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Modern Warfare 3 brought back classic spawns, and now half my matches end in spawn traps

A classic Call of Duty feature that streamers and YouTubers never stopped asking for its return has come back, to the detriment of the entire experience.

A split image with the soldier on the cover for Modern Warfare 3 (original), holding a gun, and Captain Price (Modern Warfare 3 2023).
Image credit: VG247

A lot of modern Call of Duty coverage on YouTube on Twitch comes from a small segment of ultra-dedicated players, most of whom play barely anything else. A few even managed to turn playing CoD into their full-time job.

It is worth keeping that context in mind when viewing the feedback, ideas, and general design thoughts shared by those people. This, in part, is where Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer repeatedly fails.

There exist about four or five topics Call of Duty content creators will never stop banging their bongos about. Some, like skill-based-matchmaking, are inexorably linked to how the current era of Call of Duty multiplayer functions. Others, however, change slightly from game to game, so it gives the illusion that the developers are amenable enough to tweak them.

One of those is the spawn system adopted by the modern games. In the past (think COD4 and OG MW2), teams would always spawn on one side of the map. When those spawns were pressured by the opposite team a little too much, the game would flip them, effectively nullifying a big advantage for the winning team – until they can reestablish that map control again.

That made spawns predictable, so expert Call of Duty players knew which spots to camp, which headglitches to exploit, and precisely where enemies were going to be coming from. It allowed them to control the map, and apply just enough pressure on the system that it doesn’t flip (extending the trap), in order to maintain their advantage for as long as they could.

Of course, that predictability made it more prone to exploitation. That wasn’t as much of an issue back then because YouTube and Twitch did not have the command on video game coverage they do today. This ultra min-maxing of CoD stats/map knowledge and so on is a big reason why the old system had to evolve.

A soldier in Modern Warfare 3 stands, gun hoisted above his waist, in an action pose. Behind him, flames and a dusty sky.
Old maps, old problems. | Image credit: Activision

The new spawn system, primarily used in titles from Modern Warfare 2019 onwards, still assigns a side for each team, which can and do flip when necessary, but it instead uses that as a fallback. The modern approach actually comes from one of Battlefield’s best features: the ability to spawn on your squadmates right in the action.

Of course, the pace and length of a Call of Duty match is significantly different from that of Battlefield’s, so the decision to spawn players on their teammates is instead made by the game. This is why you’d sometimes spawn, only to immediately die. When that decision was made, the teammate you’d just spawned on hadn’t been in danger yet.

The new system effectively relies on an algorithm to judge situations on the fly, and spawn players close enough to the action but not right into the thick of it. It fails, and often, for different reasons in each game - but it is also successful about as often.

As a result, spawn traps rarely, if ever, could occur. Because how could you trap the opposing team in their spawn when they could spawn at any of six or seven locations instead of just one or two?

The obvious side effect of the modern spawn system is that it can make the flow unpredictable – if you are the type of Call of Duty player who really likes to predict/control that. That’s why Call of Duty content creators have always been clamouring for the return of the classic system.

A squad of soldiers rush from a deployed helicopter, all with their rifles lifted, battle-ready. In Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3.
The herd is rowdy. The squad is vexed. | Image credit: Activision

During the Modern Warfare 3 beta, it looked like nothing had changed on that front, and you could go back and watch the same people complain about spawns in the beta, just like they do every year.

Something changed, however, between October and November, because the launch version of MW3 has something that is a lot closer to classic spawns than it is to the modern version. Spawning on teammates can and does happen, but it seems MW3 has instead assigned it the fallback, with fixed spawns taking the lead.

This has made it so it is incredibly easy for one team of good players – or even just two players capable of directing where their teammates go – to trap the opposing team in their spawn. About half of my matches (yes, I counted) either ended in spawn traps that forced everyone to quit, or had us stuck in our spawn for a significant portion of the match. I’ve now spent more time in the back rooms of Highrise than I have in any other part of MW3.

Of course, the thing that turns this from a problem to a disaster is that every single MW3 map at launch is a remake, meaning Sledgehammer Games has effectively created the nightmare scenario that the modern spawn system was designed as a response to.

In fact, my very first spawn in the first ever match I got into saw me get repeatedly sniped out of my spawn by a player camping the exact spot people used to camp in 2009. By combining an outdated system with old maps that have only gotten a facelift, you get this: the worst time I’ve had with CoD multiplayer.

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