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Obaid “Asim” Asim was creeping through the back of the enemy spawn on Raid, performing an unknown dance with Sean “Seany” O’Connor. As they both peaked around corners looking for each other, Seany popped out from around the corner and Asim unloaded his clip in his torso.

He ran to the A Bomb Site to plant the bomb to give his team a chance to comeback and beat the London Royal Ravens. A loss in this round would lose them the entire match.

He plants the bomb and his last teammate, Makenzie “Mack” Kelley falls moments later. It’s up to Asim to clutch out a 1 vs 3 to give his team a breather. Asim looks the wrong direction for a second as the Ravens close in on him and he falls moments later to Alex “Zaptius” Bonilla.

“It was really hard to push myself,” Asim said. “So much of gaming is about your mental, it was hard for me to focus.”

Asim woke up tired on April 29. He couldn’t have his regular cup of coffee because it was Ramadan. He needed to fast from sunrise to sunset for a month, making it hard to focus throughout each scrim-filled day. Unfortunately for the New York Subliners, Asim’s focus is one of his most important assets in the Call of Duty League.

“It was really difficult at first, it was a really different shift,” Asim said. “Usually when I wake up I have my water and caffeine, a coffee or energy drink. I wasn’t able to depend on that during Ramadan”

Playing professionally in the Call of Duty League is all about split-second decisions. Deciding when and where to push, which route to take and what callout to make are all integral to team chemistry. Those decisions become harder to make when you’re dehydrated and hungry. Asim says the impact felt the sharpest during a matchup against the London Royal Ravens.

The struggle is worth it

Hamza
Hamza has been competing in the Call of Duty amateur scene for years. | Provided by Call of Duty League

Like many athletes across competitive gaming and professional sports, Ramadan is a special time for players in the Call of Duty League. It’s a month that helps cleanse the body, gives time for reflection and helps them move closer to their faith.

“I have to have faith in God, if I pray and do what’s required my life will be easier,” said WestR Challengers player Hamza “Hamza” Shaikh. “I’ll achieve my goals more easily.”

Hamza has been grinding through the Call of Duty League amateur scene for years, practicing and scrimmaging other teams for hours every day. He can sometimes miss out on one of the five daily prayers required in Ramadan due to how demanding his schedule is, but he sees fasting in Ramadan as a necessary struggle. It’s something his father taught him while growing up.

Sometimes I do miss them,” he said. “But I try to make up for them.”

He moved out to Texas from Torrence, California earlier this year to be more central to the Call of Duty scene in the United States. Now, his goals are to help his father and his girlfriend retire — plus take them on a nice vacation — once he makes it into the Call of Duty League.

“I want to help,” he said. “My girlfriend bought me my PC, she’s done so much. I have to do my part now.”

Call of Duty team synergy is even more important during Ramadan

Like Asim, Hamza knows that his gameplay will suffer during Ramadan. He doesn’t have the complete focus that’s required to be consistent at the highest level of competition. “My team knew,” he said. “We lost matches but we bounced back and won matches.”

Call of Duty isn’t only split-second decisions; communication and coordinated play is just as important as the ability to clutch out a crucial round 11 of Search and Destroy. Asim knew he could rely on his teammates, including his SMG partner Paco “HyDra” Rusiewiez to get kills around the map. Asim didn’t have the best stats — putting out a negative KD in three of the five matches during Ramadan — but it was alright because that wasn’t his role.

Call of Duty League Asim
Asim played 5 CDL matches during Ramadan this year. | Provided by Call of Duty League

“Ever since HyDra joined the team, killing hasn’t been my responsibility,” he said. “That’s why you see me going negative. If kills are coming my way there’s no reason we should be losing, though.”

Asim found ways to be productive if he wasn’t doing well in any given match. He put in extra VOD time during practice in order to memorize the spawn locations on each map. “If I couldn’t play better I’d watch and learn,” he said. “I understood things.”

That extra effort during Ramadan is a requirement for most players in the Call of Duty League, but it sometimes isn’t enough to keep a team afloat. Minnesota RØKKR Lamar “Accuracy” Abedi went through a similar struggle with different results.

Sometimes the struggle is too much

Accuracy and the RØKKR struggled throughout the holy month, putting up negative numbers against the Los Angeles Guerrillas and Dallas Empire.

“I’m getting flamed in here,” he wrote in a Reddit thread about the matchup against Los Angeles. “It’s Ramadan. That’s definitely making these matches hard on me and I’m just glad my teammates are getting me through it. I’ll do better.”

Minnesota has been an up-and-down team throughout the 2021 season. The team benched Michael “MajorManiak” Szymaniak for rookie Eli “Standy” Bentz and the squad had a bit of a hot streak, but soon fell back into a slump.

“Lamar’s actually been playing pretty well in this game,” Dillon “Attach” Price said while defending Accuracy. “What he brings to a team is just so helpful. Making sure the team learns and progresses, and how to have a proper system.”

Attach Accuracy New York Subliners
Attach and Accuracy played together on the New York Subliners before joining Minnesota. | Provided by Call of Duty League

The RØKKR continued to stutter during the Stage 3 Major, getting shut out by the London Royal Ravens. Accuracy was then benched in favor of MajorManiak. Accuracy’s team couldn’t rally around him to win as there were deeper problems at play on their roster.

“There’s highs and lows in this path of being a pro but this is the lowest it can get,” Accuracy said in a tweet. “For anyone that supports me I genuinely appreciate you. I’ll be back.”

Accuracy said that the worst stretch of his career came at the exact worst time during Ramadan. His team couldn’t make up for the loss in focus that fasting can sometimes cause. Every player in the league knows that only the best can remain on top. Teams have been making changes all year and Ramadan is not on the Call of Duty League schedule.

“It could be said that it’s unfair,” Asim said with a sentiment that Hamza later echoed. “But at the same time they’re in the seventh seed so they need to make a change.”

An Eid celebration delayed

Eid, a celebration that marks the end of fasting in Ramadan, took place just before the Stage 3 Major of the Call of Duty League on May 12. Neither Hamza nor Asim could take part in any of the usual celebrations they had because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Asim enjoyed a dinner with his family at home in Toronto where his mother made Afghani Pulao, a rice and beef dish topped with carrots and raisins before the big tournament. Hamza wasn’t able to do anything with his family or partner.

“I missed out this year,” he said. “If I was in California we’d go for a special prayer and meal. It’s harder to do that now in Texas.”

Both veterans of the Call of Duty scene have been competing during Ramadan for years and have learned to adapt by adjusting their sleep schedules, meals and preparation for a match. Competition is much harder during the month, but they view it as a necessary struggle in the fight to be the best in the world.

Aron Garst looks at esports from a different point of view by tackling the ways games are molded and broken by players around the world. He covers Call of Duty, Fortnite, Super Smash Bros, and everything else for Upcomer. You can read his previous work at WIRED, Rolling Stone, ESPN and elsewhere. Rise up red sea.
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