Even before the Toronto Ultra knocked off Minnesota, Dallas and Atlanta on the same day to win Call of Duty League's second major tournament of 2021, Benjamin "Bance" Bance had a feeling his team would pull off the remarkable upset.
"If you said it to me, I'd probably be like, 'Really? No way,'" Bance admitted. "But during that weekend, I genuinely believed we were going to win."
That profound sense of confidence culminated in Bance's masterful performance against FaZe in the finals, where the British-born COD pro went on a 10-0 tear in Search & Destroy to close out the improbable victory and claim a $500,000 prize.
Yet, just three weeks earlier, Bance was in a far different place mentally, revealing only after the Ultra's win that calling it quits at the conclusion of Stage 2 had legitimately crossed his mind.
Nerd Street Gamers caught up with Bance over the weekend to discuss the now-infamous retirement Tweet, his feelings about unrelenting criticism from fans, and how he ultimately found his swagger again.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Nerd Street Gamers: First of all, congratulations on the major win. Obviously, you were going in planning on having a good tournament, hopefully winning, but was there a moment or match where you started feeling like, “We're really going to win this?”
Bance: I'd say the first thing that gave everybody a confidence boost was the OpTic match [in Round 1 of the winners bracket]. We came out against them, we clutched up and we showed some real grit when it came to grinding out wins against them. They're a top-three team I'd probably say, so when we beat them, it gave everyone a big confidence boost.
But the point where I think we all knew we could win was as soon as we won the losers final against Dallas. We knew it would be a long grind of best of nine against FaZe, but we've taken down so many different teams -- top three, top four, we've taken down everyone -- so we were confident going into it.
Nerd Street: What changed? You started to build momentum toward the end of Stage 2 after an 0-2 start, but what has been the main difference since then?
Bance: The thing is, I don't think groups actually showed the full story.
While we went 2-3 in groups, we were still showing signs of life in that there was a lot of should've could've would'ves. So, while we were 2-3, we were always still confident that we're a top team. Once we start closing out that Hardpoint, that fourth map, who knows where it goes, ya know?
Following Toronto's 0-2 start, Bance received hundreds of Tweets from COD fans suggesting that he bench himself, prompting him to consider retirement.
Nerd Street: You gave fans a view from behind the scenes with that message you sent your fiance. I know it was serious, but what were you actually thinking about doing?
Bance: So, I think I would've played out the stage, and if things weren't getting better, if I didn't see myself improving or I was still just getting hate, I would take a step back.
I wouldn't say it was down to my skill. I know I'm capable. I've shown it. Past CODs, I won a Home Series last year, I won in [Infinite Warfare], I've had like six second places on LAN on the international stage.
But sometimes, when you're already down about your own ability, you're not showing much in games and then you just constantly -- everywhere I was going -- I got tweets, even when I was going into Twitch streams I was seeing it there, seeing it in YouTube comments. I was seeing it on Instagram in my requested DMs, seeing it in YouTube videos, Twitter videos. I was seeing it everywhere. No matter where I'd go, I'd see it.
I would've had to take a step back after the stage just for my mental, to be honest. I know I'm capable, so it would never be because I think I'm not worthy of being in the pro league.
Bance and the Toronto Ultra on stage at last year's Atlanta Home Series. Photo credit: Call of Duty League
Nerd Street: What's your message to people about that experience? Because it honestly sounds like it was rough.
Bance: It's a hard one because I get people's frustrations. Don't get me wrong, it happens everywhere. People are just voicing their opinions because they're either a fan of certain players or the team, so I understand people's frustrations. They want to see the team do well. I get that.
I can't hate on people for expressing their opinions, but I feel like once you've expressed it once, it should just die down, sort of. It went on for so long. I had it for like three weeks. And especially after that first week where, I can agree, I did not play well with the team, my [kill-death] was probably an 0.7. After that, if you actually take out my first two series of that Stage 2, for the rest of the group games, I probably didn’t drop below a 1.0 K/D. But people still weren't looking into that because there was a stigma I was not good enough.
While I understand everyone's opinions I wasn't playing well, sometimes you just have to hold it back. No one knows what people are going through, so chill a little bit because it can affect people quite badly.
Nerd Street: A lot of people assume competitors are naturally confident, but obviously you're human beings, too. Did you lose your confidence at some point, what caused that and how did you finally snap out of it?
Bance: I lost my confidence, 100%. It was gone.
I wouldn't say I was getting nervous on the stage, but I was already getting hate, and then when I live broadcasted, I know I'm gonna be getting judged if I start playing bad. It started getting to me.
Once I had that first good series or first good map -- first map against [LA Guerrillas], Checkmate, Hardpoint, I dropped 29 kills -- that was the turning point. I was super confident from the rest. I started playing well and went from there.
I think when someone's down, they just have to focus on themselves and as soon as you have that one good map, then you build and let it roll from there. That's what I think happened with me.
Nerd Street: Was there anything that you were doing different in-game once things started turning around, or was it purely a mental thing?
Bance: It was definitely a bit of both, but I think they came hand-in-hand together.
When I do something, I kind of map it out in my head, but because I wasn't as confident, I wasn't fully thinking about things. I'd focus in on trying to make a kill or something and block out something else, and that would get my teammates killed and put me in a worse position.
Nerd Street: That all seemed to culminate in your 10-0 run in Search at the end. What was going through your mind there, or are you so dialed that you're going on pure adrenaline now?
Bance: I was super dialed in. I won a 1-v-2 and a 1-v-1, and after I won them you could just tell I was full of confidence because I was literally saying to my team, ‘Yeah, I don't f'n lose those.’
Normally, I don't do that. I'm a quiet, chilled-out person when I play, but you could just tell by the way I was talking that I was so full of confidence and I believed in everything I was doing.
Nerd Street: Was it at all surprising to you and your teammates that you won this major?
Bance: If you said it to me, I'd probably be like, “Really? No way.” But during that weekend I genuinely believed we were going to win.
There was just such a flow to the team, like, I don't know, a championship-winning flow. I've seen [Austin "SlasheR" Liddicoat of the LA Thieves] say, “When I was playing, I just knew I was going to win,” and I never understood that until this weekend.
You could tell when we came in as a team, when we loaded into maps, when we were preparing for maps. There was something about it that you can't replicate. I could just tell.
Nerd Street: The win puts Ultra back in the conversation among the top teams in CDL, but it's been a roller coaster of a season. Do you view yourselves as championship contenders right now, or is there more grinding ahead to get to that level?
Bance: There's more grinding. While I think we are a top-four team, I feel like there is a lot more that we need to do to be considered a guarantee.
There are so many good teams now. All 12 teams, but all of the top six teams, they're all so close to each other. I feel like the only team that you can really put as a championship guarantee is FaZe. Everyone is trying to work to get to that level.
While I'm fully confident we can go and do it again, we have to keep grinding and keep our eye on the prize.
Lead image credit: Toronto Ultra