Call of Duty might seem like nothing more than fun and games, but, like most video game communities, many of the players take it more than seriously. Much like popular first and third person competitive shooters like Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, each yearly CoD title picks up tons of steam in the MLG community every November (or, in this case, mid-October).
Call of Duty’s classic arcade-style multiplayer may make it seem like an odd option for eSports, but the sheer visibility of the franchise is what makes it such a popular game in these circles. There may be a competitive scene for just about every multiplayer game out there, but few garner attention like the Black Ops and Modern Warfare games.
That said, where there is an official competition, there are official rulesets to go with them. Most Call of Duty titles are relatively straightforward in terms of gameplay, and the basic formula for these titles hardly ever changes from one entry to the next. That said, there is an entire officiating body and a governing league—the Call of Duty World League or CWL—to band players together. Professional Call of Duty teams have formed, are allowed to take part in paid sponsorships, and even ear fan-bases much like any team in a more established sporting league.
Some of the CWL’s rules, however, aren’t all that obvious to MLG newcomers or new fans of the sport, and some may seem a little ridiculous at first. That said, here are 20 crazy things that are forbidden from pro-CoD.
20 Ringing/Player Impersonation
For one reason or another, ringing, or the act of a competitor using an account other than their own for competitive purposes, is an issue among the Call of Duty elite. This is definitely an issue specific to Major League Gaming, as publicly impersonating other players in other, more physical sports would be pretty difficult. Of course, certain stats and configuration may be wildly different depending on which account a player is using, and it wouldn’t be fair to skew a match based on statistics and factors which aren’t a players own. This really only pertains to online matches, as all players must be present in the same arena for offline or LAN matches.
19 All Players Must Be Over 18
This may seem like a ridiculous restriction given Call of Duty’s exceedingly young audience, but all CWL competitors must be over the age of 18. This rule was included in order to comply with the series’ nearly-global 18+ rating, which makes sense. However, there are tons of pro-level Call of Duty players out there who may not quite be old enough to compete, and it seems weird to bar potential contenders based on age. This may be a bit of a stretch, but athletes as young as 14 are allowed to compete in the Olympic games—why can’t the same be said for professional Call of Duty?
18 Soft Play (Or Throwing A Match)
Soft Play is a term which refers to a player purposely throwing a match or not playing to the best of their abilities in the hope that they will eventually lose. This often ties directly into under-the-table wagers made without the league's knowledge and can be a huge source of corruption in the burgeoning MLG community. The CWL explicitly states that such actions are banned, though it can sometimes be difficult to determine who may be unreasonably underperforming in real time. Blowouts and high scoring games are some of the most enthralling things in just about any sport, but the ability of certain players to mask their soft play puts a bit of a damper on these situations. Players found to be in violation of this rule can face a fine of up to $500.
17 Restricted Weapons
Each year, the CWL institutes a list of in-game weapons which are disqualified from league play. The Call of Duty games have been plagued by weapon imbalance and overpowered weapons for years. As a result, the league has banned a certain subset of weapons which would likely be used much too prominently should they see inclusion in professional competition. In WWII, loadouts including the Lewis, the MG 42, and the Orso were barred from league play. The M1 Garand, despite its contention among pro gamers, didn’t see an immediate ban which resulted in a bit of controversy among the MLG crowd. Onlookers may be upset over these restrictions, but they make for an overall more balanced competitive Call of Duty experience.
16 Submit Your Controller for Approval
Much like any sporting equipment in any other game, controllers used by players during official CWL matches are all subject to inspection by the officiating crew. This is important because contestants are always eager to be on a level playing field, and things like modded or excessively customized controllers can damage the integrity of the match. While even casual Call of Duty fans should be able to spot players crossing the boundaries of what should be possible with a controller, exploitative maneuvers aren’t always obvious to the untrained eye. While software, hardware, and monitors are all provided, player-owned controllers add a small element of volatility to the relatively well-regulated sport.
15 Be On Time Or Don't Bother
In a move that must come across as terribly ironic to many high school and college educators, Call of Duty competitors are required to arrive at each event on time or risk facing a penalty or disqualification. This should be a basic expectation of just about every pro sport, but it comes across as more than a little funny that the rulebook for Call of Duty’s professional league makes a point of punctuality. There can’t really be a game if none of the players show up, of course, and delaying an event because one single person didn’t show up is nothing short of annoying, but, as the old saying goes, they don’t make it a rule unless someone has done it before. They aren’t messing around, either: arriving late to a match can result in a $1,000 fine.
