Johanna Faries on the Future of Call of Duty Esports

Newly-Appointed Commissioner of Call of Duty’s new esports league focuses on Growth and Fandom

by AGB Staff on July 09, 2019

The Call of Duty World League season is coming to a close with the CWL Finals taking place July 19-21 in Miami before the season wraps in Los Angeles at the 2019 Call of Duty World League Championship.

On the horizon is the city-based franchising format for the league, with Johanna Faries at the helm. To date, seven cities have been announced: Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New York, Paris, and Toronto.

Today, Faries steps into a new role – previously named Head of Call of Duty Esports – the veteran sports leader now takes on the mantle as Commissioner of Call of Duty Esports. In a week where the newly appointed Commissioner has been named to both FORTUNE’s 40 Under 40 as one of the most influential young people in business and Adweek’s ’30 Most Powerful Women in Sports’, there’s much to celebrate and anticipate for the future of competitive Call of Duty.

We spoke with Faries to discuss the progress of the league and her new role.

Activision Games Blog: Though this is the first time we’ve had an opportunity to speak with you, you’ve been a member of the Activision Blizzard team for almost a year now. What led you to Activision Blizzard, and in particular Call of Duty Esports?

Johanna Faries: Three primary reasons: 1) the people at AB - who are tremendously smart, talented, innovative, and kind, 2) the opportunity to impact the future of sports by way of esports, and 3) the ability to be an immediate contributor given my NFL background, while also learning a ton in the process. Call of Duty’s historic legacy and dynamism as a gaming franchise also presents an unparalleled opportunity for us to excel not only in esports but in all of sports, in my opinion. Putting all of these factors together, this role is an incredible chance to create something new, to grow and stretch, and to work alongside amazing people every day.

AGB: What have you learned since joining the team?

JF: I’ve learned that while we have tremendous potential ahead of us, we are also building atop an already strong foundation. This season’s Call of Duty World League has been stellar and has provided an excellent opportunity to learn from the many people and teams who have been driving and operating this scene for several years now. It’s been phenomenal to see how much care and dedication goes into our current program and to see how primed the Call of Duty esports community is for next level growth.

CWL Las Vegas back in December was the first live event I attended, and the energy in the room was exhilarating. It was fantastic to see so much love and admiration for our teams and players and the overall sense of accomplishment that everyone who works on the CWL has when we step into a venue. It was a clear indicator that there are very positive, thriving aspects of the current CWL scene that we need to preserve, even as we also seek to innovate in new ways.

AGB: When you joined Activision Blizzard your title was Head of Product, Call of Duty Esports. Today your title changes to Commissioner of Call of Duty Esports. How has your role changed with the new title?

JF:  During my initial phase on the job, my team’s focus was really on setting a new product vision for Call of Duty as a city-based franchised league and to design an experience that we believe can grow to become one of the biggest sports leagues on the planet. Now that we have begun to sell franchises to ownership groups all over the world, it’s less about going from a white sheet of paper to what we have shaped now, and more about operating and managing this competitive ecosystem in a best-in-class way.

That’s not to say we aren’t still editing – I think every sports league is always in ‘edit’ phase even decades in! But now that we have a strong product vision and business model to share, and have sold in several team franchises in the process, we can now shift gears toward the planning and execution phase of our work. The role of Commissioner oversees all aspects of those dynamics and the key stakeholders involved in making the system go, so it’s a broader platform for management than where we were back in August when the focus was primarily internal-facing and design-driven.

AGB: What can you tell us about the current season?

JF: This past Friday, CWL Pro League came to an end. Now the focus is on CWL Finals – taking place in Miami from July 19-21. This event brings the CWL Pro League Playoffs and the final amateur event of the year together. CWL Finals will also solidify our final 16 teams for the 2019 Call of Duty World League Championship, which will take place in Los Angeles from August 14-18. Champs is our biggest event of the year and culminates the tremendous work of our staff, players, team personnel, and fans, all of whom have made this season so awesome.

Both Finals and Champs will be broadcast on Twitch.tv/CallofDuty and in-game exclusively on PlayStation®4.

AGB: I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to pry some detail from you regarding the future. What can you tell us about next season?

JF: We plan to launch next year, so 2020 is a big moment for all of us. To date, we have announced seven teams for the league: Atlanta, Dallas, Los Angeles, Minnesota, New York, Paris, and Toronto and they all bring with them world class vision and insight that will supercharge this space. We are also working closely with the Call of Duty franchise team and studio partners to continue to think big about how we can innovate around the competitive experience, with an eye toward being the best league in the world.

Our ambition is quite large, but it’s also what gets us up every day feeling so energized by the potential scale of what Call of Duty esports can deliver. It’s a rush that can feel scary at times, but that thrill is typically where greatness can happen. I feel honored to be a part of it.