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After what felt like an eternity, Call of Duty returned to LAN just in time for Champs. It was “move in” time at the University of Southern California campus, but it was easy to see all the OpTic Chicago fans among the students. Inside the arena, near the front of the stage, fans in various iterations of the OpTic Gaming jersey chanted as their team stepped onto the stage for their first appearance at Champs

James “Clayster” Eubanks was sitting on the edge of Express, hoping for a pick as Asim “Asim” Obaid planted the bomb. Matthew “FormaL” Piper and Dylan “Envoy” Hannon ran right into Clayster’s field of view. They couldn’t see him, though.

“He’s shooting through the glass,” Jennifer Hannon screamed from the back of the bleachers at the Galen Center in Los Angeles. That’s when I realized that I was sitting right next to Envoy’s mother, who was hoping for a miracle as Chicago went down 2-0 against New York Subliners.

OpTic Chicago had been struggling to perform online all year, and they were laying it all out on the table for themselves and the fans at Champs. At the Stage 5 Major — the first event in over a year that allowed fans — Seth “Scump” Abner took to Twitter to explain how much he’d missed having the fans there cheering him on.

“Brings a tear to my eye,” Scump tweeted alongside a video of fans going crazy after OpTic Chicago took the series 3-1 against Dallas Empire.

OpTic fans are in a class of their own

Against the struggling New York Subliners, OpTic Chicago were favorites to win their opening match of the tournament. However, the return of three-time Call of Duty World Champion James “Clayster” Eubanks proved to be too much for the Green Wall as New York took an early lead in the series. After losing the opening Hardpoint on Checkmate, OpTic Chicago would have to get back into the series. On Express for Search and Destroy, things only got worse for the kings of the Call of Duty League. 

Envoy struck first against the Subliners in the opening round of Search and Destroy on Express with an ace, killing all four members of New York in quick succession. It was the perfect bounce-back from the upsetting performance OpTic had experienced on the previous map. “Get em’ Dill,” Hannon shouted again from the seat next to me. For once, things were swinging in OpTic’s favor, but it wouldn’t last. Envoy’s ace win would be the only round that OpTic would get throughout the Search, losing 1-6 against NYSL. As the New York Subliners took another round of Search and Destroy, Envoy’s mom grew more worried for the series. 

Dressed in an away OpTic Chicago jersey with glow-in-the-dark green nails, Hannon popped off every time Envoy fragged Paco “HyDra” Rusiewiez or clutched an exhilarating three-piece. After OpTic fell 2-0 in the series, with their backs against the wall, I struck up a conversation with her. She was happy to talk about the flight from Chicago that she and her husband had taken to cheer on their son and his team. 

This was a sight that they were used to, as Envoy had been traveling for Call of Duty since he was 15. When the league changed the competing age from 14 to 18, Envoy had to take a break from play. In that time, he continued to practice Call of Duty in his basement, screaming out various call-outs that made little sense to his mother. When he wasn’t playing Call of Duty, he was playing different sports with his friend; an activity that he still takes place today, as Hannon explained. 

It wasn’t until the Checkmate Control that things began to look up for OpTic. They were on the verge of being dropped down to the lower bracket of the tournament and needed something special. The answer came in the form of a Round 5 Control, which OpTic Chicago barely scraped by with only a four life lead when the dust settled.

“That was so stressful,” Hannon said to her husband, who sat beside her. It was for me too. Even though I wasn’t an OpTic fan, the crowd had me right with them and fed me the desire to watch them win their first map.

As I watched Hannon cheer on OpTic and go crazy whenever Envoy made an impressive play, I realized what it meant to be a Call of Duty fan; what it meant to be a fan of OpTic Gaming. 

It felt like the entire University was shaking

This may be an over exaggeration, but whenever OpTic Chicago was playing, whether good or bad, the fans were always cheering. From the “Let’s go OpTic” chants to the low rumble of “Bruuuuuuce!” OpTic fans were always making the most noise. As the shouts and applause reigned out through the Galen Center, it genuinely felt like the stadium was shaking. 

The experience wasn’t transferred to the other teams, especially if they were losing. But for OpTic fans, they didn’t care if they were down 1-5 in a Search and Destroy or by 70 points in a Hardpoint. They constantly made some sort of noise. As someone who has been following the Call of Duty scene for the past few years, I’d always admired the OpTic Gaming cheers from the safety of my bedroom. However, in person, it was a completely different story. 

Even after the New York Subliners had sent Chicago to the lower bracket, after a 6-3 defeat on Raid Search in Destroy, on the fifth and final map of the series, OpTic fans still made noise. Despite the game being over, as Clayster took the stage to do a post-match interview for his team, the crowd started up again. Only, it wasn’t the upbeat cheering that I had heard before. This time, the OpTic fans were attempting to “boo” Clayster off the stage; a gesture he took in stride with a huge grin on his face. 

OptTic’s return to grace at Champs

Now, in the lower bracket of Champs, OpTic Chicago would have to begin their Cinderella story to make it through the rest of the event. Their next opponent would be the Florida Mutineers, who started the tournament in the lower bracket due to points earned throughout the season. With a new vengeance and a fire under T2P (Scump and Formal), nothing would stand in the way of the Green Wall. 

OpTic would come out of the gate in dominant fashion against the Mutineers, taking the first map with ease before things began to settle in Map 2 on Standoff for Search and Destroy. As the games played out, the familiar chants from earlier in the day began to shake the stadium once more. The louder the chants grew, the better the players on OpTic seemingly became against their opponent in Florida. 

Finally, the game came down to Apocalypse Hardpoint; the decider for the series. OpTic was coming off of a hot 3-1 victory from the Checkmate Control and was looking dangerous. Quickly, the Hardpoint score began to climb in favor of the boys from the Green Wall. The further ahead they got from Florida, the more fans began to jump to their feet. Those who were seated in front of the stage started to approach it, cheering their heads off to finally see their team performing well. 

At 250-159, the curtains closed for the Florida Mutineers. That familiar shaking stretched across the stadium as the Green Wall fans finally got what they came for: a win