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History of Professional Call of Duty

Jalen Lopez  | 
call of duty

Call of Duty has one of the deepest histories in all of esports. (Photo courtesy MLG)

Call of Duty has a long history as an iconic game series that now hosts one of the biggest esport leagues in the world. What started out as a campaign focused first person shooter soon transformed into one of the most popular multiplayer games ever created. The game series has helped launched numerous careers and professional organizations that have led to the new franchised Call of Duty League today.

This is a brief history of competitive Call of Duty.

The Early Years

Call of Duty MLG

The first Call of Duty title was released in 2003 and was a historical first-person shooter with a focus on a single player campaign. The game immediately received critical acclaim and spawned several sequels also set during World War II. A dedicated player base began playing the multiplayer modes more competitively which led to the creation of Major League Gaming.

Major League Gaming was one of the first companies to help shape and organize competitive Call of Duty. The company grew and eventually purchased the website Gamebattles. This set a location where players could find other competitive teams and organize matches against one another. Gamebattles is where most of professional players today got their start and formed the foundations of iconic teams.

The first game in the franchise to really have an emphasis on the competitive scene was Call of Duty 4. Released in 2007, it was the first time Call of Duty took place in a modern setting. Local tournaments began to launch around the world that allowed players to get their first taste of a LAN event. From this, the first major Call of Duty tournament was established – The Major League Championship – in 2009.

This tournament marked the first appearance of iconic pro players such as Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, Raymond “Rambo” Lussier, Will “Bigtymer” Johnson, and Brandon “Sharp” Rodgers. Other notable competitors included Mike “Hastr0” Rufail who is the current owner of Envy, Anthony “Nameless” Wheeler who is a professional player turned caster, and Jordan “Proofy” Cannon, who would go on to win several championships. Team Xtravagant took home the MLG Championship and featured the iconic trio of Bigtymer, Sharp, and Rambo.

The next title released was Call of Duty World at War which did not have as much success in the competitive scene. Several players even continued to grind Call of Duty 4 during WaW’s game cycle. A few notable players did get their start in World at War, however, such as Joe “MerK” Deluca.

A Turning Point

Call of Duty

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 was the next game to be released and was immediately loved by the community. MW2 was also the game that brought in several esports organizations that established themselves in professional CoD.

OpTic Gaming was a trickshot clan ran by Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez that expanded into the competitive scene by acquiring young talented players. One of the players was the young McDonalds employee Nadeshot who would go on to become the face of competitive Call of Duty.

MLG was still the place to go for CoD competitions. One of the biggest tournaments of the MW2 season was the Modern Warfare 2 online MLG Championship. Team Envy won, defeating Xtravagant who beat them in the finals the previous year. This was also the first event where the iconic duo Patrick “Aches” Price and Tyler “Teepee” Polchow competed together. Aches’ previous team featured James “Clayster” Eubanks who would go on to be one of the most iconic players in Call of Duty.

Two weeks later was the MLG National Championship in Dallas where Nadeshot and Merk teamed for the first time and began to form the base of the future OpTic Gaming team. Teepee and Aches made it to the finals with their team but ultimately fell short.

Call of Duty Black Ops was the next game to be released and continued to help the competitive scene grow. The first major event of the year was the MLG $25,000 online series where Seth “Scump” Abner made his first appearance alongside Aches and Teepee. The trio would help their team beat OpTic Gaming and secure the $10,000 prize. The event also featured the first appearance of Doug “Censor” Martin.

The next major event was the 2011 GameStop Championship where Envy and OpTic’s rosters merged into one team. They would win the event and further form the basis for the dominant OpTic Gaming team. Scump, Teepee, and Aches continued to dominate the Black Ops season, however, and won MLG Dallas 2011 and MLG Anaheim.

Modern Warfare 3 marked the first time a large amount of money was on the line. Activision wanted to showcase their new game with a massive tournament and a $400,000 grand prize. The Call of Duty XP event took place in September of 2011 and set an example for future tournaments. OpTic Gaming previously dropped Nadeshot from the roster, but Merk was unable to compete in the tournament due to visa issues. Nadeshot returned for the event and OpTic Gaming took home the grand prize.

Adam “Killa” Sloss also made his first appearance at the tournament. From then he would go onto become an iconic player during the Black Ops II rotation. Killa and the IcoNs Elite team placed third and took home a $30,000 cash prize.

The Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 XP event took place before the games official release which meant it was still technically the Black Ops season. Modern Warfare 3 was not designed with competitive CoD in mind and featured no LAN system. MLG was unable to host any events because of this, so teams competed in smaller events. BigTymer, Merk, Scump, and Rambo dominated the season and won most of the featured events. OpTic remained as a strong team in the scene and would grow even more with the introduction of Black Ops II.

