After a disappointing finish at the Call of Duty Championship, the planet’s biggest console gaming team is in for a massive shakeup.
Team captain Matt “NaDeSHoT” Haag is stepping down from competitive gaming. In his stead two-time title winner Damon “Karma” Barlow will join the roster of the winningest team in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, OpTic Gaming.
Haag might be the most popular pro gamer in the West bar none. The 22-year-old is a phenomenon, a professional who has managed to build a brand that almost overshadows the game he plays itself. More than 1 million people follow him on Twitter; and 1.7 million-plus subscribe to his YouTube channel.
His claim to fame is winning the Call of Duty XP tournament in 2011, the precursor to the Call of Duty Championship, as a member of OpTic Gaming. But his performance since has never lived up to his popularity. Even in the Advanced Warfare era, where OpTic Gaming became the most dominant team in the game winning three of five major tournaments, Haag was simply a complementary player to three superstars flanking him on the roster.
“I was playing to not lose,” he said in a video outlining his decision over the weekend. “I wasn’t really playing to win, so that I wouldn’t have to hear about losing, the repercussions of it on Twitter, on my YouTube channel the week after.”
“I’m tired of being the scapegoat of the team.”
OpTic Gaming built one of the biggest all-star lineups Call of Duty has ever seen entering the Advanced Warfare era, adding Ian “Crimsix” Porter and Matt “FormaL” Piper to a lineup already featuring Haag and Seth “Scumpii” Abner.
Haag’s pedigree was the weakest on the team and fans let him know it whenever the team faltered, like at the Call of Duty Championship where the team placed seventh, a surprisingly poor result after winning each of the three previous events.
Replacing Haag is another superstar, Barlow, Porter’s former teammate on the dominant Complexity and Evil Geniuses team that took the Championship title in 2014. Barlow was already part of the OpTic organization, playing for sister team OpTic Nation during Advanced Warfare but seeing limited success after competing as one of the most dominant players of the previous two generations of Call of Duty.
As a part-owner of the OpTic organization, Haag has a vested interest in the success of the team, even if that means stepping down as captain and player. But Haag made sure to note his departure was a “leave of absence” and not retirement, leaving open the possibility of a return for the next generation of Call of Duty.
The new lineup is the most stacked the team has ever fielded. All four players can make a claim at being considered the best player in the entire game at one point in their career: Crimsix, when he was dominating as a member of Complexity and Evil Geniuses; Karma when he won the Championship as a member of Fariko Impact in 2013; FormaL during the end of the Call of Duty: Ghosts era after the fall of Evil Geniuses, when he lead his EnVyUs team to multiple titles; Scumpii in the current Advanced Warfare era, where his uptempo gameplay and amazing gun skills make him an unstoppable slaying machine.
Of course, even with Haag in the lineup OpTic Gaming was nearly unstoppable. It’s going to take some more roster moves and perhaps new talent emerging, like the Team Revenge squad that placed second at the Championship last week, to offer a serious challenge.
Apparently, that’s already happening: #rostermania, as it’s called in the Call of Duty world, is in full force. While Denial—winners of the Championship last weekend and the team that faced OpTic in the finals of the two events leading into it—will reportedly stand pat, every other team is making changes with an eye toward OpTic.