Before the Modern Warfare 2 season gets underway, we gave Challengers players the opportunity to put their thoughts and feelings towards the ecosystem out into the public domain.
We collected data from 90 players and members of the community. We asked for no names in our research, meaning that everyone could answer openly and honestly.
Our questionnaire gave players a chance to express their thoughts on the format, seeding, prize pool and inclusion of Call of Duty Challengers.
For those who do not follow the Challengers scene in Call of Duty, there are several different types of events that players could compete in during the Vanguard season.
The most regular of these were Challengers Cups. Each of the four regions had 13 Cups to play in, with placements offering “Pro Points” for their successes.
In Europe and North America, there were four Elite competitions. A bracket of the top teams would compete for a place in the Elite.
Both the APAC region and LATAM region were left without Elite competitions throughout the year.
The Cold War Opens were also replaced this year. Taking their place was the LAN events that took place alongside each Major event.
The biggest turnout for one of those LAN Opens was in Minnesota, where 81 Challengers teams competed for $75,000.
In comparison, 208 teams competed in the first Challengers Open in EU during the Cold War season.
All three regions combined managed to field 557 teams for the first open in Cold War.
Unsurprisingly these changes have not resonated well with the players.
Our research shows that just 26.7% of players enjoyed the format of Challengers during the 2022 season.
This number is down from the first poll we did with the Challengers community following the Toronto Open. After that event, 30.8% of players said that they enjoyed the format. That drop of an extra 4.1% could easily be attributed to the poor reception of the Challengers Champs format.
Changing the Elite format
The Elite format is far from perfect but does do a good job at showcasing some of the best players that Challengers has to offer.
We gave players the chance to suggest changes that could be made to the Elite format. In total, 63.3% of the players who responded thought that the format needs work.
The consensus in the responses to this question in our research was that more teams should be included in the Elite. That and adding Elite competitions for the two regions that do not currently have an equivalent.
One player suggested an Elite format that had 16 teams. Splitting them into two groups of eight and then doubling the number of teams in the bracket from four to eight.
It would make the Elite a logistical challenge for broadcast purposes. It would effectively double the number of matches that would need to be played.
Others suggested that the top 12 teams should be involved, rather than eight. That would be an easier number of teams to accommodate from the league’s perspective.
Another suggestion was to have the system be “two-tiered” with a promotion and relegation mechanic in place for the Elite. That would allow more teams to compete in these events whilst also keeping the exclusivity of the top tier.
As also put forward by Ben Nissim in a video breaking down potential changes to Challengers, there was also the recommendation that the Elite playoffs should take place on LAN.
Watch Ben’s video here: CHALLENGERS NEEDS MAJOR CHANGES! | How to Improve CDL Challengers (Ep. 1)
This would not only benefit the Challengers players but also the professional scene too. It would give pro teams the opportunity to understand how players play on LAN more consistently rather than just in the chaotic Open brackets that always throw up shock after shock.
The only question that would be difficult to answer is about where the funding would come from in order to make these LAN events happen.
They wouldn’t need to be in expansive arenas and there are plenty of esports venues around in the world that could host these events for all four regions.
Judging from the responses to our questionnaire, players are also very hungry to have every Elite match streamed.
During the pool play phase of the Elite in 2022, only half of the matches were broadcast on stream.
Prize pool problems
The prize pool was stripped back for Challengers during the Vanguard season. The entire prizing for the whole of Challengers in 2022 was $709,000.
That number is a massive $421,000 less than it was during the Cold War season, meaning that Challengers lost out on over a third of their prizing last term.
As a result of this, just 10% of players polled said that they thought the prize pool for Challengers was enough.
Each of the three Open LAN events had a $75,000 prize pool. They replaced the old Opens. In Cold War, the Opens had a combined prize pool of $500,000 over the three regions that season. That’s $275,000 more than the payout for the three LAN events that Challengers played at in Vanguard.
For Champs, the Call of Duty League put up a $250,000 prize pool. That was the exact same amount as the combined Champs prizing from Cold War in Challengers.
As already mentioned, only eight teams were able to qualify for Champs, with four of the spots automatically given to the four teams with the highest Pro-Point totals across the entire season.
Very unsurprisingly, just three of our 90 respondents said that eight teams were enough. 96.7% of people think that more teams should have been included in the inaugural Challengers World Championship.
Pro-Points seeding system
To the uninitiated and the fresh-faced to the Challengers eco-system, the Pro Point (commonly referred to as PP) seeding system can be intimidating.
It was this system that allowed Iron Blood Gaming to form a roster just before Challengers Champs. Their roster managed to squeak into the fourth automatic qualification position based on the number of PPs that they had as a team.
Points are awarded to individual players for their performances during different Challengers competitions. Players would receive 2000 PPs for winning any Cup. That would scale down to 100 points for everyone finishing in the top 64 teams.
You could also play weekly matches on the PP leaderboard in order to earn pro points, up to a limit of 100.
In order to earn those points, teams would have to win matches in an online ladder. The first win in each day would award 15 points, with subsequent matches giving five extra points.
