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Paul “PaulEhx” Avila wishes he had a regular life in high school. He didn’t go to his prom, didn’t spend much time around campus, and didn’t talk to many other students. He never had time—he needed to get home to grind Call of Duty.

“I was thinking that I was done with school the entire time I was there,” he said. “I honestly do have regrets. I wanted to live a normal life.”

PaulEhx has devoted his life to Activision’s first person shooter. He played for a handful of amateur teams leading up to his graduation. He even won five Call of Duty League Challenger events in the leadup to the 2021 season. He was frustrated though; he wasn’t making much money.

“I’m more of a family guy and you don’t get much revenue or money in the Challengers scene,” PaulEhx, who played for WestR, said. “It was hard seeing my mom and family struggle and not be able to help.”

PaulEhx and his family - Call of Duty League rookies
PaulEhx (Back Right) and his family in Lake Elsinore | Provided by PaulEhx

His mother had been laid off from a Radiology Facility during the pandemic and his father had hurt himself previously while running his landscaping company. Both were unemployed without income and PaulEhx wasn’t making much from all his hours grinding Call of Duty. It was even worse in the pandemic with no in-person events, meaning the available prize money would be significantly lower than usual.

Missing Prom Paid Off

Then PaulEhx struck gold. The London Royal Ravens had been struggling to pick up any steam, losing every single one of their first six games. They reached out for a tryout and eventually signed him, bringing hope in the 19-year-old’s life.

“It’s always been a dream of mine for six years,” he said. Now PaulEhx can send money home to help support his family. “My goal is to help my parents retire.”

PaulEhx is one of the rookies that have been brought up in the middle of Call of Duty League’s 2021 season. They’ve had to relocate from all over the world to their respective team facilities. Jamie “Insight” Craven from the United Kingdom to Toronto, PaulEhx from Lake Elsinore in California to Charlotte, North Carolina and Eli “Standy” Bentz from Pennsylvania to Dallas to be with the rest of the Minnesota RØKKR.

“The move was pretty sudden,” Standy, who moved in a matter of days, said. He got out to Texas and was put in a hotel before being moved apartment shortly after arriving. The relocation felt instant unlike the grind he had been on for years. His parents, while supportive, felt the same way.

“They’re really happy for me now,” he said. “Of course I miss them.”

Standy was living at home while playing for the amateur team Triumph. He and his squad had won the Challengers Cup #9 when he got a call from a few familiar faces. Minnesota RØKKR analyst Jake “REPPIN” Trobaugh was trying to get him on a video chat.

“I remember Accuracy saying ‘what’s up GOAT’ when I answered” Standy said, adding that he declined the call the first time because he needed a moment. “They wanted to catch up with me, they were keeping tabs on me.”

Eli "Standy" Bentz
Standy practicing ahead of the Stage 2 Major | Provided by Minnesota RØKKR

Standy had been in talks with the RØKKR for weeks, but wasn’t sure if he would make the cut for the team until after he won the Challengers Cup and he got the call from REPPIN.

“That was when I knew it was happening,” he said. “I had proved I was one of the best in Challengers. It felt great but I also knew I had to stay hungry.”

The Grind of a Call of Duty League Rookie

The process to join a team was tougher than any of these rookies realized. PaulEhx was offered a 14-day trial run with London long before he found a permanent spot on their roster. He declined that offer and the team gave Christopher “Parasite” Duarte the trial run instead. “I was just betting on myself,” he said. “And they chose to sign me.”

Moving from Challengers to the big leagues has been like night and day for these rookies. They didn’t have coaches, contracts, or much structure at all while grinding through the amateur tournaments and events. It’s not only that, as PaulEhx is also learning to live on his own for the first time.

“Before I didn’t have to know these skills,” said. “I’m trying to cook, to clean. I’m trying to be a grown person now.”

London practices from 2-9 most days, filling up PaulEhx’s schedule quickly. He had trouble finding time to get out to a nearby Charlotte mall to do some shopping.

“I’m trying to get some clothes, there is only so much you can pack,” he said. “It’s hard to have a life outside our schedule, the mall opens at 12:30 and closes at 9. Those are our hours.”

Another trip around the block

While PaulEhx and Standy are fresh faces to the big league, Insight has made his way around the block more than once. The 21-year-old has been competing since 2015, living in multiple countries while playing for different teams. He’s played on the main stage against tier 1 squads and he’s no stranger to a rigid practice schedule.

“None of this feels new to me,” he said. Insight was brought to the Toronto practice facility in January as a substitute, so his relocation wasn’t as sudden as PaulEhx or Standy. He was at home with his parents in Skipton when he had to make the move to Canada.

