All things considered, the current drama in the Call of Duty community over the legality of the FAL in Black Ops 2 competition weighs very little on my shoulders. Although I have an endearing passion for CoD4 and will rarely turn down a fun session of killing zombies, I am very far from what you would call a fan or gamer in the CoD community. If anything, I'm a critic, and with good reason.
Only up until recently has competitive CoD shown any signs of potential. While many, myself included, can justifiably argue that Modern Warfare is to be shown respect as the pinnacle of competitive Call of Duty, Black Ops 2 has taken some strides in establishing itself as a legitimate eSport. I personally cannot come to terms with calling it an eSport – not yet, not just yet – but it seems like there are steps being taken in the right direction.
For one thing, the competitive support provided by Black Ops 2 developer Treyarch, not fully satisfactory but certainly existent and worthwhile, has been a boon for the community. Not only have players been given more ways to share their skill and connect with fellow competitors over a range of different mediums (first in gameplay, then in built-in streaming, etc.), but the company has thrown money at tournament prize pots and clearly has some sort of investment and care for the competitive livelihood of their game.
The community itself (remember, we're talking the Call of Duty community here), for what it's worth, too has put a lot of investment in the growth of their game, as any community involved in eSports does.The community has also engaged in direct communication with the developers over balance and other issues, as gamers of other communities such as Starcraft 2 and League of Legends do regularly.
There's quite a number of intelligent people keeping this communication alive, understanding that an eSport can literally be broken just by the neglect of the developer. Super Smash Bros. Brawl is a great example of this – in light of the recent Nintendo/Youtube/LPer controversy, we cannot forget that Nintendo also barred Major League Gaming from streaming and majorly promoting their own game at the events. Needless to say, Brawl lasted only a year on the circuit (as opposed to Melee, which survived for a couple of years longer back when MLG could stream a game like Melee and not have to worry about Nintendo cracking down), and to this day it still struggles with Nintendo's steadfast, anti-competitive approach to their titles. Sigh.
The community-developer relationship tested in all eSports is now being tested once more in the Black Ops 2 community, this time over weapon balancing (a topic that is, of course, extremely important in competitive first person shooters). According to many, the FAL OSW assault rifle: with a semi-auto rounds per minute that outclasses its automatic RPM, in addition to low recoil among other things, the FAL OSW has become the target of a bit of controversy due to its consistent effectiveness from most ranges.
As it stands, it seems like the FAL OSW may be on the cutting board due to be chopped from competitive play.
Surprisingly, I found myself tuned into Twitch.tv last night not for fighting games or Starcraft or League, as per usual, but rather a Call of Duty stream. GASP!!! Yes, I know it's startling, but it was actually just the Weekly Rant, a Call of Duty show about...Call of Duty stuff. I guess. It was the first episode I had ever watched (and, to my disappointment, apparently Goldenboy is part of TheWRant but wasn't hosting this episode). Coincidentally, they too were discussing the topic of the FAL in competitive play. A few minutes later, I was actually somewhat engaged in the conversation going on. Again, as surprising as that is.
Aside from barely-noticed-he-was-there host Deezal, the show had from what I can tell at least one person of importance – eGo of 360icons (although, Rambo later joined the show, but only after the chat and eGo chanted to make it happen). According to the show, eGo has apparently put the FAL on hold on his own website, in retrospect making him quite the guest for the show.
Stream monsters aside, eGo seemed capable of providing valid points throughout the discussion (if only to foil himself with some hypocritical statements and then pointed out that he did so, thus digging a hole further but I digress), mostly because there was some discussion about banning the FAL but not a particular shotgun.
This is where we see a problem with the FAL, according to eGo. Many times throughout the show, he notes how shotguns work as they are intended to work – dominate close quarters and suck at everything else. On the other hand, the FAL seems to work consistently in most, if not all, ranges, making it a far better tool overall than say a shotty.
