Call of Duty as a beginner

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Stuck Inside With is a new series where, since we’re all stuck inside, we venture off the beaten path to explore other parts of the gaming world. This week we’re looking at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare through the eyes of a first-time player.

This assignment was supposed to be about how those of us here at ESPN Esports are trying out some new games during this time stuck inside. Some titles were tossed out there for me to try, but the truth of the matter is that pretty much every game released since I put down my GameBoy Advance in 2003 is new to me.

That said, in these strange times, I have recently found myself full-blown obsessed with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare — a love affair that dates all the way, way, way back to January 2020, when I attended the Call of Duty League’s Launch Weekend in Minneapolis. It was my first esports event since covering the industry became part of my job a few months prior, and I decided this was the game for me.

The following is an account about how I went from a complete newbie to ostensibly devoting my entire quarantined life to this game.

Waiting in the lobby

We all decide in our team Slack chat which teams we’ll be rooting for in this new CoD League, and given that I spent several formative months of my early 20s in England and am predisposed to liking teams with bird mascots (Orioles, Ravens, Hotspur), the natural fit for me was the London Royal Ravens. I decide to go all-in on a team I know nothing about.

I am someone who 1. Hates being bad at things, and 2. Prides herself on preparedness, so I research players and teams before my trip to Minneapolis. I read everything our reporters write about this game. I follow a bunch of Twitter accounts. I watch some YouTube clips.

I show up at The Armory not knowing what to expect. There’s a large turnout of fans. People have favorite players. People are already dressed in their favorite team’s merchandise. The matches start and I realize I did not do enough research after all.

I am about one hour in when I turn to our video producer and say, “I think I love esports.” I listen to him argue with our reporter about maps they like and don’t like (Note to self: Look up “Azhir Cave” later.) I try to look like I know what I’m doing. The Royal Ravens win their first match vs. the New York Subliners and I actually cheer out loud. (I told you I am a massive Royal Ravens fan.)

After 16 hours in a dark room listening to the sound of gunshots, I attend a news conference for the Dallas Empire. There is a lot of drama. I love it. I go back to my hotel room and read up on these guys’ backstories more.

The weekend wraps and I start to follow the drama on Twitter. There is so much smack talk in this league! I am obsessed with it. I fly to London to attend the Royal Ravens Home Series. I am enthralled all weekend. I buy merchandise(!) to show support for my beloved Ravens. I now have favorite players. I write a story about how the weekend was one of the wildest sporting events I’ve ever seen. I witness viral moments from the crowd. I realize I can, in fact, cover this professionally. What I can’t do yet is play it.

So I download the game to my PS4 as soon as I get home.

Where we dropping?

Definitely don’t ask me. I have no clue where we’re dropping. Turns out I’m absolute garbage at this game.

While the release of Warzone coincided real nicely with this period of social distancing for many of us, it was definitely not the method to figure out how to play this game. Sure, it doesn’t help that I break my finger on the first day of the stay-at-home order and will need to wear a splint on my left hand for four weeks, but I’m not sure I can really blame my injury for my inability to, say, run, shoot, slide, collect loot or generally fulfill the requirements to play this game.

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A typical game for me goes like this: I parachute into the lobby, I die instantly, I repeat until the game starts. The game starts, I die, I end up in the Gulag, I die again, I cross my fingers my squad members don’t waste their time reviving me; when they do, I die again. I can collect money only if it’s right in front of me and there are no opponents nearby. Rinse, repeat.

I discover that I quite like the Plunder mode of Warzone, which I play with my friend via speakerphone one night, when we drop to the prison and loot the entire side of the map without once encountering an opponent. We place in the top 10! I never even have to showcase that I can’t shoot. I feel a false sense of glory and think I might be getting the hang of this, so when I get requests from my friends and colleagues to play, I accept.

It is at this point that I discover the real importance of this game: communication.

So I buy a headset.

