The third homestand of the Call of Duty League's inaugural season will take place this weekend, and there's an unusual amount of drama on a number of fronts going into the event. From players being benched to online scuffles between teams and even backlash against game developer Infinity Ward for a major, game-breaking bug, the Atlanta FaZe's homestand could be one of the best -- or worst, depending on what side of it you're on -- Call of Duty events ever.
Writers Emily Rand and Tyler Erzberger and host Arda Ocal tackled those topics and addressed five pressing questions we want CDL Atlanta to answer.
Will this be the most scuffed event since UMG South Carolina?
Rand: To any Call of Duty competitive fan, UMG South Carolina is the gold standard of messed-up events. Wireless controllers interfering with each other as a room full of more than 100 competitors attempted to play Black Ops III is still one of the most memorable events in competitive CoD history for all the wrong reasons.
The open bracket was massive and too long. The stream wasn't able to cover some of the more hyped-up matches. The champion tournament was single-elimination best-of-sevens! It was awful. It deserves its own oral history at this point.
This weekend at Atlanta, it's not a hardware or bandwidth issue that looms over the event, but an in-game lobby bug that, if it continues, will not allow games to be played on LAN. That being said, I can't see the Atlanta FaZe staff and team being nearly as unprepared as the UMG event organizers in Myrtle Beach, so I'm still going to have to give this to UMG South Carolina 2016 until proven otherwise.
What's slightly more embarrassing about this hiccup, if teams end up having to play with online lobbies or make some other shift due to the lobby bug, is that it's an event that's part of a multimillion dollar franchised league. If only we could have skipped ahead a year and launched the league with Treyarch.
Erzberger: To me, this is far more embarrassing than the South Carolina mishap in 2016. This is a multi-million-dollar franchised league at an event where the Atlanta FaZe are flying in celebrities and influencers, and Atlanta wants to put on the best first impression possible for the Call of Duty community. FaZe themselves are probably investing millions of dollars into this weekend. If the event has to be canceled or shifted around due to teams not being able to join a lobby with a PC party included (observer, casters), then this will be a humiliating moment for Infinity Ward and the league.
Through two homestands, the CDL has gotten off to a strong start. The fans, especially during the London homestand, have been incredible, and we already have a slew of delectable storylines being built throughout the 12 franchises. Heading into this weekend, we should be starting this column talking about the dream homestand between the Atlanta FaZe and the Chicago Huntsmen. Instead, we're discussing if these two teams can even play this weekend.
Get it together, Infinity Ward. You might not care much about the esports scene, but I can point to tens of thousands, even millions, who do, including the players flying into Atlanta this weekend hoping to play your game.
Ocal: Let me come at this from a media perspective, since I spent many years in news rooms: If you have an event that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to organize, maybe even millions, and not a single game is played, the local news will catch wind of this and turn it into a story. That's juicy enough for them to care unless something major is happening that is taking their attention instead. It will be printed in local newspapers and make its way to TV. Tom Tucker will be there doing live hits outside the Gateway Center. When they get on site, they will soon find out that the reason no games were played was because of an error code named Platypus. And from there, my friends, the story has enough juice to get national media involved.
Esports to many people is still a monolith, one single entity. Call of Duty League = League of Legends = Smash Melee = Magic The Gathering. It's all "competitive video games." Does esports REALLY want this kind of attention, Infinity Ward? From a lobby bug? In the end, it will look a lot worse for the developer than for anything else.
All that to say, to answer the original question: I hope not.
Is an Atlanta-Chicago grand finals inevitable?
Rand: We haven't seen Atlanta since they beat the New York Subliners on Day 3 of opening weekend, but FaZe looked like they were far and away the strongest team in the league. In the words of Tyler "aBeZy" Pharris at Minnesota, "Honestly, we're all just super-talented players. In-game, we're super fast. No one can match our pace."
Modern Warfare is a slow game, and it's never looked as fast as when Atlanta plays. Through the first two Call of Duty League events this year, no team has been nearly as quick or as mechanically skilled as Atlanta. While Chicago won the London event without too much trouble, Paris Legion did make them look shaky at times on Hardpoint. I'm going to give the edge to Atlanta due to how strong they looked on Search and Destroy in Minnesota, which was a pleasant surprise. If they can keep that up, they should be victors of their first-ever homestand.
