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Dallas Empire went into the Call of Duty League World Championships as the favourites and came out the champions. They're arguably one of the most successful teams ever, especially given their short span together but now at least one player's got to get booted ahead of the coming CDL Season.
They're kind of the perfect 2020 esports story: with a roster announced at the tail end of 2020, they were the all-star lineup between seasoned pros Crimsix and Clayster and exciting new talent like 2018 Halo World Champion Shotzzy, moving over to CoD with an eye on another championship.
Debate raged all season about whether the team was a hype machine or an actual talent line up but they mostly let it speak for themselves, coming second in the overall CDL standings and now taking the World Championship title. Shotzzy, much debated as a player, is now a world champion in two games and the squad Crimsix and Clayster built has unquestionably proven itself. Which makes it a bit weird they now have to break up.
Mind you, so does everyone in CDL. It's borderline traditional in esports to win a big title and kick half your squad in roughly the same way if you lost it but this isn't what's happening here, neither is it anything to do with facially literate rapper Post Malone making a well-timed buy-in to the team during the final stages of last weekend's tournament.
It's actually just because the game used by CDL is changing, so teams reduce by one player from five to four. Which puts pros who've just had to prove themselves over a whole season and a world championship in a difficult position, as well as disrupting whole squad dynamics.
CDL ran as a 4v4 competition from 2013 until 2018, over multiple different versions of the game. For 2019, running Black Ops 4, the format changed to 5v5 and stayed that way for 2020's run in Modern Warfare. At the time, it wasn't the easiest thing for teams to adapt to but it's at least less awkward recruiting a new player than having to throw someone out.
As Clayster put it in a tweet - "win champs, franchising happens, team breaks up. win champs, goes from 5v5 to 4v4, team breaks up. gotta be the luckiest unlucko person on the planet."
It's obvious from Empire's success that you can build a squad for one season, pick the players strategically to what you need and who you want to play with and create a really strong team. And if CDL are going to change the game they use as the platform every year, then this just has to maybe be part of how it works, picking the competitive format that makes most sense for how it should be played.
But it feels a bit unfair and a bit like it makes a mockery of trying to build a steady franchise in the league. If there's no new teams coming in in 2021, then it's not just a case of reshuffling the number of top-tier active players, it's literally cutting the number of roles a player can go for by 20%, which means benching more good players into a reserve role and potentially depriving us of some incredible play.
If you want to see the best players in the world take on the game then you do have to make sure they're playing the format that showcases that but it feels weird, given Activision control both the game and the championships, to actively choose a format that will cut 20% of your active pros from the field. Especially only two years after you'd changed it up the first time.
Lineup fluctuations are kind of always an issue in esports but with careers already pretty fragile, having to switch out of a competitive role into a year of, say, streaming to wait for the format to rotate you back in feels like a perfectly lucrative but kind of unsporting way to run things. You wouldn't expect people to come back in from punditry in regular sports, usually or to be waiting for their position to be back.
Maybe it's because we're used to seeing games like CSGO where the format hasn't really changed substantially, uhm, ever - at least not in terms of having to boot players from your team for excess numbers - but it doesn't seem totally right that moments after the world championship dust has settled, even the most successful teams are having to get on with the traditional esports roster ruthlessness.
No doubt Empire - and CDL - will be competitive next season, regardless and there's no doubt 4v4 is the right format to go with for the game. But you've got to feel for pros coming down from the end-of-season and straight into an HR meeting about whether they think they can slot into an adjusted format, no matter what they just achieved.
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