The veteran eSports team Optic Gaming have emerged as the clear favourite at this year’s Call of Duty World Championships.
The hugely popular team easily won their three group-stage matches with some merciless performances from Ian “Crimsix” Porter and Matt “Nadeshot” Haag.
The Call of Duty finals event, which offers a $1m prize purse, attracted 32 teams from all over the world, after a series of regional qualifying events. In each match, two teams of four players each compete over a series of maps and game modes in a best-of-five competition.
The huge popularity of the Call of Duty franchise has seen it rise in importance in the nascent eSports scene, alongside strategy sim Starcraft II, shooter Counter Strike and major PC titles in the “moba” genre: League of Legends and Dota 2.
But while South Korean and Chinese teams have tended to dominate the moba and real-time strategy scenes, US teams have controlled the Call of Duty finals for the third year in succession.
Optic Gaming surged through their group matches, showing an impressive grasp of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the latest title in the series which forms the basis of competitive play this year. One of the day’s highlights was a fascinating Group A finale between Optic and strong rival Orbit. The teams were drawing 1-1 until incisive play from Optic members Seth “Scump” Abner and Matthew “Formal” Piper took the Capture the Flag round 6-2. Optic then made it 3-1, with a tense win in the Uplink mode.
Of the 16 competitors who made it to Saturday’s knockout stage, only three are from outside North America. European teams had been confident about making an impact on the event this year, with Epsilon and TCM from the UK looking strong in the London qualifier in February. Both were knocked out.
Optic Gaming will now face stiff competition. Other qualifiers include Team Envy, last year’s runners-up, who didn’t drop a single map in a demolition of Group E, and the “dark horse” of the competition, Faze Black. Team Kaliber emerged strongly from Group H, nicknamed “the group of death” for the strength of its four teams. Rising star Team Revenge also performed with confidence, especially against Aware Gaming, after which team member Brice Faccento dismissively declared: “We’re not a Friday team. We don’t really turn up until Saturday.”
With a vast and growing audience, eSports is becoming a major spectator phenomenon, mostly via the live streaming platform Twitch, which attracts more than 100 million viewers each month (though most Call of Duty pro-gamers use the Major League Gaming channel). The victorious team at this event will walk away with $400,000, and players will supplement that with lucrative sponsorship deals and subscriptions to their own Twitch TV channels. Players like Nadeshot and Crimsix have hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter.
For game publishers, developing and supporting a hit title on the eSports circuit can provide a major financial boost. League of Legends creator Riot Games, for example, generated $1bn last year from its one eSports title.
- Keith Stuart is attending the Call of Duty Championships on a press tour, with accommodation and travel paid for by Activision.
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