leaving me to excitedly brave the crocodile-infested waters of Call of Duty fandom on my own. From what I have gleaned listening to my son play online matches, Call of Duty fans are A) an average of fifteen years old, B) insanely cruel, and C) super racist. I am hoping to have the opportunity to drop the dad hammer on some rabid pipsqueaks that I overhear being mean to each other, safe in the knowledge that I can use my press pass to scurry away to safety if they turn on me.
No longer able to rely on my son, I decide to do a few minutes of research before heading out. It turns out that there were originally 32 teams that were playing in this championship, which started on August 15th. The winning team gets the lion’s share of the $1.5 million dollar prize pool. All gameplay is on PlayStation 4 (Sony sponsors the event), and players attempt to gain CWL (Call of Duty World League) points by shooting each other. No problem. I totally get it.
Several favorite teams were knocked out of competition earlier than expected, including last year’s champion “OpTic”. This is important to remember, so I don’t accidentally say something like “Hey, how about those losers on OpTic?” to a member of OpTic.
Looking at the event lineup, I find that all of the players have cool sounding screen names. Here are a few of my favorites: ZooMaa. Major Maniak. Phantomz. Proto. Kenny.
Yes, Kenny. He plays with fellow Team Kaliber members Accuracy, Fero, and Enable. I decide that one of my sub-quests for today is to find Kenny. I have determined now that, due to no other criteria than the presence of Kenny, Team Kaliber are my new favorites. Jumping online, I am excited to find that Team Kaliber and Kenny are still in the running, and will be playing today at 1:30. Go Kenny!
I also see that FaZe Clan is playing today at noon. I also have stakes in this match, because Attach (who plays for FaZe Clan) is my co-worker’s roommate’s brother. If the final match comes down to Kenny vs. FaZe Clan, I will totally lose my shit. I decide that FaZe Clan are my second favorite.
Armed with a complete understanding of professional Call of Duty and eSports in general, I head to Nationwide Arena. Along the way, I stop to pick up some breath mints, in case I get the chance to talk to Kenny.
I arrive at Nationwide Arena and wander around to the back of the building to the security entrance, which is hidden at the top of a giant concrete stairwell. Passing through a series of checkpoints, I find myself at a check-in table, where a lady hands me an envelope with my press pass. I ask her where I can go and not go, and she informs me that I can go “pretty much anywhere”. I wonder if she is giving me permission to go onstage to take a picture with Kenny while he is competing. That would be the best. Go Kenny!
I wander around backstage for a while (which is full of monitors and people carefully monitoring them), until I find the “Press Room”. The room is full of leather couches. On the couches are a bunch of dudes merrily typing on laptops. A clock on a TV is counting down to the beginning of the first match. I recognize a few familiar faces from the gaming press, but I am too excited by my first eSports experience to hang out back stage and watch the matches on TV with the press. I am here to get the full experience, so that means I have to go mix it up with the crowd.
Whoa buddy, this stage show is pretty intense. There are lights and sounds and giant TVs. The first match of the day on the main stage is eUnited vs. Luminosity. It turns out that FaZe Clan is playing on the side stage. After spending a few minutes watching the main match, I dip over to the side stage to check out my work buddy’s roommate’s brother. I quickly discover that in these matches, live spectators can’t really see the players. Or rather, you can see the tops of the players’ heads, but they don’t really do much. They are playing video games. The crowd at the side stage is small, but rowdy. I can tell that they are deeply invested in the outcome of this match. However, being the new kid that I am, the lights and sound of the main stage are too enticing, so I bail on my buddy’s roommate’s brother and go back to the main stage.
At this point, I instantly reassess my opinion of Call of Duty fans. Most of the crowd gathered seem to be guys in their twenties and thirties (the outer halls of Nationwide are full of girlfriends and wives, wandering around with dead eyes - like zombies). Everyone that I encounter is polite and friendly. I initially sit down in the floor/prestige section, but quickly realize that the viewing angle from the floor is less than optimal. I move up into the general admission stands where I am able to see the giant screens (and the players) much more clearly. I chat happily with my neighbors, who drove in from Detroit.
