On Friday Activision announced that Call of Duty had a new General Manager – it seems the news only went out through Game Informer for reasons that aren’t clear. But we have had confirmation from Activision that Johanna Faries will be taking on the role.
Faries moves up from being head of leagues, running all that is esports at Activision-Blizzard, before that she was in charge of Call of Duty esports since 2018. Previous to that Varies spent 12 years at the NFL, largely working in marketing strategy and fan development. With the parallels between game and sports community management becoming increasingly interesting, especially with some sports feeling that games are out to eat their lunch.
In addition to all that, the fact that she’s the first woman, and the first woman of colour, to hold the reigns at one of gaming’s biggest franchises is also to be celebrated.
Call of Duty isn’t just big, though, it’s also a many-headed beast these days, so Faries will have a lot on. On the esports side she has already shown to be very capable, and that’s why it’s among the least of her concerns, but beyond it there are big questions and big opportunities still across the franchise.
One tricky proposition is the continued balancing of discrete Call of Duty retail titles with the ongoing income stream from the highly popular Warzone mode. With now innumerable developers maintaining the cadence of annual releases alongside with contributing to the ongoing Warzone, things have been somewhat chaotic in Warzone, to be polite.
The recent release of an updated 1984 map for Warzone, which feels like it should have come with the release of Cold War’s integration, not three months later, has marked a turning point for the better. But the free-to-play title needs clearer communication with its community on an ongoing basis and a clearer roadmap of how it will integrate with discrete releases before it can move forward confidently.
All that said, Activision has certainly reaped the rewards of the combination to date, with the Call of Duty franchise reporting record figures in 2020 and Warzone passing through the 100m player mark recently. Although most of those successes were chalked up before the troubled Cold War integration in the early months of this year – not that the teething issues would have overly affected the bottom line, but they may have impacted player loyalty in the face of stronger competition from Battlefield 6 later this year.
The GM role is well-suited to someone with Faries experience in fan management, the key being to find the right level of crossover between the segments of the Call of Duty playing experience – campaign, multiplayer, battle royale, esports, mobile and more – without excessively chaining them to each other and potentially stifling their individual growth.
Faries replaces previous GM Byron Beede, who is departing the company after 19 years.
Faries told Game Informer: “Since joining Activision Blizzard, I’ve had the opportunity of a lifetime to set a new and dynamic vision for Call of Duty eSports alongside an incredibly talented team of colleagues, players, owners, and partners. In the process, I’ve been on the front lines of the Call of Duty franchise, working closely with our studio and marketing teams to deliver breakthrough experiences for players and fans the world over.
“Call of Duty has made an immeasurable impact on the world of gaming and entertainment and is a bona fide cultural phenomenon. I can’t wait to help usher the franchise into its next chapter, and to continue to unlock the power that Call of Duty holds for the future of competitive entertainment.”