Daniel Tsay on taking Warzone global, European CoD, and a possible Activision 'Dreamhack'
It's been four years in the making, but finally, Call of Duty Warzone pulled together the best 150 players in the world and pitted them together in a dogfight with $1.2 million on the line.
The World Series of Warzone, as the inaugural LAN, was a resounding success, both as a stepping stone for future events and as a catalyst for Warzone esports to be visible to the world.
During the event, GGRecon sat down with the Call of Duty Esports General Manager Daniel Tsay to talk everything WSOW-related, including finally coming back to London, the high-risk, high-reward format, co-streaming, and what's next for Warzone and the rest of Activision's esport titles.
First off, how does it feel to finally bring Call of Duty back to Europe and specifically London?
It feels amazing. A LAN for Warzone has been years in the making. It has been a long journey to get here and to do it in London is even more gratifying. It's been a constant message from our community to do another competitive COD event in England.
We know from history, with a CDL event back in 2020, how awesome the crowd can be, and we haven't been disappointed, we love the crowd here. The support has been amazing. We initially had one stage set up for the crowd, but we sold out tickets in a day, so that was changed to what you see now so that we could increase tickets.
Why London, out of everywhere? Why did you pick London and not another central city in the WSOW regions such as Madrid or Berlin?
I would say a combination of factors: One, you mentioned it is quite central in Europe, and two, we really did want to bring a competitive event to this city. There has been so much demand for something here and we've been away for a couple of years and we wanted to right by this community.
EE (Esports Engine), who is our production partner, has facilities out here, right down the street, and so that had a lot of great synergies from a practical standpoint, as there is a lot of staff here. We've operated out of Copperbox Arena before, it's thrown amazing events for us, and for other esports. It was really, really great, and obviously, the community in London and all of the UK is incredible.
It's the first time in nearly four years now that you've come outside of North America, so how have you found the logistics of taking Call of Duty esports global again?
I think taking esports events to this country actually hasn't been very difficult. As I said, Esports Engine is an absolute wizard in production and it has a big team here, so it was quite easy in that respect.
I think the difficulty, because I do think it was difficult in some ways, came from running a Warzone event.
Nothing on this size has ever been done before. Dual PC setups, for 150 players, everyone getting flown in, and visa issues, that's really been the challenge. But, touch wood, everything's gone well.
We've seen Warzone esports grow over the last four years into a state where we've got a fully-fledged circuit.
Now that you've tested out a LAN, is there anything that you may be looking towards for the future? Is the next step for WSOW implementing an AGLS-like circuit where we've got Majors and Champs?
Potentially. I think Warzone esports is still in its infancy in terms of what it can be. I think we have shown evolution in the three years that Warzone has existed. It started off invite-only - we still have a lot of streamers and influencers here - but doing invite-only to get some of the biggest names in esports involved was awesome.
The spark that we needed in year two became a little more competitive, and a little more meritocratic with our in-game playlist being created and being a real part of that.
Then this year was the big evolution with this LAN after two splits and it's become a little bit more competitive with a much bigger scale.
I don't necessarily know exactly where we'll end up though. I would say I've really, really enjoyed Jinx on this one. I know NA still has a large dominance of the narrative and stuff like that, but we have EU teams here too and all these attendees from our expansion region. If I were to project the general direction of growth, it's got to be something around expanding our regions. Whether that takes the form of a circuit, maybe.
It's been great to see influencers get their spot here, especially when a lot of Warzone streamers have dropped off. But we've got the likes of Aydan, Swagg, Jukeyz, etc. here. How important is it for you to be able to keep those types of personalities in the scene and reward them with a competitive circuit where they can thrive?
It's huge, right? I had a little bit of apprehension [about the format] because it is truly meritocratic. You have to qualify, and so, there was a worry of - we've always been competitive in entertainment. I wouldn't say this is as sweaty as the Call of Duty League, for example, we lean into the entertainment value of the personnel a lot - so the Swaggs and Aydans may not have made it to today.
But I think it's a testament to the skill level that Aiden has, that Swagg has, that Smixie - our female captain - has. They made it to this final because everyone knows - yes, they stream a lot, yes, they're super entertaining - but because they are the best players.