Competitive mode

I quickly realize how much I love playing with friends, especially when none of us can spend time together in person. I realize firsthand that gaming can really build a community. I look forward to getting a “CoD?” text. I laugh a lot.

Luckily, my squad from Team Esports humors me from the get-go (or some just don’t want to embarrass their boss) and I start figuring this thing out. Due to their extreme patience and my new ability to actually talk to them during gameplay, I learn how to maneuver and shoot, and eventually get some kills.

I humble myself when I attempt to drive an ATV, and the end result is one of them saying, “Can you just get out and let me drive?” I still can’t make it out of the Gulag. I plead with them not to revive me. They suggest I try Multiplayer, where I can respawn repeatedly and get more practice.

We start by filtering to just Team Deathmatches, and I get a sense for what this game is all about. I figure out that I need to seek cover more often. I listen for footsteps. I anticipate enemy movement. I rank up. People on my squad start screenshotting our leaderboards and posting them on Twitter (you know who you are). My gamer tag appears on Twitter with one kill listed next to it. I am someone who is so competitive it might kill me one day, so I won’t stand for this and vow to get better.

We try out some new game modes. I realize I love Domination. There are enough of us playing one night to fill a full Search and Destroy team. I refuse to be the person who takes the bomb. It’s so much pressure! I get my first game with double-digit kills. I can tell I am not cut out for a 2v2 Gunfight, but find my ineptitude incredibly hilarious — a rare feat for someone with a tendency to quit things she isn’t good at. I start to learn the maps. I figure out how to play Hardpoint.

Now I’m down a Reddit and YouTube wormhole investigating how pros edit their loadouts and what perks I want for my weapons. I make people send me screenshots of their loadouts. (Did I mention I’m competitive?) I spend all of Double-XP Weekend leveling up my weapons and improving my rank. I buy a Royal Ravens uniform and skin for my guns.

At this point, the VALORANT beta release is upon us and I start stressing out about having to learn a new game.

So I switch to a PC.

Wait… Am I a gamer?

I slightly violate some social-distancing rules to go borrow a computer so I am able to partake in the VALORANT beta release. I recall that I have not touched a PC since 2007. Let me tell you, this whole W-A-D key thing is tough with a splint on your left hand. I try my best to not use that as an excuse.

I discover I’m not that bad at VALORANT. An actual esports expert writes in our team Slack chat that I have “legit sick aim,” a quote I cherish with my entire being; a quote that is now the title of my future memoir. I wonder if I’ll be better at CoD on a PC. I am like that meme of the guy walking with a woman (VALORANT) looking back at another woman (CoD) with desire.

Modern Warfare Season 3 releases and my rank drops back down to 56. I freak out. I miss Call of Duty. I get a call from a friend whose opening line is, “I looked up your KDA ratio and it’s not very good.” I pretend this doesn’t bother me. I devote the entire rest of my night to learning this game on a PC. (Did I mention I’m competitive?)

I get my first positive KDA! And then another! My friends are yelling in my ear with pride. Then I have a better game than one of them and he suddenly “doesn’t know how to take a screenshot” of our leaderboard. I realize I’m getting good at this, but I have no proof. I set a goal for at least one positive KDA per day.

I decide on my favorite maps (don’t slander Atlas Superstore in front of me, I don’t want to hear it). I develop extreme “takes” (I still hate Warzone). I start passing judgment in meetings (“Oh, you use a Riot Shield? That’s cute.”). I memorize maps and Hardpoints (I will correct you if you’re wrong about where in the rotation order the Blue Building is on Grazna Raid).

The Call of Duty League resumes play online. It feels good to watch the drama again. I spend the weekend watching it and texting with the squad about players’ stats. I realize how much this game has connected me to the outside world at a time when I really needed it. I wonder if quarantine has turned me into a gamer?

If nothing else, it’s made me realize I love Call of Duty and will keep playing it with my friends long after this pandemic ends and we’re no longer stuck inside.

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