For Activision, eSports was an important component of Call of Duty: Black Ops II, so much so that one of the development teams for the game focused solely on multiplayer and eSports. Treyarch Game Design Director David Vonderhaar says that they recognized from the beginning how important eSports was, going so far as to hire Call of Duty pro gamer Mike “Hastr0” Rufail to design the multiplayer eSports elements.
“ESports is a super important initiative for Call of Duty: Black Ops II. It starts with us with what we call sport, or League Play,” said Vonderhaar. “That’s actually playing it competitively. You’re actually being ranked for wins, and wins alone, against other people, or groups of people, or individually, depending on the league that you’re playing. That’s Call of Duty as a sport, but that’s really just the start. From there, we have a feature that we call CODcasting. CODcasting is a fantastic way to make the game fun to watch for others. For example, I’m not a professional football player, but I really enjoy watching football. If it wasn’t for that television production, it wouldn’t be as much fun to watch. Imagine if you had to watch the game from the perspective of just the punter — not the best way to watch the game. With the CODcast feature, people can actually figure out which guy you’re watching. They know contextually whether he’s taking an objective, how many kills in a row he’s had without dying. You can flip to that players view and follow him. You can even listen in to an entire team and see how they’re working together.”
“Once you have the production and you have the sport, you have to have a way to get it to everybody. For us that’s what we call the live streaming feature,” he continued. “Live streaming allows you to simply broadcast your game to the Internet through the YouTube channel. Basically, anybody can come and watch and actually play that game. It’s pretty fantastic stuff.”
Rufail worked personally with Vonderhaar on the Black Ops II experience. “Mike 'Hastr0' Rufail is our eSports consultant. I actually met him through the first Black Ops game,” said Vonderhaar. “Hastr0 and I worked pretty closely together to be sure that we understood from his point of view as a former pro player, as a coach of a pro team, and even as a caster, that we had all of the three things you need to have a successful Call of Duty competitive team. We looked at how they interpret or view the competitive game. Mike and I had a dialog whenever necessary about how we’re approaching the problems that develop out of making a competitive game, and making sure that we have the appropriate perspective from all of these important aspects that you need to have in any feature to be successful.”
“When Black Ops was on the gaming circuit and we had a chance to go down and actually watch the game be played at that highest competitive level with professional players, one of the things that we learned that was super important was just how much trouble that the people who put on the event go through to actually make the games spectator-friendly,” detailed Vonderhaar. “That became the genesis of what everybody’s going to find out real soon as the CODcast feature. Without making the game fun to watch, it’s not extremely accessible, and the game has to be accessible and aspirational so everybody can follow along with the best players…what they’re doing to be successful and then find what works for them having that learning from watching pro players. Spectating is just as important as the sport itself. When you have a game with so many people that take it so seriously, it’s really nice to be able to put them in an arena where they can have a battle of wills and have true gun skills, and subsequent wins and losses be the determining factor. This is not your KD ratio. This is not your not your score prevented. This is not how many hours you played compared with another person. This is my unit, my team, against another unit and team, and we can win or lose. That’s how you get ranked and that boils the game down to the basics.”