Author Archives: Jonathan Shieber

Call of Duty Black Ops IIII adds battle royale mode while taking the game back to boots on the ground

In recent releases, Activision has taken its Call of Duty franchise into space (with its Infinite Warfare) and back in time (with the World War II release); now it’s looking to its past to bring it back to glory, while adding the massive multi-player Battle Royale mode.

The new Black Ops game is set within a narrative universe between Black Ops II and Black Ops III and stresses multi-player gaming like the battle royale, improved league play and collaborative features for gamers.

Critical to that is the franchise’s introduction of Battle Royale mode, bringing favorite characters, favorite weapons and the most iconic parts of players’ favorite maps along with the ever-popular zombies into a winner-take-all competitive landscape.

It’s a nod to the new ways gamers are playing and a pitch to rejuvenate Call of Duty — one of the world’s most popular game titles, with Black Ops as perhaps the most compelling title in the company’s arsenal. Previous releases have failed to capture the imagination in the same way as its early releases. Black Ops IIII is returning to the complete boots on the ground game play, and stressing the multi-player functionality that made the first games such a hit.

The game will launch in October and will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows.

Black Ops IIII doesn’t have a traditional campaign, but weaves narrative into each of the game’s modes. “This is a game that’s built to last for years to come,” said Treyarch chairman Mark Lamia.

The game developers stressed more nuanced game play, with improved sound and graphics capabilities like more refined muzzle flashes and better audio for improved orientation. Weapons mods are getting an upgrade; each weapon will get its own set of attachments. There are operator mods and better, more realistic recoil.

For players familiar with the game, Treyarch developers stressed changes to make the game more tactical, including a new healing mechanic and better situational awareness for more measured, strategic play.

“Tactical players can choose when to disengage and look for a better opportunity to survive,” said one of the Treyarch developers presenting onstage in a cavernous hangar at the Jet Center Los Angeles for the Call of Duty IIII community reveal. As part of the tactical emphasis, the company reintroduced characters like FireBreak to deal with aerial threats and two new specialists, a reconnaissance expert and a defensive player who can create tactical positions for teams.

Zombie mode 

Black Ops IIII also adds new features and first-time experiences for fans of its Zombie mode. “As with the rest of the Black Ops IIII we’ve gone back to the drawing board on Zombies,” says Jason Blundell. “The zombies community has always been our most loyal…. So 10 years after it all began we’re about to begin a brand new chapter with the Zombie story right here.”

There are three zombie game-play scenarios. Two new scenarios include one set in a past, mythical Romanesque era while the other is set in the luxurious venue of the Titanic as the maiden voyage turns deadly and zombifying. 

For both experiences there are going to be customizable tools and social experiences so that the new Zombie world can exist in an evergreen mode. On offer will be customizable zombie modes for ways fans can customize and trade their own zombies. There’s also a Black Ops stamp system to validate the work that’s been done.

Activision and Treyarch also introduced limited-time creative challenges for modding zombies, and promised new ways to play the game and updated seasonal themes based, in part, on player modifications. For Zombies, Black Ops IIII will include bot support to play with an artificial intelligence. Zombie Rush is a new mode designed to introduce players to the zombie universe and adding in-game tutorials. Difficulty settings are also customizable to encourage repeat game play.

PC focus

Black Ops IIII is the first title to be released on the multi-player Battle.net PC platform. The company is focused on PC as “its own unique platform, integrated with all the social features on Battle.net.” Players can talk across Black Ops IIII and Overwatch, and the company is emphasizing the customizable elements for PC gamers.

Quarterback lets top esports gamers and streamers create their own fan-based leagues

In an effort to tie the top gamers and streamers more directly with their fans, a new company called Quarterback has just raised $2.5 million to create and manage fan-based leagues for the superstars of the esports and streaming world.

The company raked in its seed round from investors led by Bitkraft Esports, which is quickly building one of the most complete portfolios of gaming-related startups in the industry. Additional investors include Crest Capital Ventures, Deep Space Ventures, UpWest Labs and angel investors.

Essentially, it’s a platform for creating gaming leagues and content driven not by game publishers, leagues, or existing streaming sites like Twitch, but by the gamers themselves. It gives streamers and players a new way to reach their audience, the company claims.

Founded by serial entrepreneur Jonathan Weinberg, who acted as the chief executive for Round Robin and held a leadership role in the mobile game studio Spartonix, Quarterback is the latest attempt to get more revenue into the hands of gamers. 

Leagues created on Quarterback can host daily challenges, give away prizes and compete against fan clubs devoted to other top players.

Esports streamers and gamers are among the most bankable influencers, pitching to a new generation of consumers that don’t track traditional media sources. The ability to host and own their own channels gives these streamers an ability to create their own game libraries, cultivate a next generation of talent and encourage one-to-one interactions on platforms they control.

“Most streamers and pros struggle to monetize their fan-base and lose touch with their audience when the fans break away to play their own games,” says Jens Hilgers, a founding partner of Bitkraft Esports Ventures. “Quarterback solves this problem in a unique way by helping streamers become an integral part of their fan’s game-play.”

Esports Overwatch League heads to hipster Brooklyn for its finals

What could be more perfect than moving the inaugural championship finals for an esports league from its Los Angeles home to Brooklyn?

For Overwatch League, the esports conference created by fiat from Activision Blizzard, the move is the first step in its plans for housing esports teams in cities around the country.

Heading from sunny Burbank, Calif. to the hipster heartland of Brooklyn conjures up echoes of the famed Dodger franchise move (in reverse) while tapping into one of the few other markets in the U.S. that might rival LA for esports popularity.

When the Overwatch regular season ends on Sunday, June 17th, six teams will face off in the league’s first post-season playoffs. Those games are set to begin July 11th and will take place in Burbank at the company’s “Blizzard Arena Los Angeles.”

After the playoffs, the final teams will fly to New York to compete for the largest share of a $1.4 million prize pool and the first Overwatch League trophy. The games are slated to begin Friday, July 27th and continue on the 28th.

“The Overwatch League Grand Finals will be an epic experience for fans and viewers,” said Overwatch League commissioner Nate Nanzer in a statement. “We want this to be the pinnacle of esports, and holding it at a world-class venue like Barclays Center, in a global capital like New York, will help us celebrate not only the league’s two best teams, but the fans, partners, and players who have joined us on this incredible journey.”

Overwatch is taking a geographic approach to its franchises with teams sponsored by cities in the U.S. and major esports hubs around the world like London, Shanghai and Seoul.

Eventually the league is looking to set up stadiums in locations outside of Burbank. With league play requiring teams to travel — like a traditional sports league.

The move to Brooklyn could be a test of how well the Overwatch experience travels and a precursor to the league starting to take its show on the road in earnest.

Tickets go on sale on Friday, May 18th, at 10 a.m. EDT, and can be bought on ticketmaster.com and barclayscenter.com, while tickets to the first two rounds of the Overwatch League postseason at Blizzard Arena Los Angeles go on sale Thursday, May 10th, at 9 a.m. PDT via AXS.com.