One can easily make the case that no team has been a bigger surprise during the Call of Duty League's second stage than the Minnesota ROKKR.
Or, depending upon your vantage point, the ROKKR simply are finally living up to expectations.
Either way, Minnesota enter the weekend riding a three-game winning streak, including victories over OpTic Chicago and the Dallas Empire, while rookie Eli "Standy" Bentz has quickly made a name for himself with a 1.11 kill-death ratio, tied for fifth-highest in the league.
Now, with a top seed and a bye in the winners bracket, the ROKKR are once again a trendy pick to go far in the CDL’s Major II that began Wednesday.
"We didn't obviously know how good Standy was gonna be, how he was gonna fit for us," Preston "Priestahh" Greiner said in an interview with Nerd Street Gamers this week. "Then we just came out and, really, I think we played our best Hardpoint match we've ever played against OpTic, and that kind of just sparked everything."
And it's not only the spate of recent victories that have Priestahh and his mates feeling like they have "super potential" to come out on top in this major -- it's also the way they're winning.
Two weeks ago, following their shutout over Chicago, the ROKKR fought back from an 0-2 deficit to beat defending-champion Dallas. They showed a resilience that could come to define their season and have a tangible impact in battle too.
"The reverse sweep actually was huge for us," Priestahh said. "Knowing we're able to do that, having that so if we ever go down 0-2 again, we'll be like, 'All right, we've been here before, we can do this.'
"The momentum we have and all the confidence we have in each other right now after those wins is gonna help a lot."
Priestahh, right, brought high expectations for the ROKKR after coming over from FaZe. Photo credit: Call of Duty League
Did the high expectations get to ROKKR?
That outlook stands in stark contrast from Stage 1, when the ROKKR were a disappointing one-and-done in the tournament and, having failed to coalesce into a championship-caliber team, on the precipice of a lineup change.
The team wound up subbing in Standy for Michael "MajorManiak" Szymaniak, who was part of the reason for the high hopes fans and prognosticators had for Minnesota in the first place.
"Mike was my duo," Priestahh said. "We came over from Atlanta FaZe as a pair, and he's a really good guy, so it was a tough decision.
"It sucks that we had to do something, but at the end of the day, everyone's trying to win, including Mike. Everyone who's a part of the journey is trying to win."
Maybe the FaZe pedigree Priestahh, MajorManiak and Dillon "Attach" Price brought to Minnesota was a double-edged sword in the sense of the hype that it created around the team.
But those expectations were always going to be there, Priestahh admitted, whether or not ROKKR had been preseason darlings.
"I don't think it's pressure from fans or anyone else," Priestahh said. "It's more just me putting pressure on myself if anything. It's not even coming from Atlanta FaZe, it's just me in general. It's how I am. I want to be the best, I want to be the team that's always winning, like I'm sure everyone does."
What Standy brings to the table
It wasn't as if the beginning of the season was a complete disaster for the ROKKR. Minnesota went 3-2 (10-9 map record) in Stage 1, narrowly missing out on a spot in the winners bracket.
The ROKKR also have been one of the better Search & Destroy teams in the CDL all season, racking up a solid 10-5 record in the mode.
They've struggled mightily in Hardpoint, however, amassing a dreadful 2-9 record in the mode prior to their current three-game winning streak. That's turned around a bit of late, with the ROKKR going 2-3 over the last two weeks, but Priestahh acknowledged it's an area where the team needs to continue to improve.
"We didn't obviously know how good Standy was gonna be ... Then we just came out and, really, I think we played our best Hardpoint match we've ever played against OpTic, and that kind of just sparked everything." -- Priestahh
"Our pacing was a little bit off," Priestahh said. "I was a little bit too fast compared to everyone else.
"I think communication is a big thing, and that's something I've been really trying to focus on just for us as a whole team. Just kind of knowing what everyone is doing on the map and how you want to play a hill, talking to each other. As soon as a hill pops, 'Yo, I've got this, can you pick this up,' and certain things like that go so far."
At least some of that breakthrough can be traced to the promotion of Standy, Priestahh noted.
While it took a minute for the victories to follow -- Minnesota opened Stage 2 with back-to-back losses -- the lineup change clearly made an impact. It goes to show that even with a moderately improved Hardpoint, the ROKKR could be a force in the major, which begins for them with their match against Dallas on Friday.
"Adding Standy definitely helped us," Greiner said. "Moving me to an AR kinda sped me up, sped up the whole team in general. Also just the way we're practicing even with Standy. The kid is very smart. He's been helping out a lot just with how he likes to play the game, and it makes sense most of the time when he says things.
"Even when it comes to Hardpoint, I told him the other day, 'Make sure you're being very vocal,' because when he's vocal, we're all working together so well. He's a great addition."
Lead image credit: Minnesota ROKKR