“I had to do all the permit stuff, fly to Canada and then find a challengers team to play on,” he said. “It was rocky at first, but I landed on a good squad eventually”

Jamie "Insight" Craven
Insight helped turn Toronto’s ship around this season | Provided by Toronto Ultra

Insight said he felt like an “outsider” while grinding through Challengers as a substitute on the Ultra. He could hang out with the team while they weren’t practicing, but had to leave as soon as they started to play. He knew it was part of the gig so he didn’t feel bad about it. He did feel lucky about another part of his relocation, though.

“Toronto wanted me and I had a girlfriend in Canada,” he said. “It was sort of 1+1=2 sort of thing.”

Insight’s partner was living in Saskatchewan when he got the offer to move to Toronto. It’s still a bit of a trip to see her, but it’s much better than having to cross the Atlantic. He’s been able to visit her once since joining the league.

“We were in lockdown,” he said. “So went out for walks, watch films, did all that sort of relationship stuff.”

Insight didn’t have a specific team in mind while grinding for a spot in the league since opportunities are already scarce. Getting the offer from the Ultra was a relief for him in two ways. It let him move closer to his partner and it showed that years of hard work were finally paying off.

Big Shoes to Fill

Then the big opportunity came up. Anthony “Methodz” Zinni was benched in favor of Insight, giving the rookie his first opportunity in the Call of Duty League.

“At the start it was stressful, everyone was stressed,” he said. “We hold ourselves to a high standard and we were nowhere near it. Mark [Bryceland] told me to just do my thing, there was a reason they picked me up.”

The Ultra changed their whole system up to make way for Insight. They switched their placements, angles, and positioning to make the entire team comfortable. The Ultra had gone 3-6 without him, the all-European squad has gone 12-3 since bringing him up to the starting roster.

“As soon as we started playing it felt good,” Insight said. He’s not worried about the mounting pressure of replacing Methodz—a player with a robust fan base. There are 40 starting spots in the league, there is always going to be steep competition between those that want them.

“Everyone was saying that I have big boots to fill, but I just did my thing,” he said. “I didn’t feel the pressure because everyone has it.”

A GOAT on the rise

Standy wasn’t close with anyone in the Call of Duty League before he joined Minnesota, although he’s always looked up to superstar Seth “Scump” Abner. He had played against Scump several times in scrimmages, including a big match one year before he joined the league. He remembers getting beamed left and right by the OpTic Chicago star.

“He was melting me,” he wrote back in April of 2020. “Usually I fry him, but he’s the king.”

Standy’s original gamer tag was Standful, but he wanted something cleaner similar to how Scump had the “clean ending” in his nickname, Scumpi. That’s where the name Standy came in.

“I was kind of a fan of players like Scump, you know Scumpi, at the time, he had that little ending to his name,” he said. “I don’t want to say Scump was the reason but I just did it one day.”

The tables turned in March when Standy played Chicago for the first time in the Call of Duty League. He was the one doing the beaming this time, killing Scump and his teammates over and over again in a dominant 3-0 victory. He finished the game with a 1.52 K/D, throwing up the classic 3-0 hand symbol after the match.

“Ever since I started playing Call of Duty, this is something I’ve wanted,“ he said. “The goal was always to turn my idols into rivals.”

Standy has faced a new wave of pressure this season. He’s helped turn the RØKKR around since joining, but league veterans have said he—and every other rookie— has a lot to prove once the league returns to in-person play in June.

Standy stats
The stats behind Standy’s impressive debut | Provided by Call of Duty League

“I’m excited for it to be back. All these pros are going to say what they want to say,” he said. “At the end of the day I’m looking forward to it. We’re all together when playing, having that aura and vibe is going to prepare me.”

The Pennsylvania native has been to multiple LANs before getting his shot in the CDL. He had “decent” placings at Black Ops 4 and Modern Warfare events while he was just starting his career. He’s come a long way since then and the 19-year old took a moment to himself after he moved into his new apartment just to take in all the progress he’s made so far.

“My social medias were blowing up,” he said. “Refreshing Twitter and seeing a lot of people say nice things about you put a smile on my face. I was just so happy.”

The pressure from fans, coaches, and other players in the league isn’t getting to him. He still goes through his game day motions that he did in Challengers, getting his mind right before playing against his former idols. He likes to listen to his ‘The Best’ playlist ahead of a match. His favorite song?

“Probably GOAT by Lil Tjay,” he said. “That’s my favorite song.”