The Call of Duty League will not expand before the 2021 season following the end of its inaugural year, which pivoted away from initial business plans because of the coronavirus pandemic, league sources told ESPN.
Not expanding for the second season is not due to a lack of interest from potential new franchise partners, sources said, after the league had a relatively solid year, excluding in-game hiccups for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare such as server issues for online games and last-minute patches before competition. Rather, both the league and team owners hope to showcase their original business plans, particularly the popularity of offline events in the city-based league, before looking to recruit franchise buyers for a higher sum, according to sources.
Season 1 franchise prices were $25 million each, paid over time, as reported by ESPN in March 2019. Call of Duty League owner and franchise publisher Activision-Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
"We continue to see great demand for CDL coming in from a lot of different places which is always exciting to see," Call of Duty League commissioner Johanna Faries said Friday. "Breaking the viewership records that we've had with our playoffs run shows what the possibilities are for us in this nascent stage. However, our heads are currently down and focused on our 12 teams that have been with us since the beginning. We were oversubscribed with demand when we settled on our 12, and will do right by that demand at the appropriate time."
The league hopes to begin selling franchise slots for the 2022 season beginning next summer. In press conferences last week, London Royal Ravens executive management said they hope the league will make a big push into Europe. The league only has two teams on the continent, the Royal Ravens and the Paris Legion, both which are owned by U.S.-backed organizations.
"If the league can expand in Europe, whenever that happens, it will be great," Royal Ravens managing director Michael "ODEE" O'Dell said during his team's press conference last week. "To get [the players] over here and do a lot more activations. The UK fans are fantastic. The event that we did get to do at the Copper Box [Arena] was amazing; the UK crowd is absolutely nuts, as everybody knows. It's just a shame that COVID came along and stole our other event as well, so expansion is what I would like to see."
Prior to league shutting down in-person events due to the spread of the coronavirus, the Call of Duty League planned to operate an offline event in the home market of one of its teams every other week. The league put on events in Minneapolis, Atlanta, London and Los Angeles during the first two months of the year, but after major shutdowns in multiple host cities for the CDL in late February and March, the league moved to an online-only format that lasted the remainder of the season.
Season 1 concluded on Sunday as the Dallas Empire defeated the Atlanta FaZe in the Call of Duty League Championship.
That final saw a Call of Duty record-breaking 331,000 concurrent viewers on YouTube. Early feedback for engagement among ownership groups in the Call of Duty League is positive, especially compared to its sister league, the Overwatch League, sources said. The Call of Duty League and Overwatch League share 10 ownership groups, including Los Angeles Rams owners the Kroenke family; Cox Enterprises-backed Atlanta Esports Ventures; and Sterling.VC, the venture arm of the New York Mets owners, the Wilpon family.
News of the lack of expansion comes after the league announced Monday that it would alter the format for competitive Call of Duty, returning to a four-vs.-four format for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, which is set to release on Nov. 13. The inaugural season played out with teams of five on Modern Warfare, a game that was highly criticized among competitors and fans alike.