I am inclined to agree. But, others weren't. Then, one guest on the show (whose name I cannot for the life of me remember) decided to go a different route altogether – since Treyarch has done so much for the CoD community, CoD players should be grateful and play with what they have (which, he pointed out, is a lot better than what they had when the game first released thanks to patchs). Another point was later brought up that playing the game right out of the box should be a priority and that whining should not be. Either way, it seemed clear that there is at least a vocal number of people that agree with this mindset.
And Why It's Not Always Good To Be “Grateful”
Where to begin?
I think the best way to start is with this: there is a difference between being critical and whining. There's also a difference between being vocal and bitching. Let's make that clear.
I want to make that clear because it seems like it isn't clear for many CoD players. Remember that you are a consumer and Treyarch (and Activision, etc.) are the producer. You spent ~$60 USD (plus any DLC) to play this game. So, understand that there's no requirement to be “grateful” innately because you have already shown your gratitude with your wallet.
Secondly, remember that the relationship between community and developer is not only necessary, but very, very volatile and fragile. It takes very little to destroy a good eSport, and even less to destroy the potential of a possible candidate. So far, communication has indeed been open between the two parties.
The problem is that the CoD community is full of trolls, babies, wanna-be pros, little kids, and the like, all of whom also have opinions. Except, their opinions are the ones that consist of the whining, the crying, the bitching. Hell, it's not even exclusive to them. Yet, we should understand that these vocal many are obviously not the representation of the community that CoD players want nor are their opinions necessarily the voice of the majority.
With that said, CoD players should not feel like they can't be critical just because there's a lot of whining. It's just that no one wants to be properly critical. It's one thing to send a detailed, friendly email to a developer or get them on the phone to chat, and it's an entire other thing to make bold claims about weapon balance using the 140 characters provided by Twitter.
Please, don't stop being critical. Being critical is what made Heart of the Swarm a much better edition of SC2 as opposed to Wings of Liberty. Being critical is what makes League of Legends the biggest eSport today. Are those communities too full of whiners and babies? Of course! More than you'd like to know! However, the community also has a lot of level-headed members that do a lot of work in hopes of positively benefiting the competitive scene.
Does that mean CoD doesn't? No. But, when people on a show like TheWRant get on the mic and try to tell people, “just be happy with what you have,” it's sending a poor message to all the viewers. Being satisfied has never been the mantra of eSports – its the dissatisfaction of competitive gamers throughout the years that has lead to huge improvements in competitive gaming over the past decade, even more so in the past three or four years. Starcraft didn't get to where it is today because Starcraft 1 players picked up the game back in the 90's and said, “yeah this seems all good, no need to complain” when that was very much not the case.
Remember that each eSport title and possible eSport title has time working against it. Every day that passes makes that game one day older and brings us one day closer to the arrival of a new game that could potentially run another into the dirt. It's a reality that is true and very haunting, especially for a game like Call of Duty, who's stability in competitive gaming has never been full established.
Instead of trying to calm criticism, CoD community leaders should be making it clear that CoD players should not only give criticism, but constructive criticism. If you all have to make videos or write blogs to show everyone else how exactly to do that, then do it. Ultimately, if the CoD community goes forward with this, “don't complain, be grateful” attitude, it'll do more harm than good. Problems don't get fixed that way and precedents are not properly established in that way, either. It may be Treyarch's Black Ops 2, but it's your game as well. And, as competitors, you have the right to be critical of the competitions you compete in and the mediums in which you do so.
Sure, be appreciative and thankful that Treyarch has done what they have for competitive CoD so far, but also remember that appreciation and thanks does not let them off the hook. Treyarch is as invested in this as all of you are, make sure you remind them of that. If that means solid, constructive criticism, then that's what it takes. Whining and babying is not what it takes, but if you try to quell those that are vocal to try and avoid more whining and babying, you'll see how destructive that kind of behavior is in the not-so-far future.