On Wednesday August 9th, thirty-two challengers entered the greatest arena Call of Duty has to offer. By the end of Saturday August 12th, only four remained.
No tournament of this nature could ever be predictable, and the Call of Duty Championships has offered everything from blowouts to gruelling heavy-weight bloodbaths and upsets in between. Nevertheless, the teams left standing do not seem out of place.
All four are champions in their own right – kings of a kind, be they now resplendent or ragged. Each has followed a different path, but all have led to this moment. In the battleground of the game all things are equal, however, and whether they enter as favourites or underdogs, seeking their first ring or their third, their performance over the coming day is all that matters now. Only one will see a happy ending to their Infinite Warfare story.
The Uncoronated Kings
When the core three of this OpTic Gaming squad came together, they were hailed as a god-squad.
Seth ‘Scump’ Abner, Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter’ and Matthew ‘FormaL’ Piper were three of the most individually skilled players in the world, and no team so stacked with talent had ever been put together. The addition of Damon ‘Karma’ Barlow added then the only two-time World Champion, and another player who had at times been named the best in the game.
Though the god-squad label can often be a curse, OpTic Gaming have lived up to it. For most of their time together, OpTic Gaming have been the de facto emperors of Call of Duty. They have reigned in a manner that no other team has ever managed.
The length of their tenure exceeds that of any other. They’ve won more championships than any other, and they’ve been to more grand finals than any other. Crucially, they’ve been able to survive what brief periods of underperformance they have suffered – almost no other dominant team in history has been able to come back once they stop winning.
Since the addition of Karma to the team more than two years ago, OpTic have collected twelve trophies. During that same time period, the rest of the world combined have only won eleven that OpTic have contended for, and that’s including the oft-dismissed Totino’s Invitational.
To put that into perspective, the James ‘Clayster’ Eubanks iteration of compLexity won seven titles. The squad with Damon ‘Karma’ Barlow won five. In order to surpass the number of championships won by this single OpTic Gaming foursome, you have to include the ESWC title won with Kenneth ‘Dedo’ Dedo. Meanwhile, including the additional titles won by OpTic’s core three prior to the addition of Karma brings their own total up to a phenomenal seventeen.
Of those twenty-three events, OpTic have only been absent from the grand finals on six occasions. They've been a favorite headed into every event almost without exception, even when they ultimately fall short.. The OpTic Gaming roster now make up the top four spots of the winningest players list.
Call of Duty since the creation of this team has been defined by OpTic versus the world, and OpTic are winning.
For all of that, however, they’ve never had that one crowning moment that could only ever come at a single event – the Call of Duty Championships. On both previous occasions, when the moment arrived to officially place the crown on their heads, it was another team that stole the show.
It’s the ultimate black mark on an otherwise near spotless resume, and for some they will always be held back from the title of “greatest of all time” until they claim the greatest title. A coronation is ultimately a symbolic ceremony – the ability to rule is not reliant on it – but it’s nevertheless an important one. Perhaps this Call of Duty Championships can at last be OpTic Gaming’s.
The Keepers of the Crown
In every past iteration of the Call of Duty Championships, the title has been undefended, left open for whoever could see off the other challengers.
For the first time ever, the reigning World Champions have survived to fight another year, with EnVyUs retaining the roster that won at the end of Black Ops 3. A mere month ago, they might have been expected to give up their title with a whimper, but now the team that won a year ago has returned to defend it.
We could very well be on the cusp of an unprecedented moment in Call of Duty history – a repeat victory at the Call of Duty Championships by the exact same line-up. It would be an epic conclusion for a squad that have spent much of the year falling flat.
Not only are EnVy still in the competition, but they look better than they have all season. They’ve proven they can beat Luminosity, and they came close enough to defeating OpTic at the Stage Two Playoffs that a win against them is also feasible. Meanwhile, the crucible from which they emerged to make it this far seems to have forged them into a more composed team than perhaps any in history.
The first seeds of the idea behind the current OpTic line-up were originally hatched between Matthew ‘FormaL’ Piper and Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter, who wanted to play alongside one another going into Advanced Warfare. That core pair, however, was originally destined for EnVyUs, under whom FormaL played at the time. Following disagreements among the players over the roster, the organisation elected to hold onto the players it had. FormaL left, the pair joined OpTic, and the rest is history.
