With the CDL’s conclusion, it seems appropriate to take a moment to review this inaugural year of the CDL. This year of course saw a transition from the CWL to the CDL, which has adopted a franchise-based model. This piece will look in particular at the community’s initial concerns about this key change (franchising), and whether or not the expected issues have materialised or in fact been avoided. In order to fairly pass judgement on the CDL, this piece will focus on matters that were within the CDL’s control- i.e. issues pertaining to the title itself, or COVID-19 issues, are not the key focus of this piece. Using this framework, hopefully it can be demonstrated that many positives can be gleaned from this year, and there is many reasons to see the glass as half-full. NB
: This is an extended piece. For those without the buckets of free-time available to an out-of-term university student, feel free to skip to the TL;DR at the end.
One of the community’s structural problems had always been the immense concentration of fans who supported the same team: Optic Gaming. In fact, just last year a survey was carried out which suggested that 70% of fans supported Optic, with the 2nd most-backed side, EUnited, having a mere 7% of the vote
. Why was this an issue? Well, firstly it affected viewership; games which featured lesser-supported teams really struggled to pull in viewers and it was not uncommon for league matches to fail to break 20K viewership. This in turn likely affected profitability of orgs, and advertising value for the CWL. This was equally problematic during live events; fans in the past emptied from events which the departure of Optic, even during Championship Sundays. But with the CDL’s launch came a major change: a shift to city-based franchises. It’s fair to say that the community had reservations about this change. Why would decade-old brands be abandoned in favour of city-based franchises, especially considering COD is a global esport? Whether it was comments on Reddit posts
, or comments from the scene’s key figures (Nadeshot, Hecz, Hastro- you name it), there was a lot of friction to this change. But a year on, several key positives have emerged:
1) Atmosphere at Events
o With “Home Series” based LAN Events, the atmosphere at events has a new dynamic. In the past, attending fans would primarily be rooting for Optic (with the exception of UK Events, when fans would go crazy for UK teams also). But one only has to look at the opening event, CDL Minnesota, to see the change. A completely new team, which featured a roster of relatively unsupported players (i.e. no Claysters, Scumps, Formals) was able to attract a huge amount of vocal support, due to the fact they were the “home” side
. The Pandemic curtailed this unfortunately, but this new dynamic is a real positive for the scene going forward.
2) Balanced Team Popularity
o Whilst Hecz’s Chicago Huntsmen still remain fan favourites, it would be fair to say that the shift to city-based teams has provided a more balanced spread of fans across teams. Recall how, in 2019, Optic claimed 70% of the fanbase, and the 2nd favourites E-United could boast just 10% of their rivals numbers, claiming 7% of fans. But with the CDL, this has changed, and the data proves it. A recent analysis from “Esports Charts” reveals a new picture
. Whilst the Huntsmen still boast the most social media followers with 337K, 2nd placed Atlanta Faze boast a healthy 189K and 3rd placed Dallas Empire 120K. In fact, the least popular team, the LA Guerillas, still boast 37K, which equates to roughly 10% of the Huntsmen’s following- the same proportion that last year’s 2nd placed EUnited claimed
. So, the fans have “fanned out”, but why does this matter? In short, it means viewership is more sustained and has a higher floor
. Also, it enables the lesser-supported teams to be more sustainable and more profitable. More work still has to be done to boost the viewership “floor”, but positive steps have definitely been taken.
Developer and CDL Relationship
Critical to any successful esport is a strong relationship between the community, developers and the league. When issues arise in the game, especially ones pertaining to competitive gameplay, it is essential that the developers swiftly respond to the problems. This has long been seen as a weakness perhaps inhibiting the growth of COD as an esport, with the multi-studio, new developer every year model surely being responsible. But one of the merits of franchising was that, in theory, Activision would be under greater pressure from the CDL investors to ensure that the developers, Infinity Ward in this case, prioritised dealing with community demands. So has this theory materialised?
A key role of the developer is to integrate features within their game to promote and facilitate the growth of the esport. It is this aspect where perhaps the most significant positives can be seen, especially if we approach it with a mindset of improvement**. A point of critical importance: Infinity Ward has traditionally been a studio whose attitude towards Esports has been one of indifference and apathy.** A developer was even quoted saying how the growth of Cod esports was in fact detrimental to the wider game
. Hence, any, and I do mean any
¸ efforts to boost competitive integration should be seen as progress, and illustrate the fact that Activision’s efforts to boost IW’s focus on competitive have achieved some
results. For example:
i. CDL personalisation packs (including Player stickers)
ii. Promotional messages within the game for Champs.
iii. Warzone Stadium integration during Champs
iv. The use of warzone custom servers, for CDL show matches.
v. A decent cod caster, including 3rd person spectating.
vi. In-game rewards for viewing CDL.
