CWL Pro League Stage 1 Preview
CWL Pro League Stage 1 Preview

The Stage 1 Playoffs are nearly upon us, and following a tumultuous CWL Birmingham Open, it’ll be interesting to see which team walks away with a first place finish in what figures to be a brutal gauntlet. Say what you want about the Stage 1 format itself, but it’s tough to argue the final result failed to produce the best eight teams in competitive Call of Duty. You could argue that Splyce belong in the playoffs based on their success at the most recent Open LAN, and that they were without one of their star players for the beginning week of Division B, but eUnited still represent an intriguing option for the final playoff spot thanks to their Jekyll-and-Hyde routine.

As a result, it’s difficult to predict who might even win their opening matches, much less the tournament itself. But what is writing about competitive CoD if we remove biased and potentially baseless proclamations!

Rise Nation vs. eUnited

Cumulative Record: eUnited 1-0 (3-0 map count)

Most Recent Series:

CWL Birmingham – Pool play: eUnited win 3-0

It’s hard to imagine these two teams have only played each other once, given the majority of the intrigue this year has come from the two organizations. Just how good Rise Nation really is might as well be the slogan for Stage 1 of the CWL Global Pro League, as the CWL Atlanta Open winners have fluctuated between “one of the better teams in the world” to “will they ever lose?” on a number of occasions. CWL Birmingham Open alone saw Rise fall to eUnited in a convincing 3-0 sweep during pool play, only to finish in third place overall – benefitting in large part thanks to a colossal meltdown by eUnited, who fell from first place in their pool to third with a stunning loss to Cyclone EU. It’s much easier to discount the results of a LAN event in the UK if there were others to go off, but alas, I’m left prognosticating with a taste of recency bias in my mouth.

And don’t even get me started on eUnited, who have repeatedly teetered between an upper echelon team and one on the verge of literally self-combusting before our eyes throughout the past six months – to the point where the following weeks after the Stage 1 Playoffs could be some of the most riveting in “Rostermania” since the inception of the CWL.

I still believe Rise Nation will win this match – and likely in demonstrative fashion – but even if they were to lose, it would not at all surprise me to see the group rattle off a lower bracket run.

Luminosity Gaming vs. Red Reserve

Cumulative Record: Luminosity Gaming 2-1 (6-3 map count)

Most Recent Series:

CWL Birmingham – Pool play: LG win 3-0

Luminosity have the winning record, but Red Reserve claimed the series victory when it mattered most – knocking off LG in a convincing CWL Atlanta Open lower bracket final before finishing in second place. This might go down as one of my favorite series of the entire CWL Stage 1 Playoffs, as Luminosity’s strengths should have relative counters from Red Reserve – provided the European team play to what they are capable of doing.

It perhaps goes against the grain, given how successful John “John” Perez was at CWL Birmingham Open, but Josiah “Slacked” Berry looms as the biggest difference maker in this latest installment. So long as John and Sam “Octane” Larew slay as anticipated, Slacked should have the relative freedom in the map to make the necessary objective plays, which figures to be crucial given I don’t anticipate this becoming a fourth straight series sweep for one team or the other. It’s not a perfect science, but then again, nothing in competitive CoD is these days.

OpTic Gaming vs. Team EnVyUs

Cumulative Record: OpTic Gaming 4-0 (12-3 map count)

Most Recent Series:

CWL Birmingham – Lower bracket semifinals: OpTic Gaming win 3-1

These two teams have squared off against one another the most of any first-round matchup, but it’s the most recent series that I am most interested in. OpTic Gaming, whose popularity has apparently made them impervious to the effects of jet lag (I kid, but also haven’t quite ignored the possibility), certainly seemed to be firing on all cylinders at CWL Birmingham Open save for a 3-2 loss to LG in the upper bracket semifinals, and another 3-2 loss to the European supernova that was Splyce in the lower bracket semifinals. The lineup decision to have Ian “Crimsix” Porter move away from the main AR role brought a bit more consistency to the team’s respawn play, which should pay dividends against Team EnVyUs. While the usual concerns around OpTic’s Search and Destroy play remain as relevant as ever, that’s not a major issue against an inferior S&D opponent such as EnVy, who at times seem to rely too heavily on Austin “SlasheR” Liddicoat and Cuyler “Huke” Garland.

FaZe Clan vs. Team Kaliber

Cumulative Record: Team Kaliber 2-0 (6-3 map record)

Most Recent Series:

CWL Birmingham – Pool play: Team Kaliber win 3-2

To me, this feels like the most “50/50” series of any of the first round matchups. Team Kaliber obviously have the series edge, but a 3-2 pool play victory isn’t necessarily a vote of confidence in terms of repeat success. But as we’ve seen during TK’s dominant stretch earlier in the year, getting to a Game 5 can’t be considered a complete negative either, especially if they have a tendency to come out on top. There’s probably not a better opponent for Team Kaliber than FaZe Clan either, as the deliberate and calculated approach from Dylan “Theory” McGee and company meshes well with the “fast and furious” strategy normally deployed by FaZe.

Playing fast doesn’t mean FaZe blitzes through a given map willy nilly however, as Thomas “ZooMa” Paparatto and Dillon “Attach” Price always tend to surprise me with at least one or two cheeky new maneuvers each series. It’s tough to predict a series winner without first seeing the map pool for the series, but I feel certain saying there will at least be a Round 4. In fact, I would be surprised if any of these opening games don’t at least go to Round 4 – the competition is too close to one another for a bunch of sweeps to occur.

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