Last weekend, I spoke with Mike Mejia, Senior Producer for Sledgehammer Games, who developed Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare for Activision, at this year’s Call of Duty World Championship presented by Xbox which took place in Los Angeles, California.
It is of course one of the most important tournaments of the year for CoD fans. Teams from around the globe went head-to-head hoping to nab a little or a lot from a cool $1 million prize pool, with the winning team taking home $400,000.
In order to compete, the teams needed to qualify in the Regional Final placements. This was not an open tournament, although the fans were allowed to come and watch. The venue, a rooftop setting called the Event Deck, is located in the heart of downtown LA. Tickets as pricey as 100 bucks sold out fast.
GR: So this is the video game industry’s own March Madness right down to a bracket that starts with 32 teams.
Mike Mejia: Yeah, day one is pool play: the largest pool from the best in the world. Right before this event we had regionals, which we wanted a worldwide audience. We wanted anyone to get the chance to compete so we had regionals around the world in Brazil, Europe, etc. The top seeds that come out of those regionals have come here. The top 32 teams.
So on day one, 32 teams began then it went down to a 16 team double-elimination playoff on Saturday. Tomorrow is the finals. Think of it like quarter finals, semi finals. As the tournament continues, the bottom two teams get eliminated from the rest. A single loss in the lower bracket means that team is eliminated. All matches will be in a best-of-five series.
GR: Is there a standard team size? How did it come to that?
MM: It’s always a team of four. We worked with the leagues, MLG, Infinity, plus we worked with the players and embraced what they want to play. And it was like “Okay, this is what feels right for the maps, these modes.”
GR: Tell me about the alpha stage.
MM: There’s Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and Delta. Alpha is the top seed, kind of like the big game of the week, if you will. Now a team can drop obviously, and a team can rise. For example: All the lower brackets right now that have one loss like MVV here, they have one loss, they’re in the lower bracket if they lose one more they’re out. Higher brackets are over there [points to the ginormous main stage].
To follow the sports analogy it’s the same time limit for every match, the same rules, but different teams. In a regular multiplayer match in CoD or any kind of shooter you have different environments, different loadouts for your weapons: How does that factor in? How many options do the competitors have?
We work really closely with the players and the league. We asked ourselves “Okay, we built Advanced Warfare for a mass audience, everyone loves the game, loves the evolution of CoD. How do we take it to the next level?” With AW we have to keep evolving. Change it up. Like bringing Kevin Spacey in to aid in telling a gripping story. So now a lot of it is about the vertical play. That is now a hardcore functionality. The Exosuit changes everything.
For the tournament we pull it down to its core elements, restrict what could be over-balanced or overpowered, and boil it down to the core essentials. For example, a UAV is a reconnaissance thing the player can call up or a gun that’s really overpowered, that can tip the balance really heavily. So we restrict those kind of things. Or if something’s not useful, we take it out. We look at the maps the same way, we look at how many rounds are gonna be played, how many matches, this is the first time we have a wide range of maps which we picked for their best modes.
GR: What are some of your responsibilities as Senior Producer?
MM: I do everything from the production side, sitting down with the designers and then the studio heads, getting everyone’s creative vision to life. Or even getting the Seal Team community to talk to our team. Advanced Warfare took 3 years to make; it was a blessing over the standard two years that Infinity Wad and Treyarch get… This was Sledgehammer’s first time. Activision was awesome.
GR: How do you feel the turnout for this event has been?
MM: Honestly, seeing the turnout for the tournament is validation for everything we’ve been doing. The community has really embraced all the changes. This is the first year we’ve open the tournament for fans to come and watch, (other than Call of Duty XP a few years ago). This time we wanted the energy of the fans here, in the competition, and tickets sold out!
We really wanted to a part of the evolving eSport community. It’s just blowing up. Three years ago I would have never dreamt of this. Forbes just covered eSports, it’s a growing thing. Worldwide, like in South Korea, it’s huge. These players have millions of followers that watch how they play on their channel or YouTube. On top of that, there’s a professionalism that’s coming to the sport, like some of the players wearing suits now! I think people are starting to take notice.