From the sidelines, a review of the first time New York Call of Duty fans came together for the Subliners watch party
On a relatively brisk Sunday in the middle of Manhattan, not too far from the bright lights and buzz of Times Square, New Yorkers gathered at the Carragher's Pub & Restaurant on W 39th St to watch the premiere of New York’s new Call of Duty team, The Subliners. Hosted by ANBOX, this New York Subliners watch party served as the first time NYC’s Call of Duty community had a chance to come together under the flag of their newest representatives.
The venue itself was a humble start to the NYSL’s first time connecting with its audience. The simple restaurant/bar setup certainly allowed for a much closer and friendlier community experience. However, regardless of size, the trademark NYC energy and passion for its esports teams rang throughout the pub. MC Gabe Olivero let his patented game-day leadership take hold on the mic, and lead the crowd through fan-favorite New York themed game-day chants. Traditional chants like “Go New York, Go”, call and response “NY! SL!”, and even a collective “YEEEERRR” were blasted throughout the venue as the Subliners prepared to take on the Atlanta Faze.
Around 80 people were in attendance that day and the crowd consisted of a mix between endemic Call of Duty fans, newcomers, and those who were already fans of the New York Overwatch team, the NYXL. Most of the fans that I talked to were not too familiar with Call of Duty esports and came out for a variety of reasons. Many saw it as an opportunity to socialize, network, or even just to simply support New York’s newest team in the family.
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One of the bigger groups in attendance was Hunter College’s Electronic and Game Design Collective, a student organization that came out to gain a bit more experience with understanding esports. I sat down with club president, Kyra, who brought up how events like these give her the opportunity to better connect with her club members.
“I come from a game design background and not an esports background. However, I’m running an esports organization and so I try to make it out to these things on a personal level so I can actually communicate with the people who run our teams.” At this point, we had to stop for a second because the cheering in the pub became just too loud to hear each other.
Cutting through the noise, I asked if she had been to any of the other ANDBOX events and how this watch party related to the environments of those. “The energy is the same,” she remarked, as the venue erupted into another game-day chant when the Subliners began their first map.
After spending time at other esports-centered events, what did she learn so far? “A lot.” she stated with a chuckle. “I’ve never really been a traditional sports fan either and so I never really got why people wanted to watch something instead of playing it themselves… Following esports and going to these watch parties has made it way easier for me to understand why people would be interested in watching other people play”.
After our chat, Kyra introduced me to another member of her group, Bernabe, a senior with a big passion for esports and Call of Duty. He spoke to me about some of his thoughts on why he’s beginning to invest in the League. “It’s still young, there’s still a lot of speculation about how the league is going to turn out. But it is enjoyable when watching other teams or other players that you’ve been rooting for… People always want to support their hometowns”.
He then expanded on which players caught his attention and who he wanted to follow. “I’m a huge fan of 100 Thieves.”, a team who didn’t buy into the Call of Duty League, but who’s players spread out to other organizations, primarily Los Angeles Optic Gaming and the Seattle Surge. “That’s why I was rooting for Optic Gaming earlier, because you kind of want to root for the players you’ve always been rooting for”.
In terms of the Subliners, the player who was his favorite to follow was their substitute, Doug “Censor” Martin. “I like Censor because before the CDL he wasn’t seen as someone who would come back and compete”. Censor, a player with an extensive career beginning in 2011, retired from the esport in 2018, but recently announced his desire to return to competitive Call of Duty in a 2019 video to his fans. “He proved a lot of people wrong and got signed to play, although as a sub. Either way he overcame and worked hard for what he wanted. He never gave up. I like a good underdog story and he’s been seen as one”.
JUST MISSING THE MARK
Sitting not too far from the Hunter College group were two cousins, Michael and Kelvin, who came to watch the new teams play and to “see the vibe”. Both mentioned that this was their first time venturing out to an esports related event, but they’ve had been invested in esports for a while now, specifically Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, and CS:GO. The two had been Optic Gaming fans before the League started but found new fondness for the Chicago Huntsmen.
