Who Won the Weekend: Dallas Empire and TSM

Josh Alfaro/ESPAT Media

Exciting postseason matches in the Call of Duty League and LCS gave us no shortage of candidates for Who Won the Weekend. Here's this week's edition.

Winner: The Dallas Empire

The story of the Dallas Empire starts in the inaugural Call of Duty League offseason when the organization picked up rookies Indervir "iLLeY" Dhaliwal and Anthony "Shotzzy" Cuevas-Castro. Placed alongside Ian "Crimsix" Porter, James "Clayster" Eubanks, and Cuyler "Huke" Garland, this was a roster specifically constructed to leverage the experience and strengths of its veterans with the young and fresh talent of its rookies. Going into Launch Weekend the Dallas Empire and the Atlanta FaZe had been destroying others in scrims and were the two favored teams to do well throughout the weekend. Thanks in large part to a last-minute patch change, the Empire fell completely flat and the community was surprisingly quick to write them off. Even when the Empire made the grand finals of their next event, the London Royal Ravens homestand, they were fighting the narrative that this team was never going to work out, that iLLeY and Shotzzy were busts, and that Clayster and Crim were washed.

The Dallas veterans told anyone and everyone who would listen that this was their lineup, but the community and fans didn't start truly believing in them until their victory in Los Angeles. This was the last LAN event of the year, with the rest of the season played online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was really important for Dallas to win this LAN, given how part of their narrative was that their younger players could only perform online. Dallas ended up winning two more titles on the year and now are inaugural season champs with a total of four 2020 tournament wins, including the most important one for a 1.5 million-dollar prize.

Beyond the obvious - strong individual performances from both iLLeY and Shotzzy, tournament victories both on LAN and online - the easiest counter to the initial Dallas narrative is the fact that they had a tendency to win when it really mattered against their toughest opponent. A cursory look at the Empire's record against FaZe shows a 5-1 regular-season record for FaZe, but Dallas won the most important series of the six: the Chicago Huntsmen Home Series finals. This was repeated when Dallas beat Atlanta to qualify from the winner's bracket to the grand finals, and beat Atlanta again in the grand finals with a dominating 5-1 scoreline. Even when FaZe had man advantages, Dallas countered with stronger setups and winning gunfights. In a season that was continuously marred by COVID-19 complications and miscommunication between game developer Infinity Ward and the league and players themselves, Dallas overcame a lot to get here and were clutch when it mattered. -- Emily Rand

Runner up: TSM

It's poetic in a way that the LCS team that absolutely dominated spring split, got eliminated from Worlds qualification by the team that includes the player that was most vocal about saying "spring split doesn't matter."

In a surprising result to many, TSM booked their ticket to Worlds, the final LCS team to do so, defeating Cloud9 3-1 and thus eliminating them from both the LCS postseason and Worlds contention.

Don't get it twisted - TSM deserved to win in this series. They outplayed Cloud9 for most of the series, with Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg dying only once in TSM's three victories. Sergen "Broken Blade" Çelik went 6/4/3 on Lucian in game one. Game two went in Cloud 9's favor, with Blaber going 7/0/9 on Graves, a champion he had only used once before the summer split playoffs.

Game 3 was a tighter affair, with TSM edging out the win with a 18-10 kill score and a 6k gold lead, despite Cloud9 getting 2 Barons. TSM ran away with it in Game four to seal it, with Doublelift going 5/0/7 on Senna, a champion that he didn't find success on for much of the year, going winless in spring and summer until the summer playoffs (where he went 3-0 on Senna).

Cloud 9 were left dejected, while TSM rejoiced.

For Cloud 9, it was a cruel end to what was otherwise a team that was the toast of the LCS for most of the year. There was never any doubt that they would win spring, in fact many were surprised they didn't go 18-0 (the undefeated streak was lost to, who else, TSM). In summer, it looked like the same thing was going to happen with the team going 9-0 until struggles crept in and they lost their top spot honors. Then, losses to Flyquest and TSM sent them packing.

For TSM, this is retribution in many ways - for the fans, a way to celebrate their team and to stick it to those that despise one of the most polarizing orgs in all of esports. "Look at us now," they have earned the right to say, as the reunion of Bjergsen, Doublelift and Vincent "Biofrost" Wang get another chance at glory. For TSM, this is their first trip to the big stage since 2017 - an opportunity at redemption.

And for Doublelift specifically, someone who was very vocal about lacking motivation during spring split, where he was still with Team Liquid after leading them to four straight LCS split titles, this was a personal redemption -- for everyone that had written him off, called him over the hill, said he couldn't hack it in the league anymore, that his best days were behind him -- he not only found that motivation again (he told me soon after joining TSM that he hadn't felt this motivated since his CLG days), but he used it to catapult TSM to a Worlds appearance. Whether you think they belong, or deserve to be there, those debates will always happen. But it doesn't matter in the end: TSM are going to Worlds. -- Arda Ocal