Get yourself and your squads ready for Road to IASI, 15th World Esports Championship NEPAL QUALIFIERS.
Jack “CouRage” Dunlop was unstoppable for most of Code Red, Guy “Dr Disrespect” Beahm’s inaugural Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 tournament held on Thursday. The CoD caster turned Fortnite aficionado returned to his first love in style, fragging out for the better part of seven hours in the game’s new battle royale mode “Blackout” on the way to the grand finals.
The championship was within reach. But that was before a legend had his say.
“We just got Shrouded on, bro,” CouRage said in shocked tones to his duos partner Tyler “TeePee” Polchow. Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek’s 14-kill masterclass in Game 1 of the grand finals was filled with outplays and shots that left CouRage and TeePee screaming in disbelief.
It was a performance that not only won Code Red, but announced to all newcomers that Blackout might be just another realm for Shroud to conquer.
Code Red marked the first competitive event for Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, released less than a week ago amid rabid anticipation. The venerable series’ newest iteration completely eschewed a campaign mode; developer Treyarch preferred to go all-in on the battle royale phenomenon that has swept through the shooter scene. Blackout has all the markings of the genre popularized by PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and launched into orbit by Fortnite: circles, random loot, points of interest and a battle to the death. Code Red put its differences — both good and bad — on display in a tournament that acted as a positive first step for Blackout’s esports future.
Hosted in partnership with Esports Arena and Boom.tv, Code Red offered a $20,000 prize pool to 32 of the scene’s biggest names ($12,000 of which was allocated to the winning duo). Shroud and Dr Disrespect were the marquee pairing, but the field also featured CoD statesmen Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez and Matt “Nadeshot” Haag, as well as a bevy of popular streamers like Jaryd “summit1g” Lazar, Tim “Trick2g” Foley and Jesse “RealKraftyy” Kraft. Each of the 16 duos were required to complete a four-game preliminary round to determine who would advance to the bracket stage.
Kills, of course, were the determining factor.
The prelims best showcased Esports Arena and Boom.tv’s contribution to the event, the latter acting as a hub page where player streams and kill scores were readily accessible. The ease of switching from stream to stream was a stylistic alternative to Esports Arena’s broadcasted stream from Santa Ana, California.
Casters Bil “Jump” Carter, Nathan “Nathanias” Fabrikant and Jacob “MvPR” Arce did their best to buttress the proceedings with engaging commentary as they hopped between player perspectives, but most viewers flocked to the player streams, with Shroud and Dr Disrespect easily outpacing the others by tens of thousands.
Code Red was played entirely on live servers, and was therefore subject to the foibles of such a setup. Some players suffered connectivity issues that in one instance necessitated a full replay. Then, there was the question of lobby fairness. As Shroud correctly pointed out on his stream, the format had no equalizer for some teams getting easier lobbies versus others being drawn into high skill games, which unfairly impacted their kill scores. For their part, Shroud and Dr Disrespect easily qualified for the bracket stage with 35 kills, second only to CouRage and TeePee.
Brackets were standard double-elimination fare, with matches completed in two games sets. Competing duos played squad games with all four players in the same party, each trying to record the most kills they could. Strict sabotage rules prohibited friendly fire with vehicles or grenades, but often opposing teams kept their distance from each other (better to maximize kills) as part of an unspoken honor system. Players also refused to use a well-known Exo Suit movement glitch that could quickly close the gap. Map markers were used sparingly to keep the other team uninformed of potential kills, or creatively dropped as a mind-game to mislead. Having both teams in the same lobby ensured a level of fairness the prelims lacked, yet the results stayed the same, calling into question how large of a competitive balance issue it actually was.
It was a hazy day in Guangzhou, China during the 2017 League of Legends World Championship quarterfinals. On the slate that day was hometown favorite Team WE — hoping to make its country proud by making it to the semifinals — and its opponent Cloud9, the lone North American representative left in the tournament, a team that barely made it out of the group stage.