These have all been the kinds of features the community has been crying out for, and finally the CDL has worked with the publisher to integrate them- this is progress.
This said, even in this “Optimist’s Review”, it would feel disingenuous not to also emphasise the tremendous failings coming from IW/Acti this year:
1) Ranked Play: Infinity Ward has never in its history included a “Ranked” playlist feature. A “CDL playlist” is insufficient, and should not be viewed as equivalent. Cod Esports is unique in the fact that it regularly lacks such a critical and essential feature. Therefore, it is of upmost priority that Activision ensure future Infinity Ward titles include a “Ranked” playlist, at least equivalent to the standard of Black Ops 2, a game that launched in 2012.
2) Lack of Competitive Updates:
The sheer sparsity of competitive updates has been stark, and it speaks volumes that the only meta adjustment has been the product of an update chiefly designed to balance Warzone meta. Indeed, when updates have come, they have seemed to come at the worst times (I’m looking at you, mid-champs MP5 update).
These failings cannot be overlooked, but even with such difficulties, the community has pulled through. The key positive to take away is that, in terms of developer support, next year should be far smoother with Treyarch at the helm.
The CDL and Broadcast Team.
With the new franchising structure came new some faces into the leadership of the league, namely Johanna Faries, the CDL Commissioner. The shift from CWL to CDL also saw a new broadcast team, full of familiar faces but equally some new ones.
Coming in from the NFL, the CDL must have represented a strikingly new challenge for Johanna Faries. Since much of her work is done managing stakeholders behind the scenes, it is hard to pass judgement on her first year. But those who are privy to these behind the scenes decisions, such as Hecz, have had nothing but positive things to say about Johanna. Indeed, in her recent appearance on Hecz’ Eavesdrop podcast, Johanna came off not just as very well-spoken and intelligent, but someone who has made a genuine effort to immerse herself in the league as a fan. Whilst I appreciate she is a busy woman, it would be great if she continued to made an effort to engage with fans through mediums such as she did appearing on Hecz’s podcast. In addition, there have been some tangible examples of good leadership from the CDL. The initial U- Turn regarding the CDL format, changing to individual events (in response to community feedback) was particularly important. Whilst the Champs/Playoffs format has not been universally popular, personally it seemed like a great solution: allowing all CDL teams a chance to compete as is tradition, but equally using seeding that ensured that the rest of the year was taken into account. Crucially, the CDL has usually seemed in touch with the community’s sentiments, even with small things like swapping out the “Hype Battles” with the much-preferred Warzone events. So all in all, in a year in which the CDL has been faced with unprecedented challenges, they have had a good showing and we look in good stead ahead of next year.
The community has long been very fortunate to be blessed with a wealth of on-air talent. From Puckett, to Courage, to Maven. This year has been no different with the on-air talent continuing to perform. Maven and Merk have shown why they’re the prime time duo, with the pair really complimenting eachother with a great balance of hype and insight. Miles and Chance have also been fantastic, with Chance’s analytic strength really shining through this year. New to the CDL has been Lottie, who I feel has really grown into her role and now looks at home as the host. Production has not been flawless, with audio-issues in particular proving problematic. But when things have been operating as they should be, the production value has been impressive. Series such as Contesting the Point and Behind the Controller have been produced to a good standard. One aspect of the broadcast that has been different is the commercial side. In the past, the CWL did have a degree of commercialisation, with some traditional sponsors such as SCUF and Astro. But the CDL has felt much more commercialised, with the league working with a much greater quantity of partners. Yet, to much credit of the league, the incorporation of the partners into the broadcast has rarely been at expense of watchability. Even the Grubhub shenanigans have been fairly tolerable, much in part to the on-air talent’s charismatic buy-ins to the bit. So, in a very challenging year for the broadcast team, I think the overall product delivered has been excellent, and it will be great to see how they progress into next year. Conclusion
This piece has looked to demonstrate the positives that have been brought about as a result of the franchise-modelled CDL. The fanbase has spread out, with viewership floors rising consequentially, whilst the viewership ceiling has remained strong. This translated into better atmosphere at events, before COVID curtailed LANs. Whilst franchising has so far failed to secure a better relationship between developer and community, there has been some signs of progress, even if this progress has perhaps been pushed by Acti rather than Infinity Ward. From the Broadcast team to the executive personnel, the CDL itself has been impressive, dealing with trying circumstances. Thus, working with an anti-competitive Dev team, and dealing with an unprecedented global pandemic, the CDL has still managed to deliver a great product. With a Treyarch game to look forward to next year, the CDL looks in good stead to continue its strong start.
