I think I’m too old for Call of Duty, send help | Keith Stuart

There comes a point in every athlete’s career when they realise they are what commentators often euphemistically refer to as “off the pace”. They’re not winning those 50/50 balls anymore, they’re not as fast, they’re getting injured more often and it’s taking longer to recover. The same thing happens in competitive video games, and I think it’s pretty much happened to me.

Earlier this month, games publisher Activision ran two closed beta tests for Call of Duty: WWII, the latest title in the blisteringly fast online multiplayer shooter series. Betas are early previews in which a selection of people are invited to play the game online while the developers study the data to make sure the servers work and that nothing gets in the way of the shooting.

The WWII test has been a success, with incredibly fluid visuals and some really well-designed maps, based in key second world war hotspots. As ever, there are a range of modes to play against other people, from the classic Team Deathmatch to Domination, where two sides seek to capture and hold specific landmarks.

Whatever the mode, things happen fast in Call of Duty. When a match starts, the first engagements tend to happen within five seconds. One-on-one battles last the time it takes for one player to get off around three accurate shots against an opponent – this is milliseconds. It’s a frenetic experience. You need to shoot first and never bother with questions. There are no questions in Call of Duty.



‘The problem is I’m not shooting first as much anymore.’ Photograph: Activision

The problem is I’m not shooting first as much anymore. I used to win around 40% of one-on-one engagements on a public server. I made up for my lack of speed with tactical nouse and the wisdom of experience, using the mini-map to work out where enemy soldiers were likely to be and identifying the bottlenecks . I know where to look on the screen when moving through the environment. I know how to use objects for cover to narrow the angles that enemies have on me. I know not to run across open spaces like an idiot.

But during the closed beta test I was only winning around 25% of close engagements. I’ve gotten so slow, even my knowledge of the game isn’t helping. I kept telling myself that I was bound to be pitted against better players because, on a closed beta, these are the big fans of the series – people have either preordered the game to get here, or are developers or journalists. But really, I was just slow. Even with sub-machine guns, which have the highest fire rate among the several weapon classes, I was slow.

‘I was a dead weight to the team’

The thing is I still love playing CoD against other people. It’s exhilarating. But these days, most online games have automated skill-balancing systems and I don’t want to end up on the matchmaking bottom rung – the video game equivalent of being picked last in PE. I don’t want to be like that ageing professional footballer, locked deep in denial, slowly being transferred through the leagues until they end up at Ebbsfleet United on a free.

One solution would be to only play against friends in private matches. The problem is, being middle-aged, most of my friends aren’t playing CoD, they are out buying craft beers and taking cycling really seriously.

I could join one of the dedicated CoD communities on the Xbox One or PS4, but then this feelstoo much of a commitment and I don’t want to be the weak link in a chain of decent players I don’t know.



‘At 46, I’m too old to compete. Professional CoD gamers tend to hit their peak in their late teens and they’re out of it by 25.’ Photograph: Activision

I mean, I’m 46, so I’m well past the prime for online shooters. Professional gamers who compete for millions of dollars in world CoD tournaments tend to hit their peak in their late teens and they’re out of it by 25.

Pro teams like Optic and Faze practice for months before a tournament; they rent houses together and play for 18 hours a day. There is a zone you need to get into where you’re at one with the game, thinking at 60 frames-per-second and instinctively knowing the lede time on an enemy running from your left to your right at around 50 metres. Those people are making decisive kills while I’m still trying to remember the crouch button.

I’m too old to compete; I’m too old to even expect an equal kill/death ratio (the number of enemies you shoot v the number of times you’re shot in a match) which is something I’ve usually maintained.

During the beta test, my XP count was barely trickling slowly upwards because I was failing to unlock the “score streaks” that really boost your stats and explode you through the ranks. I knew it was going to take hours, not minutes, to make significant progress. I was a dead weight to the team, and to my own career progression path. After playing for 10 years, I feel like the game should honourably discharge me.

I kind of wish there was a special position in online shooters for older players. CoD-rival Battlefield added a commander mode that gives one player an overview of the combat area, letting them direct other players in the theatre of war – maybe something like that would be the best option. The great sci-fi team shooter Overwatch has a medic class; a support role in which you take a step back, healing your teammates and boosting their weapons as they fight. That feels like a good call for someone whose strategic knowledge and basic environmental traversal remains pretty good.

I’ll still give Call of Duty: WWII a shot when it’s launched in the autumn. But I can’t face being at the bottom of the league tables match after match – not when I can still outplay people in my head. Maybe after three days of intense practice I’ll be able to make it where it counts: on the screen. Otherwise, there’s always the single-player campaign to play through?

Oh God, maybe I should just take up cycling.


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