Erzberger: Give me this final! The storylines are rich, and following a London event where Huntsmen took home the title, this clash seems almost destined. The Chicago Huntsmen, for the most part, are the old guard of the league. While there is an OpTic Gaming Los Angeles, the fans know where the real heart of the old dynasty lives: with Hector "H3CZ" Rodriguez and his team of veterans in the Midwest. When it comes to the greatest duo in the game's history, it's hard to argue against the pairing of Seth "Scump" Abner and Matthew "FormaL" Piper, reunited and feeling so good after the latter part of the pair decided the grass isn't always greener on the other side.
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Where the Huntsmen, led by H3CZ, Scump and FormaL represent the old school days of Call of Duty, the FaZe represent the new school. The youngest team in the Call of Duty League, they play the game as you'd expect: quickly, instinctively and aggressively. Their S&D numbers were out of this world in their only two matches of the season, and Atlanta didn't drop a single round in either of their matches. Chris "Simp" Lehr, the reigning world champion and world championship MVP, one day wants to have a legacy greater than any player who has ever touched Call of Duty, and taking down Scump and FormaL in his new hometown of Atlanta would be another accolade he can add to his already overflowing list of accomplishments in his first year as a pro.
Ocal: Atlanta are the youngest average team by more than a year (20.235). According to Atlanta FaZe analyst Austin O'Neil and his terrific public stats and CDL spreadsheet, every Huntsmen player left London above a 1.0 K/D (Dylan "Envoy" Hannon and FormaL led the way with 1.13). Now, the first weekend was certainly too small of a sample size and was before the league's tournament format, but Atlanta looks scary when you look at the numbers. Simp has only died twice in S&D with 13 frags, and he also boasts a 1.74 K/D on Hardpoint. The team looked scary opening weekend, and that makes this potential final even more tantalizing.
What I love the most about CDL is the fact that storylines can breathe. Chicago and Dallas have dominated the headlines so far, but now we can build another rivalry in Atlanta. If this is in fact the final, and Atlanta wins, then the early preseason predictions are coming true, at least early on. Atlanta would unseat the elder statesmen, the new kids on the block beating the old guard of CoD, and FaZe would be riding high going into the Los Angeles home series, where Dallas awaits (with Chicago watching from home).
If Chicago wins, the Huntsmen can take their Green Wall 2.0 crown and shine it up at home while watching "the best of the rest" duke it out and see what contenders emerge.
Between the history, the star players, the personalities, the drama and the antics, COD League is very storyline rich and I absolutely love it.
Which team is most likely to tear up the Chicago-Atlanta final narrative?
Rand: Two teams come to mind: the Paris Legion and the London Royal Ravens. Paris had a slow start last week but managed to come up through the losers bracket, win the rematch against the New York Subliners and looked like the closest matchup against eventual event winners Chicago (sorry, Dallas). Meanwhile, I'm also loving watching the Marshall brothers duo on London. If I had to give the edge to one of these two teams as an upset pick, I'd give it to Paris, but I think that if there is another team (or teams) that make it to the grand finals in Atlanta outside of Atlanta or Chicago, it will be one of these two.
Erzberger: Though I believe we're going to end up with the tantalizing Simp vs. Scump final, I wouldn't count out either European franchise or Minnesota. I know the Norsemen up in Minneapolis had some controversy in their debut weekend due to their match with the Los Angeles Guerrillas where an illegal perk brought RØKKR back into a match they eventually won, but they still feel like a good darkhorse pick in Atlanta. They've had ample time to scout and practice as the other teams traveled abroad to London. Before Simp won world championship MVP honors in 2019, that award belonged to Adam "Assault" Garcia, who won the 2018 world title on Evil Geniuses alongside Minnesota teammate Justin "SiLLY" Fargo-Palmer. If Assault can put together another top performance in Atlanta, I can see them beating the Paris Legion in the first round and giving the Huntsmen or FaZe a run for their money in the race to make the Atlanta homestand final.
