The Call of Duty Championships is heating up, and so far it seems that Infinite Warfare is determined to go out with a bang.
The biggest and most prestigious event of the year is also the last. It’s the most defining moment of the season, and teams are holding nothing back in their efforts to carve out their place in history.
Here’s a look at five of the key results from the third day of the event, how they impact some of the most interesting stories of the tournament and how those tales may now continue to develop as a result.
Infused impress, Rise Nation baffle
Infused were supposed to be a throwaway team coming into the Call of Duty Championships. For most, they were just another name to add to the list of squads that would inevitably be eliminated in the group stages, a team to be disregarded in order to focus more on those that might make an impact on the shape of the tournament.
Instead, Infused became one of the four teams to upset a higher seed for a spot in the bracket stages of the competition, denying a Mindfreak that has spent all year playing amongst the elite in the Global Pro League by winning the SnD tie-breaker.
Given that Infused lost their original match against the higher-seeded Mindfreak and were only able to play the tie-breaker thanks to other results in the pool, however, it’s fair that expectations for the team remained relatively low going into the bracket. The squad would match up against Rise Nation in winner bracket round one, a formidable opponent for any team.
After dropping the first map, however, Infused found a new gear to kick into. They cruised to a comfortable SnD win, blitzed the Uplink, and then clinched a tight Hardpoint to send Rise Nation to the lower bracket.
The loss adds another twist to the bizarre saga that is Rise Nation on Infinite Warfare. At the start of the year, they looked as if they had the potential to be one of the best teams in the world. Formed of the core from the Elevate squad that hung around the highest level of Black Ops 3, it looked as if they’d at last ascended to the very top, finally breaking the final barrier and winning a major championship at CWL Vegas.
From there, however, the team has been one of the most inconsistent on the circuit – a notable if not enviable feat in a year marked by inconsistency across the board. On any given day and in any given match they might have been elite, average, or outright bad.
So it has been so far at the Call of Duty Championships. On day one, they handed Luminosity one of the most severe thrashings the team has taken all year. Faced with what on paper should have been a gift of a round one match-up, however, Rise fell flat. The team later followed that up with a victory against the arguably more dangerous Str8 Rippin to stay alive.
As the tournament progresses, it’s safe to say that making predictions about this team has become somewhat futile.
No roadblocks for OpTic Gaming
This is the third Call of Duty Championships since the core three of this OpTic Gaming squad came together. The team have won the preceding event to all three and at all three been considered the number-one favorite to take the title.
In both 2015 and 2016, however, things went wrong for the green wall, under remarkably similar circumstances. On both occasions, they matched up with the team that they had beaten in the grand final of the previous event in the very first round of bracket play. On both occasions they lost that critical match, and were sent to the lower bracket early.
In both events they advanced two steps in the lower bracket before facing a team led by Patrick ‘Aches’ Price, and in both events that’s where their run would end, top-eight placements – the lowest this team has ever placed – at the most important event of the year.
It took a very specific pattern of events to deny perhaps the greatest team of all time the greatest trophy, not once but twice. This time, however, things are going differently.
The squad avoided a rematch with EnVyUs in the first round, thanks to both teams topping their pools. OpTic Gaming were therefore presented a much more straightforward test in Mindfreak Black, and have progressed past the first round of the winner bracket – one of the key points of danger for this squad in any tournament.
Meanwhile, Aches and Cloud9 have been eliminated early from the event, falling to a top-sixteen finish before they had the chance to meet OpTic Gaming. It may seem superstitious to put too much stock in history compared to current form, but it’s one more mental barrier that OpTic won’t have to overcome.
The event is far from over, with plenty of formidable teams still standing between OpTic and the rings that have eluded them for so long. As we approach the business end of the Call of Duty Championships, however, OpTic Gaming have never been better positioned to take the title.
Another stumble for Luminosity
Luminosity were always a squad with the potential to be one of the best in the world, but for much of the season they struggled to realise that potential, consistently overshadowed by the likes of OpTic, eUnited, and FaZe Clan.
In Stage One of the Global Pro League, however, things began to click for this team. They worked their way to the grand final but fell just short, before coming back and winning their first – and so far only – title of the year. They were hailed by most as the best team in the world, and remained in contention for that title despite a fourth-place finish at the Stage Two Playoffs.
At the Call of Duty Championships, however, the cracks that first began to reappear in Stage Two have been evident once again. They got demolished by Rise Nation in the group stage, before being comfortably beaten by eUnited in the first round of the winner bracket. Two big losses that may well cost them the tournament.
Suddenly, we’re faced with the possibility that maybe the old Luminosity is the true nature of this team. Before they were the best in the world, they were a squad that had never troubled the podium in spite of their immense talent. They were a team that had never won a game five despite eight attempts.
They could reliably beat weaker opponents that they could stomp in respawn games, but they would eventually meet a squad that could take a Hardpoint or an Uplink, and that was often all it would take. God forbid they faced a team that could take both.
