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The 2021 Call of Duty League season is nearing its end with Champs at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. There’s $2.1 million, a championship ring and the title of world champion on the line for the eight teams in attendance. Fans and casters are confirmed, meaning the arena will be packed at USC.

There is no favorite heading into Champs. This is perhaps the first time this has happened all season long, as Atlanta FaZe rolled through its competition up until Stage 5. Between the steady dominance of Toronto Ultra, the emergence of the Minnesota Røkkr and the late-season surge by OpTic Chicago and Dallas Empire, it’s anyone’s tournament come Thursday.

There are a myriad of unanswered questions on the table as we head into Call of Duty League Champs. Here are Upcomer’s staff thoughts on some of the biggest ones:

Will Toronto’s collapse affect them enough to not win Champs?

Joey Carr: I don’t think the collapse itself will stop Toronto from winning Champs. They’ve proven to be the most consistent team in the CDL this year by never finishing below 3rd place at a Major with Jamie “Insight” Craven on the roster. They should absolutely be considered favorites heading into the event. The only way I see the Stage 5 Major choke affecting Toronto is if they go up 2-0 in a series and lose the third map. Thoughts of their collapse could also come into play and put even more pressure on the Ultra’s young players.

Toronto Ultra's Insight on LAN
Insight has been the main reason behind the Toronto Ultra’s steady play in 2021 | Provided by CDL

Aron Garst: Absolutely not. These boys up North are made of ice. They went on an absolutely wild loser’s bracket run to beat Atlanta at the Stage 2 Major long before they went up 4-0 over Minnesota in one of the worst chokes in Call of Duty history. If anything, I think this will give them some fuel to go far at Champs in Los Angeles. I don’t know who will win the big tournament, but Toronto is far from out. If anything, I think the win affects Minnesota more than Toronto. How do you repeat magic like that twice in a row?

Danny Appleford: I don’t think there is a Call of Duty roster in history who hasn’t choked at some point. That’s part of Call of Duty. Despite choking at the Stage 5 Major, I still have Toronto Ultra as my favorites for Champs. They have been arguably the most consistent team all year alongside Atlanta. I think that Toronto will be fine regardless of their placement at Stage 5.

Do you consider Atlanta FaZe a dynasty if they don’t win Champs again?

Garst: What is a dynasty? The New England Patriots are a dynasty in the NFL because they won championships, not regional tournaments between AFC teams. Call of Duty is a little different though; Major events are a big deal and are one of the only chances we get to see top talent play in an elimination-style tournament. Five events, even without the championship trophy, is still a dynasty. It’s just a less impressive one. The Tiny Terror duo will have a shadow over their legacy if they never win it all.

Appleford: With the last dynasty being OpTic Gaming, it will be hard to call FaZe a dynasty just because they have performed well in the last two years. Objectively, many would say that since it was all online, there’s no real stake in their success. While I don’t think that’s true, I think FaZe are going to have to do more than win Champs to be considered a dynasty. Though, I do think a win at champs starts the dynasty conversation, just based on how dominant they have been in recent years.

Simp Atlanta FaZe
Simp and the Atlanta FaZe have dominated the regular season the past two seasons but have no Champs ring to show for it | Provided by CDL

Carr: In Call of Duty history, there have been two distinct dynasties: the Complexity/Evil Geniuses rosters from Black Ops 2 and Ghosts and the OpTic Gaming roster of the jetpack era. What do the two dynasties have in common above all else? They each won a world championship. As of this moment, Atlanta FaZe is approaching dynasty territory; five event wins in two years is hugely impressive.

However, for context, OpTic Gaming won five events in Black Ops 3 alone. While there were more tournament opportunities back then, OpTic notoriously had the “7th” meme follow them around for their 7th place finishes at Champs in 2015 and 2016. These finishes overshadowed their many tournament wins. Atlanta needs a win at Champs to cement themselves as a legitimate dynasty, as OpTic did in 2017 and Evil Geniuses did in 2013.

Which team has the best chance at pulling off what Røkkr did at Stage 5?

