The most unpredictable event ever: Who will win the 2022 Call of Duty League Championship?

For the first time in the CDL’s history, there is no clear favorite for the biggest event of the year.

Photo via Call of Duty League

For the past six months, the 12 teams who comprise the Call of Duty League have waged virtual war against each other in attempts to earn prize money, respect, and, most importantly of all, a spot at the end-of-year event that has annually changed the lives and careers of the winners.

After a regular season filled with player and fan complaints, most of which centered on the league’s online-heavy format and the existence of Vanguard, the wildly unpopular game teams have been forced to compete on this year, the third iteration of the CDL Championship is quickly approaching. The event colloquially known as Champs will be back in Southern California for the second time since the CDL launched before the 2020 season and the seventh time since Activision decided to support an annual, million-dollar event starting in 2013.

Like last year’s event, only eight of the CDL’s 12 teams will actually play at the Galen Center in Los Angeles when the double-elimination tournament begins on Thursday, Aug. 4. The unlucky foursome that finished their seasons up across the country in Brooklyn at the final Major are the Florida Mutineers, Minnesota RØKKR, Paris Legion, and one of two L.A.-based teams, the Los Angeles Guerrillas.

Whoever ultimately hoists the league’s trophy and wins nearly half of the event’s $2.55 million prize pool will have had to endure an inconsistent CoD title some players are none too hesitant to call the worst of all time. The utter chaos of Vanguard, while plentiful, may not be able to be illustrated properly. After all, this is a game in which a different team won each of the four LAN Majors this season. And none of those four finished atop the league standings; that honor goes to Atlanta FaZe, the defending world champions who qualified for and lost in each of the first three Major grand finals.

So who are the favorites at Champs this year? Is it FaZe, who are attempting to become the first team to win back-to-back world titles? How about OpTic, the league’s uber-popular team who are reintegrating one of its players after a mid-season injury? Or maybe it’s the Los Angeles Thieves, who concluded an otherwise underwhelming season with a shocking Major Four title in New York?

The answer is, all of them. Everyone’s kind of a favorite heading into what may be the most unpredictable tournament in CoD history.

The European connection

Photo by Kelvin Wan

Unlike pretty much any esports tournament, the concept of “contenders” or “pretenders” for this year’s Champs seems out of place. The conventional way of thinking about how tournaments will end has been balled up, thrown in the trash can, and lit on fire by the sometimes inexplicable results Vanguard produces.

Sure, there are teams like the London Royal Ravens, who would appear to have relatively slim chances of winning the title based on the ceiling they appeared to hit earlier in the season and the fact that they did not win more than one match at any of the final three Majors, including a winless showing in Brooklyn.

That being said, the Ravens were one of the most intriguing teams in the league during the Major Four qualifiers, when they won nearly every Hardpoint and Search and Destroy map while losing every Control. Despite this, they finished tied for first with a 4-1 record that included a victory over FaZe.

The Toronto Ultra, while not quite as volatile as London, have been anything but predictable this year. In the second half of the season, the Ultra were around 0.500 in both Hardpoint and Control, and while they had a Search and Destroy win percentage north of 60 percent, that figure dipped significantly in the final quarter of the season. During Major Four and its preceding qualifiers, Toronto won just five of 13 Search maps.

But it feels foolish to count out the Ultra, who have crafted impressive chemistry after keeping the same all-European roster for the better part of two years. In addition to a Major title last year, Toronto memorably battled to the grand finals of last year’s Champs, where they lost to quite possibly the best team in CoD history. Speaking of…

Chasing history

Photo via ©2021 Call of Duty League

Since the CDL’s inception in late 2019, it’s been a difficult task to beat Atlanta FaZe, to say the least. In each of the three CDL regular seasons to date, Atlanta have finished at the top of the league standings every time. And after a Champs grand finals loss in 2020, FaZe rampaged toward redemption by becoming the 2021 world champions while maintaining a league-record 83-percent win percentage.

FaZe enter the 2022 CDL Championship as the top seed once again, but for possibly the first time, the team seems to be missing the key to unlocking the true, world-title-winning potential expected of Atlanta.

Three different times, FaZe were only one series win away from winning a Major this year. No other team in the league even got to two Major finals. But the fact that they didn’t win that best-of-nine series or make it back to the grand finals in New York seems worrying when discussing a team that has time and time again come out on top.

FaZe are not underdogs, though. If there were favorites for this event, FaZe would likely fit the billing more than any other team. But it will take the absolute best out of FaZe to earn three-quarters of their roster a record-tying third ring and do what no other group has done before. Winning a second consecutive title with the same roster with the same team would be a remarkable, historic achievement. But at this point, that’s kind of FaZe’s thing.

Forging new paths

Photo by Kelvin Wan

Entering the 2022 CDL season, the Boston Breach had no history. As a new team in the league after acquiring OpTic Chicago’s spot in December, the Breach had the distinct disadvantage of building its roster after the rest of the teams had already done so. But that didn’t stop the last-picked roster from distancing itself from the bottom of the table and even managing a third-place finish at Major Two.

The Breach have been less impressive since the mid-season break, although they still managed to rather comfortably qualify for Champs, a feat not many likely expected out of the team in its inaugural season and after making a late-season roster change.

Unlike Boston, the Seattle Surge had plenty of history in the CDL; it’s just that none of it was good. Through the league’s first two seasons, the Surge tied for last place in 2020 and then finished in a distant ninth last year, missing out on Champs. In 2022, things have been different for Seattle—somewhat.