The play by play echoes out through the arena, and the two Australian announcers (who remind me more than anything of Robert Downey Jr. in Natural Born Killers) do a great job of selling the drama. In the course of watching this one match, I gain a much clearer view of what is going on. Luminosity starts out strong, taking the first couple of matches, but crowd favorite eUnited turn things around during the capture the flag level and dominate for the rest of the match. By listening to the lightning-tongued Aussies, I am able to start to pick out players. I hear things about “strategies” and “plays”, but it is all Greek to me. They say things like “Control of the cabin is crucial to the success of this play”, and “The East River was frozen, but now it has clearly melted for Clayster”. It is all very dramatic. I see the cabin, I see the river, I see the guys running around and shooting each other, but the strategy eludes me. I think that a major disadvantage I have as a spectator is that having not played the game, the maps are unfamiliar to me. Nonetheless, I find myself swept up in the energy of the crowd and find myself cheering for eUnited as they mount their comeback.
As a side note, I am slowly becoming more certain that I will not be seeing Kenny outside of the stage. His Team Kaliber is up next. I have been offered the opportunity to interview players, but it is clear that I have no idea what I am talking about, so I pass. All of the dudes in the press room seem to know what is going on, and I am clueless, so I’m a fly on the wall.
It is time for Kenny’s team to play, so I’m heading back to the stands. Go Kenny!
During Team Kaliber’s match vs. Evil Geniuses, I realize that I am sitting behind a couple that don’t quite fit in with the rest of the crowd. Though they are older than most of the surrounding spectators, I notice that they are far more invested in the action than almost anyone around us. The woman is bunching herself up in little balls, filled with tension during clutch moments of the match. During a break in the game, I tap on the woman’s shoulder. It turns out that the couple are the parents of Enable, one of Kenny’s teammates on Team Kaliber. This doubles my investment in Team Kaliber, so I am doubly disappointed when they fall to Evil Geniuses. I am deeply saddened by Kenny and his teammates being knocked out of the competition. I also feel terrible for Enable’s parents, who seem like nice people.
I was totally wrong. I didn’t realize it, but Kenny and Team Kaliber still have a chance at the final championship. All they have to do is beat FaZe Clan, my buddy’s roommate’s brother’s team. The match that I made up in my head this morning before I knew anything about how these matches work has come to pass.
It is during the FaZe vs. Kaliber match that I realize that everything has totally clicked for me. I understand the matches, the points, the different gameplay modes. I know the different teams. I even know some of the strategies that are being used. Like I do when playing a new game, I have learned some of the UI of Call of Duty eSports by experiencing it. I notice things that I did not when I arrived this morning. I see the overhead map that is constantly present under the center screen. I see each player’s POV off on the side screens. I start to understand the stats that are displayed. I feel much less lost.
This match is filled with insanely tense moments. Faze takes the first two rounds, only needed three to win and take out Team Kaliber for good. But in a series of crazed photo finishes, Team Kaliber manages to come back and secure their place in the final round for the championship against Evil Geniuses.
I find that I am fully invested in this match, sitting on the edge of my seat and hooting along with the crowd, elbowing the guy sitting next to me at awesome moments. When Kenny goes on a lunatic kill streak, I roar along with the masses at each additional kill.
It turns out that eSports are absolutely accessible, Call of Duty is a ton of fun to watch live with a crowd, and my randomly choosing Kenny out of a field of faces was an amazingly prescient pick. I have had an absolute blast following Team Kaliber through the ups and downs of the day, and now they will be moving on to the championship round.
After the match, I rush to the front with the rest of the press to get a shot of Kenny being interviewed. This is the high point of my day. My initial mission is complete; I have found Kenny, and he is awesome.
It all comes down to this. Once again, Team Kaliber has kept me on the edge of my seat. Hanging on by the skin of their teeth seems to be Team Kaliber’s M.O., and it make them great to watch, but bad for my heart. Every time I think they are out, they come roaring back from behind.
After barely defeating Evil Geniuses in the first match, I learned that Team Kaliber has to win another full match against E.G. to win the championship. Something to do with the fact that they came from the loser’s bracket. And now, down by two once again, the fatigue of playing so many matches in a row catches up with Team Kaliber and they fall to Evil Geniuses for the second time today.
I’m sorry, new friend Kenny. You and your team worked hard today.
I’m sure that it is no consolation, but though you lost the championship, you won a new fan today.
It turns out that I really like Call of Duty live.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a 45-year-old dad with four kids, ranging in age from 1 through 17. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on PS4, PSVR, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U and a janky PC. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect.View Profile