The King’s Theatre in Brooklyn, New York first opened its doors in 1929, offering attendees the latest in cinema, stage shows, and orchestra performances. This was a place that sold dreams and transported those who entered a different world, one gilded in gold leaf. But from July 14 to 17, all that French Baroque indulgence gave way to the neon-soaked extravagance of a latter-day esports event: the Call of Duty Major IV playoffs.
Just as theatergoers did in 1929, I entered the King’s Theater and found myself transported to a new world. But instead of a Roaring Twenties vision of opulence, I was met with a late ‘90s fever dream of the “future” of games.
Journey to the past
I have never been to E3, and most likely never will despite having lived in Los Angeles for the first 18 years of my life. As a young girl who fell deeply in love with video games and video game journalism, I envied the yearly coverage from the Convention Center. This was at the height of E3, a time when gamer culture was truly for the boys, rife with scantily-clad booth babes and edgy shooters. Call of Duty reigned supreme.
The COD Major IV is like entering a time capsule from the era of E3 past.
The gilded interior of the theater has been retrofitted with LED screens displaying the logo of the home team, the New York Subliners. To the right of the entrance hall is the Mountain Dew booth, a natural sponsor of Call of Duty League.
The booth radiates neon green like a Mako reactor, offering attendees the opportunity to play a collection of PC games. Posters advertise the Mountain Dew metaverse watch party, which takes place in Decentraland, a digital game full of NFTs and cryptocurrency, both of which have been dubious additions to the gaming industry and the subjects of intense scrutiny.
None of this feels especially welcoming to the curious and uninitiated. Instead, the space seems to belch “for hardcore gamers only” from every surface. This is unfortunate.
But the Dew provides. No one would go thirsty during Major IV thanks to the numerous tubs of Mountain Dew available free of charge to all ticketholders. These bins were a treasure trove of verified gamer drink in every imaginable flavor. They even had cans of Baja Blast. (I took a few home.)
In possession of my golden ticket (a press pass) I made my way up to the VIP section, which made up the entire mezzanine level of the theater. I sat down in a red velvet chair and watched the playoffs. Having no prior knowledge about Call of Duty esports, I listened avidly to the play-by-play commentary and analysis taking place in one of the theater’s boxes.
As a transplant from Los Angeles to New York, I have had to earn a sense of belonging in this city. For many people, sports are a way to accomplish this. Most people tend to root for the team they grew up with, their hometown team. Being from Los Angeles complicates matters, as we have two teams for every sport. Baseball has the Dodgers and Angels; basketball: Lakers and Clippers; soccer: Galaxy and LAFC. Hell, even the Call of Duty League has two Los Angeles teams! That means 17 percent of the COD League is an LA player.
So, I root for New York.
People love sports because they are a breeding ground for incredible stories. Who doesn’t want to root for an underdog or see a years-long rivalry come to a head? Their competitive nature gives us a place to resort to group mentality, to feel like we belong. Call of Duty esports is no exception.
The highlight of Call of Duty Major IV was that of Crimsix and the New York Subliners. Crimsix is a longtime COD player, having competed in every championship since 2012. But the Subliners performance at Major IV could make or break that streak. Only the top eight teams in the league get to attend Championships, and unless the Subliners made it to the finals at Major IV, they would be out of the running.
The first match-up the Subliners had was against the Minnesota Rokkr. It was a neck-and-neck match that the Subliners couldn't afford to lose, but they pulled it out in the end to progress to the next round. By the final day of Major IV, the Subliners were undefeated and competing in the finals against the LA Thieves (not to be confused with the LA Guerrillas).
They lost the finals, but the Subliners had secured their place in the Championships. Crimsix’s streak remains unbroken.
The pure adrenaline that watching these matches pumped into my veins was immensely satisfying. Esports are a pure distillation of every great thing about sports. It has skilled players competing in a game that is easy enough for newbies to follow. It also has a cast of players with their own stories to tell.
The appeal of these events should be much larger. Yet the thrills remain hidden behind a forbidding wall of outdated and unappealing gamer stereotypes. Until the League is ready to shed its Baja Blast veneer and think of its audience in broader terms, it will remain stuck in the past.