Call of Duty League 2021 preview: Part II

by Mitch Reames

Following the 2020 Call of Duty League season, it seemed like almost every player became a free agent. At one point there were over 50 free agents who had spent some amount of time with a CDL team in the previous season. 

Cellar-dwelling teams like the Paris Legion dropped their entire roster. Some teams were forced to let players go due to the move to 4v4, and others dropped players in hopes of restructuring contracts. Some of those players were then re-added to the same team.

Rostermania, the fan-given name of Call of Duty’s annual free agency period, was even more complicated this year. Most CoD fans probably didn’t even know that was possible. Staying on top of all the moves was difficult, so here’s a team by team breakdown of how each roster looks heading into the new season.

Read more: Call of Duty League 2021 preview, Part I

Atlanta FaZe 

The most high-profile departure from last season’s runner-up is Preston “Priestahh” Greiner. Since 2017, Priestahh has been a core part of FaZe Clan’s Call of Duty team. He was the only holdover from the popular FaZe team from World War II and Black Ops 4 that featured Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto, Dillon “Attach” Price and James “Replays / Crowder” Crowder. Priestahh is now with the Minnesota ROKKR alongside his 2020 Atlanta teammate Michael “MajorManiak” Szymaniak.

Tyler “aBeZy” Pharris, McArthur “Cellium” Jovel and Chris “Simp” Lehr all remain with FaZe. To round out the four-man roster, FaZe brought in popular veteran, Alec “Arcitys” Sanderson. In a year when a lot of rosters will be in flux, Atlanta FaZe bring back a successful core from 2020. They will be one of the favorites again this year.  

Priestahh talks to FTW about his origins playing Call of Duty. For more videos like this check out NSG’s YouTube channel.

Dallas Empire

The Empire were the inaugural CDL champions, a moment that was immediately complicated by the change to 4v4 rosters. Instead of celebrating the championship with his team, chief gaming officer Mike “Hastr0” Rufail was forced to make a choice to cut someone from the best roster in the league. 

The choice was to cut longtime CoD veteran James “Clayster” Eubanks. The rest of the players on the championship-winning roster were extended through the 2021 season, and the team enters the upcoming season as a favorite to win it all again. Clayster, meanwhile, will join the New York Subliners with a chip on his shoulder.

Florida Mutineers

The Mutineers made one of the best decisions of the 2020 season when they brought in Joseph “Owakening” Conley. A midseason addition, Owakening replaced Preston “Prestinni” Sanderson who was traded to the Chicago Huntsmen. After that trade, the Mutineers immediately started winning. 

In 2021, the team brought back Owakening as well as Cesar “Skyz” Bueno and Maurice “Fero” Henriquez. Then, tragedy struck. Fero died on Nov. 10th at 21 after suffering multiple heart attacks. It was a moment of mourning for everyone in Call of Duty esports. 

The team has dedicated the upcoming season to Fero and changed the team’s social hashtag to #F3arTheDeep, a reference to f3rocitys, his old tag. 

In addition to Owakening and Skyz from 2020, the team has added Josiah “Slacked” Berry and Travis “Neptune” McCloud. Neptune was added as a substitute but has already been promoted to the starting roster heading into the season. Neptune also has the distinction of being the youngest starting player in the CDL with his 19th birthday coming in April of 2021. 

London Royal Ravens

Even though the Royal Ravens finished in sixth place in CDL points and fourth in the playoffs, the team decided to drop every player but one, Sean “Seany” O’Connor. 

Then we saw something a bit unique, the Royal Ravens picked up two of the players they released earlier in the offseason, Trei “Zer0” Morris and Thomas “Dylan” Henderson. 

After adding Alex “Alexx” Carpenter who spent last season on the Minnesota ROKKR, the Royal Ravens were able to return a core similar to the one that went on a tear through the loser’s bracket in the playoffs. 

