Call of Duty League team owner suing Activision Blizzard for $680 million

Rodriguez — whose company owned and operated the Call of Duty League’s OpTic Texas team — and now-retired OpTic player Seth “Scump” Abner are seeking $680 million in damages. In a lawsuit filed Thursday, the pair claim that Activision Blizzard’s “unlawful 100 percent monopoly” over the league forced them into financially ruinous partnerships at the risk of being unable to compete in the League.

Before the arrival of the Call of Duty League, competitive Call of Duty tournaments were hosted by independent third-party organizers and featured an “open” structure whereby any team could sign up and participate. However, when Activision Blizzard initiated the CDL in 2019, it changed this structure. Instead of offering multiple tournaments to teams throughout the year, there would be only one. Furthermore, Activision limited the League to just 12 teams and required franchising fees in the millions of dollars in order to participate.

The suit offers insight into some of the terms and conditions esports organizations had to agree to in order to participate in the League. Though there have been several reports highlighting that the cost of a berth in the League was between $20 to $25 million dollars, the suit claims that teams had to pay $27.5 million for a franchise slot. The suit also says that organizations were required to pass 50 percent of merchandise and event ticket sales revenue to Activision Blizzard and that the publisher had the exclusive right to sponsorships with the most lucrative advertising partners such as energy drink companies.

Additionally, the suit claims that Activision Blizzard prohibited teams and players from participating in tournaments outside of the League and restricted the ability of individual players to secure their own sponsorships.

One of the examples in the suit described how, in 2020, players were required to sign an agreement binding them to the League’s rules without the ability to have players’ counsel review them — at the risk of being kicked from their team just days before the League was scheduled to start.

Activision Blizzard has been accused of anticompetitive behavior regarding its esports leagues before. In 2023, Activision settled a suit with the US Justice Department over the publisher’s Competitive Balance Tax. The tax, which was present in the ruleset for both the Call of Duty and Overwatch esports leagues, fined teams that paid players over a certain amount and distributed that fine to other participant teams. Though the rule was meant as a kind of salary cap like those seen in professional sports leagues, the DOJ’s filing alleged that the rule would potentially depress player wages. The two leagues voluntarily scrapped the rule in 2021 amid a DOJ investigation.

The new lawsuit builds on these claims. “Activision secured a 100 percent monopoly over the market for professional Call of Duty leagues and tournaments, used that market power to eliminate competition, and forced team owners and players to either exit the market entirely or accept draconian anticompetitive terms that were favorable only for Activision and its monopoly,” it argues. Activision Blizzard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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