Activision charged into the forefront of esports with its introduction of the Call of Duty World League Pro Division on Jan. 13. After three months of regional competition between 12 of North America's finest teams, the ESL Studios in Burbank, California, will become a battleground for eight teams locked in a virtual battle on April 2-3 -- with one emerging as the champion of the North America Stage 1 season.
With the winner of this regional claiming a portion of the $250,000 purse, along with a guaranteed invite to the Call of Duty Championship 2016 and its $1.6 million purse, this should be one of the most competitive tournaments of the year.
Let's take a look at this weekend's opening matchups:
#1 OpTic Gaming vs. #8 Team SoloMid
OpTic Gaming (20-2)
Maps Win-Loss ratio: 76.8 percent
Roster: Seth "Scump" Abner, SMG Slayer; Matthew "FormaL" Piper, AR Slayer; Ian "Crimsix" Porter, IGL Support; Damon "Karma" Barlow, Support
Team SoloMid (9-13)
Maps Win-Loss ratio: 40.4 percent
Roster: Cole "ColeChan" Chancey, Slayer; Jonathan "Pacman" Tucker, Support; Jamal "Whea7s" Lee, SMG Support; Andrew "Ivy" Ivers, Support
Look, it's always fun to pick upsets, but let's look at this matchup for what it really is: a cakewalk. In what ended up being a precursor to Saturday's game, OpTic Gaming blitzed through Team SoloMid 3-0 in Week 11, including an absolutely dominating 250-64 Hardpoint stunner in Game 1. FormaL, in particular, laid the groundwork in that series, racking up an 18-kill streak in Game 1 and coming back with a 34/20 K/D line in a Game 3 Uplink battle that was pretty much over after the first dunk.
While neither team really seemed all that dialed in during that series, Team SoloMid still appeared to throw every sort of strategy imaginable at OpTic Gaming to throw it off its game -- including banning a plethora of submachine guns in Game 1 -- and it was all to no avail. Team SoloMid could certainly make things interesting throughout the playoff series, particularly if Ivy brings some level of support to the club, but this should very likely fall in favor of OpTic Gaming.
#4 Team eLevate vs. #5 Team EnVyUs
Team eLevate (13-9)
Maps Win-Loss ratio: 51.6 percent
Roster: Ulysses "AquA" Silva, Slayer; Brice "Faccento" Faccento, IGL AR; Remington "Remy" Ihringer, Support; Jared "Nagafen" Harrell, Support
Team EnVyUs (12-10)
Maps Win-Loss ratio: 54.9 percent
Roster: Austin "SlasheR" Liddicoat, AR Slayer; Patrick "ACHES" Price, Slayer; Tyler "TeePee" Polchow, SMG Support; Jordan "JKap" Kaplan, Support
In what could be one of the most interesting matches in the first round, Team eLevate will take on Team EnVyUs for the right to face the winner of the OpTic Gaming/Team SoloMid matchup. While the season series was split 1-1, Team eLevate's Week 9 victory, in which it was able to reverse sweep EnVyUs after it started out the match 2-0, could be a morale raiser for eLevate.
While most of the attention in this matchup should focus on Jkap, EnVyUs' terrific pseudo support slayer, the deciding factor will likely be whether EnVyUs can muster up any sort of sniping option from the rest of the team -- something that was absent in its last bout against eLevate. If the team opts to start sub Colt "Havok" McLendon, as was the case in Week 9, EnVyUs should be able to walk away with a series victory.
#3 FaZe Clan vs. #6 compLexity Gaming
FaZe Clan (15-7)
Maps Win-Loss ratio: 59.8 percent
Roster: James "Clayster" Eubanks, IGL Slayer; Thomas "ZooMaa" Paparatto, AR Slayer; Ian "Enable" Wyatt, OBJ; Dillon "Attach" Price, Support
compLexity Gaming (10-12)
Maps Win-Loss ratio: 45.1 percent
Roster: Anthony "NAMELESS" Wheeler, AR Slayer; Christopher "Parasite" Duarte, SMG Slayer; Marcus "MiRx" Carter, SMG Support; Richard "Ricky" Stacy, Support
If ever there was an upset waiting to happen in the first round, this would be the matchup to look out for. Just two weeks ago, compLexity Gaming took its Week 10 matchup against front-runner OpTic Gaming to a fifth game, nearly pulling off a shocking win -- thanks in no small part to Parasite's terrific play, in which he recorded an 80/65 series KD line. FaZe Clan may just be too much to handle, though, and it's clearly the hotter team at the moment, going 6-2 over the last four weeks -- losing only to H2K and OpTic Gaming during the stretch.
As is the case most weeks for FaZe Clan, veteran leader Clayster will likely determine the outcome of this series; while he rolled through Weeks 9 and 10 with a 276/229 KD line, including an utterly dominating 70/43 against Counter Logic Gaming, he was held in check by OpTic Gaming and Team eLevate in Week 11. In what might be a closer series than some people might think, Clayster should provide the edge needed for FaZe Clan to come away with a victory.
#2 Rise Nation vs. #7 Luminosity Gaming
Rise Nation (16-6)
Maps Win-Loss ratio: 63.5 percent
Roster: Josiah "Slacked" Berry, OBJ; Daniel "Loony" Loza, SMG Slayer; Nicholas "Classic" DiCostanzo, Slayer; Sam "Octane" Larew, AR Anchor
Luminosity Gaming (9-13)
Maps Win-Loss ratio: 46.1 percent
Roster: James "Replays" Crowder, AR Slayer; Renato "Saints" Forza, Slayer; Jonathan "John" Perez, Support SMG; Michael "SpaceLy" Schmale, Support
While OpTic Gaming has been the clear No. 1 team for much of Stage 1, multiple teams have jockeyed for the right to be considered the second-best team in North America -- including Rise Nation. Indeed, its five game winning streak to end the season put teams on notice and vaulted the club into the coveted No. 2 seed, but those victories should be taken with a grain of salt, owing largely to the fact that most of the teams Rise beat resided in the lower portion of the NA Pro League standings.
Considering Luminosity Gaming was actually the last team to beat Rise Nation, when it secured a 3-2 match win during Week 9, this could be a dangerous matchup for Rise Nation. The key factor will be whether Rise Nation can lock down Octane, who put up a marvelous 78/54 KD line in Week 9. I'm leaning toward Rise doing just that, but don't be too surprised to see Luminosity take at least two games in this series.