For two events, that changed. Suddenly they were winning SnDs, and then they were almost unstoppable – without LG being abnormally vulnerable in two out of five maps, it took a herculean effort for any opponent to defeat them in three in order to win a series.
Luminosity’s results, however, along with those improved SnD stats, were bolstered by Sam ‘Octane’ Larew playing like the best player in the world, and in particular leading the charge in that game mode. It has to be wondered at this stage if Luminosity’s issues were never truly fixed, and merely masked by a player in god-mode.
The tournament isn’t over for Luminosity yet, but it’s a long way back to the grand final, and they’ll likely need to rediscover whatever it was that transformed them earlier in the season if they’re to make it that far.
Fnatic’s run ends abruptly
Fnatic were on track for a fairy-tale ending to Infinite Warfare.
When this team formed, it was hard to judge exactly how good they’d be, but nobody expected them to set the world on fire. Gurdip ‘SunnyB’ Bains had never been counted amongst Europe’s elite, Matthew ‘Skrapz’ Marshall was barely out of his rookie year, and brother Bradley ‘wuskin’ Marshall had never even competed on LAN.
This was the new squad of Thomas ‘Tommey’ Trewen, European Call of Duty legend and perhaps to be another veteran victim of the changing times.
Set the world on fire they did not, but what they did do was improve, with a remarkable consistency. For the first half of the year it seemed every event they turned up stronger, until they’d firmly cemented themselves at the upper end of the European crop, at least.
Internationally, however, they seemed to plateau as Stage One of the Global Pro League got underway. Finally, they seemed to settle into their place in the global hierarchy – towards the lower end of the tier of teams that competed in the league and consistently out-placed lesser squads.
It was a perfectly respectable position to land at given where the team started, but as it turned out Fnatic weren’t done. In Stage Two of the Global Pro League they stepped up yet again, securing a playoff spot and ultimately a top-six finish, the highest of any European squad in Stage Two.
Earlier in the year, their group for the Call of Duty Championships might have been more dangerous for Fnatic, but the squad seemed to have carried their Stage Two momentum through, beating out Evil Geniuses and Str8 Rippin for the top spot going into the bracket stage.
For their efforts they were rewarded one of the theoretically weaker teams for their first round draw – Team Allegiance, one of just four squads to have escaped the group stage having qualified through a Last Chance Qualifier. Everything seemed to be on track for another solid run for Fnatic, an end to the season that would have been almost unthinkable when the team formed at the start of the year.
Just a day later, the team have been eliminated with a top-sixteen finish. After losing to Allegiance – who themselves continue to surprise at the Call of Duty Championships, having already been responsible for Red Reserve’s elimination – Fnatic were thrust into the path of Luminosity, and having been unable to repeat their win from the group stage of the Global Pro League Stage Two, their CoD Champs campaign is over.
Fnatic still put together a solid resume over the Infinite Warfare season, and as teams begin to look to WWII they remain one of the squads to watch in Europe. Nevertheless, it’s a more sudden and disappointing end to the year than the team might have hoped for.
EnVyUs quietly continue to perform
Amid the drama elsewhere in the tournament, it’s been easy to overlook the boys in blue so far. Meanwhile, EnVyUs have simply been taking care of business.
The squad didn’t face too much of a challenge in their group, but given the variable nature of the team this year it’s nevertheless encouraging to see the them cruise through with only a single map loss. Round one of the winner bracket would offer their first proper test, a match against Epsilon. Once again, EnVyUs emerged triumphant relatively comfortably.
A win against Epsilon is no minor victory. When it came to their lower bracket match against Cloud9, Epsilon demonstrated that they’re once again back in fierce form, making them potentially one of the more dangerous squads in the tournament. EnVyUs, however, were able to dispatch them with relative ease, a further indicator that their Global Pro League Stage Two showing was no fluke.
The prospect of an EnVy in form is nothing to be ignored, because it sets up a unique scenario in Call of Duty. Not only has no team ever won back-to-back Call of Duty Championships – no winner of the Call of Duty Championships has ever even competed in another with the same line-up.
If they can pull it off, it would conclude one of the most outstanding paths ever taken by a Call of Duty team. From epic highs to record lows, the last year for this squad has been a white-knuckle rollercoaster for the players and fans alike. Team EnVyUs now sit at the epicentre of one of the most compelling stories of this year’s world championship, so while we’re still two days from crowning a winner it’s absolutely worth keeping tabs on the team’s performance.
In all likelihood, the squad are headed for a winner-bracket semi-final match-up with eUnited. In current form, that could end up being one of the most explosive series of the tournament, but EnVy have already demonstrated at the Stage Two Playoffs that they can win that head-to-head.
In competition nothing is ever guaranteed, but right now EnVyUs are on track to at least be in the mix on championship Sunday. While most eyes might be elsewhere, the increasingly real possibility of a World Championship repeat is developing with each series.