Last month, esports stalwart Major League Gaming announced a partnership with ESPN for a one-off Call of Duty tournament at this year’s X-Games. Broadcast on MLG’s streaming platform MLG.tv, the event will feature eight of the world’s best teams in a pool play format leading up to a single-elimination tournament that will determine medal winners. Highlights will run on ESPN, making the tournament one of the first ever get featured prime-time on the cable giant.
As Austin’s world-beaters turn half-pipes into canvases, professional Call of Duty players will turn one of gaming’s biggest franchises into a battleground. For devotees, the names of the competitors are as familiar as the franchise itself, but what should newcomers look for? Matches begin June 6 on MLG’s streaming platform, MLG.tv. Here’s what you need to know.
Teams to Watch
Formerly known as Complexity Gaming, the infamous roster of Patrick “Aches” Price, Tyler “TeePee” Polchow, Damon “Karma” Barlow, and Ian “Crimsix” Porter haven’t seen the lower tiers of a podium in quite some time. This will be the first major tournament where they perform under the Evil Geniuses banner, however, having joined the American esports organization in May for what CEO Alex Garfield described as “definitely the largest esports contract buyout I’ve heard of.”
As Complexity Gaming, the team took little time to become a mainstay of competitive Call of Duty. Falling only to a since-reorganized Strictly Business in the North American regional qualifier of the Call of Duty Championships, the quartet came charging through the finals bracket, leaving little doubt in anyone’s mind that their trash talk is eclipsed only by their skill.
Since their dominating performance at the Call of Duty Championships, however, the team has openly criticized the approach of other organizations, even going so far as to claim they barely prepared for their most recent tournament, which they won handily. Before the games begin on June 6, the question on everybody’s mind is simple: Can anyone catch them?
Two major in-person tournaments have given viewers a barometer of teams’ abilities in recent months: the Call of Duty Championships and UMG Niagara. For those unfamiliar with the difference between online and in-person tournaments, in-person or LAN tournaments are often given much more weight, due to the lack of delay between player input and player action caused by slow or varying Internet connections.
Fortunately for Envy fans, the team has performed when it counts, finishing second in both contests. Comprised of Anthony “Nameless” Wheeler, Jeremy “Studyy” Astacio, Joe “Merk” Deluca, and Chris “Parasite” Duarte, the current third-place team in the MLG Call of Duty League has shown exemplary form in the critical Search and Destroy game-type, where teams have to either guard or defuse a bomb, both online and on LAN.
That being said, the team’s performance in game-types featuring the player respawn mechanic, including Blitz and Domination, has left a great deal to be desired. Fortunately for the “Boys in Blue”, their recent run of form, performance at the MLG 2K online tournament in May, and clear improvement in respawn game-types should have their confidence up, and their spirits high.
Thanks to a fan base that’s as rabid as their play, Optic Gaming will present a challenge for every team at the tournament. Seth “Scumpii” Abner, Matt “Nadeshot” Haag, James “Clayster” Eubanks, and Jordan “Proofy” Cannon sit in a tight race for second place in the MLG League, after a run of remarkable improvement over the past several weeks.
Admittedly, the squad’s performance in events outside of the Call of Duty Championships has been a roller coaster. Before parting ways with Marcus “MBoze” Blanks, now a member of Optic Nation, the team managed to finish in third place at the million-dollar tournament behind an EnvyUs squad on a mission, but only after some disappointing finishes in the months prior.
Regardless, the team’s recent acquisition of Jordan Cannon, and a strong run of form in the MLG league, suggest that the biggest team in Call of Duty is poised to make a run in Austin. Skateboarding fans take note: if you hear chanting from the gaming venue, it’s probably because Optic Gaming has taken the stage.
Players to Watch
Patrick “Aches” Price
In an age of public blowups gone viral, Price is the king. A wallet-waving rant at UMG Niagra became instant YouTube fodder, as the justifiably confident Price is happy to take on all comers, both in and out of the game. And while his diatribes may light up Twitter on occasion, his gun skill is what really does the talking. Expect big things from the big talker, and a medal around his neck by the time the X Games strikes the set.
Anthony “Nameless” Wheeler
Team Envy’s run through the lower bracket of the Call of Duty Championships was the stuff of legend, fueled largely by the contributions of Wheeler and his lethal skill. A natural under the bright lights of big competitions, Wheeler will likely see his gamertag in a highlight reel before the prizes are handed out.
Seth “Scumpii” Abner
If X Games attendees haven’t heard of the red-headed Abner entering the Invitational, they will before they leave. Abner’s abilities and popularity within the Call of Duty community will stand as hallmarks of Optic Gaming’s visit to the biggest adrenaline circus on Earth. Expect clutch performances and a few hoarse fans when Seth and co. get started.
Bryan “Apathy” Zhelyazkov
The one and only stumble of Evil Geniuses’ season over the past several months came at the hands of Strictly Business, a team lead, at that time, by this man. Referred to by Aches himself as the best player in the game outside of Evil Geniuses, Zhelyakov will lead a Team Kaliber roster whose résumé in 2013 made them a consistently recognized threat. Look for big scores and incredible plays as Zhelyakov plies his trade.
The Champions Will Hold… Barely
Evil Geniuses are the favorite in any tournament they enter, but their domination of the competitive scene has lead to apathy in a very public way. Coupled with their notoriously slow starts on the first days of tournaments, and the increasingly impressive form of their competitors leading up to the event, the world champions will have their hands full headed into Austin.
For a lesser team, this would mean certain defeat, but Evil Geniuses superiority in all aspects of the game has proven that nothing breaks the backs of the iron-clad four. With “clutch” etched into their guns and inexorable confidence, the gold medals will be theirs to lose, no matter how close the games become.
Team Kaliber Will Surprise
After stunning the field with their placement at UMG Niagara, Optic Nation look like the favorites to advance to the elimination rounds, but Neslo, Sharp, and Goonjar were a terror in 2013 for a reason. Add Apathy to the roster and you’ve got a combination that will put group A on its heels and doubters in their place.
Faze Red Will Look Like Medalists, Miss the Podium
There’s no question for long-time viewers that Classic and Replays are strong competitors, but their pairing with community favorite Jordan “JKap” Kaplan and x-factor Dylan “Theory” McGee has put the Faze name on solid ground. Of course, just like any other tournament, matchups matter.
Faze Red would, on any other day, give even Evil Geniuses a run for their money. But group B features an Envy roster that’s firing on all cylinders, and an Optic Gaming team that’s as mad as they are beloved. When the Boys in Blue and the Green Wall sit between you and a championship, safe money sits with disappointment, and while Faze Red will put up a fight, they will leave Austin as the best team not to make it to the medal rounds.
The “Big Three” Will Put On a Show
For fans of Evil Geniuses, competitive Call of Duty has been a joy. For everyone else, it’s been a frustrating affair. Fortunately, Austin’s adrenaline circus looks to play host to the first close competition since the team started their reign of terror.
Envy and Optic may not find gold medals around their necks by the end of the tournament, but the fight for first place will be taut. Fresh strategies, improved team chemistry, and months of preparation will all coalesce onstage, and when the smoke clears, everyone in attendance will have their money’s worth.