It’s safe to say that things have not been going as well as reigning Call of Duty League champion Dallas Empire would have hoped so far in 2021. While showings were still strong in Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the season, things really began to unravel in Stage 3.
Just weeks before the Stage 3 Major, Empire became the tenth team in the 12-team CDL to make a roster change – and it was a big one. Cuyler ‘Huke’ Garland, a long-serving member of Team Envy in both Halo, pre-franchising CoD, and in the CDL with Dalls Empire, moved on to LA Thieves. With team chemistry faltering and down a player of Huke’s calibre, Empire were swept 3-0 by both Atlanta FaZe and OpTic Chicago to send them tumbling out of the Stage 3 Major.
While substitute Tyler ‘FeLo’ Johnson attempted to fill the void left by Huke, Empire was on the hunt for a more permanent and promising replacement. Enter Reece ‘Vivid’ Drost, who will make his Empire debut later today (May 28) in Stage 4 against London Royal Ravens.
“He’s a quality player,” Mike ‘Hastr0’ Rufail, owner of Dallas Empire and Team Envy, tells The Loadout. “We think that we have a really good shot at winning tournaments with him – we wouldn’t have signed him if we didn’t.”
While a lot of fans are keen to see how an exciting and aggressive SMG player like Vivid slots into the Empire team, the move has left some confused. Despite his talent, Vivid was recently benched from one of the weaker teams in the CDL, LA Guerrillas.
On paper, replacing a player like Huke – widely regarded as one of his generation’s best Call of Duty players – with someone who was dropped by a struggling franchise, seems like a bad decision. A vocal minority have been questioning why Empire didn’t aim higher when sourcing Huke’s replacement.
Welcome to the Empire, @VividTheWarrior.#DefendTheThrone pic.twitter.com/S6N3COp8QW
— Dallas Empire (@DallasEmpire) May 21, 2021
“I’m a straight shooter, so I don’t mind telling you how it is,” Hastr0 says. “We looked at a lot of different options and tried to pursue the best options for us. I think we’re all happy that we landed with Vivid, and it was something we didn’t take a terrible amount of time [to decide on]. There are always things that you might perceive as being a better option, but that doesn’t mean you have that option, because players are committed to contracts or have certain situations. Vivid was available, and we’re super happy [that he was].”
With Vivid on the roster and the restlessness created by Huke’s departure now fading, Empire can set its sights firmly ahead on the remainder of the season.
— Empire C6 (@Crimsix) May 20, 2021
The tail end of the season also puts LAN events back on the menu, with the first being the Stage 4 Major. This is something that can only benefit Empire, according to Hastr0.
“We’re definitely looking to get back to LAN events – it’s a place we still feel very confident in and somewhere we can thrive,” he says. “Last year, we thought it would have been worse for us [moving online] in terms of being able to beat other teams, but that wasn’t the case. We didn’t get to [show our potential] on LAN, yet we still won a world championship online. We feel comfortable doing that again this year, we really do.”
With Empire’s mid-season speed hump presumably now cleared, the road to becoming back-to-back CDL champion now has fewer obstacles than it did before. Huke’s shoes are big ones for Vivid to fill, and there may be more championship-calibre teams in the CDL right now than there was last year, but there’s still time for Empire to become a force to be reckoned with before Champs.
The Loadout’s full interview with Hastr0, which dives deeper into the future of the CDL, Dallas Fuel’s climb to the top of the Overwatch League, and Envy’s ever-growing army of content creators, will be going live next week.