Out of all the games that make up the global circuit for esports around the world, Call of Duty is the one where Australia has consistently punched above their weight. Our teams have turned in good performances year after year on the global stage, something Activision recognised in part when Australia and New Zealand was given their own region for the inaugural Call of Duty World League.
But you can't punch above your weight forever. And while fans might have been hoping for a resurgence following the drubbing handed out at the Crown Invitational earlier this year, it wasn't to be with all of Oceania's representatives falling at the group stages.
It doesn't matter what game you play: Counter-Strike, StarCraft, Call of Duty, League, you name it. It takes an awful lot of hard work to make something happen on the global stage. Just getting an opportunity, especially in a small region like Australia, is exceptionally difficult.
But what's often forgotten is that you need a bit of luck. Sometimes it comes in the form of a simple mistake on the part of your opponent, or a risky, low percentage play that happens to work out in your favour. Sometimes that results in you maintaining a glimmer of hope, an opportunity to stay alive; sometimes it wins the match.
As the annual convention progressed in The Forum, it became increasingly obvious that things would not fall the Australians and New Zealanders' way. Even beforehand things looked rough; Mindfreak and Chiefs Esports Club, who finished first and second respectively at the last major event on Australian soil, pulled the same group.
Knocking your compatriots out of the tournament aside, the draw didn't look too bad for Mindfreak. Luminosity was one of the better teams to draw from the North American pool. But some fatal flaws at crucial moments ended up in a gruelling 2-3 loss, and the German-based FAB Games sent Mindfreak packing on the Sunday with a savage 3-0 beating.
It wasn't any easier for OrbitGG, who went into the tournament with the reputation of being the second best team in Australia. Instead of being asked to play their friends from Australia and New Zealand, they got paired against the formidable EnVyUs and Cloud9.
EnVyUs ended up winning the entire tournament, and despite a close encounter with Cloud9 in the group stages the Australians weren't able to muster much resistance. Cloud9 dispatched OrbitGG without much fuss, although the performance was better than the end scoreline.
But if that seemed unfair, consider the misfortune that befell Tainted Minds, the team fortunate enough to have the support of Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom. Despite not winning a single set in their group, every match went down to the wire.
Team Kaliber had to come back from two games down against the locals, and the Americans needed to win a match in overtime just to get to the fifth map — and they only got that far thanks to a last-second play. It wasn't the only overtime they found themselves in, and it wasn't the only time they would fall short at the final moment.
Results aside, it's still fantastic experience for all the players involved. It hurts in the sense that not a single team from Australia or New Zealand made it past the group stages, and hopefully Activision doesn't follow up the event with a knee-jerk reaction to how many places Australia receives at the finals this time next year.
After all, the Call of Duty scene isn't like Counter-Strike or StarCraft. The amount of opportunities to get world-class practice simply aren't there outside of major, publisher driven international events. It's a problem that faces a lot of games reliant on developers and publishers for their tournaments; the big events often have million-dollar plus prize pools, but that often reduces on less support for third-party events.
And it's those third-party events where teams gain experience. Nonetheless, our Call of Duty scene has a good track record. And while they left California not quite as rich as they'd hoped — perhaps significantly less so in Mindfreak's case, given their history — their collective in-game reputations should remain undiminished.
Australians and New Zealanders can hang on the world stage. We've known that for some time. But it's not just about teamwork, communication and raw individual skill. You need a little bit of luck, too.