Standing out like a 6’5″ sore thumb, I was asked by a group of Chinese teenagers seated in front of me where I was from. When I replied “Los Angeles,” they asked what I did and who I was rooting for. After telling them I was a journalist and had an affinity for C9, a team I’ve covered weekly for two years at that point, their faces shifted into smirks, with even a few laughing.
They weren’t malicious, just matter-of-factly. To them, North American League of Legends was a joke. I later learned some of them were fans of European squads like Fnatic and G2 Esports, Korean teams like SK Telecom T1 — even Flash Wolves, Taiwan’s lone hope, was given some credence. North America, though? They were the region of funny players and memes that never amounted to anything at international events.
When the games started, a mocking “T-S-M!” chant broke out in pockets across the sold-out arena. Although C9 would show up on the day and push the Chinese favorites to their absolute limit, going the full five games in the set, it was the same result, per usual.
They were eliminated in the first round of the knockout stage; and though amusing, they were no threat to the better teams in the competition.
A year later, this time in South Korea, C9 once again stood as the last team for North America at the world championships. Once again, they were fighting against a hometown favorite, this time in the form of Afreeca Freecs, the last team standing from South Korea, the region with winners from the last five worlds. In fact, even in its worst year at worlds in season two, South Korea still sent a team to the final, and the victory (Taipei Assassins over South Korea’s Azubu Frost) to this day is seen as one of the greatest upsets in the game’s history.
Unlike the last year, though, C9 would not be denied this time. It only took three games for it to dispatch of the final South Korean from the tournament, and there was no question which team was better on the international stage. In its fifth quarterfinal in six years, finally, C9 and North America by proxy, made it to the semifinals. It marks the first time North America has made it to the top-four of a League of Legends World Championship since the very first iteration of the competition back in 2011 when there were only eight teams invited, three from North America and squads from China and South Korea not invited.
For the first time, maybe ever, I’m proud to cover North American League of Legends.
Does this mean NA is a better region than South Korea? Of course not. C9 has always been the outlier for the region at worlds, and that didn’t change this year, albeit with the team going further than it ever has.
What it does do is show a blueprint in which other North American teams can hopefully work off of in the coming months as the 2019 season begins. In an offseason where the newly christened North American franchises opened up the bank accounts to pour money on prized free agents, C9, by many accounts, “lost” the offseason, its biggest moves being the signings of Eric “Licorice” Ritchie, a minor league top laner, and Dennis “Svenskeren” Johnsen, the maligned former jungler of Team SoloMid who was the scapegoat for the top North American seed failing at the 2017 world championship.
Compared to other teams, it felt like a joke. Why Svenskeren? What could Licorice do that Jung “Impact” Eon-yeong couldn’t? Why didn’t owner Jack Jack Etienne care about the team? Where the hell was the signing of South Korean jungler Han “Peanut” Wang-ho to bolster the starting lineup?
For years, North America has been the region where if the infrastructure, coaching and team chemistry weren’t working, the quickest fix was a blank check to a high-profile player. It has become the region for splashy signings and even splashier drama.
The reason why the region became a joke was because it’s impossible to ignore North America if you’re from another region. The headquarters to Riot Games, the game creator, was nestled right across the street from the North American League Championship Series. A lot of the production international fans see come from the NA broadcast. The promo videos played in Busan for the quarterfinal had English subtitles for Korean players (and we were in South Korea). Team SoloMid, win or lose, were the most talked about franchise in all of League of Legends right there next to SK Telecom T1, who has been to four world finals and has three Summoner’s Cups to their names. TSM hasn’t even made it out of the group stage during that same time period while SKT T1 has been winning trophies.
Who wouldn’t make fun of a region that gets more attention than its more successful and talented brother in Europe or other regions across the world? If anything, from the outside, NA should be mocked. They spend a lot of money. They take players from better regions. And for the most part, they fail to capitalize with all their advantages, routinely losing to minnow regions and getting outperformed by teams with a fraction of the payroll.