"Give them the rings. Just give them the rings."
This was the call on broadcast after eUnited tore through Units 3-0 in the winners' bracket at the Call of Duty World League Championships at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion in Los Angeles. The next day, the five members of eUnited were fitted for their rings after beating 100 Thieves in the grand final, their second straight title after winning the CWL Pro League 2019 Playoffs in Miami.
"I never imagined this happening to be honest," eUnited's Preston "Prestinni" Sanderson said. "I knew that we could win, but to be consistent and win multiple events back-to-back is really hard to do. So for us to be able to keep our composure through the lows of the tournaments like that comeback against [Evil Geniuses], you know, it's incredible what we've done so far. I have no words to explain how I feel right now."
Perseverance is something that tends to go unnoticed in esports without YouTube highlight reels, flashy plays or myriad titles. Call of Duty, like most things in traditional sports or esports, is frequently won in smaller moments that lead up to stunning individual performances like eUnited Chris "Simp" Lehr's Search and Destroy rampage against Units. The story of eUnited's championship victory and back-to-back CWL titles can be found in this roster's phenomenal teamwork and coordination.
"Before Miami, we were just grinding it out, watching VODs [videos on demand] every single day before practice," Prestinni said. "We worked on our aggression, my aggression, sometimes we would go out by ourselves and it would ruin entire pushes, and that's what kept us from winning events. We finally got that together and work as a team way better. As a unit, we're solid in every game mode. It was a personal thing for each of us. Each of us improved personally, and it helped the team out in the long run."
These victories, and eUnited's remarkable competitive form, have arguably been two years in the making, built over time, repetition and sticking to the same core players, even when it was an unpopular decision. Prestinni's career itself is a microcosm for eUnited's journey to being crowned onstage at UCLA's Pauley Pavilion: resolution, determination and tenacity despite inconsistencies.
"It was really ..." Prestinni paused for a moment, unable to describe his own ambition. "Honestly I don't even know. I'm just passionate. I find something I want to win at, do for the rest of my life, obviously gaming is not going to last forever, but you know, I'm passionate about it, and if I'm passionate about it, I go for it. I don't care what other people say. I used to, but nowadays I shrug it off. It's nothing to me. I know what I'm capable of. I know what my team is capable of. It means nothing. It's just all talk."
Like any esports or traditional sports organization, eUnited has made a lot of unpopular and risky decisions. Most of the fan and community ire through the years came from not releasing a player whom the community perceived as underperforming, or swapping out a player whom they felt didn't need to be released.
The first big risk taken by the then-fledgling eUnited, which was founded in 2016, came after a failure to make it through the open-bracket qualifiers of 2017 CWL: Las Vegas. The team dropped Jonathan "Pacman" Tucker, Lamar "Accuracy" Abedi and Tyree "Legal" Glover for the amateur brother duo of Alec "Arcitys" Sanderson and Prestinni along with Pierce "Gunless" Hillman. More recently in 2019, it was the decision to go with 18-year-old rookie Simp over the tried-and-true veteran Jordan "JKap" Kaplan, while keeping Prestinni on the roster.
"Even for how well my teammates played, I played all right I would say," Prestinni said. "It's always going to be overshadowed because I have three other teammates, four other teammates getting all the kills. I try to do what I can to win, and I've proven that at back-to-back events. We won. So it's proven that kills aren't everything and teammates are going to have good performances, bad performances, I'm just kind of that guy who sacrifices and does what needs to be done. I'm not a slayer. That's not my job to do. It feels good to prove everyone wrong, and I'm not as bad as they think I am."
Prestinni has had the pressure of being overshadowed not only by his teammates and other players, but his brother Arcitys. While Arcitys almost immediately established himself as a player to be feared, Prestinni's entrance into competitive CoD came with more inconsistencies. Through their time together on eUnited, there have been many calls from fans for Arcitys and eUnited to drop Prestinni. If you search "Prestinni" online, one of the related searches is "Arcitys brother." Nearly every interview with Prestinni also features Arcitys. The subject matter is almost always how they came up together as players while also being brothers.
"We actually didn't team, he just played pubs on the side and I played Black Ops II competitively, was really good in that game, and I was like 15," Prestinni said. "We went into Ghosts and we ended up dropping someone, and he was like, 'Yo, let me play. I want to try out.' From there, we've only split once. We were amateurs anyway and under the age limit so it didn't matter. After we turned 18, got back together, and here we are."
Where they are is now Call of Duty World League champions and back-to-back CWL titleholders.
"We've hit levels that haven't been reached before at this event," Prestinni said. "You saw us throw away some rounds, but we got it back together. Nobody beat us this tournament, and it shows that, at the end of the day, we're the best team in the game. No one has reached the level that we're at."