In an industry first, Call of Duty: Black Ops II will let you livestream matches on consoles and PC. On top of that, Treyarch will be providing tools for players to give out play-by-plays much like a sportscaster with the easy to use SHOUTcasting tools.
This full embrace of the eSports scene is also complemented by the new League Play mode, where players will be matched up against each other based on their skills.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 [previewed])
It was fairly obvious during the Black Ops II reveal event that game design director David Vonderhaar fell in love with eSports the moment he exposed himself to it. "Quite honestly, I didn't know dick about competition gaming until Black Ops got on the [MLG Pro] circuit," David told us. "Some people were like, you need to come see this game played at this level."
"So I did. I went down, I checked it out, and I went, 'Oh my god, why doesn't everybody know about this? Why doesn't everybody experience what I'm experiencing right now? I have to fix this.'" From that moment on, David's biggest question to himself was "how do we make this something that everybody could enjoy and use, how do we make it a part of the game?"
The first answer to the puzzle is League Play, a new mode that caters to the entire audience to properly take advantage of the spectator sport aspect. Basically, League Play is a skill-based matchmaking system that will pit you with people on a similar skill level.
You'll first have to go through placement matches in order for the game to get data on your skills -- somewhere between five to 15 matches. From here, you'll be placed in one of seven (possibly more) divisions that will set you up against players at your same level. So if you suck, you'll be at home with other bad players.
Of course, you won't always be a sucky player (hopefully), and the better you do, the more you can move up in rank and into better divisions. Basically, you'll be playing against a more segmented chunk of the audience rather than the whole piece of the pie in the standard multiplayer. So stuff like that team of Level 10 Prestige players appearing in the lobby to just ruin your day when you're still a Lieutenant will happen far less.
Next comes livestreaming. Pretty much all the content you see on something like Twitch.TV is done through a decent computer rig and a somewhat expensive program to output the footage. With Black Ops II, you won't need anything else to do the livestream other than the game itself. Yes, even on the consoles.
Anyone that's in League Play can just turn on the livestream option and be good to go. You can even do picture-in-picture to show off your lovely face with any USB camera. Treyarch is looking into using the Kinect as an optional camera, but any USB camera will do, including the Xbox Vision or PlayStation Eye.
The studio isn't talking about what platform they'll be using for the livestreaming feature. It could be something in-house, something established like Twitch.TV, or any of the above. Whatever the case, there is a delay of about 15 seconds, and currently you can scrub back footage by up to five minutes for those who are late coming into the livestream.
The key to livestreaming is that you have to entertain the audience with more than just the gameplay footage. You need to constantly interact with the viewers. This is where SHOUTcasting -- or CODcasting as it's referred to in the game -- comes in and Black Ops II is doing it in a big way.
Treyarch has done what no other studio has by providing tools that go beyond a simple spectator mode. The person SHOUTcasting and streaming the match is in control of everything, as they're able to jump to any player on the fly in first- or third-person view in order to call the action.
There's a 2D top-down map that can be brought up, showing where all the players are and allowing the caster to shift right to where the action is happening. A Score Panel can be brought up as well, displaying key info such as who's on a roll with kills. All of this can be viewed in picture-in-picture too, allowing for tons of displays at once.
On the main screen itself, the caster has total freedom regarding what can be displayed with the HUD elements. You can literally turn off everything to give an unobstructed view to the audience (note: this doesn't affect the actual players). Probably the coolest part is that there's a scoreboard that can be displayed, giving this a real sports game feel.
Get tired of talking? Take a break by listening in on what the teams are saying to each other at any time. SHOUTcasting a match isn't just limited to one person, since there can be multiple people on a "team" casting the match too. It's a simple matter of switching over to the SHOUTcasting team in the game lobby, like how you would switch to a different team in general.
You don't have to SHOUTcast a live match either, as you're able to cast a saved theatre match. You can save a match and then cast it later to make yourself look like the most badass of badasses ever.
"This is a game changer for us," David explains. I'm inclined to agree. The eSports scene has been making a steady rise in the videogame world, and Black Ops II's steps into the movement are going to skyrocket that effort. Love it or hate it, eSports is here to stay, and Treyarch is going to start a trend that many other games will surely adopt.
Look out for a video soon where I actually give the SHOUTcasting features a shot. I'll warn you now that I sucked at it, but thankfully pro SHOUTcaster Mike Rufail was there to help me out.