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Call of Duty League rookies have been stepping up this year. As teams underperform, staple players of the league are being benched and rookies are coming in to bring life to struggling squads.

The changing of the guard comes with cutting rosters from five to four players during the offseason as well as young talent racing into the player pool through the amateur scene. Here’s a look at how teams have reacted to the changes so far and the results for the squads that have taken risks on fresh faces.

LA Thieves

The LA Thieves may be the most prominent example. Veteran Austin “SlasheR” Liddicoat was sent to the bench after the squad, run by 100 Thieves, went on a losing streak. Zack “Drazah” Jordan came up from Challengers to replace him, despite the team already having replaced Donny “Temp” Laroda with Carlos “Venom” Hernandez a couple of weeks before.

“Huge shake-up,” 100 Thieves head coach Jordan Kaplan tweeted after the roster move, “but had to try something different for the Major after a super disappointing group stage.”

The Thieves’ downward spiral really began with a loss against the one-win London Royal Ravens in late March. LA was embarrassed in both the Search and Destroy and Control. SlasheR and Venom combined for a 0.49 K/D (kills/deaths) ratio. That doesn’t even compare to the Thieves’ performance as a whole in the Control, as the entire roster combine for a total of 19 kills. After two consecutive losses against New York and Toronto, it was clear something wasn’t working.

Before the Stage 2 Major, Drazah was promoted, and suddenly, the Thieves were on a hot streak.

The newly minted rookie and his squad took down Paris, London and New York at the CDL Stage 2 Major, finishing tied for fifth place and earning $20,000 for the org. The match against New York especially signified the team’s improvement, as they impressively swept the first-seeded Subliners.

“GGs London won 3-2 REVERSE SWEEP BABY,” Drazah tweeted after a win against the London Royal Ravens. The young gun posted the highest K/D on the Thieves with a 1.02 and an impressive final Search and Destroy showing.

Rookies from all over Challengers have replaced notable veterans on the big stage. Three of these rookies — Travis ” Neptune ” McCloud, Conor “Diamondcon” Johst and Luis “Fire” Rivera — were on the roster to begin the season. Four others have come on mid-season to help teams that were in dire need of life, including Venom, Jamie “Insight” Craven, Eli “Standy” Bentz and Paul “PaulEhx” Avila.

A growing trend in esports

From the early days of Modern Warfare and Black Ops 1, professional players like Kaplan, Anthony “Methodz” Zinni and James “Clayster” Eubanks were never challenged for roster spots. This is no longer the case as the switch to a franchised league has made amateur players more valuable than before. Organizations want the next Seth “Scump” Abner, in both popularity and skill, on their squad, and they are benching veterans in order to do so.

The debut match for almost every rookie has been a wonder to behold. Standy, who plays for the Minnesota RØKKR, finished with a 1.52 K/D, the highest ever for a rookie’s debut, in his first match against OpTic Chicago. Prior to that, the Toronto Ultra’s Insight posted a 1.33 K/D in his debut against the LA Thieves. Other rookies have had similar outstanding performances and, at times, veterans haven’t been able to keep up.

Scump said that his squad was able to prepare for rookie debuts, but he doesn’t “think it should be allowed during a stage,” he said on OpTic’s podcast.

“You shouldn’t be able to switch someone in mid-Major,” the veteran said. “They’re about to go into the Major with a different team than they played the whole stage with.”

Rookies are bringing a new speed to the 2021 season. Insight’s Krig 6 play has been at a quicker pace than that of Mike “MajorManiak” Szymaniak or Anthony “Methodz” Zinni, whom he replaced in Toronto. Neptune, of the Florida Mutineers, put his speed on display against the Los Angeles Guerrillas.

Neptune and Florida were attempting to close out Search and Destroy on Express at the Stage 2 Major. Florida was defending the B bombsite early when Neptune was able to strike.

He caught the Guerrillas off-guard in front of the stairs, killing both Bryan “Apathy” Zhelyazkov and Adam “Assault” Garcia. Neptune’s teammate took out the Guerrillas’ third teammate, leaving Reece “Vivid” Drost all alone.

Neptune made the read wonderfully, turning around to kill Vivid once he got to the A bombsite. The Mutineers took home the round thanks to the rookie.

Rookies dominate in Call of Duty league

While teams still rely heavily on veterans to keep their squads rolling, the injection of new life has been positive for a number of rosters. The Ultra’s new rookie helped with their win at the Stage 2 Major but veteran Ben “Bance” Bance was the one that led the way.

The league’s rookies certainly showed up and showed out during Stage 2 of the Call of Duty League. They’ll get another chance to prove themselves during Stage 3, which begins on April 22 with the London Royal Ravens Home Series.

Joey Carr is a full-time writer for multiple esports and gaming websites. He has 6+ years of experience covering esports and traditional sporting events, including DreamHack Atlanta, Call of Duty Championships 2017, and Super Bowl 53.
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