A lone truck sat outside the Galen Center at the University of Southern California, right outside the entrance to the venue for the Call of Duty League Championship. It was a special ice cream truck that offered free Vivid Dreamsicles, Methodz Zitalian Ice and NeroSonic Speed to anyone that walked by.
Nonsensical names for cold treats, sure, but fans of Anthony "Methodz" Zinni, Dylan "Nero" Koch and the rest of the Boston Breach were delighted at the marketing stunt. It's just one example of how Boston, the newest team in the Call of Duty League, has pulled out all the stops in order to make a name for themselves.
"We're just giving back," said Murph Vandervelde, president of Oxygen Esports, the parent company of the Boston Breach. "For the amount people are investing in the leagues, they need to invest back in the fans."
After a tumultuous offseason that ended with the Dallas Empire and OpTic Chicago merging into one team, OpTic Texas, Activision Blizzard's premiere esport was left with 11 teams in its franchised Call of Duty League. There were rumors of several organizations and cities joining the fold. Ultimately, Oxygen Esports merged with the Boston Uprising in order to operate both of The Kraft Group's esports entities in the Overwatch League and the 12th spot in the Call of Duty League.
The Breach closed out the 2022 season without a tournament trophy but were among the eight teams to qualify for the season-ending Champs tournament. After a close series against the Toronto Ultra, they finished seventh at Champs.
Read more: LA Thieves win Call of Duty Champs
"One Round 11 against the Thieves goes another way and that tournament looks a lot different," Vandervelde said of Boston's first match in the tournament. The Breach were actually the team that came closest to beating the eventual champion Thieves. Although Boston's competitive goals might not have been met in its inaugural season, the new team made a major impact on the league in other ways.
Photo credit: Zach Shelton / ESPAT
The organization hosted the first Challengers LAN event separate from a CDL Major in July. They hosted more than sixty teams at Helix eSports Foxborough in New England.
"We were blown away since this was the first franchising model that a Challengers event has been separate from a Major, and we were curious if people were going to spectate," Vandervelde said. "We sold hundreds of tickets. The passion is there."
Vandervelde, along with many other prominent figures in the Call of Duty community, were vehement about the current state of the developmental scene in the esport. They believe that there is no clear path to pro for up-and-coming players looking to compete at the highest level. The Challengers system, in their eyes, is severely lacking support.
The majority of Call of Duty League teams do not field a second roster for the Challengers circuit. Only recently have organizations like OverActive Media, the owners of the Toronto Ultra, begun to field amateur rosters. Boston has made it clear that developing Challengers into something deeper is a priority.
"I think that Boston, like us, have put an emphasis on growing the grassroots of Call of Duty," said Toronto Ultra coach Mark "MarkyB" Bryceland. "I think they've done a good job hosting events, they have their Academy squad and they’re one of the teams pushing for better support of the Challengers scene."
The Call of Duty League currently has 48 starting spots for players -- down from 60 due to the reduction from five-player teams to four-player teams following the 2020 season. That means that even legendary players like James "Clayster" Eubanks are having a hard time keeping a roster spot.
Dozens of players who should be in the league often flounder in Challengers until ultimately leaving the game. The Breach hope to change this over the next few years.
"If we can't provide an up-and-coming ecosystem, there's a lot of games aspiring esports athletes can play, if we can't bring in the best and brightest, then how do we start to groom that next generation of talent?" Vandervelde said.
The Microsoft acquisition of Activision Blizzard is looming with rumors that Call of Duty could shift away from its trademark annual release. Vandervelde believes that this is the perfect time for the expansion of the Challengers system and the league in general.
It's important to give more opportunities to those who play and for more fans to come in and follow Call of Duty. That's also part of the reason the Breach have been committed to establishing the team's brand this year with stunts like the ice cream truck in Los Angeles.
"Our formative years were spent in the grassroots space," Vandervelde said. "It's clear how important it is to capture fans. Too many teams are trying to act like they have an established fan base, similar to their parent companies that have a base from decades in traditional sports. They don't."
With the signing of fan favorite player Methodz, the team being the youngest in the league and a special marketing push from its parent company, the Boston Breach have quickly become a cornerstone in a League that has a rocky foundation.
Now the team is looking to expand its efforts next year.
"We were everyone's second favorite team this year," Vandervelde said. "The reception we got was beyond our wildest dreams."
Lead photo credit: Zach Shelton / ESPAT