Last year, Call of Duty esports saw two teams constantly on the brink of greatness in North America: Rise Nation and Elevate. Rise started fast and finished a little bit slower, while Elevate did the opposite, but neither team could solidify itself as the frontrunner ahead of OpTic Gaming. One roster combination later, along with a new game, and Rise Nation is sitting on top of the world.
In Black Ops III, Rise Nation entered the year as arguably the best team in the game after winning the first two events, but then OpTic came in and won everything while Rise sat on the edge. The team came close, time and time again, losing to OpTic in the grand finals or falling one series short in the losers bracket finals. Always on the cusp of something great, Rise was arguably the most consistent team of the year aside from OpTic.
Elevate made history to begin the Black Ops III cycle, becoming the first organization to sign its Call of Duty team to a full year contract. Fans and analysts alike were skeptical, but hopeful that the lineup could perform. It took a little bit of time, but Elevate became a consistent top-four threat, giving OpTic and Rise some major issues. Elevate, however, never won an event.
At the most important event of the year, the Call of Duty World League Championship, both teams failed once again. Rise dropped from expectations completely, falling to a top-six finish, while Elevate stayed right on track with a consistent top-three finish. All this success meant nothing to the players. When only one or two people beat you to the finish line at every single race, you stop being happy about finishing near the top. A decision was made, as three of Rise’s players left the team at the end of the Black Ops III cycle and three members from Elevate took their place. The odd-man-out for Elevate was Jared “Nagafen” Harrell, but by no means was this personal.
“There were some internal problems within the team [at Elevate],” Brice “Faccento” Faccento, one of the players who moved from Elevate to Rise, said. “Getting so close to winning but never being able to actually do it causes a lot of doubt between teammates. The team needed a change.”
Ulysses “Aqua” Silva, Tyler “FeLonY” Johnson, and Faccento left Elevate to join their new captain, Daniel “Loony” Loza, on Rise and bring the brand to the next level. A mediocre start with a top-four finish at the PlayStation Experience Invitational did not exactly hype up the team’s fans, but this was simply a showcase tournament meant to give fans a taste of what the game could do. The players were just getting to test out the game on LAN, and no one really knew what to expect going in. The players shrugged off the performance, dismissing and hardly even counting it as an event. Their eyes were looking straight forward, to the first major event of the year: MLG Las Vegas.
“Going into the first event is always a mystery on who you think your biggest competition is going to be,” Faccento said. “We were playing really well online so I had a lot of confidence going into it. You always go into tournaments expecting first place, nothing less. “
Rise expected first place, and that is exactly what they got, but it did not come easily. Rise opened the group stage with a 3-0 sweep against Team Revenge and after OpTic Gaming did the same, the two behemoths faced off. The series lived up to the hype. Rise won the first two games, but by slim margins. OpTic dominated the third game, but barely won the fourth. The stage was set for everyone’s favorite thing about Call of Duty esports: a game five between two of the best teams in the business. Rise started hot, taking the first three round of the Search and Destroy to go up 3-0. In the fourth round, Loony was one kill away from clutching a one-on-three and sending Rise up 4-0. He could not pull it off, but Rise still won the map 6-4 and took OpTic down. After this victory, Rise was expected to win the group easily by dispatching whatever open bracket team qualified for their group.
That did not happen.
Enigma6, after not competing last year due to age restrictions, entered the first major event of the year and swept Rise in group play. It turned out not to be a fluke, as the team then swept both OpTic and Revenge to win the group. Needless to say, everyone was stunned, but the loss did not worry Faccento and company.
“Our teamwork and communication felt off versus Enigma6,” Faccento said. “They play at a very fast pace, which threw us off.”
— Call of Duty eSports (@CODWorldLeague) December 19, 2016
The players realized the mistakes they made, and made sure they would not happen again. Rise took the No. 2 seed in their group, so they qualified for the championship bracket. En route to the grand finals, Rise defeated Luminosity Gaming 3-2, FaZe Clan 3-1, and Cloud9 3-1. The losers final was between Cloud9 and FaZe Clan, two teams that Rise had already easily beaten. In an interview with GAMURS at the event, Loony revealed which team he thought would be the stronger opponent.
“I think if we get Cloud9, we can 3-0 them and take that championship,” Loony said. “I think FaZe would be the harder fight.”
Cloud9 made it through, but the grand final was not a 3-0 win for Rise. It was a tough fight, similar to Rise’s group stage series against OpTic. Rise took the first two maps by slim margins, while Cloud9 took the next two games by relatively slim margins, setting up a game five in the grand finals. Despite being caught in numerous two-on-one and three-on-one scenarios, Rise took a 5-1 lead and were one round away from winning MLG Vegas. Faccento began the next round with a perfect flank, catching two members of Cloud9 off guard to force the losing team into a two-on-one fight, and Rise closed it out. Shot calling in this game, and in the tournament as a whole, played a big part in Rise’s victory.
“Loony brings a lot of structure to the team,” Faccento said. “He makes really good decisions for the team in game. I think the addition of Loony really helped our team. We all think about the game in a similar way. I think our teamwork is what makes us better than other teams.”
Right now, Rise Nation is the team to beat, but the organization was in this position last year as well and could not stay on top of the competition. Faccento and the new squad have confidence that they can continue being the best team in the game.
“I believe the squad can continue our success,” Faccento said. “It's gonna take dedication and the ability to adapt as the game changes. Nothing we can't handle."
Faccento has always flown under the radar, only being noticed for his skill when he is on top teams such as Revenge, Elevate, and Rise, but he knows his strengths, and Infinite Warfare plays right into them.
“[Infinite Warfare] practically has the same movement system as Black Ops III,” Faccento said. “This is probably the most strategic and slow-paced game of the ‘Jetpack’ Call of Duty era, which does cater towards my style of play.”
Many players complain about maps and game modes that are used in professional play at tournaments. There is always someone complaining that a map is not built for professional play, or a game mode does not fit the style of professional play. Faccento is not one of those players.
“I like all the maps and game types, even the ones I'm not as dominant at yet,” Faccento said. “MLG and Activision have done a great job with the rules this year.”
In early 2015, Faccento was an unknown amateur playing for iLLmatic Gaming, thrust into the spotlight after joining Team Revenge and stunning the world at the 2015 Call of Duty Championship. His fall from greatness was as quick as his rise, as Revenge broke apart just two months after Champs and Faccento joined a very mediocre Team Orbit. Faccento has risen back up through the ranks, won his first major tournament, and was named the KontrolFreek MVP to top it all off.
— Call of Duty eSports (@CODWorldLeague) December 19, 2016
“The journey has had its ups and downs,” Faccento said. “I put in a ton of work over that time period to try and improve every day. To finally win a tournament means all the time, stress, and effort was worth it. Best feeling ever.”
Coming off their win in Sin City, Faccento and company will continue to put in work over the next few weeks in hopes of a repeat performance in Atlanta at the beginning of February.
Do you think Rise Nation can continue being Call of Duty's top team? Let us know in the comments below, or tweet us @GAMURScom.
Photo credits: Blazy