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Exceed explains why Challengers is CDL’s ‘backbone’

Speaking to Dexerto, Los Angeles Guerrillas Academy player Kaden “Exceed” Stockdale explained why Call of Duty Challengers is so essential to the Call of Duty League.

“I think everyone in the Call of Duty scene knows that Challengers is the backbone of the esport,” Exceed said. “You can’t have the CDL without Challengers.”

Activision first initiated Challengers to cultivate and nurture the next generation of CoD talent in 2020. The amateur division’s first season saw the rise of Amer “Pred” Zulbeari and Paco “HyDra” Rusiewiez, who significantly influenced the CoD League.

Pred was appointed Rookie of the Year after being the first Australian-born player to triumph in a major tournament in 2022. HyDra was a member of the CDL All-Star teams in 2021 and 2022 and assisted the New York Subliners in recording back-to-back CDL Pro-Am championships.

Challengers’ hidden gems

The CDL’s first major of 2023 followed a Pro-Am format, with four Challengers teams qualifying to compete in CDL Major I pool play. Typically, the CDL and Challengers leagues hold separate competitions. However, the Pro-Am system enables amateurs to vie against professional CDL teams.

ELevate capitalized on its opportunity by defeating the Boston Breach 3-2, while LAG Academy defeated the London Royal Ravens 3-2 in group play. LAG Academy won the CDC Raleigh 2023 Challengers Cup after dropping out of Major I group play. This shows that the roster is talented enough to earn CDL roster spots.

Florida Mutineers’ Michael “MajorManiak” Szymaniak also explained that while Challengers do not receive adequate public attention, it has talented players who will shine when given a chance to play on stage.

Exceed understands this, which is why as a Challengers player, he expressed concern about the current condition of the amateur CoD scene. He called for improvements if the CDL wished to continue to produce the best talents.

He added that even though he cherished the opportunity to compete against the Atlanta FaZe on the main stage in front of a large audience, the 21-year-old player would only have one chance to compete on the main stage if he were to stay in Challengers.

He also described his Challengers experience as “pretty frustrating,” as he believes Challengers players are actually on the verge of breaking into the league. He also wondered how long the Challengers teams could keep playing before they became financially unstable.

“If league teams aren’t calling all four of us after this weekend, then I don’t know what can,” said Exceed.

CDL’s number of teams

Exceed also criticized that only one of the five CDL Majors used a Pro-Am format, saying, “I think every single person in the pro league and Challengers thinks this should be the format for every event.”

“I understand the reasoning why they can’t, but if we can somehow figure out a way to get Challengers more involved with the CDL, it’s the best thing you could do for everybody,” he said.

Exceed believes Challengers has just enough talent to allow the CDL to expand beyond 12 teams. “I think you could put six more teams of actual competitive teams from Challengers,” he said.

“In two of the groups this weekend, I think if we were seeded in different groups, we get out of pools pretty easily.”

The Los Angeles Thieves’ Dylan “Envoy” Hannon agreed with that notion, saying, “I think there is enough talent to expand the league”. However, he believes that adding four teams would be excessive. He does not want the tournament to become like the Call of Duty World League, where a team would get “slammed every event in group play.”

Resolving Challengers’ problems

Exceed also said improving promotion and communication are the first steps toward resolving Challengers’ problems.

Challengers Cup matches are not streamed at major events, and the only way to watch them is if a member of the audience streams them on Twitch or posts live coverage on social media.

“There are people that will watch it, but we have to get it out there more,” the American player said. “I think the best thing the CDL could do, is give someone for us to talk to in order to work together and try to improve it.”