Players and coaches break down the Call of Duty League championship
1:59 PM ET
Call of Duty League Championship Weekend is upon us. On Sunday, the London Royal Ravens, Chicago Huntsmen, Dallas Empire or Atlanta FaZe will win $1.5 million and be crowned champions of the league’s inaugural franchised season.
After a hectic year of competitive Modern Warfare, representatives from the four remaining teams in the Call of Duty League championship answered questions about the season and their upcoming matches. Here’s what they had to say about a potential weapon change, ongoing online play struggles and the matchups going into CDL Champs.
More: A look forward at the Call of Duty League championship weekend | What it was like to play Warzone’s Cold War event | Call of Duty League deals with connectivity issues during playoffs
About that MP5 change…
A last-minute unscheduled change to the MP5 submachine gun hit the latest Modern Warfare patch the week before championship weekend, affecting teams’ preparation. It was the latest in a long line of unfortunate and likely unintentional in-game changes throughout the entire 2020 competitive Call of Duty season that were not covered in patch notes but still affected competitive play. Pros from the remaining four teams weighed in on social media and in their press conferences on the breadth of the change and how it could affect teams going into the finals.
James “Clayster” Eubanks (player, Dallas Empire): If there’s one word I could use to describe Call of Duty esports, it’s “adapt.” Stuff gets thrown our way, and stuff happens, especially with the variables of it being online now and the pings, and COD is just a game where you have to roll with the punches. I think it’s a do-or-die, adapt-or-die situation, and I think it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things.
These guys have all been practicing with this gun for months and months and tens of thousands of hours. A visual change isn’t going to affect them that much, and honestly, it’s just another thing, man. We are used to it at this point — at least I’m used to it at this point. It’s probably an unintentional change, and they’ve relayed that as well, so it’s not really as big of a deal as some might think.
We understand where it comes from and why it happened. It’s not like they intentionally went out there like, “Oh, we’re going to change the MP5 the weekend before Champs.” It did not happen like that; it was an accidental change that kind of made it through, and it’s just something we’re going to have to deal with. And honestly, it’s nothing new. That’s how COD esports is: You just have to adapt or die.
Troy “Sender” Michaels (former pro player, Chicago Huntsmen coach and substitute): Our preparation going into championship weekend is pretty good. Obviously, it’s a hard circumstance with it only being able to practice basically two actual teams, that being FaZe and Dallas. Everyone else, all of the other practice we could get right now is below average outside of a few groups of players who are taking the time out of their day to practice with us and going hard, which we really appreciate. Personally, from my perspective, I don’t notice that much of a difference in the MP5. I feel like everyone is kind of killing the same, everyone is kind of similar. It just looks a little bit different. I think the game is basically playing out the same.
James “Crowder” Crowder (former pro player, Atlanta FaZe head coach): The MP5 changes affected it a little bit just because a lot of these players play hours on end a day, and they’re preparing so hard for this event, specifically this one, and having something like a major change to the way your gun looks in the game, even though it could just be a visual change, it affects players because you have to have perfection at this level. So it makes it a little bit weird. But overall, to answer it from our side of things, they’ve been pretty happy with it. It hasn’t affected them. They haven’t been negative about it at all, and I’m not just saying that because I’m on a press conference or anything. Overall they’ve been pretty positive all year with a lot of these things. They’re pretty good at adapting, so I wouldn’t say that’s really standing in our way at all.
Sean “Seany” O’Connor (player, London Royal Ravens): (Laughs.) Honestly, I don’t know. We’re going to have to practice today and see how all of the teams are taking the changes as well and kind of go from there and see what’s best for us. I think at this event, not everyone is going to be using the same stuff. I feel like a good three teams are going to be using their own things because there’s a lot of different variables in play right now, different guns that were banned beforehand, but obviously might be looked at again simply because the MP5 might be not as good. For us, I honestly think it’s a benefit because it’s looking like more of an AR meta, and obviously Skrapz [Matthew “Skrapz” Marshall] loves the AR, but I was on it and he was always saying that he wanted to do what was best for the team. It can definitely benefit us, so we ain’t too worried. It shouldn’t be happening, obviously everyone knows that, and it’s not ideal for the last four teams, but I don’t think it will affect us that much. I think it could benefit us.
The mental game of an unprecedented season
With the myriad of hiccups across the Call of Duty League’s inaugural season as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the league going fully online, and miscommunication with game developer Infinity Ward, players’ mentality has been crucial throughout the entire season. No one knows this better than the players on the London Royal Ravens, who have had some of the most high-profile disconnect and in-game issues, capped off by Trei “Zer0” Morris disconnecting in London’s first Champs match against the Toronto Ultra. London exacted their revenge when they faced Toronto again in the losers bracket after beating the New York Subliners to qualify for championship weekend.
Seany: Honestly, that was part of the plan. It was like, ‘Imagine if we qualify after getting booted in the first round.’ We were just like, ‘Imagine it. Imagine winning three games in a row in losers bracket to get out of the biggest event.’ We just kept saying, ‘It couldn’t be anyone else but us.’ Yeah, for that to happen in the first round — after preparing for Toronto for three weeks, and then that happened. Honestly, we weren’t even that mad. It’s surprising. I think if you ask the coaches, ask everyone who was actually here that, we weren’t even that mad. It was like, ‘If we don’t step up in this losers bracket, then we’re pretty much out of Champs, and that’s it.’ So I think the fact that we didn’t get mad actually helped us a lot.
