A Parking Garage and a Concert Hall: Inside the Call of Duty League Launch Weekend

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2020 has brought esports into a new era of home market competition, which kicked off last weekend at the Call of Duty League launch weekend. Twelve franchises representing cities from Europe and North America brought their teams to Minneapolis, Minnesota, for three days of competition at The Armory, a former basketball arena turned renovated concert hall.

League branding shared space throughout the venue with the logo and coloring of the home team Minnesota Røkkr, which took full advantage of hosting the CDL’s first event to introduce its team to the local audience. Billboards throughout the city and signage on the outside of the venue told the passersby about the event, and a large screen inside the venue showed a number of videos created by the Røkkr in the hours leading up to the first match each day.

While the world’s best Call of Duty players competed on stage upstairs, down below in a converted parking structure, the Call of Duty Challengers tournament was in full swing. With $250K USD on the line, hundreds of teams comprised of top players not chosen for the CDL, and amateurs just there for the fun of it, battled it out throughout the weekend. The open bracket tournament was part of a $1M circuit which will run alongside the CDL this season, with PlayStation serving as its presenting sponsor.

Having the Challengers event in the same venue created a unique dynamic not seen at last year’s Overwatch League homestands. While The Armory was fairly crowded early in the day, the first CDL matches of each day were played in front of a smaller audience. As teams were eliminated from the amateur tournament, however, they moved upstairs, filling out the crowd until eventually the later matches were played in front of a packed house. For attendees, the event overall felt like a mix of a more old-school, grassroots tournament downstairs (complete with spectators crowded around setups to watch players compete) and a more professionally produced spectacle upstairs.


Credit: Activision Blizzard

In the same area as the rows of PlayStations set aside for Challengers, other CDL sponsors had set up their own activations. Controller partner Scuf Gaming had its own booth selling merchandise, and had its branding featured at a nearby area for CDL teams to hold autograph signings. MTN DEW AMP GAME FUEL had set up a photo booth area, while both the U.S. Army and Air Force had their own tables set up, as did Metro by T-Mobile. The U.S. Army and Metro by T-Mobile were not included on the initial list of partners announced by the league, but a spokesperson told The Esports Observer that details on those deals would be made available at a later date.

All partner brands featured heavily throughout the broadcast, with each broadcast segment featuring its own presenting sponsor, from the Instant Reaction presented by PlayStation (the on-stage post-game interview), to the U.S. Army Tactical Play (key match highlight). Commercials for brands played on the broadcast and in the venue during breaks.

In addition to the league partners, the Røkkr had their own activations set up. Ford vehicles were on display in the Challengers area, and the team had created content in partnership with Northland Ford Dealerships. While the Ford deal was limited to the launch event and some content introducing the team to the city, gaming chair brand X Rocker, which had its own presence at the event, has signed a multi-year deal with the Røkkr and will create custom chairs for each of the players. Røkkr has also signed its own partnership with Scuf Gaming as an extension of the league deal. 

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