The Golden Age

Call of Duty

Black Ops II was one of the best CoD games for competitive play and established several core lineups of teams. Aches, Teepee and Crimsix came together on team Complexity and immediately began dominating the league. Black Ops II also had LAN features built in so MLG was able to host tournaments again.

However, the first tournament of the year was hosted by UMG. The tournament saw OpTic and Complexity face off in the finals and provided the setting for one of the most infamous events in Call of Duty history. After winning the very close match, Nadeshot taunted Complexity which led to Aches pushing him and starting one of the most entertaining rivalry in Call of Duty. Complexity did not let the minor set back effect the rest of the season and went on to win almost every other event

Activision finally started getting behind competitive Call of Duty, thus hosting the first Championship on April 5, 2013. Complexity, OpTic, Envy and Fariko were the final four teams in the very competitive event. Fariko featured Killa and other notable players Damon “Karma” Barlow and Christopher “Parasite” Duarte. OpTic was eliminated by Fariko and went on to face Complexity in the grand finale. Killa clutched a 2v1 final round that secured Fariko’s victory.

While Complexity was dominating the competitive scene, OpTic was rising in popularity on YouTube and Twitch. Nadeshot and Scump’s channels exploded during the Black Ops II game cycle and helped bring mainstream attention to the scene. The OpTic team house also introduced the content creation dynamic that several organizations use today.

Complexity continued to dominate in the Call of Duty Ghosts game cycle and dropped Clayster for Karma at the beginning of the season. The team went on to secure another Call of Duty championship at the end of the year.

Several Halo professional players made the switch to Call of Duty during the Ghost season such as Matthew “Formal” Piper and Ian “Enable” Wyatt. BigTymer also retired during the Ghost season and was replaced by Clayster on the OpTic roster. OpTic went through several roster changes after BigTymers retirement but eventually settled with Proofy, Nadeshot, Scump and Clayster. The team would go on to win the first X Games event and receive gold medals instead of a prize pool.

The Ghost season also marked the end of the iconic Complexity lineup as Aches left to join Faze and Teepee and Karma both joined OpTic. Crimsix also left the team and joined OpTic Gaming for the Advanced Warfare season.

Jetpacks and Spaceships

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare introduced a brand-new system that allowed players to move around the map in new ways. OpTic Gaming was able to adapt to the changes and maintained a dominate team. The roster now consisted of Formal, Crimsix, Scump and Nadeshot and won several tournaments early in the season. Aches helped FaZe maintain their position as a strong team and beat OpTic in a couple of events as well.

FaZe were eventually dethroned by the new team in the scene – Denial. Denial featured Clayster and Jkap as well as new blood Dillon “Attach” Price.

After an infamous performance at CoD champs where Nadeshot accidentally pulled out an HBR assault rifle, the face of Call of Duty announced his retirement. He left OpTic and formed his clothing brand, 100 Thieves, which eventually transformed into one of the biggest esports organizations in the world. He was replaced by Karma which formed the basis of the most dominate OpTic team in history.

OpTic won the MLG World Finals that year and secured the $100,000 cash prize. The lineup would continue their domination into the next Call of Duty title, Black Ops III.

An Official League is Formed

In 2016 Activision purchased Major League Gaming which allowed the organizer to host the official Pro League and establish a season schedule. The Call of Duty World League was separated into two divisions – The Pro Division and The Challenge Division. Each division fed into the Grand Finals of the season and the Call of Duty Championship.

The Pro Division consisted of professional teams from around the world competing for their shot at the title. The Challenge Division gave amateur players an opportunity to compete in a competitive environment and hone their skills. The winning team from this division also qualified for a position in the Call of Duty Championship. The new league also featured the largest prize pool in Call of Duty history – $3,00,000 available for teams to win throughout the season.

The season now consisted of four major open LAN events, a new Pro LAN League, and online competitions held periodically. Teams would compete for CWL points which determined their ranking in the league and if they qualified for the World Championship. The four LAN events were tournament style competitions that allowed more matches to be played and helped storylines develop throughout the event. Call of Duty became shot out of shadows with the change in format and started to look like a professionally structured sport.

The change in format helped the Call of Duty esports scene grow but did have a few setbacks. For example, some players were unable to compete under the new season however as a minimum age of 18 was now required to compete.

