A brand new team who has yet to play an official match of the regular season is already the second most popular team in the Call of Duty League. This team will be the reason the Call of Duty competitive circuit will see one consistent audience growth this season you might not have had without it. Based on Twitter’s follower count, the 100 Thieves’ LA Thieves brand, with 107 thousand followers it has already surpassed last year’s champions, the Dallas Empire, which have 93 thousand. The only team above the Thieves in the follower count is OpTic Chicago, which leverages one of the most popular brands in all eSports and rides the wave of aggressive rebranding for 2021, they have 217,000 followers.
What makes it particularly noteworthy is the number of followers of the Thieves is that unlike OpTic, which essentially doesn’t exist outside the Call of Duty League, LA Thieves is a ‘direct extension of the 100 Thieves brand. While OpTic fans have no other channel to follow, 100 Thieves fans have plenty of engaging content to consume on the main account. However, the same goes for the Atlanta FaZe, which are an extension of another hugely popular esports brand: the FaZe Clan. Despite this, and a second place in the first season of the CDL, the Atlanta FaZe account has only 78,000 followers. While Twitter followers shouldn’t be the only metric used to judge popularity, this figure combined with the peak attendance for the pre-season tournament highlights a key mistake made by Activision Blizzard’s franchise leagues and how the LA Thieves can help solve the problem.
According to data from Stream Hatchet, the most watched game of the Kickoff Classic last weekend, a pre-season tournament, reached a peak of 107 thousand spectators, while the most watched game of the 2020 launch weekend between OpTic Gaming LA and Chicago Huntsmen reached the peak of 105 thousand. Why would a pre-season match get past the full league debut, especially one with such a compelling narrative as that of the OpTic brand? Because of the brands involved in each game. When the Overwatch League began, Activision Blizzard required teams to create brands that are completely separate from the parent companies for their OWL franchises. Overwatch was still in its infancy as an esport, so few brands have really established themselves.
Activision Blizzard however, would have again required teams to follow the same path for the CDL, but Call of Duty already has years of history and has teams in its ecosystem with their own historical rivalries. This new league and its expensive franchise fee, combined with the inability to leverage their established brand with sponsors, have meant that most of the big names turned away completely from Call of Duty, names like Evil Geniuses, eUnited and 100 Thieves. Although the “rivalry” of Huntsmen vs OpTic had a story behind it, it was a disappointment for fans, who were now torn between the brand they loved and the players who made that brand fun to cheer on. There was no real history of competitive rivalry because these two teams didn’t exist before that weekend in January 2020.
However, with the return of the 100 Thieves, Call of Duty is able to leverage its brand because one of the best rivalries in eSports is suddenly back on the menu. The rapid growth of the LA Thieves’ Twitter profile combined with this increase in viewership generated by a real rivalry with a historical weight, shows the hunger of CDL fans to honor their history and support eSport brands they already love. The return of the 100 Thieves is the best thing that could have happened to the Call of Duty League. If the league capitalizes on the popularity it gained by bringing the Thieves back on board (nothing stops other teams from copying their approach to branding and content), the CDL is on track for a much more successful second year.