As we talked, the Subliners struggled against the Atlanta Faze in their second Hardpoint round on St. Petrograd. As a long-time Call of Duty fan, Kelvin provided some insight as to why the NYSL could be missing the mark. “Their pace isn’t matching up against Faze. It’s really hard playing against really young talent, and how fast they play. I think their teamwork just isn’t quite there yet. I feel like they could be a top four or top five team, but it’ll take time”.
Even with the Subliners’ less than stellar start, it didn’t dampen the mood. “It’s great to see so many people into it, because there’s never really been an actual event for Call of Duty in New York, so it’s just nice to see.” he added. Michael chimed in “I’m still on the fence about their logo though. Their name as well, it’s weird but it sticks.”
Unfortunately, the Subliners fell 1-3 to Atlanta, ending their opening weekend with a 1-5 map record after an additional 0-3 loss against the London Royal Ravens on Saturday.
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TRANSLATING A FAN BASE
As the matches went on and the night slowed up, I sat down with four friends and longtime NYXL supporters. Gina, Steve (@PlusSFC), Kenny (@Arsonkrystal), and Alex (@Ghostless), were all long-time fans of the red and blue New York squad. All four of them were either following the XL from the start or were introduced by each other early on. For those who had questions about how non-Call of Duty fans would respond to the CDL, the group had nothing but praise for the opening weekend.
Alex, a very prominent XL superfan in-person and online, was the first to talk about their thoughts on the new league. “I like it. I think that they learned a lot from the Overwatch League. One thing I did notice was that when they started the matches the first day, there were a lot of complaints about the UI, and they started adjusting things the next day. So, I think they’re really listening to the fans”. But that doesn’t mean a getting into a new esport doesn’t have its challenges. “Being out of Call of Duty for so long, I’m trying to learn on-the-go. It’s a little more fast-paced than the Overwatch League obviously. So, you got to really pay attention but I’m starting to pick up on it already”.
Steve, a writer for Watchpoint: Lobby covering the NYXL, added in his thoughts. “I think just franchising in general is good for esports. I think it builds fan bases a lot more and Call of Duty League is going to be a prime example of it. I think this weekend is a success so far”.
Gina, the only non-gamer at the table, “I don’t play, I’m a watcher. I am not a gamer.” explained how she got into the Overwatch League, and maybe now the CDL, without ever touching either games. “I started, because of him,” she gestured at Kenny “during the Stage 1 Finals of the first season. Then I started watching more and more actually understood more after a while and thought ‘Oh shit this is actually entertaining’! Then I dove headfirst into all the watch parties and meeting new people”.
“That’s how we became like a family, I consider them my brother and sister” Alex added.
“We got closer because of it”.
In terms of the Call of Duty League, Gina was surprised at how inclusive it was towards more casual fans. “You hear horror stories about the in-game chats, but it’s been really nice!”.
For Kenny, a long-time veteran of Call of Duty, the new Modern Warfare was a step in the right direction. “Back during Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I used to play in a whole bunch of tournaments with my friends. That was before esports was like the big thing”. He continued to elaborate on how, he lost interest in following and playing Call of Duty over the numerous titles in the decade. “I wasn’t fully invested until this... The newest one brought me back because it just felt like how Call of Duty was back then during Modern Warfare 1 and 2. Having the game work so well, and with the League right after, it felt right.”
“A good start”
While the Subliners couldn’t pull out the wins in Minnesota, fans could feel the spirit and connection forming in the community back at home. Call of Duty might be coming in at the right time, with the right mix of appeal for both casual and hardcore fans. Now, being streamed exclusively on Youtube, a site where Call of Duty has always performed well, the conditions may be right for the Call of Duty League to be a sleeper hit amongst the other big-name esports. If the opening weekend was any indication, the New York Subliners, at the very least, will always have a strong and passionate fan base for them to come home to.
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Main image courtesy of Activision/Call of Duty League