Skip to main content

Gentleman's Agreement: Why Call of Duty Pros Make Their Own Rules

GA’s have been a debate for years, so we looked into their place in Call of Duty esports

In many major esports, developers work to balance the game to provide a high level of quality competition. Some games, however, require players to take matters into their own hands. In the case of Call of Duty, the best players in the world have identified certain strategies, weapons, and other aspects of the game that are simply not acceptable for competitive play and agreed between themselves to play by different rules than those explicitly outlined by the league.

This not only makes Call of Duty a unique esport but also brings in a question of competitive integrity within the Call of Duty League. Players can break these so-called Gentleman's Agreements without any direct punishment from the Call of Duty League, meaning a team could potentially break every GA in every match, win a Major tournament, and have zero repercussions from the CDL. If they do receive punishment, it's more akin to vigilante justice — likely missing practice sessions with other CDL teams

This is also a question of commitment to the esport from the Call of Duty League themselves. Why should the players and fans have to regulate in-game features that they deem necessary for a more competitive experience? To understand more, we spoke with members of the professional Call of Duty community to learn why GAs exist, how they work, and how they could be improved.

What is a Gentlemen’s Agreement?

“It's an agreement that players or coaches or teams make between each other with the purpose of making the game better. So, it will be, for example, banning a certain weapon that is probably too good, that should not be in the game. As that kind of ruins the competitive experience. So for instance, earlier in the year, there was an old weapon, the Holger, that was a really OP gun that would kill in like two or three bullets. And in the hands of the best players in the game, the game just becomes really inconsistent because you get a lot of lucky kills and it's really uncompetitive. There's no real skill to using these weapons, which is why I like the role of having GA’s, simply to make the game more balanced in general.” - Will “Veohz” Lachance, Los Angeles Guerrillas Head Coach.

Essentially, a Gentlemen's Agreement is a decision that is made by the players to ban a certain weapon, equipment, or in-game setting, to improve the competitive integrity of the esport. Think of it like the extremely limited stage list or lack of items in competitive Super Smash Bros. 

GAs are not enforced by the Call of Duty League, as the relevant strategies and weapons are not officially banned in their ruleset. This year in the Call of Duty League, several things are GA’d, including the Holger 556 Assault Rifle, snaking, using more than two Trophy Systems on a team, and even using Single-Tap Sprint (which is an in-game setting). Following the Season 2 update on February 7, 2024, more conversation around GAs started, with OpTic Texas' Brandon "Dashy" Otell saying that new weapons are not even tested, and are just "insta GA'd".

Kaden “Exceed” Stockdale is a Call of Duty Challengers player for FaZe Clan Black. Exceed won the 2022 Challengers World Championship, has had appearances in the Call of Duty League, and most recently won the Boston Challengers Open in late January 2024. When we asked him about GAs, he said, “In the higher levels of pro Call of Duty, a lot of things are banned. The people who make the rules in the League or Challengers don’t adapt to it quickly, so we have to make a GA and ensure that these certain items or things in the game aren't allowed. If you break a GA, you will have certain repercussions within the scene. So it’s not technically banned, but it is banned.”

FaZe Clan Black Major 1

FaZe Clan Black Win Boston Breach Open

The History of GA’s

Gentlemen’s Agreements have played a pivotal part in the history of competitive Call of Duty since its early days, though there is some debate on their true origin. Some people say that GA’s started back in the 2012 Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 season, when tournament organizer Gfinity made their own ruleset, that banned Sentry Guns and Shotguns in their tournaments. However, some say that Advanced Warfare was the original GA, with players agreeing to not use certain exo suits. Some further argue that it was post Black Ops 3, and the removal of the Ban and Protect system that started the GA discussion.

How are GAs Decided?

“GA’s are decided in the rep chat. The way the rep chat works is you have to have a vote. And then if the vote is 9 in favor to 3 not in favor, the GA goes through. So, I think that the way of doing it this way is pretty good. Obviously, some people will vote against some GA’s because it benefits their team. But I do think that, in general, it's a good way of doing it. I think it could be also good to potentially have the fans involved or the coaches, or some of the bigger creators, and create a poll to balance 50/50 with the people's opinions, and then also the players.” said Veohz.

The "rep chat" is a group chat in which one player from all 12 Call of Duty League teams discuss issues such as new GAs. Each team nominates a player to represent them and submit their vote on the proposed Gentlemen's Agreement. However, the community doesn't have direct access to this group chat, so many fans rely on players revealing the result of GA votes on social media, and accounts such as CDLIntel or the COD Comp Reddit updating the community on the complete list of GA'd items.