14 Intentional Disconnect
Online multiplayer functionality, ubiquitous though it may be in modern video games, is far from a perfect science. Games often time out, lag, or simply stop working for one reason or another quite frequently, and this issue has plagued online CWL matches since the organization’s inception. Multiplayer in the Call of Duty games tend to rely heavily on the quality of player’s connections, and a weak WiFi signal or artificially throttled download speeds may pose a major threat to the integrity of each match. Prematurely ended matches are rescheduled based on the discretion of a CWL official, though an intentional disconnect executed as a last-ditch effort to avoid a loss could result in forfeits and penalties.
13 Official Game Modes ONLY
This may come as a surprise to newcomers to the professional Call of Duty scene, but there are only a small handful of officially-sanctioned game types available for competitive play in the CWL: Hardpoint, Capture the Flag, and Search and Destroy. Available modes have varied depending on the year’s CoD title and the overall balance of certain game modes, but these three were the mainstays of Call of Duty: WWII’s competitive play. It may seem like an oversight to exclude more basic game modes, but gameplay types which don’t involve a direct objective tend to be very slow and involve tons of waiting and hiding—not exactly prime viewing material.
12 Gentlemen’s Agreement
In an effort to make the Call of Duty pro scene a bit more accessible to the average viewer (and to cash in on a previously untapped area of the market) Activision founded the Call of Duty World League ahead of the 2015 launch of Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III. The team behind the game specifically designed the multiplayer to ensure that nothing would be outright banned from use by the league. As a result, plenty of crazy, overpowered weapons and scorestreaks were initially greenlit for competitive play. Soon after, however, pro players got together and formed what they called a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ to unofficially bar certain elements of the multiplayer from use in CWL matches.
11 More Loadout Restrictions
Weapons are far from the only aspect of Call of Duty’s multiplayer which has been subject to discrimination by both players and the league: tons of attachments, scorestreaks, basic training skills, equipment, and even entire divisions have been barred from official use. This may seem like a severe stripping-down for Call of Duty’s core gameplay, but that’s because professional players by-and-large prefer a balanced, equal experience to the thrill of high-octane, ridiculous armament usage. Strangely enough, trivial things like recon and counter-recon aircrafts were banned. These scorestreak elements have been in the game, in some form, since 2007’s Modern Warfare, and barring their use may raise some eyebrows.
10 Match Rules And Referees
Each year, the official CWL rulebook relays the exact match specifications for each game type, though they likely only include this information for the sake of posterity: aside from a few minor tweaks to the respawn rate and overall game time, little has been altered from the basic match settings with which casual fans should be familiar. One major difference, of course, will be the inclusion of a CODcaster, who assumes the role of match commentator. There are also impartial referees who resolve in-game disputes and manage time stoppages similar to many other professional sports. This may seem obvious to many MLG fans, but it’s interesting to see just how in-depth these official rules can be.
9 Official Referees Must Be Present
It’s tough to take a game seriously if there isn’t some form of official mediation, and such elements are crucial for sports struggling to be taken seriously. As previously stated, all official CWL matches must be monitored by a referee. Most with extensive knowledge of the game or a close connection to the CWL community will be able to apply for a referee position, though, unlike other professional sports, these are almost always voluntary roles. Activision may seem eager to cash in on hype surrounding major league gaming, but that doesn’t mean they will be willing to pay any non-vital employees. Should a match be conducted without a referee present, it can’t be counted as an officially sanctioned match, and the results will be nullified.
8 Re-Read The Rulebook
This isn’t an explicitly stated rule, but anyone wishing to compete in the CWL would do well to go through the rulebook several times throughout the year to keep abreast of new policy changes. Though some minor tweaks and changes to the rules aren’t uncommon in other professional sporting leagues, major changes and profoundly game-altering rulesets are instituted often in the world of Professional Call of Duty. Recent Call of Duty titles have changed and evolved as developers have responded to community feedback, and the CWL rulebook is always changed in order to reflect these alterations. In a way, this is a bit of a nuisance, as it makes it that much more difficult for would-be fans to follow what is going on in the league.
