Splyce has heard it all before: the jeers from North American fans and the disinterest from analysts when the discussion inevitably shifts to the Call of Duty European scene. For Splyce's shot caller Joshua-Lee "Joshh" Sheppard, it almost becomes second nature. "It's a topic that always comes up in conversation because [Europe] has always been looked down upon by the Americans," he explains. "We've always been considered second best to [North America]."
But there's reason to believe the tides might be shifting with the European scene riding a wave of success heading into the Call of Duty World Championship in September. No longer just an afterthought, there are a handful of teams from Europe that could make waves at the big event with Splyce leading the charge.
"Every year, we say this year we might actually be as good as [North America], but this year, I genuinely believe it," Sheppard continued.
The narrative is changing surrounding the European Call of Duty scene, and Splyce is at the forefront of the conversation.
Success starts at home
Starting in the European Stage 1 playoffs earlier this year in March, where the upstart team were considered an afterthought, Splyce blitzed through its quarterfinal matchup against exceL eSports and semifinal matchup against Team Infused, landing itself a spot in the Stage 1 finals. More importantly, it was in the conversation for the best Call of Duty team in Europe.
"I think it was a big shock for everyone, including myself, if I'm being honest," said Sheppard. "Even though it's bad to say, I was somewhat a doubter of our team until that run."
While Splyce would ultimately lose in the finals of Stage 1 to Millenium 4-1, a series that Sheppard swears could have went Splyce's way if not for a few unlucky moments, it was clear the European scene was on the rise. Now, the region just needed to prove their mettle against American competition.
In June, the best teams around the world traveled to Zenith, Paris to compete at the Esports World Convention 2016. For many teams, this would be their first taste of international competition. Three North American teams -- OpTic Gaming, Rise Nation, FaZe Clan -- attended the 16-team event. Never mind which team could knock the North American teams off the stage, the overwhelming question from fans and casters was which European team would claim fourth place.
But after battling through the group stage event and securing a position within the championship bracket, Splyce was put in position to make a statement for Europe. It started by knocking off FaZe Clan 3-0 in the quarterfinals before defeating Rise Nation 3-2 in the semifinals. Standing in its way of a first place finish was OpTic Gaming, the North American giant that just claimed the North American Stage 1 crown weeks earlier, capping off a brilliant performance during the regular season.
If defeating OpTic Gaming was the next hurdle to jump over en route to making a name for European Call of Duty, then Splyce came to an abrupt halt. OpTic Gaming would go on to sweep Splyce 3-0 in the finals, a moment that Sheppard regards with irritation. He would begrudgingly admit his team "got destroyed."
Still, the bitter loss didn't overshadow all the success Splyce earned throughout the tournament. "To get where we did was still really good," he said.
A week later, European teams attended the next international event, Major League Gaming Anaheim, to mixed results. While all three teams from across the pond (Splyce, Team Infused, Millenium) made it into the Championship Winner's Bracket after surviving a brutal open qualifier, only Team Infused advanced into the quarterfinals and promptly lost to eLevate 3-2. Splyce, to its credit, placed in the Top 12, but Sheppard admitted the results could have been much better.
For as dominant as Splyce has looked in 2016, it's important to note the team has only managed to secure one title in July: a win at the Gfinity Call of Duty World League Summer Masters. But in order to look dominant, a team must first be in the conversation, a relatively new role for Splyce.
Even with a disappointing run at Major League Gaming Anaheim, Splyce's performance during Stage 2 (at one point, its record was 11-1) has merit and has kept it within the conversation for best team in Europe. A resounding sweep of HyperGames to claim first place in the Gfinity CWL Summer Masters certainly brings some credence to the idea as well. But another playoff run like what it put together in Stage 1 will be critical -- not just for the team's confidence and place within Europe -- but for its reputation outside of it.
"100 percent, we are the best team in Europe," said Sheppard. "Coming off Gfinity, we know we'll be confident and we can beat anyone, including the American teams. It's just important we are always at that level because it is hard to maintain it."
A finals win at the Stage 2 playoffs doesn't just come with a monetary prize; it comes saddled with an entire region's hopes and expectations. After winning the playoffs, the pressure has only just begun. And the pressure is something Splyce relishes.