Ocal: I had a chance to talk with members of the RØKKR, and there is a certain vibe there that makes me believe they are for real. There is a belief there, a confidence (but not cockiness) that they haven't even begun to show what they are made of, and they will thrive in the next tournament. They have a terrific chance to do so in Atlanta, facing off first against a strong Paris Legion team. While many will say the European teams are the "best of the next" at least in the rankings as they stand today, Minnesota is who I'm watching with keen interest this weekend.
Will FaZe Clan bring their popularity to Atlanta this weekend?
Rand: Talking to a few esports fans who live in and around Atlanta, there's not a lot of local hype for the Atlanta FaZe from people who are actually in the city. Interestingly enough, the Atlanta Reign (Overwatch League) garnered more of a hometown following due to watch parties and other community events prior to their homestand last year. That being said, FaZe is the CoD brand. When I think of CoD, I think of old OpTic Gaming and FaZe. It's been said multiple times this year but bears repeating: The fact that other teams outside of FaZe and OpTic are getting rousing cheers from home crowds in this new league is a massive shift. The London Royal Ravens homestand set the bar remarkably high for CoD crowds, and it's unlikely that we'll see that topped in Atlanta.
Erzberger: This is such a tough question to answer before we see their debut weekend in Atlanta. While I agree that I feel like the Reign have done a better job marketing to the Atlanta audience, when it comes down to it, people like watching winners. FaZe is a global brand, and if the FaZe can establish themselves as one of the crown jewels of the league in the inaugural season, the fanbase will follow. Not many people thought soccer would work in Atlanta following how terribly hockey and the Atlanta Thrashers did in the area, but the Atlanta United have become one of the city's most popular (and successful) teams.
With FaZe bringing hometown rapper Offset to the festivities and trying to make this the most extravagant of the Call of Duty homestands so far, I think we're in for an exciting time as long as the players can load into the game. Eyes are on you, Infinity Ward.
Ocal: In terms of broadcast product? Yes. In terms of physical audience? That remains to be seen. I agree with Emily and Tyler: FaZe are one of the biggest brands in esports, and they know how to make something a big deal, to turn it up to 100 and add sizzle to their steak. I have no doubt there will be plenty of interesting things happening on the ground.
Does that mean that it will be a sellout with a total party vibe? That remains to be seen.
One thing I will say is that the Atlanta homestand at Overwatch League last season had a much different feel than the Dallas Fuel inaugural homestand, in large part, in my opinion, because of the venue chosen: a theater house vs. a sports arena. The venue, and where people are, all contribute to the vibe. The Gateway Center Arena is more like the Dallas venue from last season (Allen Events Center), and I like that a lot. I feel like that will set it up to be a party, with fans not sitting on their hands and getting into it.
How crucial will Hardpoint spawns be in these matches?
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Rand: You have to love, and by love I mean absolutely despise, the amount of randomness that's seemingly deciding spawns right now. Putting Domination aside -- it's a different beast entirely and one that I think I've made clear that I'm completely biased against as a game mode in previous CoD coverage -- Hardpoint spawns are pretty egregious and clearly impact the game.
That being said, I can't pinpoint a match that I felt was defined by spawns alone, nor have I seen one where respawns completely affected the competitive integrity of the map for one team over the other. Despite this, I'm going to keep complaining because some of these spawns are crazy.
Erzberger: It feels as if commentators are buzzing about spawns during every Hardpoint map. RNG is a familiar concept in esports, as it seems as if nowadays there is more randomness than ever when it comes to some of the bigger titles. While hero pools aren't RNG, we will soon see specific heroes banned each week depending on gameplay in CDL's sister competition, the Overwatch League, and League of Legends now has the map literally change depending on a roll of the dice every game. Don't even get me started on battle royales.
All that said, while people will complain that esports are all about adaptation and needing to be able to shake off curveballs, you never want the RNG aspect of your game to be a continued storyline that overweighs the actual action going on within the map.
Ocal: All I want to add is that I HOPE this happens during a game this weekend.
Honestly outplayed. Pro strats is what you call it pic.twitter.com/pFonuURG3o— Preston (@Prestinni) February 17, 2020