In one of the biggest upsets and underdog stories of the franchise era, Toronto Ultra was crowned Call of Duty League Stage 2 Major champions on Sunday after a remarkable run through the loser’s bracket.
Less than four weeks earlier, Ultra looked to be one of the weakest teams in Stage 2, and made the controversial decision to bench Anthony ‘Methodz’ Zinni for rookie Jamie ‘Insight’ Craven to make his CDL debut. Since then, Ultra qualified for the Major in the winner’s bracket and, despite being knocked into loser’s, went on a remarkable run to win the tournament. Blitzing past LA Thieves, Minnesota Rokkr, reigning world champions Dallas Empire, and then tournament favourites Atlanta FaZe in an epic final, the European roster’s win took everyone by surprise.
“We obviously enjoyed it, I think it’s important to enjoy these moments,” Toronto Ultra’s head coach Mark ‘MarkyB’ Bryceland tells The Loadout. “We sprayed some champagne around the place, sure. You want to have the hunger to achieve those moments again. But we didn’t go too crazy to be honest.
“Throughout the major, we would go for a team walk [after matches], so afterwards we just wanted to do the same thing again – we just went on a big walk around Toronto, and then went to bed. That was the real struggle, getting to sleep. I didn’t realise but I was lying in bed thinking about everything from like 3-5am and just couldn’t sleep.”
MarkyB adds that he and his players have been taking it easy in the days following their shock victory, and the rest is certainly warranted. Sunday saw the team play 16 maps across three series – including a best-of-nine final against Atlanta FaZe.
— Toronto Ultra (@TorontoUltra) April 12, 2021
There were concerns prior to the major that a loser’s bracket team could be at a big advantage or disadvantage – momentum could give them the edge against a winner’s bracket team that wasn’t warmed up, or the slog of matches could cause fatigue.
“I definitely was worried about [the amount of games on Sunday],” MarkyB admits. “But I said [to the team] it was going to be something we really need to think about and focus on in terms of squeezing every last bit of energy out of ourselves throughout – especially in that best-of-nine.”
I'm proud of Bance - to have a grand finals performance like that against FaZe is absolutely incredible
Ultra’s endurance was a key factor in the team’s victory – something they had prepared for. MarkyB says that the team often played out entire 11-map series in scrims, regardless of whether they had already won them or not. It’s a bold strategy for sure, but one that clearly paid off in the long run. Despite the preparation though, MarkyB confesses he was really surprised with the outcome against FaZe, who are regarded as the CDL’s best team right now.
“We haven’t fared very well against FaZe in scrims,” he says. “Some of the maps we beat them on in the final was the first time beating them this year – that’s like 15-plus times. So it was definitely quite a surprise with how convincingly we won them, especially on some of the respawns, and even how close it was on some of the ones we lost.”
While all of Ultra’s players pulled their weight, the final saw Benjamin ‘Bance’ Bance standout not just for his dominant performance but for his redemption arc in Stage 2. After the final, which saw Bance crowned Player of the Stage, the SMG player tweeted out a self-degrading text he sent to his partner weeks before, claiming he “might as well retire”.
sent this to my fiancée being deadly serious after starting stage 2 0-2 and receiving over 500 tweets to bench myself. What a turn around and I cannot thank my team enough! It may not seem like much but this win means a lot to me ❤️ pic.twitter.com/Bw0iQhgVKO
— Ultra Bance (@Bance) April 12, 2021
MarkyB, while proud of all of his players, says a recent focus on “mental toughness” has helped Bance turn the corner, resulting in his “remarkable” performance.
“Bance has been through some tough times,” MarkyB says. “I think it’s a combination of being away from your family, all the other personal aspects people don’t really think about, and then a lot of public people crying out for you to be dropped.
“I’m proud of Bance – to have a grand finals performance like that against FaZe is absolutely incredible. [His confidence] was remarkable. If you were to watch him against FaZe before and him against FaZe in the finals, it was like night and day. He was taking gun fights at the right moments, but not playing ratty and camping in corners, but being an annoying player when he needed to.”
We have just got to be focused and keep the guys grounded, because we've been here before
In a moment of self-reflection, MarkyB also says his change in approach to coaching the team, in which he eased off on the players and became less of a “drill sergeant” during practice, has resulted in massive improvements.
He’s also well aware that while Ultra’s win will fill the team with confidence for Stage 3, it will also draw more attention to them from the other franchises in the league. The coach adds that he aims to keep his players grounded, citing a change in attitudes after the team’s Toronto Home Series win last season.
“We’re definitely aware that teams are gonna be watching our Search and Destroy [more closely] because it’s so strong,” he says. “I can’t really say much on it, but we’ll use that to our advantage.
“We [the coaching staff] have just got to be focused and keep the guys grounded, because we’ve been here before. We had success at the Toronto Home Series last year, and [although we were] one of the grindy teams in the league, we maybe overrated ourselves and that became a bit of an issue when it came to overlooking certain teams. Now, I think that we’re going to stay strong, stay humble, and just continue to improve. That’s all we really need.”