Appleford: If anyone is going to make a run, especially through the loser’s bracket, it’s the LA Thieves. During 2019 Champs, 100 Thieves (with Kenneth “Kenny” Williams and Austin “SlasheR” Liddicoat on the team) made it all the way through the loser’s bracket to the grand finals against eUnited. When SlasheR and Kenny were together again on OpTic Gaming LA last year, they made another loser’s bracket run to finish 5th overall at Champs. Now that Kenny and SlasheR are back on 100 Thieves, there is no reason they can’t repeat that magic a third time.

Carr: If there’s one bottom-half team that could make a miraculous run to the grand finals, it’s the LA Thieves. Florida has been far too inconsistent at major tournaments to instill any confidence in me and New York is a toss-up due to how long Clayster was out of the game. LA has been showing great strides since adding Jonathan “John” Perez and could put it all together at Champs. As previous majors have shown, the loser’s bracket is a place where teams can get hot and upstage winners bracket squads. This is where LA will start come Thursday. The Thieves have the firepower and experience to make a run but players like Zack “Drazah” Jordan need to play perfectly.

Garst: The lights fade on stage at the Galen Center in Los Angeles as a yellow glow slowly overpowers the crowd. Then it hits: the man himself. James “Clayster” Eubanks runs out on stage and leads New York on one of the most impressive runs in Call of Duty history. The Subliners have performed well with Clay during this season, and I can see them returning to form as he returns from his mental health break. He was a part of the 2020 championship-winning Dallas Empire; I could see him coming back to repeat.

Does Dallas have what it takes to capture another title?

Carr: If Dallas looked as strong as they did at the Stage 4 Major during Stage 5, the answer would be a resounding yes. However, the 2020 champs faltered at the Stage 5 Major, going 1-2 and losing badly to OpTic Chicago, the team they beat twice one event ago. While you can never truly count out Ian “Crimsix” Porter at a Champs event — his three rings speak for themselves — the tables are certainly stacked against the Empire in 2021. Atlanta, Toronto, Minnesota and Chicago all look stronger heading into Champs.

Fans will be in attendance at the Galen Center, and the Empire looked noticeably weaker playing in front of fans in Stage 5. It’s tough to envision Dallas repeating in 2021.

Garst: I hate to say it, but Crimsix always has something up his sleeve. If he’s able to shed the weight from anything in his personal life, then I can see Dallas going far again. They’ve always been a step behind teams like Atlanta and Toronto, though. I don’t see them winning it all again.

Appleford: I don’t have much stock in Dallas this early amid the multitude of highs and lows that they have experienced throughout the season. If they looked like the same team from their Modern Warfare days, I would think differently. At the moment, I think that teams like Toronto Ultra, Atlanta FaZe and OpTic Chicago look better than them overall.

Which non-MVP player has the biggest chance to affect Champs?

Garst: Michael “MajorManiak” Szymaniak went from warming the bench to leading the Minnesota Røkkr as IGL in a short period of time this season. His teammates and coaches took time to shout him out after Minnesota’s breathtaking comeback. If anyone can come up clutch to help his team out of a bad spot, it’s the Maniak. He did it at the Stage 5 Major and I think he’ll do it again at USC.

Crimsix of Dallas Empire
The Dallas Empire have had a rocky 2021 but also have the experience of winning Champs. We’ll see if they can put it all together in LA | Provided by CDL

Appleford: My pick for this is Drazah of the LA Thieves. He reminds me of Kenny, who tore up the scene in World War II. I think he has the potential to swing some of the games in their favor. Despite having little experience on LAN, he has proven that the crowd doesn’t scare or intimidate him. If he can have a great weekend at Champs, we may see the LA Thieves break into a top four finish.

Carr: The one player that needs to show up for their team to even have a chance in Los Angeles is Reece “Vivid” Drost. Starting the year with the LA Guerrillas, Vivid has had a bumpy road on the journey to Champs. He was benched, traded and has been somewhat inconsistent in his time with Dallas. Recently, though, he’s come into his own with the roster.

His respawn play has been especially impressive, as he ranks highly in most Hardpoint and Control stat categories. Crimsix even called him “the most random, yet fortunate pickup I’ve ever been a part of.” If the Empire wants to repeat in 2021, they need Vivid to play as he did with LAG earlier in the year. If he can, Dallas might have a shot at taking down the titans of the CDL.