Call of Duty pro gaming team Denial outgunned 21 other teams from around the globe to take home $400,000 in cash, the top prize at the annual $1 million Call of Duty Championship that was held at the Los Angeles Event Center March 27-29. This year’s tournament was open to the cheering public, which watched in shock and awe as some of the most successful Call of Duty pro teams were eliminated early. Also adding to the drama was Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s introduction of EXO suits, which allow for vertical leaping, and the Uplink mode that challenged the best gamers in the world. Michael Condrey, co-founder and studio head at Sledgehammer Games, was on hand to take in all of the action live at the 2015 Call of Duty Championship. He talks about the growth in popularity of Call of Duty eSports in this exclusive interview.
What are your thoughts about eSports and how this has taken off with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare?
It’s incredible. You can hear it with the cheers from this audience. ESports has become such a massive phenomenon, and for Call of Duty to be a big part of it, to have the fans here and have the competition level you’re seeing in Advanced Warfare, it’s really incredible.
What do you feel opening the Call of Duty Championship up to the public this year has added to this whole eSports phenomenon?
I am so proud to see it as being a fan event. We did Call of Duty XP with Modern Warfare 3, a game I worked on. And now to have fans here with Advanced Warfare, it makes all the difference. The energy level, the commitment from fans to be here supporting their teams, I love it.
How have you see the EXO suit impact the eSports aspect of what players are doing in this competition?
The EXO in Advanced Warfare new movement set has really been a big game changer. Strategy has been redefined with these new movement sets. It’s faster. It’s more frenetic, and it’s great to see. The teams now are doing things that really blow my mind in how they figured out how to get across maps, lock down points and be really aggressive. The EXO has really changed the dynamic for players and spectators.
As a developer that’s worked on multiple Call of Duty games, what are the challenges for these players having to relearn a game from year to year?
The great thing for fans and for players alike is every year there’s something new. You’re seeing it this year. We brought Uplink, a brand new game mode that takes a brand new strategy. It’s a ton of fun to watch. It’s fun to play, but it’s new and it’s different. It takes a little while to sort that out and every year there’ something new that really drives excitement. It forces the teams to rethink their strategy and their style, which makes it better for everyone.
How have you guys actively worked with pro gamers during the development process for eSports?
We have a great relationship with fans and we love getting feedback from forums and online from gamers. The eSports community has really helped us from Day 1. We saw some really great starting points from Black Ops II to really engage early, and with that feedback we’ve done some things. We brought back scorestreaks and we developed Uplink. Pros want the same things that all players want -- fast, balanced weapons with great map designs and exciting new modes to play. So it’s made it better for everyone really, and from Day 1 they’ve been a big part of Advanced Warfare development.
How have you seen eSports grow since the first $1 Million Call of Duty Championship at Call of Duty XP?
It’s been really incredible. COD XP was such a phenomenal event and our first real exhibition with a million dollar prize pool. Since then it has grown dramatically around the world. You’re seeing fantastic global competitions. The teams coming out of Europe have gotten better. We saw an Australian team made it into the top six. It’s growing way beyond just a North American event. From fans and from players alike, you’re seeing wonderful and really committed groups of teams doing amazing work. It’s going to get bigger from here. It’s going to become much bigger and a more global event, as we’ve seen over the last five years.