Inside the Trade That Could Decide the ‘Call of Duty’ World League Championship

There’s no bigger name in competitive “Call of Duty” than OpTic Gaming, and over the last three years, no team has come close to matching the run of the Green Wall. Starting in April 2015, the OpTic roster of Seth “Scump” Abner, Ian “Crimsix” Porter, Matthew “FormaL” Piper, and Damon “Karma” Barlow won 18 major live tournaments, and capped it all off with the “Call of Duty” World League Championship during last year’s “Infinite Warfare” season.

But earlier this year, OpTic’s roster was falling apart. Every new season brings a fresh “Call of Duty” game to compete in, and this year’s was “WWII,” a return to the series’ classic boots-on-the-ground action. OpTic thrived during a run of more futuristic games, including the jetpack-aided “Infinite Warfare,” but their winning ways didn’t translate cleanly to the simpler historical battlegrounds of “WWII.”

As rival teams like Rise Nation, Team Kaliber, and Luminosity Gaming racked up major wins, tensions simmered behind the scenes at OpTic. Finally, a move was made in early May: FormaL had been traded to Luminosity for fellow assault rifle (AR) specialist Sam “Octane” Larew, while Anthony “Methodz” Zinni was acquired from Team Kaliber to replace the benched three-time champion, Karma.

Keeping any “Call of Duty” roster together for three years is a feat, considering the frantic roster shuffle that exists between major tournaments, and but the news was still shocking given the immense success built during their run. Fans, fellow players, and commentators labeled the move the end of an era for professional “Call of Duty,” and the dissolution of a dynasty.

Splitting apart any team in the middle of a season is a gamble, especially with a pre-“WWII” track record like OpTic’s. Even so, it was hard to argue against the end result for OpTic Gaming. Through crafty maneuvering and surely considerable resources, the foundering organization traded and acquired its way back into a seeming contender, bringing in a pair of “WWII” major winners to join with Scump and Crimsix, the reigning “Infinite Warfare” champions.

And the players on either side of the key trade—OpTic’s Octane and Luminosity’s FormaL—both had compelling, albeit very different reasons for making the move. Now both will battle this weekend in the Call of Duty World League Championship for their share of the $1.5 million prize pool, plus the chance for each to prove that his respective new team came out ahead in this particular gamble.

Different directions
Prior to the trade, OpTic’s players mostly kept their frustrations out of the public eye. But alongside the news came revelations in an OpTic “Vision” episode that internal struggles had dogged the team for years, and that “the only thing holding our team together was winning,” said Scump. Crimsix suggested that petty squabbles had derailed practices and relationships, while OpTic CEO Hector Rodriguez claimed the roster hadn’t had a team dinner together in two years.

“We honestly had issues that had been around for a long time, much longer than people thought—but when we won tournaments, it’s easy to see past the negatives,” said FormaL, who suggested that they were overconfident coming into the “WWII” season. Asked about issues with past teammates, he’s diplomatic with his response: “Behind the scenes, it was more good than the bad. It only ended bad, but we had a lot of good times and laughs together.”

OpTic coach Tyler “TeePee” Polchow suggested “a lot of complacencies that struck in with the previous roster was very tough to overcome,” with poor practices and mounting frustrations within the team. It all came to a head after OpTic lost back-to-back grand finals series to FaZe Clan in April’s Pro League Stage 1 Playoffs. TeePee said that the “choke” made the players “lose a lot of confidence in the lineup and want to make a change.”

In fact, they had already been in touch with Octane before the choke. Luminosity won the CWL Birmingham Open and placed top three in a trio of other “WWII” events, and Octane was considered one of the game’s best AR players. According to Octane, Luminosity management was initially against the idea of a move, given their “WWII” success, but after working through many trade permutations, they finally reached a deal with OpTic.

“A lot of politics were involved in the trade. A lot of stuff that could’ve happened didn’t. It was a long process,” Octane recalled. “I was on vacation during the whole thing, just trying to relax, but I was on my phone eight hours a day trying to figure things out.”

Octane took flak from fans who didn’t understand why he would leave a winning team in the heart of a successful season, but for him, joining OpTic was always a dream—and validation, too.

“OpTic has a legacy in ‘Call of Duty,’ so growing up watching them, it was surreal. It’s like when a high school basketball player gets drafted into the NBA, and starts playing along with the people he was watching,” Octane told Variety. “I wanted to be on OpTic for basically my whole career. I’ve played and played and practiced, and did all of these things to get to this point, and it was a huge personal achievement of mine. I realized that I put this much effort into something and I achieved it—it was a huge confidence boost.”

