The Dallas Empire became the third Call of Duty League team to win a homestand title so far this season, joining the Atlanta FaZe and Chicago Huntsmen with a championship at this weekend's Los Angeles event.
The victory, coupled with the FaZe losing to the Minnesota RØKKR in the semifinals, made for an interesting tournament, even without OpTic Gaming winning their first two games of the season.
Here's a look back at the homestand from Emily Rand and Arda Ocal.
How surprising was the Dallas Empire winning this tournament?
Rand: One of the reasons that I think we didn't talk as much about Dallas as maybe we should have is that they were expected to contend for the title against the Atlanta FaZe. The Minnesota RØKKR were cited as a potential darkhorse due to their performance in Atlanta against the FaZe (more on them both later), but Dallas were in the awkward position of not being the tournament favorite while still being the second-best contender.
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It is somewhat surprising that Atlanta lost to Minnesota given how well the FaZe regrouped from early deficits at the last event, but it's not too surprising that Dallas won the final. This is a team that was highlighted as one of the league's potential best, and Sunday they took their first big step toward recognizing that potential.
Ocal: Not particularly. Dallas and Atlanta were always the favorites going into this weekend. If you considered Atlanta to be the clear favorites, then yes, it would be surprising to you, but overall the Empire were one of the teams expected to go far, and they did.
The way their title came about, though, was certainly surprising. Dallas was the victim of recency bias going into this tournament as most of the discussion centered on Atlanta and Minnesota. Now, the Empire have a tournament win under their belts and are back on everyone's radar as one of the best teams in the CDL.
Are the Empire the best Search and Destroy team in the league?
Rand: When I think of other S&D teams, I oddly think of the London Royal Ravens, not necessarily because of their record but because of the way they can make the most of lengthier sight lines on some of these S&D maps with their sniper prowess. I also think of Atlanta, which has been surprisingly smart and measured with its S&D approaches, and I point to Dylan "Envoy" Hannon's approach with the Chicago Huntsmen.
I think the Empire's strength on S&D is the way they manage to set whatever pace they want. We saw it at a crucial moment Sunday in Map 5 against the RØKKR, with Cuyler "Huke" Garland and Anthony "Shotzzy" Cuevas-Castro pushing the tempo from the start on Gun Runner. The Empire's strongest map mode is S&D, and yes, I do think currently they're the team to beat in this mode.
Ocal: Dallas went undefeated on S&D on Sunday, sure. But in S&D KD (kills/deaths) for the weekend, James "Clayster" Eubanks topped the team and was just 10th among all players this weekend with a 1.23 (Seattle's Bryan "Apathy" Zhelyazkov led the way with a 1.68). I still wonder if Atlanta has an edge, especially the way it played Dallas in S&D this weekend, but the Empire are definitely up there. Lots of talent, in the conversation, not a clear cut definitive yes.
Just how good are the Minnesota RØKKR?
Rand: If only there was a way to put Dallas, Atlanta, and Chicago in a weird three-way tie at the top, with the RØKKR in at second. Basically, if there was a tier system, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas are top-tier, and the RØKKR are just below that. They have the talent to win a tournament this season, but they're not quite there yet.
Ocal: If you put Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas as the top three (you order them, I'm placing them unordered for the sake of this argument), Minnesota have to be No. 4 right now with Florida in hot pursuit. OpTic put on a good showing this tournament; even if they didn't get far in the bracket ,they turned some heads, especially with a 3-0 vs. Minnesota. I really want to see a future Florida-Minnesota matchup. They are in opposite groups in Dallas coming up, so maybe the stars align.
How well do you think FaZe will regroup after their first series loss?
Rand: I have a weird amount of faith in this Atlanta team. That being said, I think Atlanta has always had a few things to work on, and these holes were covered up by the fact that when Atlanta's guns are hot, few teams will be able to touch them.
This is the first big test for Atlanta and their coach James "Crowder" Crowder: how well they'll do at reviewing their mistakes and if they can come back stronger. The FaZe have a while to study and improve because their next event isn't until Chicago's homestand on April 4-5. The break could be a boon or a curse, depending on how they use it.
Ocal: We saw them bleed in Atlanta, and the FaZe bounced back for a reverse sweep. Now, it's a little worse: They bowed out earlier than most expected in LA. They have more time to think about this one. This team is young and resilient, and I think this will be a good learning experience instead of a will-breaker for them. I wouldn't knock Atlanta off the perch just yet, even if Dallas and Chicago are still knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door. The Monday team meeting will be interesting for sure, but I do think they will come back with something to prove.
Who is your tournament MVP?
Rand: I wish I could give a combined MVP to both Anthony "Shotzzy" Cuevas-Castro and Indervir "iLLeY" Dhaliwal for defying the narrative around their team, but if I have to pick one, I'm giving it to Shotzzy. Both of these young players stepped up in a big way, but Shotzzy's recent role change really allowed him to shine.
Ocal: Clayster. He popped off on the team that won. Minnesota's Adam "GodRx" Brown deserves recognition on the losing side (guy had a 1.62 KD on S&D, 1.37 on Hardpoint and 1.15 on Domination, and led both teams in the final with a 1.26 KD overall), but if you're giving the MVP trophy only to the winners, then my vote is for Clayster.