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Call of Duty League returns to in-person LAN tournaments — with online-only audiences

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The Call of Duty League plans to return to a major tournament where the participants can play in person on a fast network in June. But the audience for that event will have to be online, as the league isn’t yet ready to welcome back live audiences at physical events.

The CDL has had a rocky time lately, postponing a tournament in February because of snowstorms and subsequent power outages in Texas. But then it doubled down on the lost time with a full seven days of play dubbed the Super Week. And now it’s bringing back LAN play, or a tournament on a local area network in one place.

The event will take place in Dallas, which is actually home to 24 CDL players, or roughly half the league. I interviewed players like Kenny Williams of L.A. Thieves and Chris “Simp” Lehr of Atlanta Faze. They said that there was no question that playing on a LAN was far superior to playing across the internet, with players spread out in different cities. But they were also grateful to be playing at all, even in digital events.

The local Dallas team, Dallas Empire, and the Call of Duty League will return to LAN for this season’s Major IV, hosted at the Esports Stadium Arlington from June 17 to June 20.

Above: The L.A. Thieves fight the Minnesota Rokkr in the opening match of the CDL.

Image Credit: CDL

“We’re very excited to be announcing this week that the Dallas Empire will be hosting our Major IV,” said Johanna Faries, head of leagues at Activision Blizzard and recently promoted to general manager of Call of Duty, in an interview with GamesBeat. “That is really good news on a lot of fronts. As you can imagine, we’ve been waiting so patiently for this moment to get back to offline LAN play. And to have all 12 teams under one roof playing in that manner is really just an awesome new beat for us.”

As part of this initial return to a live environment, events — with only teams and limited League staff in attendance — will follow strict COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety and comfort of all participating players and staff, including Rapid Response COVID-19 testing throughout the event, Faries said.

“We’ve been working really diligently with internal groups to make sure that everyone who’s participating in the venue is adhering to pretty strict enforcement of the COVID-19 protocols that we need both in advance of the events, pre-arrival, and while they’re in the venue,” Faries said.

Johanna Faries is head of leagues at Activision Blizzard.

Above: Johanna Faries is head of leagues and general manager of Call of Duty at Activision Blizzard.

Image Credit: Activision Blizzard

Teams will be welcomed back and able to compete on stage once again, reintroducing the dynamics of in-person play and re-igniting season rivalries after a full year of remote play. Fans will be able to watch this action live, exclusively on YouTube.

“This Dallas announcement is a big one,” she said. “And I know it’s one that everyone in the community has been really hungry for.”

While viewership of the MLB, NBA, college basketball, NASCAR, and other traditional sports are down, the League is up nearly 10% in AMA (average minute audience) from a year ago, and it’s up 15% in primetime AMA. It’s also up more than 80% in hours watched in total, continuing a growth trajectory first seen during the closure of live events.

Gone are the days of physical events for the CDL.

Above: The Call of Duty League in the days when it could hold events in person.

Image Credit: Activision

Structurally, the return to live events will feature all 12 teams competing in a double-elimination bracket, collecting CDL points for each win as teams compete for one of eight end-of-season playoff spots and one spot closer to the Championship. Activision Blizzard recently laid off a lot of its physical events esports staff, and so it makes sense that Dallas Empire and Envy will handle a lot of the production.

“Our teams really bought into this vision because they are so proactive and entrepreneurial about bringing live CDL events into their markets,” Faries said. “That was always part of the ownership profile. It’s just great to be able to get back in action. And [we] couldn’t ask for better partners with Envy.”

Faries isn’t ready to talk about what will happen later in the year, and whether fans will be able to watch in person at some point. But she noted the league is strong and there is double-digit growth in viewership.

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