One last thing about it. When we played 4v5 on that last map, me, Brad [Bradley “Wuskin” Marshall], Skrapz and Dylan, as soon as Trei said he was lagging out, we all just started saying, ‘We have to finish. We have to win this map, or we’re in losers bracket.’ So we all went extra, extra hard. And I think that just sparked a fire. Everyone was like, ‘Well, we’re 4v5ing and we’re still putting in 110% into it.’ And I think that lit a fire.
Sender: Given the circumstances of how this year went on this game, obviously staying mentally strong is super important, especially with the transfer to online. Online, the biggest difference for me personally watching is just the consistency of how good a power position is and how much more of a benefit you get when you play smarter. I feel like to that, going into Champs, it’s the most important thing just staying composed no matter what kind of things come your way. No matter what maps you lose, it doesn’t matter. It can be your best map, you could have never lost on it before, but at the end of the day you can go to Champs, win every series 6-5 and still win the tournament, so I think that’s really important.
You just keep it on a map-by-map basis. You don’t want to overthink anything. You don’t want to do things just because it’s the biggest tournament that matters, right? As long as players aren’t overthinking anything and just not getting down on themselves, that’s the most important thing in my opinion.
Clayster: At Champs, which is at the end of the season, and it being the top four, I would say it comes down to strictly mental game. I think everyone who has made it this far is understanding of the fundamentals of the game and how to accomplish what they want on the map, and it comes down to who has more composure, who has more clutch factor, who [countered the strategies of] the other team good enough, all of those things. So I really think once you get to this point, it’s 90% mental.
Crowder: A lot of it is the mental game and really teaching some of the players who don’t have experience. The majority of our players have been there before on this team. They’ve been in finals before in tournaments like that. It’s just making sure that they just don’t let outside things affect them and just know that they have one more week left.
This is the most important time right now probably of most of their careers. This is the most money they’ve played for, and it’s almost more or less not about making them mentally tough, but reminding them that this is still the game that they love to play and not to overthink it and make sure that they’re having fun and getting good practice every day. I think a lot of players in the league that I have seen from coaching and when I was a player myself on some of my own teams, sometimes you take for granted the practice days that you have with scrims where you show up and you don’t give it your full effort, and after the tournament ends, especially when you don’t win, you kind of look back and go, ‘Damn. I wish I had more time to practice that specific hill or that specific map.’ So just making sure that the players are having fun and getting good practice and not having days where they show up and waste it all.
On their championship weekend opponents
The Atlanta FaZe and the Dallas Empire, the first and second seeds from the entirety of the Call of Duty League season, will face each other in the winners bracket final, and one will advance to the grand finals. The FaZe and Empire have met each other six times in various tournaments throughout the regular season. FaZe have won five of those six times, but Dallas’ one victory crucially came in a finals match for the Chicago home series title. Dallas has won three titles (at Los Angeles on LAN and the Chicago and London online home series), while Atlanta only has two (their own home series in Atlanta on LAN and the Florida home series online).
Meanwhile, the unexpected sixth-seeded London Royal Ravens will take on the fourth-seeded Chicago Huntsmen in the losers bracket. The winner of that match will face the loser of the winners bracket finals to determine the second grand finals team.
Sender: On this title at the moment, my players could think a little bit differently, but I think we’re all basically on the same page about this. Going into that match [against London], they’re a team that doesn’t have the biggest map pool and is kind of inconsistent at times. Those types of things are what’s going to hold them back in a matchup vs. us because we have a lot bigger of a map pool. We’ve mastered certain maps better than them, at least in my opinion. Obviously we have five of the most talented players to ever play Call of Duty on this team, so as long as we go into that match with a level head and not trying to play down to our opponents and just play extremely confident, what we’ve been practicing over these past few weeks or basically throughout this whole year, I’m so confident in these guys to be able to take that match, honestly relatively easily.
Clayster: I think if us and FaZe were to play each other on even footing with no advantage to either team 100 times, I think we’d both win 50. They have the No. 1 seed, and we have the No. 2 seed. They have veto advantage, so it’s a little bit of an edge when you’re going through that veto process before the match starts and how the maps and the sides are picked out, so with them having a slight advantage it’s going to be a little tougher, you know? I’d swing it five or 10% their way.
And honestly, to beat them, we just have to make sure we execute in the moments and where we can win. It’s going to be tough if we put ourselves into a hole like we did vs. Toronto, so one of the main things is we just can’t get down big early. I think if we’re able to match them map for map and be able to force it to a Game 5, I think that’s where we’re going to have our best chance to beat them. So honestly, that’s what we’re trying to do. Just not get down early and make sure we can extend the series as long as we can.
Crowder: I think [Dallas have] definitely been one of our toughest rivals this season and right now. But I feel with how developed every team is right now and every team that’s in the final four and how talented everyone is, I think everyone is our biggest rival at the moment and anything can happen this coming Saturday and Sunday of what goes on after this first best of five.
Throughout the year we’ve just played them so many times, and we have the majority of wins, but they’re such a great team, and if we really analyze a lot of those matches, they were all pretty close matches — even the ones we 3-0’d or even the ones where they beat us. Overall they’re just a really great team, and with Crim [Dallas’ Ian “Crimsix” Porter] being on the M4 and them improving a little bit, I think it helps. But I think regardless of their roles they’re just such a talented squad that we’re going to have to bring our A game if we want to win.