Call of Duty Championship 2016 has been raging ever since Thursday, as 32 teams from around the world have been vying for as big a share of the $2 million prize pot as possible. As dawn breaks over Los Angeles, there’s just four teams left in the running, after knock out stages that have been full of notable upsets, not least the fall of four of the North American favourites and the success of two European teams.
The last few matches get underway at 4:30PM UK time, with the final planned to start at 8PM. For many of you, this will be like an Italian trying to watch the Super Bowl for the first time, so here’s a quick crash course in how to watch the final and understand what on Earth is going on.
The first step is to click play on the embedded video when the time comes, or head over to the COD website, but below is a description of the tournament’s structure and the story so far.
COD Champs comes at the end of the inaugural COD World League season. Starting back in January, teams from North America, Europe, and Australia and New Zealand have competed in their respective territories, playing over the internet in a league format week in, week out. Each match was to the best of seven rounds.
This was split into two stages, with a mid-season tournament to decide who had a guaranteed spot in Stage Two, which opened up a new league table and new opportunities for teams to qualify and compete. That again culminated in knockout stages that let teams secure a spot in the COD Champs finals. All hope was not lost, with 80 teams able to fight over the remaining spots.
If that all sounds a bit convoluted, well… it is!
Having made it to the finals, the battles are much more focussed, with only four players on a team and matches played to the best of five. Hardpoint is followed by Search & Destroy, Uplink, Capture the Flag and a deciding round of Search & Destroy. You’ll hear Hardpoint, Uplink and CTF referred to as “respawn” matches, compared to S&D’s lack of spawns for each play.
Having made it through to COD Champs, the 32 teams were split up into groups of four to play round robin matches with the top two from each group heading through to the knockout stages. So far, so FIFA World Cup, but the knockout stages employ a double-elimination system, which is actually pretty bloody clever, if you ask me.
If you lose a match in the double-elimination knockouts, you’re not immediately ejected from the competition, but drop down to the losers bracket which runs alongside it, giving you a second bite of the apple. As an example, a first round loss for EU team Millennium saw them play other first round losers Allegiance, moving forward to face off against Faze Clan in the second losers’ round, before losing a second time being knocked out for good. This goes right the way up to the semi-finals, where you can lose your match, drop down to the losers semi-final, win, and then still make it into the final for a rematch.
The Story so Far
Historically, COD Champs have been dominated by the North American teams, with the EU a distinct second and AUS/NZ a distant third best. At first glance, not much seems to have changed, with only NA and EU teams into the knockout stages and a lot of EU teams losing a match early on.
US team Optic Gaming, AKA The Green Wall, have a big following and are often seen in the finals and winning tournaments – they’ve won the X Games twice, took nine championships last year with Advanced Warfare – but the COD Champs title has so far eluded them, with two third place finishes in the competition’s first three years. After a middling group stage, they faced off against the US’ Stage Two winners, Team Envyus, and immediately dropped down to the losers bracket, losing 3-1.
They’re not the only favourites to underperform, as another favourite for the title, Cloud 9, lost to Team Elevate, who were last year’s runners up when the four of them played as part of Team Revenge. That set up a particularly tasty match between Optic and Cloud9 in the losers bracket third round, which went right down to the wire, not just going to the fifth round, but also the eleventh game of Search & Destroy, and a final one on one gunfight. A quite incredible split second that decided the match 3-2 in Cloud 9’s favour. Trust me when I say there’s no love lost between these two teams…
Other US teams have flourished though. In fact, it’s Team Envyus and Team Elevate, who knocked out Optic and Cloud9 respectively, who are the only two teams left in the winners bracket. With their match at 4:30PM, one will head to the final, the other dropping down to face off against the better of the last pair of losers remaining.
European favourites have also laboured in the winners bracket, with the top four teams from the Stage Two finals – Millenium, Team Infused, Splyce and HyperGames – all losing in the first two rounds and then being knocked out a second time, with the sole exception of Splyce. Splyce have since gone on a run and have made it into the top four overall. They beat Faze in the deciding Search & Destroy round – S&D wins tournaments, the pundits will tell you – and then defeated Rise Nation.
FAB Games are the dark horse of the competition. Their line up played for Exertus eSports during Stage Two, but failed to progress to the playoffs, before shifting as a group to play under FAB Games and make it through the COD Champs online qualifiers. They took a clean sweep during the finals group stage, before knocking out Epsilon Games and Splyce in the winners bracket. They did then drop down to the losers bracket, where they managed to pull off one hell of a shock and beat Cloud9 through some very intense rounds, including a CTF match with just a single capture. It’s a surprisingly good watch!
That brings us up to today, with four matches left to play. The mad frenzy of having the main stream trying to keep track of four concurrent matches is almost at an end – there will be two simultaneously at 4:30PM BST, mind you – and we have a clear story for you to follow.
Team Envyus are the favourites to win, facing off against the surprise US package of Team Elevate. The loser of that match will drop down to battle the winner between the two remaining EU teams, Splyce and FAB. With the number of upsets we’ve seen so far, any of these four teams could win it. Without any real horse in this race, I’ll be cheering on FAB.
Finally, this is a very American style of sports presenting, but it’s been mixed with eSports specific jargon. It’s not too difficult to understand with a little bit of guess work, but here’s a few points to bear in mind:
- Search & Destroy is a round-based game mode with each player having one life per round, and played to the best of 6. Hardpoint, Uplink and Capture the Flag are collectively called “respawns”, because you can, well, respawn!
- Ban & Protect is a competitive play twist on Black Ops 3, allowing the teams to ban or protect certain weapons. FAB have gone through blocking the most popular and powerful assault rifles.
- Because of that, there’s going to be a lot of talk about SMG players and AR players, in reference to a player’s main weapon. A “Slayer” is the team’s player geared most toward simply racking up kills.
- Just trying to watch the video, it’s all first person player view, and with enemy players highlighted through walls for those watching. You can see who is being viewed in the top right hand corner and there’s big indicator with the scoreboard in the top middle of the screen, but for an overview of the whole fight, don’t forget the minimap in the top left hand corner.
Beyond that, just prepare yourself to see commentators in suits sat behind huge desks, chatting away about the drama and surprises that a mere videogame has managed to produce.