However, the only all-European team in the league might have a tough time with potential travel issues due to the pandemic. Christopher “Parasite” Duarte already had to be added as a temporary substitute for Zer0 due to COVID travel restrictions. 

Los Angeles Guerrillas

The LA Guerrillas were the worst team in the CDL last year, though the Surge were pretty bad too. From forfeiting a match during Launch Weekend due to using a banned perk to being the first team knocked out of the playoffs, LAG lived up to their acronym from start to finish last year. 

But there’s good news! They replaced the entire roster besides Reece “Vivid” Drost. The new trio of Adam “Assault” Garcia, Justin “SiLLY” Fargo-Palmer and Bryan “Apathy” Zhelyazkov were world champions with Evil Geniuses in 2018. They are all longtime veterans and were popular players with EG. 

By signing a trio of former teammates who had a lot of success, they might have tapped into the dormant EG fan base. Fun fact: that 2018 team also featured Patrick “ACHES” Price, a member of the LAG roster in 2020 who was benched midseason for Vivid. 

Los Angeles Thieves

All eyes will be on LA Thieves this year. Given Nadeshot’s history in CoD and 100T’s proven ability to capture fans immediately after entering esports, LA Thieves start the season with an immediate advantage. 

Although OGLA didn’t recapture OpTic’s fans, their roster was strong. 100T signed most of them, including Kenny “Kenny” Williams (formerly Kuavo), Austin “SlasheR” Liddicoat and Thomas “TJHaly” Haly. 

100T brought on Donovan “Temp” Laroda as the final piece, following Temp’s successful year competing for the New York Subliners. They also added Jordan “JKap” Kaplan as head coach. JKap is a legend in Call of Duty like 100T execs Nadeshot and Eric “Muddawg” Sanders. In short, LA Thieves have a talented roster, arguably the best in the CDL, with an experienced staff at the helm. 

Minnesota ROKKR

Somehow, we have already mentioned 3/4 of the ROKKR’s 2021 roster as Minnesota enters the CDL’s second season with an entirely new team. 

The team wasn’t horrible in 2020 by any means, but they fell part at the wrong time. A hot start had entirely cooled off by playoffs as the ROKKR lost their final ten series including both in the playoffs. 

Priestahh and MajorManiak came over from the Atlanta FaZe, and Attach, who was teammates with Priestahh on FaZe during the CWL era, also joins the team. The fourth member is Lamar “Accuracy” Abedi. He has spent time with several major esports organizations at this point as his career has taken him through EG, eUnited, Splyce, G2, Team Kaliber, Cloud9, Complexity and CLG. Last season, he competed for the New York Subliners. 

New York Subliners

The New York Subliners have lost a couple players through free agency, but they’ve protected their most important asset, standout rookie Mackenzie “Mack” Kelley. 

Prior to the stop created by the pandemic, the Subliners were one of the worst teams in the CDL. When competition resumed, the addition of Mack, a former amatuer player, helped the team regain form. Eighth-place finishes became fourth-place finishes, and the Subliners broke through in the team’s own Home Series winning the NY event in Week 12. 

During the offseason, the team committed to building around Mack. They added another youngster, Paco “HyDra” Rusiewiez  (who is stuck in France due to COVID travel restrictions), and picked up the player who might have been the biggest prize in free agency, Clayster. He’ll be a veteran voice surrounded by one of the youngest teams in the league. After a bit of a surprise retirement from Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto, the Subliners filled out the roster with Conor “Diamondcon” Johst and Obaid “Asim” Asim. 

Chicago Call of Duty
Chicago remains largely unchanged except for losing Arcitys (left) and coming under the OpTic banner. Photo by Robert Paul for Activision Blizzard

OpTic Chicago 

I hope all the Green Wall fans who bought Huntsmen merch are keeping it. It’ll be a collectible one day. While the Huntsmen brand was short-lived, it served its role as a placeholder before H3CZ was able to regain the OpTic brand to pair it with Chicago. 