He believes that the skill ceiling with this new roster is higher than on Luminosity, but for Octane, it’s about more than just winning in “Call of Duty”—and about more than just winning right now, at that. As the popularity of esports continues to surge, top pro players have become celebrities and cultivated large online followings, with ample rewards and opportunities in tow. Past OpTic star Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag is a prime example: he parlayed his competitive fame into YouTube and streaming success, and now runs his own team, 100 Thieves.

Joining OpTic “was a career decision that I couldn’t pass up,” said Octane. “Obviously, ‘Call of Duty’ is really, really important. But outside of ‘Call of Duty,’ it helps me grow my personal brand and things like that. If I were to turn it down, that would not be a smart idea.”

“I really enjoy being on the team. It’s been a learning experience, to say the least, because every team I’ve been on is just ‘Call of Duty’—just win. On OpTic, it’s like, ‘What are you doing for your content? Are you streaming? Are you tweeting?’ Things like this. And I was like, ‘Oh shit, I should probably get on that,’” he added. “I worked my whole career to get to this point, and now that I’m here, I’m learning all these things and viewing my life completely differently.”

Adjusting to change
Even so, winning is paramount right now—and that’s true for both OpTic and Luminosity as they enter the Call of Duty World League Championship in Columbus, Ohio this weekend. The five-day event is the culmination of the entire season, with an enormous prize pool up for grabs and the chance to be crowned the ultimate “Call of Duty: WWII” champions.

Comparably-skilled pro players aren’t just plug-and-play components, however. There are conflicting play styles to smooth out, new strategies and communication quirks to work through, and personalities to align within a short window of time. Luminosity initially struggled to adapt following the move, and fans feared a late-season downgrade. Coming out of OpTic’s frustrations and inconsistent performances, FormaL admitted that he first had difficulty fitting into the thriving Luminosity roster, which he blamed in part on his previous team experience.

“At first, it was tough. The way we played on OpTic was not the right way to play the game, and I had to pretty much learn a whole new game, which was part of the struggles we had as a team at first,” said FormaL. It was also strange to have different voices in his headset during tense matchups: “I had been playing with the guys on OpTic for so long that it felt so weird. Not hearing the same voices in the game took some getting adjusted to.”

FormaL first soaked up as much knowledge as he could from his new teammates, but said that he’s now taking more of in-game captain role to help support the squad. He suggested that they’re feeling confident going into the weekend, and that “we’ve improved so much and are really looking good.” Ultimately, in hindsight, he believes the trade was necessary: given OpTic’s results before the move, they probably weren’t going to make much of a run, and he wasn’t in a good place personally.

“Yes, it needed to happen. I was in a very toxic environment and was not happy at all,” said FormaL. “Hopefully, Champs will be the event my team really comes together and shows why we made this team.”

What about OpTic, then? With fellow newcomer Methodz as another offensive-heavy AR Slayer, Octane opted to change up his play style for the benefit of the team. He’s become a more vocal in-game leader and changed his break-off routes and movement patterns to be more aware of his teammates. Changing his approach was difficult, but Octane credited Scump and Crimsix’s leadership for helping him through it.

“It was weird at first because I was kind of the cliché AR player that just gets kills, but now I’m worrying about what everyone’s doing on the map at all times,” he said about the role change. Following a surprising 7th/8th-place finish at the Stage 2 playoffs, OpTic recently holed up together for a pre-Championship boot camp. Octane suggested that it could be the difference-maker that raises OpTic’s fortunes this weekend.

“We’ve been improving a lot. That’s been really, really good to notice. Before that, we were just lost. We had no idea what was going on,” he admitted. “It helps because we sat down, the four of us in a room, and hammered out the issues. And I’ve seen drastic improvement from where we started.”

Ready for action
Avid “Call of Duty” fans will watch the combat closely this weekend, looking to see whether either one of these successful organizations can notch the big “WWII” season win. Are the teams hoping for a grudge match at some point during the Championship? And does the higher-placing team ultimately “win” this trade, regardless of the weekend’s overall outcome?

Neither FormaL or Octane seems to care very much. They’re both very happy with their new homes, for varying reasons, and both feel like they’re in a good position to succeed. Octane said that viewers and commentators are more likely to make a big deal out of a potential matchup than the actual OpTic and Luminosity players are, especially since they’ve already battled it out since the trade.

“We played them—we beat them, and they beat us. I think they got their animosity out of their system. As soon as we played them and beat them the first time, I didn’t care anymore,” said Octane. “I think the rivalry is more for the fans: you know, Matt vs. his old team, me vs. my old team. But within the players, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. I’m good friends with everyone on LG.”

Even so, if the fated matchup comes, Octane promised to give fans a show. “I don’t really view it as a rivalry,” he added, “but obviously, I’m going to go a little bit harder when I play them.”