The Call of Duty World League Championship 2017 marks the end of the line for the 2017 CWL season, a global league that Kevin Flynn, Director of Product Marketing for Call of Duty Esports, has helped make a reality.
As an employee of Activision for almost half a decade, Flynn has helped grow Call of Duty in his home country of the United Kingdom, before moving up and moving out to the United States to help oversee CWL events, programs, team affairs, media, and general operation. Here is what Flynn had to say about the past, present, and future of the Call of Duty World League:
What do you do as Director of Product Marketing for Call of Duty Esports as a part of Major League Gaming, or in other terms, Director of the CWL?
I help run the product marketing team, along with helping to run the day-to-day business of the Call of Duty World League with many of my colleagues. I also work closely with my colleague Adam Apicella who runs the entire league operation at Major League Gaming. So most of my work in the day-to-day operations is between the Call of Duty franchise and Major League Gaming.
Before being the Director of the CWL, what did you do previously at Activision?
I’ve been with Activision a few years, and I’ve always been a part of the Call of Duty franchise during my time here. I started as the U.K. Brand Manager, before I moved on to the general European team and essentially worked on consumer initiatives. I also wound up taking on esports while I was on the European team, and through that, managed to move to Santa Monica to work with Activision on the general Call of Duty franchise before I moved on to MLG and the CWL. So, I have had some great jobs here at Activision.
Given your previous work across the pond, how important do you think it is to involve European and Asian-Pacific competitors and fans in the CWL?
I think it is really important to include them. I mean, the clue is in the name, right? We are the Call of Duty World League, not the Call of Duty North American League. Seeing activity across the world is really important, and when you look at the skillset, specifically in the U.K. and across Europe, those guys deserve to be at the table.
We’ve seen great participation from Europe in terms of the GameBattles community, but it’s been more than just participation this past year. We’ve seen Splyce win Stage 1, Epsilon performing well at CWL Anaheim, Fnatic placing top-six in Stage 2. I think all the time and investment made into those regions is starting to pay off.
Call of Duty multiplayer has a variety of maps, a wide range of game modes, and thousands of create-a-class configurations. How do you and the rest of the CWL determine what is good for competitive play, and what should stay in casual lobbies?
Within the MLG team, we are lucky to have a couple of ex-professional players. So, we have Eric “Muddawg” Sanders who works on my team in Santa Monica, and we’ve got Joe “MerK” DeLuca who is a part of the league operations team in Ohio. We find it invaluable having those two guys helping us with the decisions on settings, with them having a laser-focus on what is competitive.
That’s not where we stop with that discussion though, because then we collaborate and discuss with the studio. It’s important to respect the time and energy that goes into a creative project like making Call of Duty, so we want to make sure to bring forward as much content from the game as possible while maintaining that competitive integrity. So, it is a combination of talking to many stakeholders, the players included, and I’m pleased with how this year went and how well we are shaped up for years to come.
What goes into planning each event to make sure it is up to CWL quality?
Our team at MLG is some of the best in class in terms of delivering events. I probably can’t speak about knowing what goes into these events as well as the league ops team could, but our whole team does a self-review after each event where we are very critical of what we do, and are always trying to do better at every event.
It doesn’t matter if the event was in North America, Europe, or the Asia-Pacific region (APAC). It is about being self-critical, knowing what we did wrong, knowing what we do right so we keep doing that, and listening to the fans as well as the players involved in the CWL. You must be able to take feedback, and our track record shows that we have done just that.
This is the first year that the CWL Championship has left the West Coast. What prompted the move from Los Angeles for this World Championship?
Again, the clue is in the name. Although we are still in North America for the CWL Championship, it is important to start reaching out to other markets. Getting us out on the East Coast for this event is good step towards that.
It’s exciting when we can go to new cities, and for this event specifically, the time zone was a plus. One of the best reasons that we had the event here is because it is held at a friendlier time for continental Europe, and broadly across the United States. This event is available to watch to more people at a more convenient time, and I think it really has to do with us wanting to grow, reach other markets, and offer up our League to as many fans and in the most time-friendly way as possible.
