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Inside Call of Duty’s Star-studded Modern Warfare 2 ‘Squad Up’ Trailer

Boardroom gets the insider view of Activision’s Modern Warfare 2 trailer featuring Nicki Minaj, Lando Norris, Lil Baby, FaZe Clan’s Nuke Squad, and Pete Davidson.

Nearly every year, what comes with the latest Call of Duty video game release from Activision is a star-studded trailer that features high-profile athletes, artists, and entertainers. This year’s release — Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which drops worldwide on Oct. 28 — features a trailer entitled “Squad Up” starring a roster including (but not limited to) rappers Lil Baby and Nicki Minaj, McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris, Los Angeles Rams defensive back Jalen Ramsey, comedian Pete Davidson, and FaZe Clan’s Nuke Squad.

The trailer itself has become a moment in pop culture that has fans reliably excited to witness who appears in each year’s spot. To get a better sense of its impact and the decision-making behind it, Boardroom spoke to a Call of Duty representative and some of the big names featured in the trailer to see how things all come together.

Call of Duty has a long history of making these iconic live-action commercials going back to Robert Downey Jr. and Kobe Bryant,” said Tyler Bahl, Head of Marketing at Call of Duty, in a Zoom interview. “We always want to create something that is connected with culture and reflects how people consume our content today. The focus for us was about showing friends, communities, and squads playing together and having fun and using the talent and celebrities as beacons for rallying different squads together.”

When it’s time to debut a new Call of Duty trailer that doesn’t strictly feature gameplay footage, Activision has an interesting question to answer with regards to whom to recruit to bring the project to life. Across sports alone, there are very well-known gamers such as Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Juju Smith-Schuster, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Anthony Davis, and Chase Claypool to call upon. On the entertainment front, Schoolboy Q, Logic, Post Malone, Snoop Dogg, Vin Diesel, Zachary Levi, Rosario Dawson, and Michelle Rodriguez are all avid gamers themselves.

All told, Bahl said the process for selecting players is a combination of finding Call of Duty purists and pop culture sensations.

“It’s about looking at the community and who our players are while also examining who are big fans of the franchise. Call of Duty is bigger than just a video game, so there has to be a real interest in the game,” he said.

With this in mind, it’s hard to ignore FaZe Clan. One of the most popular and successful esports organizations on earth, the company boasts 48 pro players and 38 content creators with over 23 million followers across Twitter, Instagram, and Tiktok. And even with FaZe Clan’s Nuke Squad playing video games for a living, the Squad admits to sharing the same excitement for the Modern Warfare 2 trailer as everyone else.

“Everybody has celebrities they look up to. Even myself, Kobe was in one, Michael B. Jordan, the trailers are fun to watch and being a part of it was a dream come true,” said Nuke Squad member Dante Rene Santana, better known by his gamer handle, Santana.

Activision originally reached out to Nuke Squad through their manager. “It was like, “Oh my God, they want us to be a part of a Call of Duty trailer? I was excited,” Santana said. Added teammate Kris Lamberson, who goes by FaZe Swagg: “Growing up, we’ve all seen so many of these trailers, and to be asked to be in one was a dream come true.”

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Another recognizable face in “Squad Up” spot, driver Lando Norris of the McLaren F1 team, says he ramped up his Call of Duty play time in the last four years, most notably in 2020.

“COVID allowed me to have a lot of time to play with friends, it’s particularly what everyone resorted to in the whole world,” he told Boardroom. “Being in the trailer was pretty epic with some of the names that were a part of it. Knowing how big the commercial is in terms of reach, it’s something very special for me. I’ve been a big fan of Call of Duty and for people around the world to watch and be interested in it is an honor.”

The Formula 1 star also owns an esports organization and lifestyle brand, Quadrant, that competes in Halo.

“It has always been a dream of mine. Growing up and seeing all the other teams like FaZe Clan and 100 Thieves, I wanted to be part of that and to have a team to represent me. Hopefully, in the not-too-far away future, Call of Duty will be one of the games [my team competes in].”

With sports being covered by Norris, Ramsey, Tennessee Titans linebacker David Long Jr., and Arsenal footballer Bukayo Saka and esports represented by FaZe Clan’s Nuke Squad, Activision ultimately recruited Lil Baby, Nicki Minaj, Pete Davidson, and Kane Brown to represent the world of entertainment. Each personality brought on board brings a new fanbase from their sport and their home location. Football, soccer, auto racing, esports, hip-hop, and country music are included by design to hit as many specific target audiences as possible. On top of this, there is a global marketing component — all of the individuals featured hail from places decidedly distinct from one another.

“The goal is to reach a broader audience outside of the people who just care about gameplay. I think to be really part of culture, I want my mom to know a new Call of Duty is coming out even if she might not ever play. We want to be just as big as any blockbuster movie or album coming out,” Bahl said. “We know what to do to get our core excited, but it is how we get everyone else talking about the new game, and I think we did that with the new spot. If we get people singing this on the street — and we already have been seeing that — that is really where you bring home that social extension and bring home the excitement that we are looking for.”

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 releases worldwide on Friday, Oct. 28 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Windows PCs.

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