Joseph “Owakening” Conley’s life didn’t change much on February 3, 2020 when the United States declared a public health emergency. It didn’t change much when the Call of Duty League moved to all online play on March 12 due to that emergency, either.
Playing Call of Duty online has been that way for a lot of his life. He played Call of Duty nonstop at his home while growing up in Pittsburgh, spending most of his time inside when he wasn’t at school.
“My life still feels pretty much the same,” Owakening said from his apartment in Chicago. “The grind is still the same.”
Living in the Call of Duty amateur scene
Owakening’s life has pretty much always lived online. Outside spending some time at Pittsburgh Steeler games, he’s been grinding through league play on a number of amateur teams. A friend told him about GameBattles, an online tournament platform, while he was playing Advanced Warfare in 2015. He learned he could play his favorite shooter for money and it instantly set him on a path to where he is now — one star on the Florida Mutineers, living in Illinois alongside Cesar “Skyz” Bueno.
— Florida Mutineers #f3f3 (@Mutineers) July 30, 2021
“I never really had a dream or anything,” he said, adding that he knew he wanted to be a pro as soon as he could. “I knew I was good. I felt like I deserved to be a pro before I became one.”
Owakening woke up one morning to a message from Mutineers general manager Tom “OGRE2” Ryan, asking him to try out for the team in 2020. The process to get on the team, while flawed in many ways due to Call of Duty’s lack of a ranking system, was easy for him. He joined and instantly proved he deserved to fill one of the few, fabled spots in the Call of Duty League.
He and Skyz led the team to back-to-back wins at the Paris and Minnesota events, clearing the way for a chance to take the whole league by storm at the championship tournament at the end of the year. They ultimately fell to the Toronto Ultra and then OpTic Gaming Los Angeles to end their run at the championship tournament.
So good they called it cheating
Owakening said he had always looked up to players like James “Clayster” Eubanks while grinding through the amateur scene and loved the fact that he could fry his idols.
“What!” Clayster exclaimed after getting killed by Owakening during the 2020 Call of Duty League All-Star 1v1 gunfight. “I’m behind the wall!”
Owakening’s outstanding performance didn’t go unnoticed, but not for the reason that he wanted. He faced accusations of cheating from multiple angles. Fans joked he used the Cheetah gun skin in game because he was cheating and fellow pro players like Ian “Crimsix” Porter threw out accusations that were later rescinded.
“Bro this looks like Florida Mutineers Owakening bro,” Crimsix said while watching a video of someone cheating in Call of Duty Warzone.
There was no definitive proof that Owakening was cheating by using a controller modification, and the 19-year-old would even hold his controller in front of the camera to prove that. It’s incredibly hard to cheat once playing in the Call of Duty League, as officials provide all hardware and monitor players with face and hand cameras.
“The pro scene is funny,” Owakening said. “If they think I’m cheating then they are delusional.”
It’s all noise for the Florida Mutineers
The 2021 season hasn’t gone as Owakening said he hoped, with Florida sitting at 17-19 record in the lead up to Champs. They’ll need a commanding run at the final tournament of the season if they hope to unseat the Atlanta FaZe and other teams at the top of the standings.
The USC Galen Center arena will host an in-person, four-day championship tournament starting Thursday. Both the Stage 4 and Stage 5 Majors were in-person at the Esports Arena in Arlington, Texas. As a result, Owakening’s life is quickly moving away from the online world he’s used to.
“The vibe, flying out there with Caesar was great,” Owakening said of the Stage 4 Major. “We missed our first flight. The app said my flight got delayed but it really didn’t”
Despite playing in an empty arena with no crowd, it “felt like a LAN,” to him.
He had played in plenty of amateur LANs before, including the Minneapolis event in the 2020 season that took place before the pandemic worsened. There are different precautions in place, now, but swabbing his nose every 48 hours for the required COVID-19 test didn’t bother him at the Stage 4 Major.
He’s ready for more in the final stretch of the 2021, reviewing tape from previous games to help improve their squads performance in Search and Destroy. Owakening said it has been difficult competing with a squad spread out across the country, with Havoc in Texas and Neptune in Indiana. Moving to Chicago to live with Skyz was the best decision he said he could have made, though.
Owakening is looking beyond Champs
While Owakening said he does want to win champs, it’s not all he has his eyes on. His goal is to play “as long as he can.” Careers in esports are often short and full of turnover and turmoil. He wants to milk these memorable, moment-filled tournaments as much as possible. He’s experiencing more at every event than he did toiling in the amateur scene, even during the tough losses.
Those experiences aren’t limited to Call of Duty, either.
One tough loss to Toronto in an early season match prompted Owakening to tweet out a meme expressing his disappointment with his performance. He got a reply from Hannah, a fan from the UK.
“She replied with a picture,” Owakening said. “It said I want to hug you.”
Owakening sent her a direct message the next day; which also happened to be Valentine’s Day. The two began dating two months after that, and Owakening is looking into flights to London for an offseason visit.
His life may have been mostly online before, but he’s finding out there is a lot more to it than the doors and corners of Checkmate. He’ll get to board a plane in a far less stressful situation in September.