The EU Region's Search for Respect
At the 2016 Call of Duty World Championship, Splyce took one giant step for the EU region.
The full United Kingdom side of Joshua-Lee "Joshh" Shephard, Ben "Bance" Bance, Joe "Joee" Pinnington, and Rhys "Rated" Price made a losers bracket run where they took down high profile North American organizations in Team Kaliber, FaZe Clan, Rise Nation and Elevate. Splyce lost in the grand finals to Team EnVyUs, but walked out of The Forum in Inglewood $200,000 richer, and with second place overall in the multi-region tournament.
The EU region had a decent argument after that event, and it did not fall on deaf ears. As current MLG caster Jack "CouRage" Dunlop remembers, those who influenced the CWL took notice of the rise of other regions, and wanted to focus on truly making it a "World League."
“Last year, one of the biggest differences that was wanted to be made was the Call of Duty World League," CouRage said. "Each region felt like its own individual space, and there was missed opportunity that has now been improved upon this year with more representation of EU teams, as well as NA teams and APAC getting involved. We’ve already seen and heard of four or five events as well as Champs and the LAN League that we know of, and that’s never been done before in Call of Duty.”
With a new direction for competitive Call of Duty realized, it has been an exciting time for those regions that have not seen much of the global stage. However, some North American pros did not seem to be as excited for the expansion.
This world expansion of cod makes sense.. but at the expense of NA players that have been keeping this game alive for years seems ridiculous— Red Jonny T (@TSMPacman) January 21, 2017
so the europeans have there own tourney over there . Then come over here and have there own tourney ? anyone confused ?wtf is goin on sheesh— Adam Sloss (@Wiz_K1LLa) January 30, 2017
(Unfortunately, this is where the writer has to step aside and mention that he tried to speak to several North American pros for this article, including the ones who had the above tweets. However, he was unable to get them for comment and could not find a way to connect with them, and hopes he does not get run over by the KiLLa train in Atlanta.)
Rated, who left his CWL championship runner-up team to play for Orbit, recognizes the changes that benefit the EU and the negativity surrounding them, but feels that the blame is being unfairly thrown towards the EU players rather than the system.
“I wouldn’t say we are under-respected," Rated said. "I think the NA players don’t like how the whole system is working this year, which I understand. Like I don’t think that it is right that we are getting eight spots and they are getting four at ESWC, but I think the way they go about it is that they are roasting us but then are going on about how we made the system. And that is bad."
Matt “Mr. X” Morello, another caster for MLG who took the trip to Gfinity London, also feels that NA is respecting the EU to some extent, but it is just not fully realized. And not only that, the "lack of respect" may be due to the threat of new talent.
“The North American guys feel that EU maybe caught up to them last year, and I think there is some respect there," Mr. X said. "But there are also some portions of EU that should be getting more respect from the American guys, and they may not have had the opportunity to put in as many hours as the North American players. I think that’s where it is coming from on the European side. Deep down, there is some mutual respect. They know that there are some top teams in Europe that can play with the NA guys, but I feel that North America this year, for the first time, feels that they really have to stand their ground against the Europeans."
CouRage, meanwhile, has his opinion on EU respect from the perspective of the pros, and believes that one feature in Black Ops III gave a boost to those international sides who used uncommon tactics. Therefore, it could have affected how the EU was perceived, but NA pros are more focused on their own play.
“I talked to some North American players and they feel that the ban and protect system severely helped the EU scene last year," CouRage said. "They are also confident that NA is going to be back in dominating form this year."
With several members of the Call of Duty community believing that respect exists in some capacity, another perspective that comes as a reaction to the vocal North American community is that there is no respect given to EU scene.
Take Jordan "Reedy" Reed, who those in the North American community know as the one who had a very long conversation with Patrick "ACHES" Price on Twitter. In terms of career history, Reedy was known for being on an Epsilon side that consistantly placed top-three in the early tournaments and leagues of Black Ops III, and finished top-16 at the 2016 CWL Championship.
Knowing through his own experience with North American pros, he did not mince any words when speaking about his NA counterparts.
"There's only a handful of Americans that really respect the European community," Reedy said. "The majority of them are so stuck in their own little bubble that they think the world revolves around them, which it doesn't."
Shane "ShAnE" McKerral is another professional who sees the North American reaction to the EU region, but attributes it to a cultural stigma.
“No offense to you, but that is because Americans are the most ignorant people in the whole universe," ShAnE said. "A lot of them barely understand that the UK is an island; they probably think that the UK is a continent. But that’s just the people in general, and we have been destroyed by them for years and years, which is understandable that they say that.”
ShAnE was once a part of TCM Gaming, who famously sent their team over to the United States in Advanced Warfare to compete against the best North American pros. The team notably placed fifth in the MLG Pro League Season 2, over North American sides such as Rise Nation, Team EnVyUs, and OpTic Nation. When ShaNe recalled that memory, he recognized that the North American talent then was superior to that of Europe.
“At the time, we thought we were the best in Europe, and we thought we were wasting our time playing against European teams," ShAnE said. "We thought the best practice is with the best teams in America. We kind of jokingly suggested to our org that were were wasting our time here, we need to achieve what we want to achieve and we need to go to America. They said no, but then randomly one day they got us into a Skype call and said ‘Lads, you fancy going to America or what?’ And we were just there in an instant. At first, we were getting destroyed, but when we got used to the playstyle, we really proved our worth.”
The main argument thrown against the EU region is the introduction of EU teams to North American events. Namely, the decision to place the top European teams over teams that fall out of the top-eight or top-10 North American sides, specifically in events hosted in the United States.
