The Call of Duty World League’s (CWL) second season is coming to a close, and the finals for championship glory and a $1.5 million prize pool kicks off this week at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida as 32 teams from around the world are set to square off against each other in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.

The competition takes place from August 9 to 13 and is sponsored by PlayStation in addition to brand partners such as Astro Gaming, Scuf, BenQ, DxRacer, G Fuel and Gunnar. Attendees will have a chance to go hands-on with the upcoming Call of Duty: WWII using demo stations. Meanwhile, online audiences can watch all the action take place across a multitude of platforms, including Twitch, YouTube and Facebook Live—players can even watch the championship from within Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare itself—but Activision’s Major League Gaming (MLG) recommends watching through for an enhanced viewing experience that delivers a source-quality stream, integrated player stats from the event and point of view streams for players on each side on top of the main action. As if that wasn’t enough, there is a score streak game for fans to play. European audiences have the option to go analog and can watch finals on television thanks to a partnership with Ginx.

Jay Puryear, director of brand development for the Call of Duty World League

Jay Puryear, director of brand development for the Call of Duty World League, has been working with the league since its inception two years ago to create a foundation for the competition. AListDaily sat down with Puryear to discuss how the CWL has grown and where it might be headed in the future.

According to Puryear, the CWL has seen significant year-over-year growth, with a 400 percent increase in participation from last year. “We’re seeing more players and fans responding well to the CWL when we look at participation, which is one key metric we look at to see how the league is doing,” said Puryear. “This is the first year that we’re doing the Global Pro League, which allows 16 teams throughout the course of two stages to go to the MLG Columbus office and play on LAN. This is something that both players and the community [have wanted], and being able to have the teams in a particular location for a week allowed us to create new content. So, we’re starting to see more creative content, players have the opportunity to tell their stories, and we’ve been able to create this personal connection with the players and the fans that follow them to find out what they’re about.

“Part of the goal for the CWL is to bring these players to life, and one of the ways we can do that is by having access to them to talk to them and find out more about them. It’s about building some color into who these players are and it builds a strong connection with the community.”

Puryear said that some of the new content includes “hot mic” segments that imitate talk show formats, except the host includes a set of unusual questions. Similarly, players have participated in a “Carpool Karaoke”-inspired segment where they sit in cars and answer questions. But most prominently, the CWL has also created a documentary series called the Road to Championships, which focuses on 16 teams as they progressed to the finals throughout the year. This is all being done to add richness to the players’ personalities so that they can be known beyond the game.

“We’re opening up different ways to view them and understand who they are and our community can get personal connections with them,” said Puryear.

Although building personal connections with the players remains the CWL’s top focus, Puryear also stated that having a broadcast schedule for viewers to tune in to helped grow the CWL this year. “I think giving them a platform that they can watch on a weekly basis along with other content [helped]. The studio has put in the ability to stream directly into the console [game], so the discoverability and being able to learn about Call of Duty World League has helped with the growth.”

While esports audiences love watching pro players demonstrate their skills, the CWL is unique in that its featured game changes each year as annual Call of Duty games release. Last year, it was Black Ops III, this year featured Infinite Warfare and next year will likely feature WWII. Puryear discussed whether having a different game each year impacted the way the CWL presented itself to audiences.

“If you look at the last few years, we’ve tried to incorporate—from a franchise level—a lot of key features that will go from game to game,” Puryear explained. “What we don’t want to do is create a situation where we’re presenting content in a different way. One of the features that we have is CODcaster, which gives our partners the ability to produce and broadcast matches in a uniform way. We have added different features to it, but we’re not necessarily changing how we broadcast every year. We’ve really tried our best to ensure that we’re packaging the league, how people view it, and the broadcast in a fairly uniform manner across the franchise so it’s not something that you need to learn over and over again. If you watch a Black Ops III match or Infinite Warfare, you might notice different maps, loadouts and weapons, but the overall feel of how the product is presented remains as consistent as possible from year to year.”

Activision has famously stated that its approach toward growing esports is inspired by traditional sports. Puryear said that one of the most important lessons from traditional sports is adding a sense of structure to esports.

“If we look at the big sports, their governing bodies decide what’s best for them—whether it comes to rules, how they broadcast etc.,” said Puryear. “We’re trying to apply those same principles and we’re looking at different things we can bring to the table that will enhance the Call of Duty experience through the CWL. We’re adding to that foundation knowing that we’re here for the long haul, and we’re going continue supporting Call of Duty to make it the number one esport on console.

“The only way to do that is to lay a strong foundation and put rules in place. We’ve got a code of conduct for players, we’re communicating with organizations, and we’re looking at how we can better define what we want the league to be. One of the ways is by listening to players and fans, and we invite them to share their feedback to strengthen the organization and make it better.”

Puryear also shared his thoughts about how esports could attract more non-endemic sponsors.

“It’s a great opportunity to reach a fan base that’s very tuned-in to the scene and getting to understand who these people are,” said Puryear. “The demographic is highly sought after, as far as traditional media is concerned. For me, the exciting part of the challenge—as we look at non-endemic advertisers and sponsors—is that they need to be incorporated into the scene and they need to feel like they’re part of the community. I think that as the CWL grows, more people will understand that this is a competition at its core and it’s entertainment.

“We’ve been able to grow by over 400 percent, and knowing that this audience is very mature, intelligent and all the things that you want out of a demographic [will attract them]. This is an area for non-endemic advertisers and sponsors to look at and reach.”

The CWL had a $4 million prize pool this year, with $1.5 million being given away during the championships. Puryear looked back at the evolution of the league and talked about what distinguishes it from other esports leagues.

“It’s about establishing Call of Duty as the number one console esports shooter out there,” Puryear said. “We’re doing everything we can through production quality, working with development studios, and listening to players, organizations and fans to help grow where this needs to go.

“We don’t know what that path is at the moment, but we’re constantly getting feedback and data, and focusing on what’s best for the CWL and Call of Duty is what separates our commitment from others. It’s very important for us to continue to push ourselves and the league to present the best esport from a production, broadcast and audience standpoint. If we continue to do that, I think the future looks very bright for us. Looking back at the past two years makes me very excited about what we can do over the next three or four years.”