A lone truck stood outside the Galen Center at the University of Southern California, just outside the entrance to the Call of Duty League Championship site. It was a special ice cream truck that offered free Vivid Dreamsicles, Methodz Zitalian Ice, and NeroSonic Speed to anyone who passed by.
Nonsensical names for cold treats, sure, but fans of Anthony “Methodz” Zinni, Dylan “Nero” Koch, and the rest of Boston Breach were thrilled with the marketing gimmick. It’s just one example of how Boston, the newest team in the Call of Duty League, has gone to great lengths to make a name for itself.
“We’re just giving back,” said Murph Vandervelde, president of Oxygen Esports, the parent company of Boston Breach. “For the amount that people are investing in the leagues, they need to reinvest in the fans.”
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After a tumultuous offseason that ended with the Dallas Empire and OpTic Chicago merging into one team, OpTic Texas, Activision Blizzard’s flagship sport was left with 11 teams in its Call of Duty League franchise. There were rumors that various organizations and cities joined the fold. Ultimately, Oxygen Esports merged with Boston Uprising to operate The Kraft Group’s two esports entities in the Overwatch League and 12th place Call of Duty League.
The Breach closed out the 2022 season without a tournament trophy, but were among eight teams to qualify for the season-ending Champs tournament. After a close series against the Toronto Ultra, they finished seventh in the Champs.
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“A Round 11 against the Thieves goes another way and that tournament looks a lot different,” Vandervelde said of Boston’s first game in the tournament. The Breach was actually the team that came the closest to beating the eventual champion Thieves. Although Boston’s competitive goals might not have been met in its inaugural season, the new team made a big impact on the league in other ways.
Photo Credit: Zach Shelton/ESPAT
The organization hosted the first Challengers LAN event separate from a CDL Major in July. They hosted over sixty teams at Helix eSports Foxborough in New England.
“We were impressed as this was the first franchise model where a Challengers event was separate from a Major, and we were curious if people were going to attend,” said Vandervelde. “We sold hundreds of tickets. The passion is there.”
Vandervelde, along with many other prominent figures in the Call of Duty community, were vocal about the current state of the esports development scene. They believe that there is no clear path to professionalism for emerging players looking to compete at the highest level. The Challengers system, in their eyes, is severely lacking in support.
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Most Call of Duty League teams do not submit a second roster for the Challengers circuit. Recently, organizations like OverActive Media, the owners of the Toronto Ultra, began to feature fan lists. Boston has made it clear that making the Challengers deeper is a priority.
“I think Boston, like us, has put an emphasis on growing the Call of Duty base,” Toronto Ultra coach Mark “MarkyB” Bryceland said. “I think they’ve done a good job putting events together, they have their Academy team and they’re one of the teams pushing for better support for the Challengers scene.”
The Call of Duty League currently has 48 player starting spots, down from 60 due to the reduction from five-player teams to four-player teams after the 2020 season. That means even legendary players like James “Clayster” Eubanks are having a hard time keeping a spot on the list.
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Dozens of players who should be in the league often fail in Challengers until they eventually drop out of the game. The Breach hopes to change this in the coming years.
“If we can’t provide a promising ecosystem, there are so many games that aspiring esports athletes can play, if we can’t bring in the best and the brightest, then how do we start grooming the next generation of talent?” Vandervelde said.
Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard looms with rumors that Call of Duty could move away from its signature annual release. Vandervelde believes this is the perfect time for expansion of the Challengers system and the league in general.
It is important to give more opportunities to those who play and that more fans enter and follow Call of Duty. That’s also part of the reason Breach has vowed to set the team’s brand this year with stunts like the ice cream truck in Los Angeles.
“We spent our formative years in the space base,” Vandervelde said. “It’s clear how important capturing fans is. Too many teams are trying to act like they have an established fan base, similar to their parent companies that have a decades-long foundation in traditional sports. They don’t.”
With the signing of fan-favorite Methodz, the youngest team in the league, and a special marketing push from its parent company, Boston Breach has quickly become the cornerstone of a league that has a rocky foundation.
Now the team is looking to expand their efforts next year.
“We were everybody’s second favorite team this year,” Vandervelde said. “The reception we got was beyond our wildest dreams.”
Top Photo Credit: Zach Shelton/ESPAT