REFERENCES:  https://www.reddit.com/CoDCompetitive/comments/a31vp7/survey_results_what_is_your_favourite_team_who_is/
I’ve been lurking in this subreddit day to day and I truly appreciate all the efforts that were made into our favourite show of all time to theorise on how it will end. I would like to take this opportunity to make my own ending theory, but tackling this from a narrative perspective in terms of how Isayama has written the story thus far, the messages that was brought upon and how I personally find it to be a more satisfying ending to this masterpiece. How Isayama might end the story?
First thing that I want to address before going into the theories is rather simple yet underlying theme that surrounds the story until now. In Season 1, the theme has always been focusing on humanity’s motivation to survive against the oppression of the titans. We have observed this theme throughout the entire season as people inside the wall are intrigued to understand the Titans, and the decision carried by everyone to survive from the danger that they are facing. This is clearly indicated at the end of Trost Arc when Eren block Wall Rose, an epitome of human’s passion to protect the humanity. The following seasons shifted the theme into the reasons behind human’s motivation and different conflict of interest arise from people of different background and life, but the underlying formula used by Isayama when he writes the story still remained consistent. The revelation of Reiner and Berthodlt’s conflicted mind but how they need to betray the Survey Corps at the end of Season 2, Historia’s motivation to go against her dad and become the new queen at the end of Season 3 pt 1, Basement reveal leading to larger scale of conflict of interest at the end of Season 3 pt 2.
Coming to the final arc which revolves around ending the cycle of hatred, I think it is pivotal and Isayama should acknowledge that the conclusion need to address the largest elephant in the room, the conflict between Marleyans and Eldians. Personally, I think Isayama acknowledged that war does not end in just one night, and I believed that he is experienced or has referred to several real-life conflicts and war in the world to know how to end the conflict. With my limited knowledge of the history of World War 1 and 2, I think the key here relies on Marley and Eldia Empire both coming into a treaty where both parties need to access to each other’s resources to be strong enough against other nations i.e. Marleyan’s lack of technology advancement is resolved with Paradis’ Ice burst stone resources.
Note: this is my weakest link to this theorycraft so I am fully open to hear what other says about this. But I think this should be addressed before concluding the story rather than any other things. My alternative theory revolves around Eren’s global genocide, but I don’t think conflict will ever stopped. You can even see conflict occurred among the Alliance against Eren. How Isayama likes to end the characters?
With this in mind, the next question would be how will the story be executed to such ending? Something that Isayama has always successfully executed is concluding a character’s life. I have to acknowledge and praise him for putting such effort to highlight each of the characters motivation and creating a satisfying conclusion to each of them. For example, Keith Shadis’ last act to the story, always a bystander to the cast but played a very crucial part of the story; Porco’s determination to win against Reiner even when he is dying, Hange’s successfully stopped a Colossal titan and made the Alliance’s flight depart, even though she finds herself not suited to be the commander in line after Erwin. Up until this point, there are a few key characters that we have yet to see him/her shine in the series, especially Armin. We are all aware of the most debatable topic in this series, Serumbowl and we know that there is something that Armin can do, at least something far more than what Erwin is capable of in this series. We have yet to see Armin stepped up his game as a commander and his intelligence into play yet. Rather narratively, I believed Armin’s strategy will be the key to end the story and he is able to stop Eren and the Rumbling.
Note: I focused more on Armin this time but keep this in mind for other characters as well. What role does Mikasa, Levi, Zeke, Jean, Falco, Gabi, Reiner, Annie played in this story? Each of them has rather clear characteristics and backstory behind them, and it is only satisfying to conclude every one of their stories before concluding the series. For example, Levi need to end Zeke’s life as his promise to Erwin; Zeke need to stop Eren to fulfil Grisha’s wish, Mikasa just want the old Eren back, Falco and Gabi plays a rather unclear role at the moment but they suits to be an living storyteller for any further conflicts between Eldian and Marley; Reiner just want to die (lol) and Annie wants to reunite with her father. How Isayama foreshadows?