This system is flawed at the lower level of Challengers competition, especially where the PPs would matter massively in terms of seeding. Many players don’t actually play these daily and weekly matches. They expect to be given free wins by alternate accounts or by other players who are too lazy to play the game.
We gave the Challengers community the chance to rate the PP seeding system on a scale of one to five. One being hating the system and five being love it.
Not a single player responded with a response of five. The average response was 2.7/5.
Changing the system
We also asked for suggestions in how to change the seeding system to make it fairer. One player simply answered: “Fuck the weekly”.
Most players that responded gave answers about a tighter focus on placements in terms of seeding.
Adding extra matches to the Cups seemed a common idea. Adding the ability to distinguish between a T32 and a T24 placement could go a long way to establishing a more extensive seeding system.
Extending the double-elimination portion of the Cup competitions would go a long way to helping that. If that started at T32 instead of T8, it could help differentiate between teams. Not only that, it could also help the variety for the players so that they don’t get stuck in a circular motion of playing the same teams each weekend.
Overall, Call of Duty esports probably don’t see a need to change the PP system of seeding but perhaps a tweak or two may help for the enjoyment of different players and teams throughout the year.
The first Cup competition in Modern Warfare 2 will be based on PPs earned throughout the Vanguard season.
Lack of marketing and communication from the league
One of the biggest criticisms of the Call of Duty League when it comes to the Challengers system is the lack of promotion and exposure that they hand out to the Challengers players.
During the Vanguard season, the official @CODLeague Twitter account tweeted just 28 times about Challengers. That equates to 0.83% of the over 3,000 tweets put out by that account across the year.
That includes one that was only tweeted under the recommendation of ESTNN Call of Duty writer Charlie Cater, who attended Champs and conducted interviews of the Challengers players throughout the weekend.
We asked players if they thought the League provides enough exposure to Challengers on social media and in the broadcast. Just 3.3% (two respondents) believe that they do. A further 16.7% replied “Sometimes”.
That is even with the fact that Challengers Champs ended up being broadcast on the main Call of Duty League stream during Champs because of one of many hefty delays in play.
‼️ THE CHALLENGERS ARE ON MAIN STREAM ‼️
— The Rotation (@_TheRotation) August 6, 2022
Players were given the chance to suggest ways to improve this, with many asking for more promotion of the streams that they play on.
One response wants to get fans invested in Challengers storylines, stating: “Storylines are bigger down here than in the league.”
Another also suggested getting Grand Finals of the Challengers Opens on Main Stage at Major events. That, frankly, seems like a no-brainer. It makes complete and utter sense and it remains a shock that it hasn’t been the case already.
The suggestion of creating a Challengers-centred social media account is also one that has been presented by the players.
It would solve the issue of not getting enough promotion on social media. Having to grow something from the ground up would be difficult.
The communication from the league to Challengers, in general, has been subject to much scrutiny. Just 13.3% of players believe that the league have improved their ability to communicate with Challengers players this year.
Some of the difficulties that have been faced have happened time and time again.
Information surrounding LAN events have consistently been revealed very late. Teams were given less than a month to prepare travel and accommodation for the Minnesota LAN event.
The Champs format wasn’t announced until late on in the year (to much collective anger). Even teams at Champs weren’t sure of the schedule and the order in which games were being played.
There is a clear lack of official avenues of communication for Challengers players to ask questions and get confirmations from the league. Players are relying on Daniel Tsay and Spencer Peterson to provide that information and it is just simply too inconsistent.
The conversation surrounding Academy teams has been very interesting over the last season. Both Boston Breach and Toronto Ultra have had wild success with their respective Academy teams. Minnesota Rokkr also raked in their fare share of wins.
Historically, most teams have had at least one Academy team on their books. Atlanta FaZe, Los Angeles Guerillas, London Royal Ravens, Seattle Surge and the old OpTic Gaming Los Angeles all have had Academy teams.
We asked players if they thought that Call of Duty League teams should be obliged to field Academy teams in the Challengers system.
In another resounding response, 96.7% of Challengers players believe that teams should be forced to have Academy teams.
This would give security and stability to so many more players in 6the Challengers system, rather than having to fight out for places at orgs at every turn.
Challengers are in a very interesting position at the minute. Interest in the system is no doubt growing from a casual perspective. There is an unlimited level of potential out there for these teams and players to become stars.
Even if the majority of them do not reach the professional scene, there is still the potential for them to be enjoyed and celebrated at the level they are currently at.
A re-introduction of a higher prize pool and more LAN opportunities and Elite opportunities worldwide will go a long way to helping out the scene fulfil its potential.
With so many players returning to competing at the start of Modern Warfare 2, it feels impossible for Challengers to flop this season. The competition will be alive more than ever. It’s just a case of being able to put those fiesty battles into the public eye.
As we’ve already established over the course of the Vanguard season, the Challengers system has our full support and we will do everything we can to provide the best coverage of it out there.
Thank you to all the players who responded to our form in order for us to be able to share this data.
Follow along with the Rotation’s journey: