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The match between the Dallas Empire and Toronto Ultra came down to a Round 11 in Search and Destroy, as close as a match could be. And since this is Champs, losing means a trip down to the losers bracket. No one wants their Call of Duty League season to end early.

Both teams were lined up on each side of Raid, waiting for the countdown to end and the final round to begin. The players had headphones on, so they couldn’t hear much from the thousands of fans in the Galen Center at the University of Southern California. That didn’t stop fans from giving it their best shot.

“Yo Crim,” one fan shouted from the second level. “Don’t f*** this up!”

Few fans want a repeat champion

Ian “Crimsix” Porter and company rushed the bomb site with stun and Semtex grenades flying everywhere around the infinity pool. Chants of “let’s go Ultra” filled the arena. It was clear that few people in the building wanted the champions of the 2020 Call of Duty League to win again.

“That’s just the way things are with Porter,” said Dallas Empire SMG Anthony “Shotzzy” Cuevas-Castro. “He’s everyone’s Kryptonite. No one’s really gonna like him because he’s beaten every single team.”

A bloodbath followed as players from both teams fell rapidly, eventually leading to Dallas taking that final round, setting them up for another match on Saturday. But despite beating Minnesota and Toronto at Champs, the Dallas Empire haven’t had the best season in 2021. They’ve only gone the distance at one Major, and even then they lost to Atlanta.

They’ve been overshadowed by the Atlanta FaZe and their three Major championships. That’s why it’s a mystery to Atlanta FaZe player Alec “Arcitys” Sanderson as to why Dallas is getting all the hate after his team has dominated every other in the league.

“Stage 5 was different. We walked in that venue and we got booed instantly,” Arcitys said . “Here, we’re getting cheers. We don’t have people screaming at us that we suck.”

Arcitys said that it was a weird but welcome change.

Dallas empire Champs
Neither Minnesota nor Toronto could slow Dallas down at Champs | Provided by Dallas Empire

“I feel like everyone wants to see us lose,” said Reece “Vivid” Drost. “But like, when they’re booing us, they have to get louder. It’s just not loud enough.”

Vivid began the 2021 season on the Los Angles Guerrillas before joining Dallas in May, before Stage 4. He’s competing on the biggest stage in Call of Duty while his former team is sitting at home after not qualifying for the championship tournament.

Respect leads to better practice

Vivid said he didn’t know he would end up on Dallas when he was dropped by Los Angeles, but he knew he could be the one to help turn that team around whenever he saw them struggle. The championship squad had gone through a number of changes, losing James “Clayster” Eubanks before the 2021 season and Cuyler “Huke” Garland in the middle of it.

All those changes led to struggles in-game, but Vivid has helped Dallas find their footing. Shotzzy said the season turned around once Vivid joined the squad, and Empire owner Mike ‘Hastr0’ Rufail felt the same.

“He’s a quality player,” said Hastr0 in an interview. “We think that we have a really good shot at winning tournaments with him. We wouldn’t have signed him if we didn’t.”

Their fourth place finish at the Stage 5 Major wasn’t his fault, either. Crimsix took responsibility for that, due to his cat going missing.

Regardless of their regular season performance, though, fans and other teams are worried about the defending champions. The quality of the Dallas Empire’s play has gone up and down this year, but their preparation for Champs was strong last year. Based on how great players and coaches from around the league said Dallas looked in scrimmages, that’s true again this season. This time, at least, it’s thanks to the team’s positive vibe.

“We’re just more productive at practice,” Vivid said. “Everyone respects everyone. When someone says something, we know it has good intentions.”

Dallas Empire Champs
Indervir “iLLeY” Dhaliwal will need to play out of his mind to help Dallas win | Provided by Dallas Empire

It’s hardly halfway through Champs, but Seattle has already dropped their whole roster. Both Vivid and Shotzzy know that this is the start of a wild offseason of change, but they are both comfortable in their roles on Dallas. They don’t believe they’re going anywhere.

“We all have one goal,” Vivid said. “That’s to win.”

Despite the fact that achieving that goal would cement their place as the villains of the league, it seems like a distinct possibility.