Q&A: Call of Duty League Commissioner Johanna Faries on Debut Season Lessons

    • The CDL resumed its inaugural season without live audiences on April 10 due to the coronavirus.
    • League remains focused on YouTube productions in lieu of pursuing a linear broadcast deal.

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Activision Blizzard appointed Johanna Faries as commissioner of Call of Duty Esports in the summer of 2019 – one year after she joined the company. That was preceded by more than a decade with the NFL, where she held multiple executive roles in marketing and business development.

Call of Duty’s current inaugural esports season hasn’t exactly gone according to plan due to the coronavirus pandemic, culminating in the suspension of league play in mid-March before resuming completely online on April 10 with the Dallas Home Series.

With no live audience events available, the league and its franchises have been forced to adjust on multiple fronts to keep operations intact and fans entertained. 

Executives at the team and league level have conjured up a series of make-good options for partnering sponsors while also ensuring the best possible remote connections for live competition. Results so far have gone as well as expected with no internet disruptions determining the outcome of matches, according to multiple team owners.  

Front Office Sports’ Danni Santana talked to Faries about the early days of the Call of Duty League and the impact the coronavirus has had on operations.

Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.

FRONT OFFICE SPORTS: What are your early impressions of the Call of Duty League so far?

Johanna Faries: I am extremely proud of how the inaugural season has gone thus far.  Our players continue to bring intense competition and high-energy entertainment to every home series event and fans are loving it. Heading into the season, we knew we had a great set of owners, and that’s only been cemented as we navigate the shift to online-only competitions. It’s been thrilling to see the league come to life, and I’m excited we’re back and competing again.   

FOS: The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has certainly impacted operations. What adjustments has the league made to bring competitive league play back online?

JF: When we announced in March the decision to shift to online play, we took our time to develop a strong plan for such a major transition. There were countless considerations, but examples included how players could best compete from their homes, remote broadcast and competition operations technological solutions, and reformatting a pro and path-to-pro [Call of Duty Challengers] schedule for the remainder of the season.  Throughout, we worked closely with our players and team organizations to ensure we preserved competitive integrity.

FOS: What challenges has the CDL had to face in producing online-only telecasts during this health crisis?

JF: We knew there would be considerable learnings along the way and that it would be by no means perfect right out the gates. During our Dallas Home Series weekend, we experienced some server issues that our team worked quickly to resolve. These types of learnings have informed further improvements made in recent weeks as we seek to deliver the most seamless experience possible for teams and fans.

Although this shift may not be what we had imagined a few months ago, we are deeply grateful to be able to continue to spotlight our incredible teams in this new way, and to give our fans more reasons to cheer.

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FOS: CDL is livestreamed exclusively on YouTube Gaming. How has that partnership gone to this point – has it delivered everything the league expected?

JF: We are so excited to be working with YouTube across all of Activision Blizzard esports, and they’ve been a great partner in helping us deliver top-quality content.  We know this is just the beginning of what we can do together to deliver great live match broadcasts for our fans.

FOS: Has the Call of Duty League received any interest from media companies to air competitions on linear television? 

JF: Interest in Call of Duty League remains strong, but at the moment, we are primarily focused on ensuring that our digital broadcasts on YouTube are done in the best way possible.  

FOS: Finally, you’ve held many hats across your career. How does this role in esports, as CDL commissioner, compare?

JF: Being the commissioner of the Call of Duty League is an amazing honor and incredible experience. The Call of Duty community is unlike any community in the world, and I’m grateful every day to be a part of it.