LOS ANGELES – Activision is a major supporter of eSports. From CEO Eric Hirshberg on down, the company has committed to making eSports a central part of the Call of Duty franchise. Over the past three years, the publisher has worked with Xbox to support the $1 Million Call of Duty Championship. That eSports event has grown in scope and popularity since its launch.
Beginning with Treyarch’s Call of Duty Black Ops II, COD developers have worked directly with pro gamers to integrate new features into the multiplayer game. Mike “Hastr0” Rufail was the first pro to help Activision formulate a better experience for both pro gamers and their fans. That process has continued. And Sledgehammer Games has been working closely with an eSports pro during the development of Call of Duty Advanced Warfare.
“We have an ex-eSports competitive athlete who’s now a designer on the team,” said Michael Condrey, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Sledgehammer Games. “Watching him work is really great because he’s bringing everything he, as an expert in his field in what he does, to really help make the experience better for the massive public MP players as well.”
Condrey, who was in attendance at the 2014 Call of Duty Championship earlier this year at LA Live, is a fan of eSports.
“I’m never going to be a pro basketball player,” said Condrey. “It’s never going to happen for me, but I play basketball on the weekends. I’m inspired by those guys. I love watching professional athletes do their thing and I can learn from them. I think eSports allows us to do that. They give us great ideas. Not all of their ideas are applicable for the game, but many of them make it better. It’s been a good partnership and we really respect what those guys are doing.”
Just before E3 2014, Major League Gaming (MLG) partnered with ESPN for X Games Austin, which saw Complexity win X Games gold medals – the same awards that are given to extreme athletes. Only the eSports pros were playing Call of Duty Ghosts.
“It’s exciting times right now,” said Condrey. “Ghosts was down at X Games Austin as a medal event. That’s crazy. Who saw that coming? I saw a headline a couple of days ago that said there were like 2.5 billion hours of eSports being watching in the last year. They reach a mass market awareness with what they’re doing and that’s fun for everybody. We certainly have had a good chance to partner with and learn from them.”
Condrey and his team are focusing on the single player campaign with the first playable Call of Duty Advanced Warfare gameplay. Sledgehammer kicked off the Xbox Press Conference on June 9 with a playthrough of a Seoul, Korea level. But the multiplayer reveal will be coming later this summer and the team is excited about how that will play into the eSports experience.
“From day one this team has been focused on revolutionizing and adding innovation to the multiplayer space, just like we’re doing with the co-op and to our story mode,” said Condrey. “We’re huge fans of the games before us and we’re proud of what we did on MW3 and with Treyarch’s Black Ops II MP and all the games that have brought really great stuff. We knew we had a high bar there to really bring something special to Advanced Warfare and that was a focus right out of the gate.”
Sledgehammer has had a full three years to develop its first original COD game, and they’ve been working on multiplayer from the get-go.
“The day after MW3 was done we started focusing on Advanced Warfare and multiplayer was one of the core drivers,” said Condrey. “With that it’s been a strong balance of delivering some really amazing innovative engagement opportunities to the 40 million strong fans. But the eSports community is also really amazing in helping us hone in on what works great both for them and to the public, so we’ve partnered with both groups.”
Look for more details on the multiplayer gameplay and new eSports innovations to roll out in a couple months. But from the first look at live Xbox One gameplay, Advanced Warfare will have a lot of new elements (from exoskeletons to armored Pitbulls) that change the way pros will strategize in COD starting November 4.