“Ask most Call of Duty fans who won the Advanced Warfare Championship and they’d have to sit down and think about it,” says Shane “ShAnE” McKerral, a veteran of the professional Call of Duty scene. “But if you ask them who won the Black Ops 2 Championship, which was two years before, they will say Impact in a heartbeat.”
McKerral has been playing Call of Duty titles at the highest level for the best part of seven years. During his time in the scene, he has won major events, finished in the top four at the world championship and was even part of the first European team to move to North America to compete with the best in the world. He is a man who has done almost all there is to do in the world of Call of Duty, but his fondest memories are of Black Ops 2, the title most loved by the professional players.
“I remember when we went to Anaheim for Black Ops 2, we were completely unheard of because the American community spat on the European side of it,” recalls McKerral.
“So we walked in. We won the open bracket without losing a match and because we were a very low seed we had to come against Impact, the world champions, the best team in the world by far. We knew deep down we were way better than them, but no-one else knew it.
“First map, we absolutely ruined their lives. They were the best team in the world and we beat them by about 230 points. Going to America and having the American crowd cheering for us – that was an insane feeling.”
While Black Ops 2’s pro scene is home to many incredible storylines, and it is considered the game that sparked an explosion of interest in competitive Call of Duty, there is much more to it than that. The game itself is considered by many pros to be the best ever. From maps to balance to unique features and everything in between, Black Ops 2 is thought of as the best Call of Duty has ever been.
“It was just like a perfect game, the game mechanics were perfect,” says McKerral.
“It was the first game where Hardpoint was brought in competitively and it was a game where the better team should win, which doesn’t happen now. These games just haven’t been the same since. The jet pack game doesn’t suit me whatsoever. It suits the, sorry to be harsh, little brainless kid flying about with insane reaction times, not those who can outsmart them.”
The tactical side of Black Ops 2 is what most of the pro players loved. The recent games have focused more on gunfights and reaction times, but four years ago a good strategy could win you any match, even against the world champions. This created a scene where you would expect to see something unexpected at every event.
“Black Ops 2 was just really balanced, from top to bottom,” says Mark “MarkyB” Bryceland, one of the few players who can claim to have been at the top end of the EU scene every year since Black Ops 2.
“The maps were built perfectly, the game modes seemed to work perfectly. Even the create-a-class system, the pick 10 system, it was a real mental game.
“Nowadays, everyone’s running all the same stuff, whereas back then you might be caught off guard if a team was using stun grenades, but then you’d use tactical mask to counter. The game was so much more complex, but at the same time you could outclass a team for that reason.”
Both McKerral and Bryceland are leaders within their teams, and with a leadership role the extra tactics that were involved in Black Ops 2 were always going to appeal to them. The game winning decision could come down to one of their choices, after all. But for other pros who don’t have the same leadership experience, there were other reasons why Black Ops 2 was one of the best Call of Duty titles to play at a high level.
“There were so many different factors, but one of the biggest ones was that the maps were designed correctly.” says Ben “Bance” Bance, who place second at last year’s Call of Duty Championship but didn’t start to play competitively until after Black Ops 2 had been replaced by 2013’s Ghosts.
“So if you have a assault rifle there are positions for you to go in, that give you benefits. Or if you have a SMG then there are buildings you can go into to still control the map and do stuff for your team.”
Every Call of Duty in recent years has had a big competitive scene, but every year you can guarantee the pros will find something to moan about. Even years after each game is long gone from the competitive circuit you will still hear conversations about how Advanced Warfare was broken, or how Ghosts wasn’t that entertaining to watch. But whenever Black Ops 2 comes up, there is rarely a bad word spoken.
“Black Ops 2 was so well supported,” says Philip “Momo” Whitfield, a former pro player turned caster.
“It had CoDcaster, [a spectator tool designed for esports broadcasts] which we have as standard now. It had League Play, which allowed guys at home as well as me to compete and try to become the best. But all in all, it just brought that really good, raw kind of gameplay out of people. I think it was very easy to watch, very easy to understand. Hopefully, we’ll be getting back to that kind of stuff this year.”
While recent titles have moved away from the style of play that Black Ops 2 perfected, that style is exactly what the pro players pine for today. Almost every pro player will tell you that this year’s return to “boots on the ground” gameplay is a great move, and could once again see growth in the scene that hasn’t happened since Treyarch’s classic was the competitive title of choice.
Until this year’s Call of Duty, subtitled WW2, comes out, fans can rekindle the magic of Black Ops 2 via the Backwards Compatibility feature on Xbox One. Microsoft recently added Black Ops 2 to the ever-expanding list of Xbox 360 games that work on Xbox One, and it sparked a significant boost in interest and concurrent player numbers (Digital Foundry’s a big fan of the back compat work, too). Black Ops 2 is back in business – and it should keep Call of Duty fans going until this November.
Meanwhile, it’s clear the reverence for Black Ops 2 in the professional scene is unmatched by any other Call of Duty. As soon as the words are mentioned a smile instantly appears on the, often exhausted, faces of the players who have just come off the back of a tough on-stage match. Their eyes light up and they unleash themselves into a lengthy monologue after giving the short and blunt answers we are all used to hearing when they discuss their recent performance.