Opinion – Black Ops Cold War’s League Play is a colossal failure

Nicholas Sakadelis

Black Ops Cold War’s League Play launch has been nothing short of a disappointment among the fanbase it was created to please.

It has been no industry secret that the release of Black Ops Cold War has been a shaky one for developer Treyarch, who had to step in to finish the development of Sledgehammer Games’ Call of Duty title.

With one less year under their belt for development of their next title (two compared to the usual three) Black Ops Cold War was off to a shaky start. Unfortunately for Treyarch, the responsibilities would continue to amp-up with the success of Infinity Ward’s Warzone, which was due to be handed down to them and Raven Software during Black Ops Cold War’s year as well.

As a result, Multiplayer in their premium title feels all but a side-piece in the larger picture. Black Ops Cold War has all of the customization and gunplay of a standard Call of Duty title, but doesn’t do anything particularly different from previous titles, nor offers much variety in launch content.

Black Ops Cold War Multiplayer Launch - Miami Map

With the passing of time, Treyarch is adding more free DLC to Black Ops Cold War, which has included some remastered multiplayer maps, small gunfight maps, and maps for the oddball “fireteam” mode. Fireteam is rumored to be using a similar strategy in content delivery to Infinity Ward’s “Ground War” mode, using pieces of the much larger Battle Royale map – due to drop in the coming months.

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As you can clearly see, Treyarch has a lot of work on their plate – this isn’t including the various bug fixes and optimization for a total of five gaming platforms as well. (PS4, PS4 Pro, PS5, Xbox Series X|S)

Unfortunately, this has shown up clear as day in the newly added “League Play” mode to Black Ops Cold War, which has disappointed many esports fans on launch.

Black Ops Cold War's League Play/Ranked Play start screen

League Play’s Failed Launch

Fast-forwarding to day 1 of the official League Play launch, disaster is possibly the best term. “Playing like the pros” has never felt worse, and core issues with the modes ruleset and ranking were quickly brought to light by the community.

Unfortunately, due to the unrestrictive and outdated nature of the CDL league ruleset, professional players have opted to play on a “Gentlemen’s Agreement” or “GA” system to restrict access to equipment and streaks in-game that are considered to have low competitive integrity.

This list includes the Jammer field upgrade, Molotov lethal, Perks Gearhead & Gung-Ho, and the Wildcard Perk Greed. The full GA list is quite tedious and large, but many players will agree a large portion of the list is acceptable to be banned in competitive play.

At launch, all of these aforementioned items were usable in-game, which transitioned to a mess of an experience, to say the least.

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Worst of all, scorestreaks persisted between deaths – which means all players can get powerful scorestreaks at least once with ease, each and every game.

Black Ops Cold War's League Play skill divisions explained

A Horrid Ranking System

The cornerstone of any effective ranked system is a fair and exciting skill rating system that awards players for improving at the game. In Black Ops Cold War, the League Play system feels like it goes against these very principles.

Instead of opting for skill rankings that go up based on overall performance, players are hard-locked into their placement ranks for a set amount of days. These are called “events” and last four days each. Players are put into a division against 49 other players and grind out League Play to fight for the top of their division to take a set amount of gems to advance their rank.

If players place first place in six separate events, they’ll be permanently placed in the top “Diamond” rank for the season. Sound confusing? That’s because it is. The whole system is centered around grinding for more wins than your fellow competitors rather than judging your individual skill. As players progress, the true competition at the top level lies in time played, and not player skill.

Even worse, the placement games seem to be either bugged or just random in nature, with some professional-level players getting placed in Competitor League – the bottom 50% of players.

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This system prioritizes quantity over quality and seemingly does not take any player metrics into account besides wins and losses. For a video game with a $25 million esports franchise buy-in, this system crumbles when compared to ELO based systems in games like Blizzard’s Overwatch and Valve’s Counter-Strike.

Simply put: You shouldn’t need a PhD in Call of Duty to understand your League Play rank, and as an individual player you should feel like you’re being judged by your individual skill in-game vs your time played. It should not take several weeks (events) for you to reach a proper rank.

Worst of all, the Black Ops Cold War League Play ranking system is a complete copy/paste of the unpopular Black Ops 4 system, which is even more of a slap in the face to the competitive community.

Black Ops Cold War League Play menu

The Future Of League Play

With all the negative player reception, Treyarch acted fast in order to restore some competitive integrity to the playlist. While overhauling the ranks in just a few days, or even a few weeks is an unrealistic expectation – they did what they could, changing the ruleset.

Just one day after the launch of the mode, Treyarch banned many GA’d items from League Play – including some scorestreaks, weapon attachments, perks, and equipment.

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This update is far from making things perfect, but at least it worked as a quick band aid fix for the mode. While debates regarding the ranks were up in the air, games were playable yet again and were not nearly as messy compared to its first day.

Unfortunately, the scorestreaks persisting on death was not removed (and has yet to be removed), so expect games to be filled with RC-XD’s and mid-tier streaks like Napalm Strikes.

This update is most certainly a gesture from Treyarch that they are determined to fix this mode and is supported by Treyarch Studio Design Director David Vonderhaar, who took to Twitter to collect feedback and comment on League Play.

In a response to a tweet regarding the overall ranking system, Vonderhaar replies “Keywords: Scope. Accessibility. Deadlines. Franchise.” perhaps hinting that time was partially to blame for the porting over of the Black Ops 4 League Play system. In addition he states “We got some work to do IMO to evangelize how it works after we clean up some of the obnoxious bugs”.

Vonderhaar also reached out CDL player for Dallas Empire, Crimsix for feedback on the ranking system for League Play as well. It’s unknown if this means he is set on overhauling the League Play system, but this could possibly be good news for the future. If anything – it shows dedication to the hardcore community from a high-up developer at Treyarch.

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With Black Ops Cold War still being in the early stages of its year-long Call of Duty cycle, there is still time for the League Play to receive some well-deserved love. Unfortunately, with all the responsibilities piled on Treyarch’s plate, we could be waiting several months for any meaningful change to the core ranking system.

For now, if you’re looking for a “competitive-like” experience, League Play at least accomplishes just that. There still are a few more ruleset tweaks it needs, but after those changes are in place, the ranking system will be the bigger issue in the future for Treyarch.

Image Credits: Treyarch/Activision

About The Author

Gaming Journalist and independent content creator under KARNAGEclan. Lover of esports & Call of Duty.