How is it to see kind of like iconic Call of Duty brands be represented at the World Series of Warzone as well? We've got Aiden wearing his Subliners jersey. We've got FaZe Crowder, FaZe Swag, Miami Heretics MethodZ, and a bunch of different organisations that are rich in Call of Duty history.
How is it for you guys to be able to see these brands represented?
And, is there more that these brands could do to promote Warzone?
Anytime organisations or people want to lean into what we do in Call of Duty esports, we're thankful. We love the support, and we're good partners with them [the organisations], so it's awesome to see someone like Crowder coaching Atlanta FaZe and then coming over and actually competing here, that's awesome.
Is there more stuff that ought to be done? Frankly, I think World Series of Warzone has been really built upon individual streamers and players. It hasn't been teams like Subliners versus FaZe. It's really built on these team captains and the two players that they recruit.
I wouldn't say that we expect more out of these teams. We're thankful that they're playing, but maybe we should focus on the individuals.
Activision now has many different esports brands, such as the CDL, World Series of Warzone, and the Overwatch League.
Has Activision looked at the possibility of bringing all these entities together and having its events at the same time, in the same place, in a sort of Activision Esports Dreamhack-like festival? Or with Warzone thriving in the way it is now, does it bode better to let these respective esports grow in their own directions?
It's a great question. We did an event right at the beginning of CDL last year, where we started to combine different Activision properties. We had C.O.D.E Bowl playing Warzone, we had the Call of Duty Mobile World Championships, and we had the CDL Major 1. We were even debuting Warzone Mobile for the first time. That was awesome.
That was probably my favourite event, with that festival-like atmosphere. So, I think there's a lot of potential there.
There's a lot of synergies as well. Just thinking about putting on that event, with shared production teams and costs, I think that there's a lot of potential there.
I can't speak to any concrete future plans, but all I know is we've obviously done it before and really enjoyed that
We've seen co-streaming be a huge success, and all the guys at the World Series of Warzone have got dual PCs and streaming and their own POVs.
Have you found that co-streaming has contributed towards the growth of esports in Call of Duty? And for Warzone specifically, how do you think this helps grow the potential audience that there is?
For Warzone, it's been crucial. It's been necessary, actually. If you go back to year one and even halfway through this year, we didn't have CoDCaster. It's a tool that we have on the CDL and even in the game where it serves as a broadcast tool allowing you to see different point-of-views of the different players - and that didn't exist for Warzone. But it happened this year and it's allowed for much better storytelling. The camera work has been phenomenal.
But prior to that, we were really dependent on every streamer streaming so that we could take in their individual feeds, which is an incredible feat from Esports Engine.
But co-streaming was quite necessary. But even if that wasn't the case, I love the fact that it allows our fans to watch exactly who they want to watch. You can listen to GOJJ and Spidertiff, who are awesome, or you can listen to Symfuhny as he talks over our main broadcast. There's a flavour for everyone and that's really special.
We even essentially made our B stream as Pullze Check. They're here all day. They're having a bunch of people come join them on the couch and it's something that we decided to invest in. We didn't need to fly them over, set up a sofa, and all that stuff. But it's something we believe in and we want to lean more into.
With Modern Warfare 3 on the horizon, there's a lot of hype surrounding the new changes to Warzone-specific movement. Slide cancelling is back, Sledgehammer Games is tweeting about reload cancelling and mantling being a lot smoother and snappier.
All things that bode well for good Warzone gameplay. Is there anything about the new chapter of CoD that will excite esports fans that you can comment on?
It may be boring, but I think a lot of the stuff that they have said has the voice of support of the competitive community.
So things like the red dots, a higher TTK, these are things that the franchise has been talking a lot about leading up to CoD: Next when they're going to share a ton of information on October 5th.
We were able to go do a playtest at the Sledgehammer offices with a good handful of CDL pros, and we had a great time. I think a lot of the changes that Sledgehammer is making are gonna be really positive.
Finally, if you had one wish for the future of Warzone Esports, what would it be?
I would love to do more events, and events around the world. It's going to take a little while to get there, but there are stepping stones that we've taken. This event has been awesome to finally give fans and players a place to congregate in the way that the CDL has given to players for so long. I think that's been needed.
I think internationality is incredibly important for the growth of Warzone and Warzone Esports, so being able to take that show on the road is going to be pretty awesome.