Something that we cannot deny is how Isayama's foreshadowing is a masterpiece. He is very aware of how the readers perceived the story, but releasing information at proper timing to elevate the plot further. Information has always been a key, not only in terms of tactical strategy in the story, but also the narration of the story in terms of plot twists etc.
Going back to Armin’s perspective, his strategy is always gathering information ahead of his enemy. With a similar concept applies, there are some information or puzzle which Isayama have established but rather scattered around the story, which when all of them are put together it becomes a viable strategy. Does this remind you of any previous part of the story? Yes, I am talking about how Armin forced Annie to reveal her identity, how Armin defeated Bertholdt knowing that Collossal Titan cannot move while using his ability. Thus the key question here is, what information is Armin and the readermissing? What are the established rules/mechanisms that were (intentionally) left out by Isayama to put the puzzle pieces together?
There are few things that were established in the previous arcs (some rather oddly specific) which I think will come into play in this final conclusion. These are (1) Paths; (2) Transfer consciousness.
P A T H S was a meme to explain unexplained part of the story, like how memory transfer works, why Zeke and current Ymir saw the coordinate, what is Kruger talking about etc. Something clicked in my mind few months back, and I think that Paths actually have a consistent set of rules instead of just pure random touching (lewd). I think there are two conditions needed to trigger paths i.e. (1) one of the person came into contact has to be a shifter; (2) one of them has to have same thoughts and consciousness as previous memory holder.
- When Rod Reiss and Historia touched Eren, memories of Grisha flowed into Eren’s mind. Oddly enough, Rod thinks that only Grisha’s memory will appear to Eren because both Rod and Grisha are a fatherly figure with full of remorse of what they have done to their child.
- When Kruger mentioned about Mikasa and Armin while holding the injection, his mind and consciousness focused on saving humanity, which is exactly similar to Grisha when he injected Eren.
- Porco accessed to Marcel’s memory is also specifically similar, when both of them are determined to sacrifice to save Reiner
- What about Zeke and current Ymir in the paths world? Well you guessed it, their mind is similar to the past Ymir, where both of them are reluctant to die without achieving anything in their life, just like past Ymir.
- This leads me to believe the Alliance activated the access to paths world in the last chapter. It was not Eren’s ability or intention to trigger it because it is specifically applicable to only the people in the airplane. Why would Annie be out of the situation if Eren knows that she is also a shifter? Hence, I believed it was triggered with the same condition, when Reiner mentioned that Eren would want someone to end his life. This is exactly what Eren is thinking in paths world and as everyone has the same thought, paths triggered.
This consistent set of rules is an important piece of information because Armin then know how to access to the paths world again. Even though Eren and Ymir actively denies his access to paths world especially what happened after last chapter, Armin will actively try to talk to Eren again in paths world (or not?).
What about transfer consciousness? I believed you have come across a recent post about how Reiner’s transfer consciousness ability has been an asspull to the series. We have been actively brushed off that this is just to make Reiner suffer, Plot Armor Titan etc. However, coming from a narrative standpoint, why does not Isayama just create a situation where Levi missed his cut? Or Reiner is somehow protecting his neck with his blade? It is oddly specific that this was introduced right in the middle of the war, so I think that this plot(hole) will be revisited in this final arc. Furthermore, we do not know to what extend does transfer consciousness works, whether it is only limited to physical body or does it work against time? If it does, I think this is the key for Armin to transfer Eren’s consciousness back in past, and of course things like 2000 years from now (blah blah blah) make sense. How Isayama balance between plot twist and simple & down-to-earth story?
To be honest, we are at this stage of the story and I personally it is abit too late to introduce anymore mindblowing and lore-heavy chapters down the road. As you have probably noticed, the chapters after 121 have been rather simplistic and straight forward, because he knows how to balance major plot twists and down-to-earth story. Eren's motivation is rather explained at the moment that he is determined to believe that genocide is the only option, so I do not think that it needs to be complicated further. A lot of questions that we have (e.g. who the bid daddy, King Fitz' story, Falcon flying cheat code etc) all will be resolved rather thematically and emotionally instead of major plot point for the story to progress. In other words, they are addressed by carrying a message to the audience, rather than something needed to conclude the story. I personally do not see another time loop theory a satisfying ending to the story because this introduces more and more aspects to be covered (how it works, to what extend time loop occurs, how many loops has it been) unless everything is covered decently before the story ends. Some of the hot topics from recent chapters and the messages that I think will be covered are as follow:
How Isayama going to execute it?
