Fenix embracing challenge in Seattle, looking to take Surge to new heights in 2022

“Seattle is where I wanted to go.”

Photo via ©2021 Call of Duty League

Since the formation of the Call of Duty League nearly three years ago, one team that’s consistently found itself toward the bottom of the standings is the Seattle Surge. 

It’s been a struggle for Seattle to achieve the results it had likely hoped for, with the team failing to reach a grand final during the last two seasons, let alone win a championship. So when the new-look Surge came into this season being hailed as one of the top teams in the league, it made sense that some skeptics had to see it to believe a team with a rookie head coach and two players making their debuts in the CDL could change Seattle’s fortunes. 

It only took one weekend to put the entire league on notice, however. The Surge made a run to the grand finals of the 2022 CDL Kickoff Classic preseason event last month before finishing second at the hands of the Toronto Ultra. Despite the event awarding no CDL Points toward the regular season standings, it showed the rest of the league that it’s possible to win in Seattle with the right mix of talent, youth, and coaching. 

While this moment was two seasons in the making for the Surge organization, it was a culmination of years of work for its new head coach, Sam “Fenix” Spencer. Fenix, who’s been in the competitive space since Black Ops I, slowly built his résumé while working his way up the coaching ladder, hopeful for an opportunity at the highest level. He grinded 12-plus hour days while working for free, strictly motivated by passion and knowing how close the breakthrough was. 

Finally, in 2021, after an extremely successful run in Challengers, he started to receive calls from teams in the CDL. But Fenix knew exactly where he wanted to be.

“Seattle is where I wanted to go,” he told Dot Esports of his initial mindset heading into the offseason. 

During the Black Ops Cold War season, Fenix led the WestR roster of PaulEhx, Zaptius, Venom, and GRVTY to first-place finishes in the first four North America Challenger Cups of the year while the team placed first during Stage One of that Challengers season. After PaulEhx, Venom, and Zaptius were called up to the CDL, Fenix landed with EastR and a new roster. The results were the same with the squad continuing to win tournament after tournament. 

After his successful 2021 campaign, Fenix found himself as one of the hotter coaching commodities on the market. Despite interest from multiple teams, Fenix knew he wanted his next move to take him to the Pacific Northwest. The struggle of the Surge’s franchise during the first two years of its existence didn’t deter his interest in the role with Seattle but rather strengthened it. After initial discussions with the organization, Fenix felt even stronger about his desire to coach the Surge. 

“I told my agent I wanted to go to Seattle, he said ‘why?’ I said ‘I think there’s a really good opportunity there. I think it’s an opportunity that no one’s going to want as much. I think that there’s great management there, great ownership.’”

Even after the last two seasons, Fenix felt confident in Seattle’s ability to win at a high level, especially if the organization allowed him to build the team he wanted. 

“We can make something really good happen there if they put the trust in us,” he said. “And they put the trust in me to build the team that I wanted. And one of the first people I initially talked to was Lamar.”

Lamar, better known by his in-game persona of Accuracy, is the most tenured player on the current Seattle roster after spending the last two seasons with the Minnesota RØKKR and New York Subliners, respectively. 

One of the recipes for being successful in the Call of Duty League is having a good mix of veterans and young talent. Pairing experience with up-and-comers worked wonders for teams like Toronto and New York last season. Fenix wanted to build a roster with that blueprint, and for him, that started with his main AR, Accuracy. 

“I knew with what I wanted to build… because I knew that these older players, they are good but we needed to inject some youth into this,” Fenix said of his roster construction after knowing Accuracy was in the fold. “I really wanted Pred. He’s number one on my board right now for younger players. He is a must. I’m going to pick him up.”

Pred, who was one of the best Challengers players in the Asia Pacific region last season, is the heavy favorite to be the best rookie during the 2022 season and has so far lived up to the billing. Wanting to pair Pred with an SMG player who had some CDL experience, Fenix turned to Mack, who actually ran an AR for the Subliners in 2021. 

“I made a big board of my top 20, 25 players that I wanted and he was on there,” Fenix said of Mack. “I wanted him as a sub player. No one else wanted him as a sub player, they wanted him as a flex.” 

Mack really wanted to run an SMG after having to run an AR during the 2021 season with the Subliners, who had two pure SMG players in HyDra and Asim. He ran a sub during the Modern Warfare season with New York and performed at a high level running the MP5. 

Needing someone talented enough to be the second AR while also being comfortable with an SMG in his hands, Fenix knew just who to call. Sib, who spent time on the Atlanta FaZe Academy team, worked with Fenix during their stint with EastR in 2021. 

“I coached Daunte. Daunte is an amazing kid. I think he got a bad rap. We all make mistakes when we’re younger,” Fenix said of Sib, who has faced backlash early in his career. “I think Daunte’s grown up so much. Just working with him this year, it’s a complete 180. The kid listens so well, he’s very mature. He’s always showing up when he needs to. He’s always playing out of his mind.”

After putting his first CDL roster together, the team started performing extremely well during early season scrims following the release of Vanguard. That carried into the aforementioned Kickoff Classic, where Seattle knocked off the defending CDL champion Atlanta FaZe 3-1.

While the team still has a long way to go to reach its goals of winning championships and competing for the CDL title, it’s a far cry from where this organization was just one season ago. The Seattle Surge are no longer the doormat of the CDL. Instead, they’re a threat to win every time they take the stage.

Seattle will start their 2022 season with a matchup vs. New York on Friday, Feb. 4 at 5pm CT.