<
>

$200,000 on the line at MLG Atlanta CoD tourney

FaZe Clan's James "Clayster" Eubanks plays Team Splyce during Round 3 of the 2016 Call of Duty World League Championship. Kyle Grillot for ESPN

Friday will see the second open Call of Duty LAN event in North America since the start of the 2017 Call of Duty season. MLG Atlanta will feature 172 teams descending upon the Georgia World Congress Center to battle for their share of the $200,000 prize pool, along with a plethora of all-important Pro Points.

Here's a look at the teams that have earned a spot in pool play and who could earn prime seeding in the championship bracket by virtue of advancing through their respective groups, with each group gaining an additional team from the open bracket.

Group A: Rise Nation, FaZe Clan, Infused, Enigma 6

Group A certainly looks tough on the surface, as it's not difficult to argue any of the teams' merits heading into MLG Atlanta. The MLG Las Vegas winners, Rise Nation, are likely considered front-runners in the group by many, but a 17-32nd finish at the Jan. 22 North American Online 2K Final and a ninth-16th place finish at the Feb. 4 North American Online 2K Final are small blemishes on the team's otherwise impeccable résumé.

Given the fact that online performances are notoriously hard to judge, it's tough to argue Rise Nation won't advance through Group A, especially given their success in the Search and Destroy game mode throughout the 2017 season. But don't book them for a second consecutive major finals appearance just yet.

With all due respect to Enigma 6 and Infused, FaZe Clan should be the other team to advance from Group A. The most consistent team since the start of the new season, FaZe Clan have finished no worse than third-fourth place in every North American Online 2K Finals, as well as the PSX Invitational and MLG Las Vegas -- and that trend probably won't change this week. Led by fiery leader James "Clayster" Eubanks, FaZe should be well-prepared and well-practiced for the event, which should give them enough of an advantage to advance through Group A.

Expected to advance: FaZe Clan and Rise Nation

Group B: Splyce, OpTic Gaming, Team Allegiance, Evil Geniuses

Group B also could provide plenty of drama, as each team has finished no worse than seventh-eighth place in the two major LAN tournaments that have taken place thus far in 2017.

Splyce is coming off a second-place finish at CWL London, blitzing through the lower bracket of the European-only event to challenge the region's predominant favorites, Orbit. While they were unable to win, it's clear the team has adapted well to the new iteration of the game, having taken second place at the 2016 Call of Duty XP. Led by offseason additions Jordan "Jurd" Crowley and Dylan "MadCat" Daly, Splyce appear motivated to prove last year was no fluke.

Joining Splyce in the championship bracket should be OpTic Gaming. After a disappointing (for them) fifth-sixth place finish at MLG Las Vegas, the Green Wall seems to be trending upward. First- and second-place finishes at the most recent 2Ks have certainly helped, but it's the team's overall mentality that seems to have improved, with Seth "Scump" Abner looking as fierce as ever. There's no questioning this team's skills, as OpTic Gaming has been one of, if not the reigning, elite in competitive CoD for the better part of two years.

So long as they remain motivated, the Green Wall should find themselves in a comfortable spot in the championship bracket come the weekend.

Expected to advance: Splyce and OpTic Gaming

Group C: Cloud9, eLevate, Luminosity Gaming, Team 3G

In contrast to the first two groups, Group C appears to have two early front-runners: Cloud9 and Luminosity Gaming.

Cloud9 were one of the biggest winners of MLG Las Vegas, surviving multiple Game 5s to take second place at the first major LAN tournament of the new season. Thanks to in-game leader Patrick "Aches" Price and a bevy of strong slayers in the form of Adam "Assault" Garcia and Andres "Lacefield" Lacefield, Cloud9 should have no problem moving through a group that lacks a strong counter to their impeccable Search and Destroy game mode.

Luminosity also finished highly at MLG Las Vegas at fifth-sixth, and have put together relatively consistent performance in recent 2Ks, but it hasn't earned a signature win after signing three members from Rise Nation in the offseason. In a relatively weak group, Luminosity could be poised for a breakthrough, but it'll need standout performances from Sam "Octane" Larew and Renato "Saints" Forza to have a chance.

Expected to advance: Cloud9 and Luminosity

Group D: Orbit, eUnited, Team EnVyUs, Fnatic

Orbit may very well be the best team in this group, an odd thing to suggest considering Team EnVyUs, the 2016 Call of Duty World Champions, also reside in Group D. However, Orbit's performance at CWL London was jarring in the sense that they thoroughly dominated their European peers, cruising through the majority of their matches. While it remains to be seen how Orbit will compete against international competition, it's hard to knock them without seeing how they match up against North American talent.

They'll get plenty of chances to test their mettle, with both Team EnVyUs and eUnited presenting clear obstacles for the European team. While EnVyUs started off the 2017 competitive season slowly, finishing in ninth-12th place at MLG Las Vegas, they've performed better of late. Having survived an injury to John "John" Perez, who broke his middle finger after getting hit by a car in January, the Boys in Blue seem to have their mojo back, most notably finishing first in the Jan. 22 North American Online 2K Finals. The injury should still be worth monitoring throughout MLG Atlanta, as John is one of the premier players in the scene, but EnVyUs should at the very least earn the second spot out of Group D.

Expected to advance: Orbit and EnVyUs