The Surge proved to be mighty strong in the preseason and the first few weeks of the regular season before their half-rookie, half-veteran roster began a nearly three-month nosedive. After starting the new season off with three consecutive wins, the Surge lost 13 of their next 16 matches, which spanned from the Major One qualifiers into the Major Three qualifying matches.

Seattle, after suffering their sixth consecutive defeat, finally managed to win. And then they won again. They actually won nine straight matches, which lifted them to a Major Three title in Toronto, their first event win in franchise history.

The team wasn’t able to keep up that win streak, though, and since June 26, when they defeated the Paris Legion, the same team they beat to kick start their win streak, the Surge have lost five straight matches and enter the CDL Championship as the coldest team in the tournament.

While neither Boston nor Seattle should be classified as favorites heading into Champs, both teams should have some confidence that they could upset unsuspecting opponents. For Boston, the team is 5-3 with Vivid in place of Capsidal, a major improvement after only winning one of their first six matches of the second half of the season with Capsidal in the lineup.

And then there is Seattle. A five-match losing streak isn’t ideal, but it’s a spot that should seem familiar to them. That familiarity could aid them in reversing their fortunes and making sure their brand of lightning does strike twice.

Green with envy

Photo by Kelvin Wan

On March 6, the day OpTic Texas won the first Major of the CDL season, it seemed as if OpTic were destined for a great year. But for a large chunk of the year since then, the team has been forced to play with a substitute and watch as some of their biggest competitors got better with their complete rosters.

After a top-six finish at Major Two, a thumb injury sidelined iLLeY for the entirety of Major Three and its qualifying matches, as well as the first couple of qualifiers of Major Four. Upon his return, there was hope among the Green Wall, OpTic’s fervently loyal fan base, that the team would soon return to form and reclaim its place at the top of the CDL. And while there is still time to do that, OpTic have certainly not looked like the same squad that began the season with iLLeY back in the starting lineup.

Since iLLeY’s return, OpTic have been lights out in Search and Destroy but only at a 50-percent win percentage in Hardpoint and one of the worst teams in the league at Control. Before the mid-season break, OpTic boasted the best Control record in the league (17-2) and had held a 62-percent Hardpoint win percentage.

OpTic went 1-2 in online qualifier matches with iLLeY, which meant they would begin Major Four in the losers bracket. Undeterred, the team pulled off three consecutive wins before losing to Atlanta FaZe for the first time this season to finish in fourth place, their best Major placing since their March triumph. Before the loss, OpTic had beaten FaZe each of the five times they met this season, including a 5-2 win in the Major One grand finals.

With several weeks to practice and prepare, Champs will serve as OpTic’s biggest and final chance to prove they are capable of recapturing what they had nearly five months ago. If the team falls short, an unfortunate recurring Champs tradition for OpTic, iLLeY and his teammates will likely have little excuse—and the Green Wall will probably not want to hear it anyway.

Late-season lunges toward greatness

Photo by Kelvin Wan

The New York Subliners and Los Angeles Thieves made the most out of Major Four in NYSL’s backyard of Brooklyn. Technically, LAT made slightly more out of it, but the event had a far greater meaning to the Subliners than the championship the Thieves ultimately won.

Entering their home event, New York needed a nearly miraculous showing and a little bit of help to qualify for Champs after failing to deliver a single match win in any of the first three Majors. While it seemed improbable, the Subliners sent the two teams directly ahead of them in the standings (Minnesota and Florida) down to the losers bracket before meeting the Thieves in the winners finals, a match New York needed to win to qualify for the world title tournament.

With their fans’ cheers overwhelming Kings Theatre, the Subliners closed out an intense Hardpoint to secure the final spot at Champs as a result of a tiebreaker with the Mutineers, completing a late-season charge previously unseen in the CDL.

But LAT made sure to get the last laugh on New York by upsetting Atlanta in the losers bracket finals before getting revenge on the Subliners in the grand finals, denying NYSL from lifting their own trophy or celebrating on their own stage.

Regardless of the final result between the two teams, however, it’s undeniable that they both carry into Champs some of the most positive momentum of anyone competing. NYSL have proven to be one of the best Hardpoint teams in the game as of late, while LAT dominate in the lesser-played yet vitally important swing game mode of Control en route to their title.

Both teams will need to find some consistency across the three modes to win a world title—or maybe they don’t. As seen by the sudden title runs of the Guerrillas at Major Two, the Surge at Major Three, or even LAT themselves at Major Four, being streaky apparently may actually pay far greater dividends than prolonged, consistent success.

And that’s why it is impossible to predict with any confidence who will emerge from Los Angeles as world champions. It certainly could be Atlanta, considering they have been the most consistent team, but it also could be Seattle, who have been in this unfavorable position before. There’s also OpTic, a team that has all of the talent necessary to win Champs, and we can’t forget about the Thieves, whose late-season turnaround may end up recreating what Evil Geniuses did in 2018.

The third CDL season has been filled with inconsistency, with teams seemingly riding on an Activision-sponsored roller coaster all year long. No team—not FaZe, OpTic, LAT, and certainly not the Paris Legion—has been able to solidly plant their proverbial flag into the ground and assert themselves as the team to beat.

But that announcement that they’re the top dogs is not necessary anymore. Now, everyone is on a level playing field. No teams will start in the losers bracket, and everyone has the same opportunity to join an elite group of champions and change their own lives.

So while it may be unpredictable, it seems only fitting that the final and most important tournament of the year would embody the mayhem that Vanguard has brought us.