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Call of Duty

Los Angeles Thieves’ Journey to the CDL Championship

Nikhil Kalro

The Los Angeles Thieves are on cloud nine. In a year where the Call of Duty League has seen four Major tournament winners, they are the only team to win multiple championships, and back to back. Victory has especially been sweeter because at one stage, it looked as if they would crash out of the CDL season. For them to have to hang on for dear life, eke out every ounce of energy to rally, and come back from the dead points to signs of a team that is well on its way to greatness.

la thieves cdl championship

Image Credit: Los Angeles Thieves Twitter

If the win over favourites New York Subliners made them CDL champions for the first time since their inception, the win over Atlanta FaZe reaffirmed their status as one of the most improved teams in recent times. In a final that see-sawed from one side to another, they flexed their muscle in the second half to beat Subliners 5-3. To back that up, their performance against FaZe was a notch higher, even more ruthless.

The win marked the completion of a circle of sorts, because only less than a month earlier, they were on the brink of missing the playoffs. A team riddled with inconsistency that led to roster changes led to a lack of stability within the group. They, however, shrugged aside those issues at Major Four to take the trophy in New York.

Could they sustain that momentum at Champs? You bet. They backed themselves against the odds to make the grand final through the upper bracket and then ran roughshod over FaZe by a 5-2 margin. Victory couldn’t have tasted sweeter.

A Challenging Path to Victory

Victories are what fans and spectators see. Few, however, would’ve envisaged this kind of a turnaround after a tumultuous 2021, where they made numerous changes to their squad. Players and management were rarely on the same page even this year, much of it down to a crisis of confidence.

They needed to make a decision: do they once again go for an overhaul – and no one would’ve faulted them for it – or back the squad they had? They chose to wholeheartedly back the existing group, and not take the easy way out. Sam “Octane” Larew, Kenneth “Kenny” Williams, Dylan “Envoy” Hannon, and Zack “Drazah” Jordan were all given a long rope, security and the insulation from not having to worry about failures. Amazingly, the results have seen a significant improvement in the aftermath.

In the final against Subliners, they had every reason to be aggrieved by the organisers’ call to award the game to their opponents, despite an apparent glitch within the game that warranted a replay. CDL rules don’t have such provisions, and as hard as it was, Thieves needed to take it in their stride and move on. For other teams, this may have been a flashpoint to completely go off the boil and hurtle down a slippery slope.

The Thieves used this as a trigger to create magic. They didn’t let the call affect their gameplay for the rest of the match. They came out all guns blazing in Gavutu Control, won the map 3-1 and banished the bad taste that came in the aftermath of their previous map loss.

The Thieves then made the most of a veto advantage that was handed to them by virtue of securing a final entry through the upper bracket. This meant they got two of their best maps: Gavutu Hardpoint and Control. In some ways, this was some reward for their apparent lack of luck, and they made the opening Hardpoint look effortless by going on an all out attack with the gunfights.

Once they smelt the toffee, they outgunned FaZe every step of the way. Envoy was particularly impressive. For a person whose utility was questioned and whose results had been ordinary coming into the season, this was one way of repaying the faith. This was vindication of the team’s decision to stick to their players despite a series of poor results in the build-up. He ended the map with eight kills, five deaths and a KD of 1.6. Gavatu Control was a lot more even, with FaZe pushing Thieves into a fifth round before they pulled away with a 3-2 win. Envoy once again rose to the occasion.

“We plot like 4 ARs on P4 and P5, those are probably our two best hills on the map,” Envoy said in a conference. “And then when it comes to the other hills, me and Ken, once we get going in the staircases of P2 we’re just getting a lot of kills and pushing out, it just feels really easy. And it feels great that coming into the grand finals from winners we get to dictate a lot of the maps.”

The same fans who were critical of their roster are now singing praises. That’s what a win can do – galvanise not just the individuals but the entire community of fans. There’s way too much talent, so heady at times that it can blindside teams. That a performance along the way hadn’t come, for a team with so much ability, was largely the trigger for fans to go out on an all-out attack, whether online or elsewhere.

This was one way of keeping them quiet, this was one way of transcending from being underachievers to outright champions. The journey was steep, but they made it look seamless despite the barrage of criticism. The key component along the way – self-belief.

During Major 4, the Thieves dropped just one match on their way to the title. At Champs, they went unscathed. The result must have particularly been satisfying for Kenny, for whom this was his first championship. He had come agonisingly close earlier on two occasions: 2018 with Team Kalibar and 2019 with 100 Thieves. Now with an MVP title to boot, things are looking up.

In his moment of crowning glory, he was modest enough to admit his teammates carried him. While it may have been true in the grand final, he was the only player on his team to go positive in the upper final when he put up an outstanding 1.31 K/D. The title was also particularly a sweet outcome for coach Jordan “JKap” Kaplan, for whom this was his third championship, but his first as coach. As a player, he won in 2015 with Denial Esports and 2016 with Team Envy.

Their pedigree was never in doubt. Their form was. On paper, you knew they could compete with any of the top sides like FaZe and OpTic. They just proved it here. In many ways, it was a coming together of all three game modes they married with utmost consistency.

What’s Next for the Los Angeles Thieves?

With a champions win under their belt, the most logical step is to expect Thieves to keep faith in the same roster for the off-season. Unless something significant happens, you’d expect the roster and the coaching stand to remain, which means Jkap and Eric “Muddawg” Sanders will presumably lead the way while new addition Shane “ShAnE” McKerral will continue to be a more analytic coach. This worked for them this year, and there’s no reason to believe it won’t in 2023. That said, they need a little more role clarity.

Kenny, for example, began the Vanguard season as an AR player but then made the switch to an SMG mid-season. This change worked wonders for the Thieves as Kenny was able to bring out his dominant side. For every Kenny, there are several others who fall by the wayside.

If they can quickly recognise this and assign roles that align with a player’s long-term vision, this is the team that could yet dominate the CDL scene year on year. Another aspect they could pay heed to is the sub role. While it may seem evident that the role isn’t their primary focus now, it could become a bone of contention when they least expect it.

For now, they have earned the right to relax and have a slightly more comfortable off-season. After all, nothing succeeds like success, and they’ve had plenty of it this year. They’ll hope it continues for long.