NRG pulled off the heist of the century. They were able to grab the Green Wall fan base and the OpTic brand while still controlling the team and the spot in the CDL. Although the team name changed, the team, which was one of the best in 2020, didn’t. 

Dylan “Envoy” Hannon, Matthew “FormaL” Piper and Seth “Scump” Abner are set to run it back. The team did lose twins Arcitys and Prestinni but gained Brandon “Dashy” Otell. 

Between Formal, Scump and Dashy, the trio will have spent over 15 years combined competing for the Green and Black. Scump is responsible for about half of that, but all three are OpTic legends who I’m sure are excited to compete under the OpTic name once again. In Dashy’s case, he actually never left as he spent 2020 with OpTic LA. 

Paris Legion

Starting with low expectations compared to the rest of the field in 2020, some solid finishes early in the year created momentum for the team. But whatever momentum existed was wiped out by the pandemic break. 

The team finished the season 10th out of the 12 teams. After the season, they were one of the handful of teams to just wipe their hands clean and drop the entire roster. It was a bit of a weird decision considering they did absolutely no tinkering with the lineup midseason. Instead of highlighting individuals by trying different pairings or subs, the Legion let the players compete as a unit throughout the year. 

The new roster consists of Ulysses “AquA” Silva, Nicholas “Classic” DiCostanzo, Luis “Fire” Rivera and Matthew “Skrapz” Marshall. AquA played for the LA Guerillas last year, Classic for the Toronto Ultra and Skrapz for the London Royal Ravens. Fire is a bit of an unknown. He will be the second-youngest starting player in the CDL at 18 years old, just a month older than Neptune. There aren’t a ton of rookies breaking in this season given the smaller team sizes, so younger players like Fire and Neptune will get a lot of attention if teams need to make a change. 

Seattle Surge

Another one of the disappointing teams last season, at least the Surge didn’t drop their entire roster due to issues moving to online play during the pandemic. That happened to Enthusiast Gaming’s OWL team, the Vancouver Titans. But that’s where the silver linings stop. 

The team couldn’t beat anyone all year (besides the LA Guerrillas), and the ineptitude stretched so far that Damon “Karma” Barlow, often considered the best Call of Duty player of all time, shocked everyone by retiring midseason. This wasn’t a retirement like Jay “sinatraa” Won’s from the OWL to play VALORANT. Karma just didn’t want to play with the Surge anymore. 

The team finished the season in 12th place and were swept in the first round of the playoffs. The only holdover from that team is Sam “Octane” Larew. In a year when the Surge couldn’t catch a break, Octane provided the lone bright spot. 

In 2021 he will be joined by three new players: Peirce “Gunless” Hillman, Daniel “Loony” Loza and Prestinni. Loony and Gunless played (and won) together prior to the CDL with Rise Nation. Last year, Loony played for the Ultra while Gunless and Prestinni played for the Huntsmen. 

Toronto Ultra

I saved the best for last. OK, not the best, but definitely not the worst. In fact, the Ultra were about as middle-of-the-pack as a team could be, tying for sixth in the final standings. In the playoffs, they started off strong before dropping two straight series to finish in … sixth. 

The Ultra were effectively the follow-up for Splyce, a longtime CWL mainstay that also is part of the OverActive Media umbrella. That experience in Call of Duty paid off as the Ultra had a strategy I think a lot of other organizations could have benefitted from; they signed 10 players prior to the 2020 season. 

Throughout the year the team tinkered with the roster, subbing players in and out. At the end of the year, they dropped six and kept four. Tobias “CleanX” Juul Johnson, Anthony “Methodz” Zinni, Cameron “Cammy” McKilligan and Ben “Bance” Bance are the Ultra’s starting lineup heading into 2021. By having a group of 10 to choose from, the Ultra can be confident that this is the lineup they liked the most from a chemistry and team composition perspective heading into 2021.

Lead image credit: Activision Blizzard

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