Activision’s Call of Duty League is finally here and things are getting started with the CDL Kickoff Classic — a preseason event where x-factor players on all 12 teams can begin making their mark.
With an exodus of 12 starters as the CDL shifts to a 4v4 format in Black Ops Cold War, individual play is paramount. Players have less backup on the battlefield and, with a deep talent pool in the Challengers scene, more competition for their roles.
Representing Chicago, OpTic Gaming are back with Hector ‘H3CZ’ Rodriguez, Seth ‘Scump’ Abner and the gang. Delighting fans, Matthew ‘Nadeshot’ Haag’s 100 Thieves return to competitive CoD for Los Angeles. Teams have shuffled since the inaugural season and each team’s expectations will be tested by at least one player’s CDL Kickoff performance.
Alec ‘Arcitys’ Sanderson (Atlanta FaZe)
The best AR in CoD?
While Michael ‘MajorManiak’ Szymaniak was highly regarded by his teammates last season, few rank him in a tier anywhere near Arcitys. FaZe’s submachine gun and flex play was never a question, but adding Arcitys on the assault rifle could push them past the Dallas Empire in power rankings.
If Arcitys continues, let alone improves upon, his 2020 form, then Atlanta should be an early favorite. Tested by a strong Florida Mutineers squad, fans should get a quality temperature check on FaZe’s newest member.
Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter (Dallas Empire)
Did Dallas release the right veteran AR?
The transition from 5v5 to 4v4 was not without heartbreak and few splits were as tough as the Empire’s. Dropping James ‘Clayster’ Eubanks instead of Crimsix was a difficult decision and, at the CDL Kickoff Classic, that decision will receive its first evaluation.
When the two veteran ARs face each other, Crim will be with the same absurd, young trio of “Xeo” gunners and Clayster with… one standout sophomore and two formerly projected bench players. It shouldn’t be too hard of a test for Dallas, but fans should be curious to see how much Crim’s thumbs have aged.
Donovan ‘Temp’ Laroda (Los Angeles Thieves)
Big Brand meets Big Ego
Tying for 5th at CDL Champs wasn’t enough to keep OpTic in Los Angeles so Nadeshot got to buy into the league. Although the team’s Challengers call-ups, Zack ‘Drazah’ Jordan and Darien ‘Hollow’ Chervchko, played admirably in the postseason — 100T replaced them in the starting lineup with one of the league’s most confident ARs.
The self-proclaimed top “gunnie” in the CDL, Temp has an unrelenting belief in his ability (alternatively, a ‘strong personality,’ per general manager Eric ‘Muddawg’ Sanders) backed by a strong history of top-tier, albeit streaky play. While his year with the New York Subliners was disappointing, Temp now rejoins former teammates Austin ‘SlasheR’ Liddicoat and Thomas ‘TJHaLy’ Haly. With 100T’s enormous fanbase and a matchup with OpTic Chicago, the gunner gets a large stage to prove his play can rise to both the occasion and his own expectations.
Preston ‘Priestahh’ Greiner (Minnesota ROKKR)
The honorary Tiny Terror?
FaZe were the second-best team in 2020 and Priestahh would likely still be on the team if not for the swap to 4v4. Instead, one of the league’s most selfless players gets to turn a new leaf with a fully revamped ROKKR squad.
Starting with Minnesota’s preseason matchup against the Toronto Ultra, Priestahh should shift from flex to his more natural sub role. Expectations for what was a miserable ROKKR team will hinge on his ability to prove he was being overshadowed in Atlanta and can transition from dirty work to slaying.
Makenzie ‘Mack’ Kelley (New York Subliners)
No ZooMaa, No Hydra: Return of the Mack
Easily one of the top rookies in 2020, Mack jumped into New York’s starting lineup and almost immediately surged into the MVP conversation. The Subliners had a quality offseason after fizzling in the playoffs, but new issues mean Mack will have to go above and beyond to start 2021.
With rookie Paco ‘HyDra’ Rusiewiez dealing with visa issues and Tommy ‘ZooMaa’ Paparatto retiring due to injury, Mack is moving to SMG for an unfinished roster. He’s back in his preferred role, but the season depends on his ability to reach 2020’s near-MVP form.
Brandon ‘Dashy’ Otell (OpTic Chicago)
Heeding Chicago’s Bat-Signal
Like Atlanta, Chicago shuffled pieces after falling just short of the championship in 2020. With Arcitys eager to rejoin former teammates on FaZe, H3CZ celebrated the return of OpTic with the return of one of the brand’s former players.
But 2020 was an ugly year for Dashy and, aside from some big moments as a suddenly summoned bench player in CDL Champs, questions surround the formerly elite AR. Expectations are high for the biggest brand in CoD, but will rise and fall depending on Dashy’s play.
Peirce ‘Gunless’ Hillman (Seattle Surge)
Started from the bottom, now we Peirce
Like Dashy, no one questions the raw mechanical talent that Gunless holds. Unfortunately, also like Dashy, the gifted player spent most of a porous 2020 on the bench with rumored character concerns.
Now, he joins two others as reinforcements for Sam ‘Octane’ Larew on 2020’s worst team: Seattle. If the Surge are going to improve upon a 5-18 record that ended dead last at CDL Champs, Gunless will need a return to form beginning on Day 1 against the Los Angeles Guerrillas.
- Read more: CDL 2021 Stage 1 group draw explained
While the Call of Duty League is chock-full of players with high expectations, low expectations and everything in between, these seven stand out as those with the most notable stocks in the preseason. A variety of other rookies and transferred players can make statements during the Kickoff Classic, but power rankings and fan expectations should hinge entirely on our listed x-factors.