Call of Duty players say goodbye to Vanguard at Champs

by Aron Garst

Call of Duty League players are playing what likely will be their last matches of Call of Duty: Vanguard this weekend at the Call of Duty League Championship. This is the final competitive event that will feature this iteration of the franchise as players will be diving into Modern Warfare II later this year.

Stars from various teams sat in the press area at the Galen Center in the University of Southern California and looked back on an eventful season with the World War II-themed shooter.

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"I can't really complain. You gotta do what you gotta do regardless of whether you like the game," said Seattle Surge player Daunte "Sib" Gray. "Me personally, it may not be the best game, but I love to compete [...] I don't care what I'm playing. Street Fighter, Mario Bros. I'm there."

Call of Duty players have been locked into a development cycle for as long as competitive leagues have been around. A new game comes out every year, meaning most of the strategies and weapons they used in the previous seasons will be useless once a new game hits digital shelves on consoles around the world.

The difference between games can be staggering. Some are set in a distant future where soldiers can run on walls and fly with jet packs, while others go back in time to relive devastating conflicts in world history, including games based on World War II and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The grind to keep up with this cycle can be exhausting, but many players live for it.

Photo credit: OpTic Gaming

"I like playing new games every year," said OpTic Texas's Anthony "Shotzzy" Cuevas-Castro." It creates new strategies as you figure out the game every year. That aspect is fun."

Shotzzy is a mechanical monster with each Call of Duty. He and his teammates like Brandon "Dashy" Otell spend hours on every map looking for the fastests ways to run through each map. They always look for intuitive ways to gain an advantage, as well. At one point during the Champs tournament, Shotzzy launched himself from a third story window of one building to a second story of another to try and surprise the Toronto Ultra.

Read more: Call of Duty League Champs 2022: Can Atlanta FaZe repeat?

The trick that few players outside Shotzzy can perform didn't work, but it was a sight to behold.

Vanguard isn't a favorite for players like Shotzzy, Sib and LA Thieves players Zack "Drazah" Jordan and Dylan "Envoy" Hannon, although they all agreed that it was generally enjoyable. Even OpTic owner Hector "H3CZ" Rodriguez let out a sarcastic "it's the best" comment from the back of the press room when the topic was brought up.

Most players believe that the Sledgehammer Games-developed shooter didn't include enough maps after it launched with 16 competitively viable maps late last year. Vanguard also has been plagued with issues that could stem from the truncated development timeline that Call of Duty studios have to adhere to.

Call of Duty is facing the possibility of an even bigger change going forward. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, which is scheduled to launch in October 2022, could be the game Call of Duty: League players commit to for years. Rumors have circulated that Activision Blizzard will no longer release an entry in the FPS franchise annually.

Most players enjoy the way things work now, but they want more content either way.

"I just hope in general that there is more content, more stuff added to the game throughout the cycle," Envoy said. "None of us know how it's going to be because it's the first time it's happened. I'm just saying more maps added throughout."

Players like Dashy said that it feels bittersweet to know that it would be the last time they play Vanguard in their careers, although they're excited to see what comes in the future.

"I like this game, but I'm hoping the next game is even better," Dashy said, adding that the shift away from an annual release makes the quality of the next game more important. "If the next Call of Duty is good then it's a good thing, but if it's bad then we have extra years of it so I'm crossing my fingers."

While debates over which Call of Duty title is best spread like wildfire every time a new game is released, professional players have little to no say in the development process. It doesn't matter, though. All they care about is who is standing on the stage with a trophy -- and prize money -- in hand.

In-game mechanics they don't like and technical issues that slow them down are just another chunk of adversity they need to scale.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself going into this season just because I felt, as a player, that I underperformed during the Cold War season," said Seattle Surge player Makenzie "Mack" Kelley, who won the Call of Duty League's Major III earlier this year. "It definitely felt like my team in Cold War could have taken a championship, but we never put it together. So coming into this team I wanted to take home a Major and win with a group of guys that I enjoyed being around, and that's what I did."

Lead photo credit: Brian Bencomo / Nerd Street

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