Nearly three years later, OpTic have won more trophies than any other organisation in Call of Duty by a sizeable margin, while EnVy’s own trophy cabinet remains surprisingly sparse relative to their pedigree within the game. If they can win now, however, EnVy might collect a second Call of Duty Championships title before OpTic manage their first.
Even if they fall short, the presence of this line-up in such impressive form adds a layer of gravitas to the tournament. Positioned as they are in the winner bracket finals, it is impossible for a challenger to take the crown without defeating the reigning champions directly. Whoever it ultimately goes to, it will be a trophy seized, not merely collected.
The Would-Be Usurpers
For Luminosity, the Call of Duty Championships is the landmark battle of a greater war. It is the key to potentially claiming OpTic’s throne for themselves.
They have the tools to do it. Luminosity’s roster is one of exceptionally few – if not entirely unique – that have the personnel to go toe-to-toe with OpTic on sheer gun-skill. It’s what this roster was built for, and when they’re all on form they have a collective peak that arguably equals that of OpTic Gaming.
It’s also not their first time throwing down the gauntlet to OpTic. At the start of Black Ops 3 the core three of this squad, then playing as Rise Nation, were the chief rivals of the green wall. Having taken the first two titles of the year, they missed out on the NA CWL Stage One trophy by only a single round of SnD in a deciding seventh game of the finals.
It was a round that would define the year – from there OpTic strung together three more wins while Rise would decline and not win another title within the year. If that round goes the other way, who knows how the balance of power shifts that season.
It took them a roster change and over a year to find their way back to the top, but when they finally did it was in spectacular fashion. Over the last few months, Luminosity have deservedly been labelled the best team in the world, and here they’re trying to live up to that title when it matters most.
Nobody has ever managed to dethrone OpTic Gaming entirely. FaZe had OpTic’s number at the end of Advanced Warfare, but weren’t consistent enough against the rest of the field to shut them out. EnVyUs managed to outshine them at the end of Black Ops 3, but the end of the season meant they never truly got to rule. Call of Duty’s monarchy has been disrupted at times, perhaps, but never truly replaced.
Luminosity are the latest to attempt the feat. They have a resume over the past few months that arguably exceeds OpTic Gaming’s already. If they can deny them a World Championship once again and claim it for themselves, it might be enough to end the OpTic era, and usher in one of their own.
Luminosity want to be World Champions, of course, but for them it comes in the context of what is ultimately a greater legacy. They don’t just want the rings - they want the empire.
The Forgotten Champions
For the past six months, it’s been easy to overlook the fact that Rise Nation are among what is still a fairly exclusive group of major champions on Infinite Warfare. They stand separate from their would-be peers not just because theirs was the earliest title available in the game, but because since that victory they’ve never looked like a title contender again.
Unlike every other squad with a trophy to their name this season, Rise only ever appeared in a single grand final. Where the others – OpTic Gaming, eUnited, Splyce and Luminosity - have all had periods in which they’ve been considered favorites and all remained largely within the elite even when they’re not winning, Rise Nation never even qualified for the Playoffs of either stage of the Global Pro League.
That explosive potential has always bubbled beneath the surface, however, and there have been hints of it at times. Those hints were enough to keep the team from going their separate ways in spite of the hardship, and now it seems they might finally be coming to fruition at the perfect moment.
Even within this very tournament, Rise have been a tough squad to predict. Nobody would likely have bet on the beating they gave Luminosity in the group stages. Nor would many have wagered in favour of Infused when the pair met in the first round of the winner bracket.
Rise Nation’s lower bracket run was fraught with potential landmines, tough squads of the calibre Rise have fallen to at most events this year. Every obstacle might have been the end of their run, yet they find themselves still standing. Now, they must face Luminosity once again if they are to advance further, and almost any outcome seems possible at this stage.
The squad remain a wild-card among the other teams remaining in the competition. They’re very much the outlier, the unexpected member of the quartet heading into Championship Sunday. As a result, however, Rise represent a potential element of chaos – as the other three focus draw the most attention, this team might yet subvert the narrative entirely.