You have to give it to Crown: they certainly know how to put on a good show. Unfortunately, the $70,000 Crown Invitational ended up being characterised by a string of blowouts -- and none of them flattered the Australian Call of Duty (COD) teams.
Photo: Call of Duty World League
Part of the fascination with Crown's exhibition matches is the international exposure. For Counter-Strike last year, it was more of a novelty. It was more an opportunity for international teams to see Australia, as Australian teams had -- and still do -- plenty of appearances on foreign soil.
That opportunity doesn't arise often in COD, outside of the annual world championships Activision holds each year. The introduction of the Call of Duty World League has grown that somewhat, not least of all thanks to the amount of money on offer.
But chances for Australians to play in third-party world class events (like the Electronic Sports World Cup) are thin on the ground and difficult to take up. But you never get better without playing better teams -- and that's the space the recent Crown Invitational helped fill.
The Australian teams certainly gave no quarter qualifying for the chance to play British giants Millennium and America's Optic Gaming in a best-of-seven. Two of the three matches in the final qualifier went to at least six games, while the first quarter final between Chiefs and Tainted Minds went to the seventh match.
But beyond that small highlight, the weekend was one slaughter after another -- and the foreigners were the ones doing most of the damage. OpTic Gaming dropped a single map the entire tournament, and they weren't even close to being touched by their Australian opponents. Tainted Minds lost by almost 100 points in the first match, and the scores for Search & Destroy and CTF weren't much to smile about either (1-6, 1-7).
Mindfreak, recent winners of the COD World League's first stage for Australian and New Zealand, put up a better showing against Millennium's British roster. They had the good grace to push the fourth map into overtime, although their defence could only muster 47 seconds of resistance.
Respectable: that's perhaps the kindest word about the end result.
The end scores aren't an indictment on the Australian scene though. Our record in international COD far surpasses our results in League of Legends, Dota 2, Counter-Strike and even StarCraft 2 (although the segmentation of the SC2 scene makes comparisons rough).
And the teams are certainly upbeat. Albert Nassif, manager and owner of Mindfreak, said the support of the crowd "made them step up in hard times" and that the experience has given them a better appreciation for what lies ahead. "We're grateful to have this match up now, rather than in a few months at the world championships," Nassif said pointedly.
The smashing was a useful experience for Tainted Minds as well, which only earned a showing against OpTic Gaming after a 4-3 win against Chiefs in what was the closest match of the weekend. "We are so grateful for the chance to play against Optic Gaming in the Semi Finals and are glad that we were able to stay somewhat competitive with them," team co-owner Brandte Boyles said.
More importantly, it was a great spectacle for the community. Kyle Colyer, captain of Team Nv which finished 3rd in the second stage qualifier for the Crown exhibition, said the Invitational brought people together. "I met fans I never knew I had, that demanded photos and conversation about my team and our games; casual gamers that don't even play competitively but know who I am and want to see me succeed," he said.
"I met with businessmen new to esports that became total converts ready to learn and support what I love doing after a couple of hours of talking and experiencing how real the love for the competition is from players and spectators ... I felt like a true professional at a world class sporting event, and it was bloody good fun."
And the best part: it's a handy wake up call, although the next international showing could be some time away. Most of the top COD players are in university, with studies taking precedence over strategy and teamwork. Cybergamer is holding the finals of their Premier League soon, which will keep players active over at least the next fortnight.
But local competition is no substitute for world-class practice. And that's what Crown provided to the local scene; only time will tell if that was put to use.