Four teams to watch heading into the first Call of Duty League Major

by Andrew Kulp

If you predicted a month ago that the Atlanta FaZe, OpTic Chicago and Dallas Empire would represent three of the top four teams heading into the first Call of Duty League Major of 2021, your psychic readings are about as legitimate as Madame Mirela’s. That is to say, with their rosters minimally impacted in an offseason of dramatic change, it’s not at all surprising the best squads from a year ago are off to strong starts.

What has been really fun to try to forecast during the first few weeks of the season, on the other hand, is which teams will emerge as credible challengers to the CDL elites.

Read more: FaZe dominate, LA Thieves steal show in first week of Call of Duty League

We’ve seen a few upsets in the first stage of the season — only the London Royal Ravens are winless after Super Week — but just a handful of clubs look like true threats to take down the big guns as the first big tournament of the season approaches.

FaZe are undefeated. OpTic and Empire are 4-1. Collectively, they’re the prohibitive favorites in this week’s Major, which begins Wednesday. If anybody has a chance of knocking them off though, it might be one of these four dark horse contenders.

Los Angeles Thieves

4-1 series record, 12-7 map record

Super Week might have ended in disaster for the Thieves, who saw an unblemished record slip away in a devastating 3-0 loss to defending-champion Dallas. Still, it’s been an overwhelmingly positive start for the franchise formerly known as OpTic LA after finishing among the bottom four teams in the CDL last season (10-17, 49-58 in 2020).

LAT took care of business in their first couple Super Week matches, holding on to beat the Seattle Surge 3-2 and taking care of London 3-1 earlier in the week.

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If there is a glaring flaw the Empire potentially exposed, it’s in the Thieves’ strength of schedule to date. While they picked up W’s against New York and Minnesota during opening week — a pair of quality opponents with above-.500 records — getting swept away by the lone top team they’ve faced rendered their fast start a lot less convincing.

Unlike a lot of clubs, the Thieves didn’t overhaul their entire roster (which they inherited from OpTic LA) in the offseason. They brought on a new coach (CoD legend Jordan “JKap” Kaplan), but the only new player on the squad is Donovan “Temp” Laroda, who’s played roughly in line with expectations. The only mode they’ve looked remotely scary at is Hardpoint, running up a 6-2 record.

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In other words, it might be a tad early to declare LAT is the real deal. One positive takeaway is the development of Thomas “TJHaly” Haly, who has been an absolute terror with 0.90 kills per round in Search & Destroy (second in the CDL) and 22.8 kills per 10 minutes (KP10M) in Control (third). TJHaly is somebody who can take over games, which the Thieves might need if they’re going to mount a deep run.

New York Subliners

3-2 series record, 11-7 map record

Don’t let their middling record deceive you. The Subliners were a precious few breaks away from defeating Dallas after going up 2-0 in the match, which would’ve given them a 4-1 record. Even their opening week sweep at the hands of the LA Thieves was a series of tight heartbreakers.

It’s not an exaggeration to say New York were borderline dominant during Super Week play, going 3-1 in matches and 11-4 in games, with victories over London, Minnesota and Seattle. Their play has been remarkably well-rounded too, compiling winning records in all three game modes, and every member of the roster has carried an overall kill-death ratio at least even or better.

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The leadership of CoD veteran James “Clayster” Eubanks and his 1.22 overall K/D (t-second) might have a lot to do with sparking the Subliners’ turnaround of late. Yet, to describe either Obaid “Asim” Asim’s or Conor “Diamondcon” Johst’s contributions thus far as pleasant surprises would be a massive understatement.

Asim seems to have taken a step forward, particularly in Hardpoint, improving on his 0.93 K/D in Minnesota a season ago to a 1.17 (t-second), while Diamondcon wasn’t even in the CDL last year and has a 1.16 K/D overall (fifth). Clayster also rounds out top-five leaderboards in several game categories — including second in K/D overall and first in KP10M for Control.

All of which suggests the Subliners won’t be playing the role of spoiler in this tournament. They’re built to win the thing.

Minnesota ROKKR

3-2 series record, 10-8 map record

A trendy preseason pick to join the ranks of the contenders, Minnesota still look very much like a work in progress. The ROKKR followed up their big Week 1 victory over Dallas with an extremely uneven performance in Super Week — a loss to New York sandwiched between a pair of wins over Seattle and London, all of them sweeps.

Despite riding the see-saw, what makes the ROKKR so dangerous right now is a dominant Search & Destroy game rivaled only by Atlanta’s. Minnesota is 5-1, led by an ascendant Lamar “Accuracy” Abedi and his 1.27 K/D in S&D (0.86 with NY in 2020), making this a squad opponents do not want to face in a Game 5.

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The trouble might be getting there, due in part to Minnesota’s uninspired record in Hardpoint. The ROKKR are 2-5 in the mode, with all four players owning a sub-zero K/D on it.

That’s a tough way to win individual matches, much less progress in a tournament format. The ROKKR did prove they can hang with the best teams in the CDL by beating the Empire, but they almost certainly need to reverse their fortunes in Hardpoint to have any shot at going the distance in a Major anytime soon.

That goes double starting from the elimination bracket, as they will this week.

Paris Legion

2-3 series record, 10-11 map record

The only team to exit opening weekend with an 0-2 record, Paris initially appeared destined for another season as CDL also-rans. A dramatically improved Legion squad showed up for Super Week though, their work culminating in a near-win against the Atlanta FaZe on Saturday.

The Legion began the week by scoring an upset with a sweep of the Florida Mutineers, followed by a 3-2 comeback win over the Toronto Ultra. Then, Paris took Atlanta to the limit, jumping out to a 2-1 lead before eventually falling in five maps — a result that nonetheless showed this is not a group to sleep on.

What changed? For starters, the Legion went 4-1 in Hardpoint for the week, applying pressure on all three opponents with opening-round wins. If they can continue to jump on opponents early, it can serve to cover up deficiencies in Search & Destroy, where Paris are just 2-6 so far for the season.

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The Legion might have a breakout star on their hands as well in Ulysses “AquA” Silva, who currently ranks among the CDL leaders with a 1.17 K/D in Hardpoint (t-second) after posting a 0.93 Hardpoint K/D with the Los Angeles Guerrillas in 2020. What they need now is for a steady No. 2 to step up, as the rest of the bunch have been inconsistent thus far.

Paris face an uphill battle in the elimination bracket of the upcoming Major, even with a first-round bye. Regardless, the past week showed you can’t count them out.

Lead image credit: Call of Duty League

Stats courtesy of Breakingpoint.gg and CDLStats.com

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