This brings up the dilemma of whether European teams should play through the open bracket, like in MLG Vegas, get these guaranteed pool play spots and accommodations, or have them completely shut out from North American competitions.
For former French pro and current caster Jonas "Oxygen" Ferry, he said that, “it’s only fair” that EU teams are getting spots at NA events.
“If you look at history and the way that NA teams have been received in Europe at events, they have been flown two days in advance to make sure they don’t have any jet lag, and you would see European teams do better against Americans in Europe than they would in NA," Oxygen said. "And definitely going through open bracket for 12 hours a day takes a lot of stress and is exhausting. Even some Americans going through the open bracket, it is very challenging. At MLG Atlanta, we are going to be able to see if this really makes a difference, and I believe it will, but only time will tell."
Shea "QwiKeR" Sweeney, known for his time with Lightning Pandas with ShaNe and Mike "FearCrads" Craddock, also agreed with how tough the open bracket is on any player, and says that soon, North American teams out of the top-four will feel the grind.
“Open bracket is a strenuous process," QwiKer said. "A lot of the Americans don’t experience that, especially the top teams. We’re sitting there for 12 hours straight playing back-to-back. That’s the struggle, that I think Americans will see when they come over for ESWC."
When speaking about the EU region in the open bracket, Reedy directly references his time in MLG Vegas, where Elevate placed in the top-12 despite having to play through open bracket. Along with QwiKeR, he directly challenged NA teams to do the same, and in fact, win an event through it.
"Every event we go through, we go through open bracket," Reedy said. "This year, we've got pool play spots finally after one event. But I'd love to see someone like ACHES go through an open bracket and win an event. They've got it gifted to them because not one team has won an event through open bracket."
“Especially for EU teams, pool play spots are big for massive events like that, because playing in Vegas in a 192 team open bracket and not getting through it is really enduring," said Rated, whose opinion seems be slightly milder than his 3G and Elevate friends. "Especially when the majority games you play are people who don’t shoot back. Like we won an Uplink at Vegas 50-0, so the majority of the open bracket is pointless games. I do agree that NA should have more spots because they dominated the past few years, but I do think they disrespect the players rather than the people who run the system.”
ShAnE had a more dissenting opinion than the rest for the amount of spots that the EU has, and feels that the complaints from the North American pros are "completely warrented."
"We do not deserve six teams in Atlanta. I say four max," ShAnE said. "The teams below in fifth or sixth and the teams battling for spots are not good enough to be in the league play spots. They can qualify for open bracket, but they shouldn’t take out the 10th or 11th best American team or however many that we are taking spots. They are better by far than the fifth and sixth EU teams. But we do deserve some spots because we proved it, however we don’t deserve that many."
For the goals that Activision has with the CWL though, he knows that this is just the company's way of getting the EU region more involved in the global picture.
“Activision wants to make Europe as big as possible," ShaNe said. "To do that, we need to be thrown into the deep end in group stages. But in that situation, we at least deserve a good seed in open.”
It would also be dumb not to include the common stereotype of the Europeans not playing well on Uplink, however it may just be a region-wide recognized weakness rather than a diss to the players.
For Rated, who prides himself as a Search and Destroy player - his interview for GAMURS had him claim that he was “the best SnD player in the world - he agreed with the sentiment that European teams are not as clean as North American sides on Uplink.
“It’s not unfair," Rated said. "I think we make the right plays but we are a lot more sloppy, whereas if you give the NA teams a chance, they will execute without problem.”
With that said, he then challenged how big of an issue it is, as in the current system, Uplink is not played as much as SnD or Hardpoint.
“It’s only one mode in a best of five," Rated said. "Hardpoint is two and SnD is two, so you have to pick and choose really. You can lose one Uplink, win the two hardpoints and the SnD, and then that mode doesn’t really matter.”
From the caster perspective, CouRage gives a lot more credit to the EU pros, and says that there is more to be seen from these sides.
“From the start of Black Ops III to this point, I feel like they’ve gotten way better in general," CouRage said. "I felt like Advanced Warfare was definitely way more of a sloppier game mode there, and you could definitely see the skill gap difference between the two regions. I want to see a little more gameplay before I can fully judge them on exactly where they stand. Overall though, you can see the strengths in some of these teams, whether it is the Hardpoint gameplay of Elevate, or the Search and Destroy play of Orbit.”
All of these conversations would not be happening if Activision and the CWL did not step in and make Call of Duty more global, and ShaNe says that at the very least, it feels like the EU pros are being treated fairly in respect to pay and practice.
“We are better and better this year because with Activision’s support, there is more money involved," ShAnE said. "So therefore we can play for longer and practice better, because now we are getting paid for it. Americans were always the guys that were getting paid for it more, but now we are on that level.”
But the question remains if the European region will ever surpass the North American sides in Call of Duty, and that is when all opinions ranged wildly.
“I can’t ever see [competitive Call of Duty] dominated by Europe," ShAnE said. "I can’t see that happening simply because America is a bigger country, and console is bigger over there, whereas Europe is more PC dominated. So as long as there are more people, better players and players practicing constantly, I think we can win a one-off event but it can never be consistent with Europe.”
“Overall, I think any of these top EU teams can take games off of NA squads, but I worry about when it comes to taking full series away from top NA teams," said CouRage.
"EU is here to stay," Reedy added. "We are going to win events, mark my words 100 percent."
With the Atlanta pool play spots decided, and with less than a week to go until the best EU and NA sides clash, it is time for the European region to give themselves another shot at worldwide respect.
Note: All Interviews were conducted during CWL London
For all your Call of Duty and other esports updates, make sure you are following us on Twitter, @GAMURScom.
James Mattone is a journalist for GAMURS and can be contacted on Twitter -@TheJamesMattone.