The Call of Duty community is a vital part of Call of Duty esports. What steps has the CWL taken to make live events great for the CoD Community?
First and foremost, Call of Duty fans are incredibly important to the franchise, let alone the esport.
As the company behind Call of Duty, we’ve always said that we have the best fans in the world, and in my experience from working on the CWL in the past couple of years, the men and women coming to these events are so dedicated. We see a lot of familiar faces at each event, as well as new fans. And that is incredible, because this generates a community within the general community where these young men and women are coming to these events for that sense of camaraderie and to play competitive Call of Duty.
To me, that’s awesome, and I hope that carries on for years to come. Our events are about the fans, and that’s not going to change any time soon.
Outside of the CWL Championship, what would you say was your personal favorite or best event of the 2017 CWL season?
I’m not one to pick favorites, but I am going to pick a favorite event, and that event was the CWL Dallas Open. The energy in that room from Friday afternoon all the way through to OpTic Gaming lifting the trophy on Sunday evening was amazing.
I understand that Dallas is OpTic country, and they just announced that they are moving down there, but blimey, that was just an amazing weekend with incredible energy, brilliant action, and a room full of fans who were into what we were doing.
So, the Dallas Open stood out for me as a great event from this season, but it was one of the many good memories from all the good events we did.
How much has the CWL grown since the first Call of Duty Championship back in 2013?
Last year we were at The Forum for the CWL Championship, and this year we are at the Amway Center, so if you take the locations of where we held the CWL Championship into account, I think that is the clearest indicator of how we’ve grown and how many resources we are putting into delivering the Call of Duty esport under the CWL.
We were a tent pole part of the CoD: XP event last year, and this year we are a standalone event here in Orlando. Another big indicator is the prize money given out at these events. In 2016, we set new franchise records, and we’ve done it again in 2017 with $4 million on the line this season – the largest prize pool in Call of Duty esports history.
So, I think the prize money and where we are holding events are the two clearest ways to see how we are investing and leveling up our esports product.
What was the best improvement that you've made during the 2017 CWL season?
For me, it would be a couple of things, with the first being the introduction of the ladders. It really helped because it underpinned an open and inclusive system for fans of competitive Call of Duty to participate in.
We’ve seen our player base grow by over 400% this year versus last year, as we now have over 20,000 players who have collected CWL Pro Points. The improvements are not solely delivered through the GameBattles ladder, but the ladder has been a real influence on that player base increase.
Then you look at the regular GameBattles 2K tournaments we’ve introduced online and across all regions with prize money attached, and then you see what we’ve done with Open Events across America with over 100 teams every time. On top of all that, we also had the Global Pro League and had the first ever Global LAN offering in any esport.
So, in general, I’d pin our best improvements down to what we’ve done with GameBattles and the Global Pro League. Those two facets were standouts at improving this season, with the Global Pro League being a way to spread out the prize money more throughout the season, which was important in making sure there were a lot of important moments throughout the season.
What do you think is one thing that will be improved upon for next year's version of the CWL?
I talked a little bit about it already, but the level of quality that we deliver at MLG for North American events is up there with the best in class. So, for me, it’s how we level up all of our experiences to get to that level. We want to make sure we set a minimum as a standard, and hit that standard at every event wherever we are in the world.
What do you imagine as the future of the Call of Duty World League?
Our focus is on driving more people to experience competitive Call of Duty, and continuing to deliver great seasons of action with a great game. It’s all about the best players in the world bringing a game that is played by millions all around the world to life.
So, for our future, our focus is on building on what we are doing and improving it as much as possible from event to event.
Finally, is there anything you want to say to fans of the CWL, or the people that help you make it the league it is today?
I just want to say thanks to everyone. I want to say thanks to the players, the people who come out to all the events, and thanks to the people who give their time to watch these events at home.
The CWL Championship is broadcast live from August 9-13 over on mlg.tv/callofduty, in game on the PlayStation 4 for both Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Call of Duty: Black Ops III, on the official MLG Facebook page, on the official MLG Twitch Channel, and on the official MLG YouTube channel.