- Who is the father? - I really do not care who is the father, it doesn’t matter. What is important is the baby who will be born under the royal blood will be the king of a new world, a world where Eldians are free from Ymir’s curse and there will be minimal conflict between Eldians and Marleyans.
- What happen in the past? The lore about the spine, King Fritz, The Great Titan War etc all these are tied to a certain character i.e. Ymir. It is good for the story to recontextualize and revisit these events (which I theorise it will), but I would appreciate if it is explained as a medium for Ymir to share how she sees the world. We have not really heard from Ymir right? I think Ymir will share her thought about these events and why she entrusted Eren the Founding Titan power.
- What does flying titan does? This is definitely a red herring for the viewers to think that flying titan might have special ability to end Eren. This is similar to the titan injection we have in RtS arc where some of us thought that this injection will be the key to end the world. Look at how the injection was used? I think Annie and Falco gaining access to flight ability is more to elevate their character development, to showcase the key decisions that they will make in this final war. I think Annie will have to make a life saving decision between Armin and her dad, while Falco will save Reiner again (just like all past Jaw Titan holders).
As I’ve listed out some of the plot points which may occur, this is how I theorise the series will end:
- The bombing fleet in last chapter have no chance against the Rumbling. The Rumbling will not slow down or stop, and the bombing fleet will be exhausted or destroyed by extreme heat from Colossal Titans.
- Annie’s dad who led the Liberio people managed to snatch a fleet to escape, but somehow Annie’s dad was injured due to Marley officer’s crossfire. He sacrificed himself for the others to escape. The flying titan came into the war as Annie finally met his father in the midst of apocalypse.
- At the same time, the Alliance reached the Rumbling but to no avail, none of the firecrackers works. As the airplane depleted its fuel, Armin had to gamble his life to jump on top of FT and use CT’s nuke. In the nick of time, he started to put the information together from Berthodlt’s memory and Reiner regarding transfer consciousness and paths.
- Armin figured out how to access paths as the airplane flew down with the rest of the Alliance
- Armin, Mikasa, Levi “died” (and some other people, depending on how Isayama want to tell the story) and ended up in paths world, seeing Zeke, Eren and Ymir. Remaining people who are dying from airplane crash were saved by flying titans i.e. Falco and Annie. I would imagine Reiner (can’t die lul) and Pieck saved by Annie while Jean and Connie saved by Falco (as a return for them not killing Falco back then).
- Armin decided that talking to Eren is futile, hence he started to talk to Ymir. The plot further thickens with a memory trip down Ymir’s memory as Ymir starts to speak up about how she felt. Featuring the past events i.e. Great Titan war, King Fritz’ memory wipe, Armin convinced that genocide is not going to end the hatred and conflict for the past 2000 years. Somehow Armin and Zeke managed to convince Ymir that Eren is wrong, as she entrusts Armin to the power of FT.
- Eren was defeated. Armin and Zeke came into contact to stop the Founding Titan and the Rumbling by giving new command for Colossal Titans to stop moving and/or deplete their energy.
- Armin cannot guarantee that war does not happen in the future, but he knows that the only way to free Eren is to transfer his consciousness back in the past. Along with Mikasa who always want to stay with Eren, both of them ended up back in the past where Eren is sleeping under the tree. These kids have no recollection of existing memories but this cycle will continues, as Eren acknowledge that his past is “his freedom”.
- Levi finally get his last chance to kill Zeke in paths world and fulfilled Erwin’s wish.
- Armin puts an end to the curse of Ymir and remove all titans’ abilities from the world, as he signed a treaty with Azumabito and Marley to join force using their technology and Ice Burst Stone as resources to grow the new country together.
- Historia’s baby is born into this new world free of Ymir’s curse, as she whispered to the child: “You are free”
TL;DR on crack: Not a Code Geass ending, not so much of time loop theory, the father doesn’t matter. YOU ARE FREE to theorise your own ending.