When the Los Angeles Guerrillas pushed the Atlanta FaZe to a Game 5 last week, more than a few fans probably figured their luck was about to run out. Yes, LAG already bested FaZe 6-2 in the first Search & Destroy round, yet surely lightning wouldn't strike twice in the same match against the best S&D squad in the Call of Duty League.
But the Guerrillas made short work of FaZe anyway -- a blistering 6-0 shutout on Express -- to deliver Atlanta their first defeat of the season.
The result was emblematic of a Stage II slate that delivered numerous upsets and saw little separation between the so-called mid-tier teams and the supposed elites.
All of which begs the question heading into the second CDL major of 2021: Which team can actually upset FaZe?
FaZe are still the team to beat after going 14-4 on maps for the stage, improving their record to 40-12 for the season. That's a .769 win percentage in a league where no other team currently cracks .590. Atlanta has looked nothing short of dominant in all but three matches this year, so we'll spare you the "sky is falling" nonsense here.
That loss, however, removed the air of invincibility surrounding FaZe and, at least for a day, made them look like any other team.
Nine of the CDL's 12 clubs finished Stage 2 with either two or three wins, including the Dallas Empire and OpTic Chicago -- generally thought to comprise the class of the league along with FaZe. Only the New York Subliners equaled Atlanta's 4-1 match record.
It's a sign there's a tremendous level of parity, or competitive balance, across the entire league right now. And it could mean an unpredictable major is ahead.
No clear pecking order in Group B
Look no farther than Group B, where all six teams finished either 3-2 or 2-3 and a surprise No. 1 seed emerged.
The Minnesota ROKKR knocked off Dallas and OpTic en route to the top spot and a bye in the winners bracket. Coming on the heels of a lineup change -- Michael "MajorManiak" Szymaniak was benched in favor of rookie sensation Eli "Standy" Bentz -- ROKKR enters the major victorious in three straight matches and poised to do some damage.
Yet, earlier in Stage 2, the Florida Mutineers beat Minnesota and OpTic. And the Paris Legion beat Florida and Minnesota. And Seattle Surge beat Paris and Florida. Dallas beat Seattle, Paris and Florida, and OpTic beat Dallas, Paris and Seattle.
Follow all of that?
Seattle, Paris and Florida start the major in the elimination bracket, so although all three played some solid rounds in the last month, the deck will be stacked against them this week.
As far as who owns the upperhand between Minnesota, Dallas and Chicago, though, that remains to be seen. The ROKKR are red hot and awaiting the winner of the defending-champion Empire and a quality NYSL squad, but OpTic, despite having recovered from their recent two-game slide, will have to go through FaZe should they survive Round 1. Should be interesting.
The Toronto Ultra might be the dark horse team to watch. Photo: Call of Duty League
And playing the role of spoiler will be ...
Back in Group A, it seems the two teams with the best shot at giving FaZe a run for their money are the Subliners and ... Toronto Ultra?
NYSL picked up right where they left off following a top-three finish at Major I, going 4-1 and proving perhaps -- if there was any doubt remaining -- that they are for real.
Ultra also have an opportunity to make some noise in the tournament as well, having cracked the winners bracket after posting a 2-3 record. Like rival Minnesota, Toronto made a roster move at the beginning of Stage 2, replacing Anthony "Methodz" Zinni with Carson "Brack" Newberry. Unlike Minnesota, the shakeup resulted in only marginal improvement so far.
With Ultra drawing OpTic in Round 1, however, Toronto will be facing an opponent that picked up some uncharacteristic losses only a couple weeks ago.
Still, all roads lead to FaZe, who have taken down Toronto twice already this season, not to mention NYSL once, OpTic once and Dallas twice, including in a best of nine at the Major I grand final.
In fact, the only team in the winners bracket FaZe have yet to meet this season is the ROKKR, which if nothing else might make an eventual clash in the major must-see viewing, should it come to that.
Who knows, with the ROKKR suddenly looking like a formidable squad and FaZe's undefeated streak finally snapped, it may just give viewers the unpredictable outcome the first major couldn't deliver.
Lead image credit: Call of Duty League