The Call of Duty World League (CWL) Pro Division Stage 2 playoffs are upon us, with the eight best teams in North America fighting for a piece of the $250,000 prize. Also up for grabs is a handful of the all-important World League Points, which can guarantee a prospective team a spot in the Call of Duty World Championship in September. In the more immediate future, on July 14-17, the careers of some of the greatest Call of Duty players in the world will be on the line at the ESL Studios located in Burbank, California.
Let's break down some of the opening matchups:
#1 Team EnVyUs vs. #8 H2K
Team EnVyUs' record: 15-6 | Maps W/L ratio: 61.9 percent
Roster: Bryan "Apathy" Zhelyazkov, Jordan "JKap" Kaplan, Johnathan "John" Perez, Austin "SlasheR" Liddicoat
H2K's record: 11-11 | Maps W/L ratio: 49.4 percent
Roster: Damod "FEARS" Abney, Andres "Lacefield" Lacefield, Tyree "LegaL" Glover, Phillip "PHiZZURP" Klemenov
Thanks to a litany of lag-filled games that gave it a cushy record, EnVyUs likely didn't deserve the No. 1 seed and certainly are not the best team in the CWL, but you can't really fault it for following the match schedule. While its roster is littered with seasoned professionals, it was the move to bring in John just before Stage 2 that pushed this team to new levels; the former Luminosity Gaming player has been exceptional, posting a 1.09 KD ratio and a 20.3 kill-per-round (K/R) ratio, both top-ten figures in the CWL.
Meanwhile, H2K rallied into the playoffs after a mid-season lull saw it drop six consecutive contests. While EnVyUs should defeat it, John might be the deciding factor for whether the team can advance further. In the best-of-seven format, each team must play three Search and Destroy rounds, which is a game mode that EnVyUs just so happens to struggle with. In order for it to succeed, John must step up his game in the sniper role, providing enough cover for his teammates to work on the objectives.
#4 Rise Nation vs. #5 Cloud9
Rise Nation's record: 13-9 | Maps W/L ratio: 59.8 percent
Roster: Nicholas "Classic" Di Costanzo, Daniel "Loony" Loza, Samuel "Octane" Larew, Josiah "Slacked" Berry
Cloud9's record: 13-9 | Maps W/L ratio: 54.0 percent
Roster: Adam "Assault" Garcia, Nicholas "Happy" Suda, Colt "Havok" McLendon, Devin "Llama" Tran
The darlings from Stage 1, Rise Nation limped through the better part of June, managing just a 4-6 record en route to a disappointing fourth place finish in Stage 2. It'll take on one of the more surprising teams from Stage 2, Cloud9, who blitzed through the final few weeks of competition to vault into fifth place.
Of the eight teams to qualify for the playoffs, Cloud9 sports the second-lowest DT/R (distance traveled per round) mark, excelling at close combat fights where it forces its opponents to approach. In particular, Assault and Havok have been masterful in the short-to-intermediate zones, racking up a 1.14 and 1.11 KD respectively, both top-10 figures in the CWL. One problem: Rise Nation likes to play the same way. The Stage 1 runner-ups slot in just behind Cloud9 when it comes to distance traveled per round, and are neck-in-neck when it comes to team KD. The tie generally goes to the team that has supplied a proven track record, but I wouldn't be surprised if Cloud9 pulls off the upset. Either way, I expect the winner of this matchup to knock off the winner of EnVyUs/H2K.
#3 FaZe Clan vs. #6 Dream Team
FaZe Clan's record: 13-9 | Maps W/L ratio: 62.4 percent
Roster: Dillon "Attach" Price, James "Clayster" Eubanks, Ian "Enable" Wyatt, Thomas "ZooMaa" Paparatto
Dream Team's record: 11-11 | Maps W/L ratio: 50.6 percent
Roster: Martin "Chino" Chino, Steven "Diabolic" Rivero, Adam "KiLLa" Sloss, Troy "Sender" Michaels
With the recent announcement that the CWL/ESL will help facilitate a public sale of Dream Team's CWL slot, an opening round upset over FaZe Clan could have huge ramifications, not just for playoff seeding, but the World Championship scene as well. The 40 World League Points earned by qualifying for the Stage 2 playoffs won't be enough to push Dream Team into the top six in overall points, which is the cutoff for invites to the World Championship. In order to reach the top six, it must knock off FaZe Clan, who has looked like one of the best teams in the CWL for the better part of Stage 2.
The stats would tell you Dream Team face an uphill battle, as every single member of FaZe ranks in the top 15 in terms of KD; the team as a whole posts a 1.10 KD, easily the best mark in the league. For Dream Team to have any shot, it must take advantage of the Search and Destroy and Capture the Flag rounds, where the collective slaying power of FaZe Clan could be thwarted by smart, objective-based play. Dream Team are not favored to win, but crazier things have happened in Stage 2.
#2 OpTic Gaming vs. #7 Luminosity Gaming
OpTic Gaming's record: 16-6 | Maps W/L ratio: 61.2 percent
Roster: Ian "Crimsix" Porter, Matthew "FormaL" Piper, Damon "Karma" Barlow, Seth "Scump" Abner
Luminosity Gaming's record: 11-11 | Maps W/L ratio: 49.4 percent
Roster: Anthony "NAMELESS" Wheeler, Renato "Saints" Forza, Michael "SpaceLy" Schmale, Jeremy "StuDyy" Astacio
If Luminosity were playing any other team, I would have easily picked it to advance to the semifinals. The move to bring in NAMELESS near the end of May has been a spark for the team; it's gone 9-5 with him to end the season. Much like Cloud9, Luminosity excels at winning engages after letting the fight come to it. Of the eight teams qualified for the playoffs, it owns by far the lowest DT/R, but still posts one of the better team-KD lines, slotting in with a respectable 1.03.
That style of play could be a huge factor against teams that are susceptible to tilting into madness, but it won't have an impact against a veteran team like OpTic Gaming. It's not just that OpTic Gaming have been the best team in Stage 2, with over half of its losses attributable to forfeits or extreme bouts of lag. It's that it has been the best team in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, winning every major tournament during 2016 with ease.
Scump, the Stage 1 MVP, has held fast to that title in Stage 2, once again securing the highest KD in the CWL while ranking near the top 10 in other major categories: K/R (kills-per-round), D/R (deaths-per-round) and SPM (score-per-minute). Teammate FormaL has developed into one of the most feared snipers in all of Call of Duty while Crimsix and Karma continue to do the dirty work necessary to win. Make no mistake: despite its No. 2 seed, OpTic Gaming are still the favorites to win Stage 2, and it would be a shock to not see it in the finals come Sunday.