With Call of Duty XP approaching, all of our eyes are focused on one primary goal: the crown. As a long time veteran and professional Call of Duty Player playing for Livin’ the Dream at this year’s event, I can safely say Call of Duty XP is every player’s chance to earn that crowning achievement and make their year a true success. The prestige of placing well at our largest annual tournament can help propel a player’s career to new heights, or vice-versa — it can take a once-promising career and have it head towards irrelevancy.
I’ve been a professional player since Call of Duty 2 in 2006. I “lucked” into Call of Duty. I made a decision between purchasing either Call of Duty 2 or Quake 4 due to a simple coin flip. That coin flip paved the way into a new world and a completely different style of competition. I played baseball my whole life and when that was over it left a void. I remember coming home from school and playing “Free for all” Call of Duty multiplayer in public matches and thinking I was the best in the world… until one day someone finally beat me.
I thought it was luck, but he was consistently just better. I asked him how, and he taught me about teams and everything that became the groundwork to what competitive e-sports has become today. And here I am.
In those ten long years, I’ve learned what it takes to compete and cultivated my skills. I’m a Call of Duty 4 National Champion and one of the longest lasting in a scene that has evolved during that time span. The professional Call of Duty scene was more of a niche community a decade ago, when all the players played for pride. Some of my fondest memories come from winning at a time where monetary compensation was not at all the goal. I once won a Call of Duty tournament where my teammates and I took home $350, which at the time was the largest prize to date, and we felt untouchable. The feeling of winning with your team has not changed, but the stakes and competition have risen significantly, and it’s exciting.
Unlike a regular 9-to-5 occupation, most of my peers don’t even crawl out of bed until the afternoon. To the untrained eye that may seem like the behavior of people who are lazy, but you couldn’t be more wrong. Daily team scrimmages between teams start around 6:00 PM and last until past midnight on a regular nightly basis. After those hours of grinding and practicing with your team are done, there are players who do different things to put in that extra time to help improve their team’s chemistry and level of play.
The first and most prominent extra grind time usually comes in the form of “8s.” Pro players pick teams and put up money so that everyone goes as hard as possible, and it provides an extra form of practice for people who are up late night and still want to try and improve. The 8s are taken very seriously and a player’s stock can rise or fall depending on how they perform on a consistent basis.
Like all pro athletes, looking at film is key to learning. Theatre should be every professional Call of Duty player’s best friend. The theatre option didn’t exist in early Call of Duty games, but luckily in this year’s game we have it there waiting on us to utilize. Every player who doesn’t use theatre mode should be kicking themselves. After a day of scrims, I go into my theatre and look to find ways to improve my gameplay for the betterment of the team. Even in a game where you go +20 in kill-to-death ratio, there are mistakes being made that are going to be hard to see or remember without going over the game film.
With stage two coming to an end, one of the most overlooked skills at this point in time is a player’s ability to politic. The top six teams from stage 1 and 2 are officially roster locked, as they auto-qualified for the biggest tournament of the year. That can be viewed as a blessing and a curse. They don’t have to go through the incredibly stressful qualification process, but they also are unable to make moves they think might further solidify their chance to place as well as possible.
This leaves the rest of the community the chance to form teams that they feel can compete at the highest level. Forming a team of people who have the right build and who all actually want to play with each other has proven to be more difficult than it sounds. In past years and in 2016, it’s no different. The pressure of forming the right team is almost higher than the pressure of actually playing. You’re allowed to a lose a few maps here or there, but you only have one shot to put together the right composition of players, which is key.
As we look forward to flushing out our rosters and qualifying for the CWL Champs, wasted hours have to be at an all-time low. Qualifying for the major tournament is always the most stressful part of the whole experience. I’ve been both the favorite and the underdog, and neither process was easy. All of the players give everything they have in preparation, which is different from the rest of the year, which causes the gap between the players to be minimized.
Setting our sights on Call of Duty XP, there’s no more exciting time for Call of Duty fans and players alike. In Los Angeles in early September, all of the world’s best players will convene at The Forum to put a year’s worth of work to the ultimate test. Not sure who I will be teaming up with, but I know my team and I will put in the work necessary to compete for CWL Champs glory.