Is a City-Based Call of Duty League Worth $25 Million?

Back in February 2019, Activision confirmed that they will be moving to a city-based league for Call of Duty. After seeing the success of the Overwatch League with the same structure, Activision wanted to follow suit with Call of Duty starting in 2020. This will be around the same time Overwatch League teams will start playing in their home cities and doing home/away games instead of playing at the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA.

Personally, I’m all for city-based esports league. Esports has always transcended barriers of traditional sports. One in particular is that online makes it possible for teams and players all over the world to play against each other. Fans of well-established teams were usually made up of those who played the game, whether casually or competitively. The one thing esports has been unable to tap were people loyal to their hometown teams. I live in the Chicagoland area and everywhere I go, I’ll see Bulls shirts or Blackhawks beanies or White Sox/Cubs hats. I doubt a lot of these people who wear their team jerseys regularly play the sport, but they still support and own the merch and tune into or go to games. When Overwatch League teams were announced, I picked the Los Angeles Gladiators to support because I was living south of LA at the time. Ray, or Waya, chose to mainly support Houston Outlaws because the owner of the team, OpTic Gaming, originally had their team headquarters in Chicago, which is where he grew up and live. So even with us who have a pretty good understanding of the players in the League still aligned ourselves with our hometown team.

Recently, it was rumored that each franchise team will be a buy-in of $25 million, which is actually more than the minimum buy in for Overwatch at $20 million. When this was announced, it was the first time I had heard of the city-based league plan for Call of Duty. Like I said, I’m all for city-based teams but the buy-in price was what shocked me the most. I personally would have thought somewhere along the lines of $10-15 million per team and maybe as low as $5 million.

Is a $25 million buy-in worth it for owners to invest in a Call of Duty team? Personally, I don’t think it’s worth that much money. It might have been worth it like 5 years ago, but nowadays, it might be too much.

Over the weekend, I was watching a little bit of the World League that was held in Fort Worth. During the grand finals, the viewer count peaked at 60k, which is pretty underwhelming for the largest tournament of Call of Duty and will be looking for potential owners willing to pay $25 million for a team. And with such a low peak for the grand finals, why would big companies like Toyota and State Farm (current partners of Overwatch League) want to invest in Call of Duty? One of the reasons why large companies partnered with Overwatch is because it brought in big numbers in views. Overwatch has huge viewership in China that it even brought in 2.6 million viewers at its peak during APAC. Chinese tournaments continuously pulled 300k+ viewers and APEX, a Korean tournament, bringing in 100k+ viewers. While it doesn’t pull as many western viewers, the inflated views from Asian countries makes it desirable. Not only could they get big western sponsor but also big Chinese and Korean sponsors. Call of Duty mostly relies on North American and some European viewers, which doesn’t bring in as much as viewers from Asian countries.

Just like Overwatch League, if an existing esports organization wants to buy in Call of Duty, they will most likely have to rebrand. Call of Duty grew on organizations like OpTic and Faze Clan. I feel like changing their brand might do damage. Originally, this is what I thought would happen with Overwatch but I was wrong. It didn’t really affect the fanbase too much but I feel like it’s different with Call of Duty because it’s a much older game series with brands that built themselves around these games. Is it worth it for a brand to remove their name for a $25 million team? Maybe, but there is more intrinsic value for some of these organization names for Call of Duty.

Most organizations will most likely not be able to afford $25 million buy in. Organizations like Immortals partnered with companies (AEG in Immortals case) and were given money to afford a buy in. OpTic is owned by Infinite Esports & Entertainment. Infinite is owned by an investor and the co-owner of the Texas Rangers, which tells me that they have a lot of eggs to put into different baskets, two of them being OpTic and Outlaws. What will end up happening just like in Overwatch is that many teams will end dropping their players. If they cannot compete in the League, there would be no reason for them to keep their players. The entire team may end up being picked up by a League team or they’ll be picked up individually.

The biggest factor would be if Activision can market the League well. Call of Duty is no doubt a household name and might be easier to pull in fans and viewers than we think. Activision being such a huge company will easily market the League especially after learning a lot from Overwatch League.

Like I mentioned, I want city-based leagues. I want this Call of Duty league to succeed. Activision is doing something no other esports has done which is to tap into the hometown diehard fans. I just don’t think $25 million is worth it and hope that it doesn’t scare away potential owners.

Anyways, I hope you enjoyed the read. Upon writing this last part of the blog, there was announcement that Call of Duty will be going into mobile. Mobile gaming taps into a lot of developing countries where computers and consoles aren’t as common in households yet. I do hope this helps them gaining fans and viewers. But that is it for me! I will see you all next time.

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