While it was hardly a cakewalk, No. 1 seed OpTic Gaming was able to claim the North American Stage 1 Championship on Sunday, defeating No. 2 seed Rise Nation 4-3, in what can only be described as one of the best Call of Duty tournaments of all-time.
Before we sift through the epic seven-game grand finals, let's first take a glimpse at how each team found themselves in the marquee event.
Quarterfinals: 4-3 win over Team SoloMid
Semifinals: 4-0 win over Team eLevate
In arguably the most surprising development of Saturday's quarterfinal action, OpTic Gaming, who was expected to trounce No. 8 seed Team SoloMid, quickly found themselves in a 2-1 series hole, losing a Game 2 Search and Destroy as well as a Game 3 Uplink. Notoriously slow starters at major championships, OpTic Gaming once again struggled to start, as TSM's Jamal "Whea7s" Lee wreaked havoc in the team's first two wins of the series, particularly in their Uplink victory, in which he recorded a 27/19 KD. The regular-season champs would rally to take the series, however, thanks in no small part to Stage One MVP, Seth "Scump" Abner who would put together a 43/23 KD in a critical Game 6 Hardpoint battle, as well as multiple timely plays in the deciding Game 7 Search and Destroy.
If Team SoloMid was able to reveal any cracks in OpTic Gaming's armor, No. 4 seed Team eLevate, who beat Team EnVyUs in the quarterfinals, was certainly not able to take advantage of them, as they seemingly ran into a re-energized OpTic squad during this series. While 4-0 sweeps are never pretty, Team eLevate had their chances, particularly in a close 6-4 loss in a Game 2 Search and Destroy. The team never really had a shot from there, as OpTic Gaming dominated Game 3, winning 11-1 in Uplink, and Game 4, which saw OpTic claim the Capture the Flag series win 3-1. Matthew "FormaL" Piper in particular came on strong down the stretch, recording a seven-kill streak in both Games 3 and 4, becoming an utter nuisance that eLevate could not control.
Quarterfinals: 4-1 win over Luminosity Gaming
Semifinals: 4-0 win over FaZe Clan
Utter domination can grow a bit stale, which might explain why many casters and pundits seemed to overlook Rise Nation, despite their No. 2 seed heading into the playoffs. Neither No. 7 seed Luminosity Gaming nor No. 3 seed FaZe clan, who defeated compLexity Gaming in the quarterfinals, put up much of a threat as Rise Nation blitzed through both clubs en route to the Grand Finals.
In what would be a precursor to their final match against OpTic Gaming, Rise Nation made short work of their opponents during Search and Destroy matches, winning each of their series (two versus Luminosity, one versus FaZe Clan) 6-3. Daniel "Loony" Loza, in particular, was a monster in each round of the series, setting the tone for the rest of the team during both victories. In Rise Nation's Game 4 win against FaZe Clan, Loony's aggressiveness essentially ended the Capture the Flag match before it even began, as he was able to capture a flag just a minute into the game. He would end that contest with a 25/13 K/D, three flag captures and a highlight reel juke that saw him destroy a HC-XD with the flag in hand --- a terrific end to a magnificent series by Rise Nation.
Grats boys! pic.twitter.com/KElWdCf2dI
- OpTic Gaming™ (@OpTicGaming) April 4, 2016
With both teams entering the championship series coming off dominating performances, neither team seemingly had a leg up on the other. OpTic Gaming would change that tone quickly, however, as they immediately raced to a 3-0 series advantage, defeating Rise Nation 250-201 in a Game 1 Hardpoint, 6-2 in a brilliant Game 2 Search and Destroy win, and 14-2 in a Game 3 Uplink battle. While their Hardpoint and Uplink victories shouldn't have come as much of a surprise considering their success in the previous round's game modes, OpTic Gaming's dominance during the initial S&D would be telling, as every one of their members registered a positive K/D. Rise Nation's early-round hero, Looney, seemed to be the primary concern of OpTic Gaming, as they never really let the slayer get a foothold in the match, instead opting to let Josiah "Slacked" Berry do the majority of the damage for Rise Nation.
Rise Nation would battle back, however, claiming a hard-fought Game 4 Capture the Flag victory, which would see Nicholas "Classic" DiCostanzo end the contest on a five-kill streak and a 22/13 KD. Possibilities of a Game 7 slowly started to creep into the picture, as Rise Nation was able to win a Game 5 Search and Destroy fairly convincingly, with Classic once again chipping in during a dominating rounds four and five, with Sam "Octane" Larew finishing off the contest with a four-kill streak and a hugely important one-on-one gunfight win in round eight. The comeback attempt soon became a reality after Rise Nation took a convincing Game 6 Hardpoint win over OpTic Gaming, 250-187.
As Rise had done throughout much of their previous series wins, the methodical "smart-play" turned into the ultimate weapon for the club, as OpTic Gaming seemed to fall victim to their over-eagerness. Pressing to finish the series in six games, a Game 7 Search and Destroy was looming. Yet again, Octane would be the breadwinner for Rise Nation in Game 6, as he was able to put together a 15/5 K/D early in the match, ending with a scorching 37/26 K/D.
The drama seemed to pick up steam throughout Game 7, as neither team was able to gain much of an advantage early in the match. OpTic Gaming had the upper hand late, pulling ahead 5-3, needing just one more round to claim the championship, only for Looney to bring the team back nearly single-handedly. In the climatic Round 11 battle, OpTic Gaming's Damon "Karma" Barlow, who had been a terror in the first few games, picked up two critical kills in the deciding round in what amounted to a gut-wrenching and frantic series loss for the former champions, Rise Nation.
Only two things seem certain heading into the short offseason for the Call of Duty Pro League: OpTic Gaming and Rise Nation should retain their rosters heading into Season 2, and Team EnVyUs will blow up theirs, with internal issues running amuck during their disappointing quarterfinal loss to Team eLevate. EnVyUs' roster in particular will be one to monitor throughout the brief down period -- while the roster is chock-full of productive individual slayers, it's clear the chemistry just wasn't there, as the club didn't even opt to scrimmage prior to their pivotal playoff matchup against eLevate.
A few rumors have already started to surface regarding who may take the fall for EnVyUs, but the big name most likely to leave seems to be Patrick "ACHES" Price, who seemed to clash at times with both Austin "SlasheR" Liddicoat and Jordan "JKap" Kaplan. It'll be interesting to see what roster combinations take shape throughout the offseason, but one thing is for certain -- Call of Duty is beginning to find its own in the eSports scene.