Australia hasn't had the best run in international esports over the last couple of years. But we've traditionally held our own quite well in Call of Duty, and the lone Aussies in the CWL Pro League are continuing to bolster the country's reputation.
The premiere Call of Duty league is broken into two divisions with 8 teams each. The bottom two teams from each division after 8 weeks of play will go into a relegation tournament, with one team from Europe, Asia-Pacific (the region Australians qualify from) and two North American teams battling it out for a chance to play in the second stage of the global league.
The lone Aussies in the upper echelon of Call of Duty competition are Mindfreak, one of the country's most successful Call of Duty exports over the last few years. Their initial outing in the CWL Pro League didn't start well though: the Aussies dropped their first three matches, picking up just the one map, and finding themselves staring down a relegation fight.
But after having a weekend to recalibrate, the Australians recovered in the best way possible by beating two likely relegation rivals in Echo Fox (3-0) and Team Vitality (3-1), while pushing group leaders and last year's World League Championship winners Optic Gaming all the way.
The starkest difference with Mindfreak's performance, however, has been their improvement in Hardpoint, a domination-esque mode with a randomly rotating control point. After being dominated in the mode by Rise Nation in the first week and losing by more than 50 points to eRA Eternity and Red Reserve, the Australians flogged Optic Gaming and Echo Fox by nearly 200 points a piece.
Perhaps just as impressively, Mindfreak recovered from a drubbing in their first Hardpoint match against Team Kaliber (TK) to take a sizeable lead on Sainte Marie du Mont. TK recovered from nearly 70 points down and eventually took the map 250-209, but the improved play - and recovery mid-set - was a hugely encouraging sign.
One of the greatest challenges Australians in Call of Duty or any other game, is one of practice. It's not practical or possible to have consistent, high quality practice against international opponents due to our geography. Australians often use international tournaments as an opportunity for a one or two week bootcamp, but it's not the same as living in Europe or North America full-time.
Because of that, the greatest attribute for any Aussie team is their ability to adapt. Aim is often the first attribute players think of when it comes to skill, but aim becomes less and less of a factor if your team lacks the coordination and strategies to create opportunities in the first place.
That lack of opportunity has shown in Mindfreak's performance across Search and Destroy, a Counter-Strike-esque mode with a first to six round format. Because of the round-based format, S&D is a mode where individual talent and decisions can have a greater impact. It's also perhaps the most intensive mode to practice, with teams having to remember multiple strategies, positions, and alternatives for when those don't work.
S&D has never been a favourite mode for local teams to practice. It's partially an infrastructure problem too. Most Call of Duty teams down under are too small to enjoy the benefit of a wider support staff, including more coaches who could prepare notes and strategies on teams ahead of matches.
Mindfreak's performance is admirable nonetheless, given the advantages and resources available to other teams. The Australians aren't due to appear on stream for a fortnight, with division B matches taking centre stage until then. Group play for both divisions are scheduled to wrap up by March 16 local time.
If Mindfreak continues to take maps off the teams above them, they stand a reasonable chance at making the playoffs. And with a bit of luck, another local team will rise up through the relegation tournament to fly the Aussie flag for the second stage of this year's CWL Pro League.
You can catch up on the rest of the CWL Pro League games through the official Twitch channel.