GA’s in the Amateur Call of Duty Challengers scene are decided the same way, with the top teams having a vote. While it’s quite clear that there are repercussions for teams in the Call of Duty League breaking GAs, it’s not quite the same in Challengers. Exceed said, “With how Challengers is now, it's kind of every man for themselves. People don't necessarily follow it. The only GA that people are following is the no snaking, but even still there were a lot of people snaking at this event in Boston."

Snaking refers to a movement technique that allows a player to essentially stay protected from enemy fire behind cover while maintaining a view of the battlefield. It's defiance of the standard risk-reward for shooter combat made the technique a clear target for a GA, though it is also something that would likely be addressed by the developers in another esport such as League of Legends.

This sort of player/fan-run ruleset is common in games or formats where the game's developer does not actively officiate events. For example, the Magic: The Gathering format Commander has its own rules committee that determines banned cards and makes other rulings without any direct influence from the creators of the game. However, that is an entirely fan-created style of play. GA's exist in a strange middle ground where the players have deemed it necessary to add extra rules beyond what their multi-million dollar franchised league requires.

Seattle Surge Breaks GA’s

So far in the 2024 Call of Duty League season, we’ve seen Gentlemen’s Agreements broken a few times. Early on in the season, Cesar “Skyz” Bueno snaked during the final moments of a Hardpoint match. This was just a few days after the snaking GA came into place. As a punishment for violating the Gentlemen's Agreement, the other CDL teams refused to play a warm-up match against the New York Subliners ahead of their next series.

However, the Boston Breach Major 1 saw many more instances of snaking. Seattle Surge reportedly broke multiple GAs, including stair glitching, snaking, and potentially using more than the allowed number of utilities. Due to this, the Surge roster will reportedly be without practice for a week.

Will "Veohz" Lachance

Veohz at Boston Breach Major 1 - @swgchckd

"I do think they should be penalized, however, I don't know if it's the best, especially right now. I don't know how much they'll lose by not scrimming pro teams at the moment because AM teams are usually ahead at this time when it's on new patch. So for them, it might be a blessing in disguise as they could learn more from challengers than playing pro teams. But I think it's a good example to show the scene and all the teams that we're here to follow those GAs and like, they're not just words." - Veohz

Are GAs Needed?

The general consensus in the Call of Duty community is that GAs are needed in the professional scene. However, there could no doubt be some improvements to the current system (assuming Activision does not intervene at any point). “I've heard on The Flank, and I've thought about it a lot actually, with them talking about how there should be a commission with older pro players that kind of make the decision, which I don't think is a bad idea. I think it has to be the right pros to do it, but I think that's a pretty good idea,” said Exceed.

However, Veohz believes that maybe not enough effort is going into deciding these GAs, and players should potentially take them more seriously. “I don't know if other players see it this way, but why would we waste our practice, which is so beneficial, to work on finding things like, what the best gun is or whatnot, right? I feel like the best moment to do that would be in Ranked Play.

Maybe if Ranked Play was a thing from day one, they could actually try stuff there. Or in 8’s for example, I think 8’s could be an opening to try stuff. I think having that moment of the day being more focused on the GAs would be impactful. I think that in scrims, players want to move out of the GA discussion as quickly as possible to simply focus on their game plan, their team improvement. That's why I feel like it's often brushed off by the pros.”

From a community standpoint, Call of Duty influencer TDawgsmitty thinks that the Ban and Protect system from Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 should return, as not only would this reduce the overall need for GAs, but also bring a new level of excitement to the Call of Duty League.

“I think GAs have a place because some of the stuff is very, very cheesy in Call of Duty. But I think the system that they should go back to, and I wish Call of Duty would implement it again, the Black Ops 3 Ban and Protect system. I think that would kind of make the games a little bit more, I don't want to say random, but they would be different, you know, cause they could ban one of the best ARs and then you got to use another. That's what I remember about Black Ops 3 being so unique in almost every single game.

I think that's the thing about Battle Royale that people love so much is each game is unique. If they could bring that uniqueness back to the CDL where it's like, okay, wow, Slasher got his Scar build banned. Now he's got to go try something else. You know, how does he adjust? And then, you know, CleanX. Okay, we're going to ban his Rival. He's a freak of nature with the Rival, but guess what? Now he doesn't have it. So how does he adjust? And I think it would be a different type of game every single time. Which would make it very refreshing.”

Gentlemen’s Agreements aren’t going anywhere in professional Call of Duty. However, it seems as though adding some more transparency with the community, and getting them involved could improve the viewership experience, and their overall connection with the players and the Call of Duty League as a whole.

The Call of Duty League declined to comment on this story and provided a link to its competitive settings page