Professional Call of Duty’s ‘greatest of all time’ (GOAT) debate usually comes down to three men: Damon ‘Karma’ Barlow, Ian ‘Crimsix’ Porter or James ‘Clayster’ Eubanks. What these debates lack, though, is an awareness of the impact the players have had beyond their own successes.
On April 25, a new look New York Subliners consisting of Asim, Mack, Hydra and Clayster took on Atlanta FaZe, the roster that has dominated the overwhelming majority of the Call of Duty League’s opening two seasons. 19 year old Hydra was making his debut in the CDL, but there were no signs of nerves as a cohesive and spirited New York showing saw off Atlanta in a tight five-game series.
It was a solid performance from Clayster as well, who began his competitive CoD career in 2010, when teammate Hydra was just eight years old. So solid, in fact, that CDL caster Miles Ross tweeted the NYSL AR veteran after the game, asking him “How the f**k are you playing like this at 28 years old? Goat things.”
Vince Lombardi once asked: “If it doesn’t matter who wins or loses, then why do they keep score?”
As applicable to CoD as it is to any other sport, the winningest tables put Crimsix as a clear winner with 36 total tournament wins. The top four, in fact, are the OpTic dynasty roster that came to dominate Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III and Infinite Warfare: Scump has 29, Karma 24 and FormaL 23. Clayster is in fifth, with 19. Three of those, though, are World Championship rings. Only Crimsix and Karma can match that.
Clayster’s first came in Advanced Warfare, when he was part of the Denial Esports roster that knocked OpTic Gaming into the Losers’ Bracket. Just 7 months previously, he had been dropped from the Greenwall because of their mixed fortunes in Ghosts. Competing alongside an 18 year old Attach, JKap and Replays, he took the roster under his wing, finished the tournament as MVP and boasted a stellar 1.31 K/D.
Then came his major struggles. Two years on a stagnant FaZe Clan roster led many to write him off. There were glimpses of his incredible talent in Black Ops III and Infinite Warfare, but there was never the cutting edge that saw him put a Denial roster on his back. A shift to eUnited failed to arrest the slump, at least initially. WWII came and went, with the roster failing to capitalize on promise and being eliminated in fourth at CoD Champs.
2018/19 brought Black Ops 4, and a transition to five-man rosters. Four years on from his first World Championship, Clayster found his second. The explosive nature of Simp and the tactical nous of aBeZy and Prestinni flourished under the watchful AR gaze of Clayster and Arcitys, and eUnited deservedly found their way to the top.
Seismic changes to the league (and the world) followed, and Clayster found his way to Dallas Empire. The switch to online competition didn’t dampen the fire, and the franchise purchased by Envy saw off Atlanta FaZe in the Grand Finals. 5 years after his first World Championship, Clayster got his hands on a third. The win put himself and Crimsix alongside Karma, as the only men to ever win three rings. No dynasties, no wins in two years on FaZe, no super-teams, no problem.
Karma’s three rings have come with 8 different players: KiLLa, MiRx, Parasite, ACHES, TeePee, Crimsix, Scump and FormaL. One of those players (MiRx) was a rookie when he won his ring.
Crimsix’s three rings have come with 9 players: ACHES, TeePee, Karma, Scump, FormaL, Shotzzy, Huke, Clayster and iLLeY. Two of those (Shotzzy & iLLeY) were rookies when they won their rings.
Clayster’s three rings have come with 11 players: Replays, Attach, JKap, Arcitys, Prestinni, aBeZy, Simp, Shotzzy, Huke, iLLeY and Crimsix. Three of those (Simp, Shotzzy & iLLeY) were rookies.
Not only has Clayster won Champs with a wider player pool than either Karma or Crimsix, he’s done it with more young, unproven rookies as well.
Dropped by OpTic Gaming, Clayster found himself on a Denial roster with 6 major tournament wins between his three teammates. When eUnited won the Black Ops 4 CoD Champs, Clayster’s teammates had 6 major tournament wins between them. For comparison, when OpTic Gaming won the 2017 CoD Champs, they had 80 major tournament wins between the four of them.
Clayster has an undeniable knack of getting his rosters to perform at a level greater than the sum of their parts.
When Dexerto broke the news in September 2020 that Clayster was to be dropped by Dallas Empire, just a month or so after winning his third ring, there was an effluence of acrimony, confusion and sympathy. The man himself tweeted frustratingly about the reports, but there was a quiet determination tangible in his comments. Hurt? Maybe. Disappointed? Almost definitely. Finished? Not a chance.
The regains have become a staple of Clayster’s career, and there always seems to be one shortly after a low ebb. Dropped by OpTic at the end of Ghosts, he moved to an Envy roster that was mediocre at best. Six months later, his Denial roster knocked OpTic into the Losers’ Bracket and won Champs. A 1.31 K/D and MVP award suggests Clayster was playing with a point to prove.
A similar story comes after FaZe Clan, where the roster never quite made the most of strong foundations. A move to eUnited didn’t bring immediate success, but there was no panic from Clayster. Keep the head down and work, and success will come like it has before. And it did, in the form of Black Ops 4’s Champs. Then a move to franchises? A move to online play? A move to Dallas? Okay, keep the head down and work, cue third ring.
There are still questions about Dallas’ decision to drop Clayster, especially considering the mixed form of the team and their replacement of Huke with FeLo. What is clear, though, is that it gave Clayster another point to prove.
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola talks of Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa as the best football manager in the world. Not because of his trophies (or lack of them), but because he undeniably improves the players he works with.
The story of Clayster is similar. Attach, Simp, aBeZy, Shotzzy and iLLeY all flourished alongside the veteran AR. Shotzzy was even crowned the league’s MVP. Some credit must go to Crimsix for this too, but Clayster’s involvement in Attach’s AW growth, aBeZy’s rise to prominence with eUnited, and Simp’s MVP Black Ops 4 season are too noticeable to dismiss as coincidence.
A similar example came on April 25, with a debutant in Hydra standing up against Atlanta FaZe and more than holding his own. It’s a New York Subliners roster that has 1 tournament win between Asim, Mack and Hydra. And here they are, topping groups and beating dominant forces in professional CoD. We’ll see if it lasts, but Clayster has precedence.
He exudes confidence; a composed (albeit passionate) head that strives to conquer the best, no matter who he’s playing with. Improving those around him, getting the overall output to be greater than the sum of its parts, shrugging off disappointment and coming back stronger next time. These are GOAT things.