Call of Duty received a bit of a wake-up call last night, as Nadeshot announced in a video that his 100 Thieves organization would not take part in the inaugural Call of Duty League. The team claimed two majors in the last year and finished runners-up in the 2019 World League, and Haag — visibly affected by proceedings — explained directly to fans the reasons for the org's decision.
A legend in Call of Duty, Nadeshot captained the famed OpTic Gaming during their revolution of CoD esports. Now a model entrepreneur — he has the 100T logo tattooed on his arm — he has built his organization into a key player in Call of Duty since he founded them in November 2017.
Now, he will attend the Call of Duty League merely as a spectator — heartbreaking news for both the founder and 100T fans across the globe.
A price too far
The first reason for 100T slamming the door shut on the CDL is eight digits long — Activision Blizzard are asking organizations to front $25 million should they wish to participate.
Bearing in mind that the popularity of Call of Duty is not that of the "OpTic era" of the early 2010s — a team which won counteless titles and has recently come under the control of the Immortals brand — the entry cost is difficult to justify for an organization with limited space to manoeuver financially such as 100T, especially as the profitability of the venture is unclear.
The last Call of Duty World League Championship attracted 120,000 unique, English-language viewers on the tournament's official stream — this is compared to 44 million viewers reached worldwide for last year's League of Legends World Championships (according to statistics from Riot Games).
As another comparison, a franchise spot in the LCS (Riot's North American league) is trading for around $30 million.
As Nadeshot explains in his video, 100 Thieves now employs around 40 employees, from players, to staff, to content creators. For him, jumping eyes-closed into the CDL would be a huge risk to his organization and its players, jeopardizing his workforce in the case of a poor performance in the League — especially considering the minimum salary imposed by the CDL is $50,000 per year, per player.
The stance taken by Nadeshot is modestly different from that of teams already engaged in the Call of Duty League. Eight of the nine franchise owners are also participants in the Overwatch League, also operated by the Bobby Kotick-led Activision Blizzard. Los Angeles, Toronto, Dallas and New York are all represented by the same owners across the two esports.
A theme is that all these organizations are backed by the same multinational corporations and billionare owners. Toronto is in the hands of OverActive Media, Los Angeles belongs to Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, and New York is dependent on the Wilpon family — owners of the New York Mets of Major League Baseball fame.
In other words, $25 million is a drop in the ocean for these names, with owners such as Nadeshot having a hard time finding their place.
Holding on to his identity
In his video, Haag raises another point of disagreement with the policy of the Call of Duty League, which requires franchise to cooperate with a regional structure within the United States.
This would mean operating a team-specific ticketing scheme and partnering with local sponsors — in other words, forcing 100 Thieves to commit to a US city and taking its name, just as in the Overwatch League.
As a bare minumum, 100T would have to create a 'sister' organization in order to participate in the Call of Duty League — and therefore keeping the 100T brand separate from Call of Duty esports.
It's something that doesn't align with the 100 Thieves identity, according to Nadeshot. In addition, 100T are struggling in this season's LCS. They failed to make Summer Split Playoffs, despite signing expensive star players such as three-time world champion Bae "Bang" Jun-sik.
Even if the org was boosted by the success of a top-three finish in the Fortnite World Cup Duos tournament at the end of July, thanks to players Elevate and Ceice, Haag rightly refuses to fall into the CDL trap this year.
Maybe this will change in the future, but at what cost? According to ESPN, perhaps even higher.
Other endemic brands in the pro Call of Duty circuit could follow suit. After the withdrawal of 100 Thieves, major players in the history of Call of Duty — such as eUnited or FaZe Clan — are also in the spotlight. In a column in the Washington Post, Erik Anderson, FaZe Clan's Head of Esports, expressed his doubts:
“It’s kind of a bummer that the [organizations] people have come to love are gonna have to exit the space, but that feeling will go away over time and I hope they [Activision] still recognize that lineage and that community that’s been built up over the last decade.”
For the moment, no action has been taken by Activision Blizzard in this regard.
Written by Alexandre "lovesic" Chabaux. Translated from the French by David W. Duffy.