New Games, Same Challengers

OpTic continued to dominate throughout the season but were still plagued by their main nemesis Aches. Aches became the captain of Cloud9 and eventually eliminated OpTic from CoD Champs in 2016. Cloud9 would not take home the championship, however, as EnVy was still able to win the title. Teepee announced his retirement during this time and went on to coach OpTic and remains a Call of Duty desk analyst today.

The next game in the series was Call of Duty Infinite Warfare which was met with criticism from professional players and casual fans alike. The professional league lost a lot of attention during this time but OpTic was still a dominate force. A new team, eUnited, featuring Clayster proved themselves during the Infinite Warfare rotation. OpTic Gaming was finally able to win a championship by beating Team EnVyUs in the 2017 Call of Duty World League Championship. This championship made Karma the only pro to have three championship titles to his name.

Call of Duty WWII returned gameplay to its roots with no augmented movement. OpTic struggled to compete with younger teams such as Team Kaliber who was led by Dylan “Theory” McGee and Lamar “Accuracy” Abedi. Team Kaliber managed to start off the season strong and adjusted to the new meta before most other teams. FaZe was also a dominant team featuring Attach and other young players such as Thomas “ZooMaa” Paparatto.

Attach helped secure a victory against OpTic in a 5-5 Search and Destroy match that was the nail in the coffin for the iconic roster. Other teams such as Rise Nation and Team Kaliber introduced a lot of new talent that were more than capable with competing against veteran teams.

The 2017 Call of Duty Championship resulted in Evil Geniuses, led by Aches, beating Team Kaliber and secured the victory. Soon after the championship the story of OpTic and its ownership would dominate all conversations around Call of Duty. The end of 2017 saw H3CZ sell the majority of OpTic Gaming to Infinite Esports and Entertainment. This deal eventually caused problems between H3CZ and the new owners which led to his departure from the organization in early 2019.

Black Ops 4 introduced five player teams which launched one of the biggest roster shuffles in Call of Duty history. Nadeshot also made his return to Call of Duty at this time by introducing the new 100 Thieves team. 100 Thieves and OpTic Gaming became the new rivalry of the league as the new owner went against his original team.

Brandon “Dashy” Otell established himself as one of the best players in the league for OpTic early in the season. EUnited continued to be a solid team and picked up new player Chris “Simp” Lehr. Simp was a dominate Search and Destroy star who was more than capable of competing with professional players.

100 Thieves also proved to be a competitive team that dominated the CWL, but eUnited maintained the momentum and won the 2019 Call of Duty championship.

A Franchised Format

The end of the Black Ops 4 season marked the beginning of the Call of Duty franchise league.

The brand new Call of Duty League consists of 12 teams representing cities from around the world. Activision Blizzard has supported the Call of Duty League since their purchase of MLG in 2016, but the new structure solidifies Call of Duty as a mainstream esport. The league is similarly structured to the Overwatch League; which also franchised years prior. The new league also added several new benefits for players and teams.

Players are guaranteed a base salary of $50,000 a year with benefits and teams are required to help players find housing. Players are also guaranteed at least 50% of prize money won throughout the season. The franchise league continued the five player teams that were introduced in the Black Ops 4 season. Teams compete in tournaments hosted in each team’s city throughout the season and compete in best of five matches. The teams earn CDL points for every win which determine their standings in the league and if teams qualify for the playoffs.

The Call of Duty League also introduced Challenger events which give amateur players a “path to pro” system. Challenger events are hosted at each Home Series throughout the season and has its own prize pool of $250,000.

Many players transferred to new teams when the new league was announced, and another huge roster shuffle ensued. Players scrambling to secure their spots on a new franchise team and new competitive rosters were established. OpTic Gaming legends Scump and Formal joined the Chicago Huntsmen – which is partly owned by former OpTic owner, H3CZ. Crimisx and Clayster teamed up on the Dallas Empire lineup and have established themselves as a strong team. Atlanta FaZe secured the young legend Simp and Preston “Priestahh” Griener who formerly competed with 100 Thieves. London Royal Ravens and Paris Legion are representing Europe in the league and have already proven themselves as strong competitors. The new Call of Duty Franchise League is a huge upgrade for the competitive scene and will provide the opportunity for growth going forward.

Call of Duty has a long history of teams falling in and out of the spotlight and players carving their names into the Call of Duty history books. The inaugural Call of Duty League season has already been incredibly exciting and a great change to the competitive format. The Call of Duty esports scene has come a long way from matches being scheduled on Gamebattles, and it will be interesting to see where the league goes in the future.

Jalen has been destroying noobs for almost as long as he could read. When not working full time in marketing, Jalen is combining his passions of gaming and writing as an esports writer.