7 Coaching Is Serious Business
Rules of this nature cam into question recently when tennis star Serena Williams was called for receiving tips or information from her coach during a match. Williams clearly wasn’t pleased about the accusation, but it’s a strange rule which actually occurs in several other professional sports. The CWL rulebook specifically bans coaching and states that players aren’t allowed to have any sort of communication with their team coaches, as silly as something like a Call of Duty coach may sound to someone unfamiliar with the league. Professional Call of Duty, in the minds of many, is every bit as much of a sport as any other competitive event, and similar rules often apply.
6 Team Sponsorship Has Its Own Guidelines
Just as teams in the MLS bare brand names on their jerseys or high-profile Nascar drivers will coat their car in advertising material, teams competing in the CWL are allowed to accept partnerships and promote certain products for their financial benefit. Much of the league’s sponsorship comes in the form of brands and products with which avid gamers will probably already be familiar, but these partnerships double as another way of legitimizing the sport in the eyes of the public. That said, CWL teams aren’t allowed to promote anything of a decidedly adult flair. Most crucially, the CWL rulebook specifically bars teams from receiving any sort of endorsement from electronic vaporizer manufacturers, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.
5 Don’t Bet On It (Or Risk Never Playing Again)
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise given that such activities are banned in just about every sport and resided in a legally gray area nationally until not long ago, but players aren’t allowed to bet on the outcomes of any CWL matches. Several high-profile players in the MLB, NFL, NHL, and plenty of other sports have actually been banned from their respective leagues for failing to adhere to this rule, and it is a bit of a concern within the professional Call of Duty community. It should be noted that, though this is different from the skin gambling epidemic which has placed companies like EA and Valve in hot water recently, in-game weapon skins have definitely changed hands as a result of some illicit wagers in the past.
4 Players Can Be Red-Carded
Just about all soccer fans should know what it means when a referee waves a red card in a players' face, but few realize that a similar system is in place in CWL tournaments. Though it doesn’t come up all that often, players can actually be ejected from a match based on their behavior. Should someone stand in clear and obvious violation of the league’s sportsmanship rules, they may well either face penalties, fines, or, in some cases, total expulsion. It isn’t, perhaps, as dramatic as what often happens in soccer matches, but it can be sort of funny nonetheless. Again, this highlights why referees are so essential to official Call of Duty matches despite the game’s relative autonomy.
3 Earning Pro Points
One strange restriction which every CWL contestant must put up with comes from the fact that players and teams can only qualify for matches based on the amount of Call of Duty Pro Points they have earned. Given the slightly chaotic structure of the league, matches aren’t usually organized based on wins and losses. Instead, those wishing to qualify for an upcoming event need to have earned enough points in previous competitions to be eligible for entry. This is a system pretty foreign to new fans, and it essentially guarantees that the highest ranking teams will continue to gain exposure while less successful teams whither away. If the Cleveland Browns played in the CWL, they would have disbanded a long time ago.
2 Check The Dress Code
This is probably the silliest rule in the CWL rulebook, but players are required to match both their team’s and the league’s dress code before participating in a match. This may sound completely ridiculous based on the fact that… well, it’s Call of Duty, but the league needs to do everything it can to make sure that they can be taken seriously. A bunch of slovenly-dressed teenagers masquerading as competitive professionals could definitely damage some reputations, and Activision doesn’t want its own players making a mockery of the league. That said, offending players can actually receive a fine of up to $500 should they fail to show up in the correct clothes… that’s a terrible way to spend half a grand.
1 Restricted Speech
While a majority of professional sporting leagues allow their players to openly critique and even speak ill of the league in which they play, Activision’s CWL does not extend the same courtesy. Lots of stock is placed in remarks people make on Twitter these days, and those wishing to compete in Call of Duty professionally need to be extra careful of what they say: players can be fined up to $1000 for their negative comments. Unfortunately, the rulebook doesn’t explicitly detail what the league considers to constitute a negative comment, but smart players may want to avoid bringing it up altogether. There are quite a few pros in other leagues which would long ago have been fined had they involved themselves with Call of Duty’s pro league.