The storyline was set. Nicholas “Red Icy” Cope and Justin “Kenny Bounce” Kenny leaving OpTic Gaming and joining rivals Echo Fox, while Arody “Praized” Dipre and Brain “SoLuRs” Valenzuela transferred over to the Green Wall, sent the Gears of War community into a frenzy. Two juggernaut teams, two rivals, two sets of champions.

This past weekend, the city of New Orleans was blessed with the best Gears of War 4 tournament in history in terms of viewers. Surpassing 50,000 views online - 7000 more than the next most viewed event, the Las Vegas Open 2017 - the GPC New Orleans Open was a huge success, thanks in particular to the heavy rivalry between OpTic Gaming and Echo Fox.

This event was the first since Call of Duty MLG World Finals in October 2015 where OpTic had two teams competing: OpTic Gaming and the newly acquired OpTic Mexico. Additionally, this was the first event where an OpTic International team has competed, so a lot of eyes were on the Ex-Ronin squad.

OpTic Mexico

(Image courtesy of OpTic Mexico)

OpTic Mexico were looking to repeat their form from Las Vegas, where they took out OpTic Gaming in Losers Bracket Round Six and finished in third place. It was going to be difficult, as the Mexicans had Echo Fox in their group, as well as the surprise team of the event, Elevate. Unfortunately, the squad fell flat in their first match against Echo Fox.. Be it due to the skill level of the newly changed Foxes, or just simply a lack of momentum, they went down 0-1 in their pool after some close matches.

Next came Elevate. The series started scary, with OpTic Mexico losing the first map. But with teamwork and coordination, OpTic Mexico were able to rebound and win two maps back to back, 7-1 and 7-4 respectively.

Going into Saturday, OpTic Mexico found themselves against Open Bracket team Vertacon. Open bracket teams are always hard to predict and strategize, not only due to being unknown but also due to the fact you never know who is going to make it out and what pool they are going to be put into. To make matters worse, the Mexicans had to face them first. Cold hands, unpredictability and already a shaky event? It all came together for Vertacon, and unfortunately, OpTic Mexico fell 0-2, putting them last in their group.

Due to their losses, OpTic Mexico had to start from the bottom—Losers Round One. From there, they started an incredible run, beating World Best APAC, Disrupt Gaming, and Rise Nation without dropping a single map.

Unfortunately, all runs must come to an end, and as they faced Echo Fox once again, they were unable to exact their revenge, losing 0-2 and being eliminated in 7/8th—a disappointing weekend for their OpTic debut, but one they will no doubt bounce back from. With a long off-season between now and the San Diego Open, this squad will no doubt be in better shape than ever before.

(Image courtesy of MLG)

OpTic Gaming

The Green Wall came in with a chip on their shoulder. Unlike in Season One where OpTic won five out of six tournaments, their only loss coming to Team Envyus in Mexico City, they have been far from perfect during Season Two in terms of placings—that, to them, is simply unacceptable. With the double roster change, they were heavy favourites, dubbed ‘the best slaying team in the game’ by many members of the community.

That reputation was proven on Friday as the team dismantled Disrupt Gaming without dropping a single round and then smashed The Gosu Crew in another swift 2-0. They didn’t slow down on Saturday either, crushing the open bracket team, Nimbus Gaming, 2-0.

Then came Bracket Play. The team were surprised to find that the grudge match had come early, in what was a blessing for the fans—OpTic vs. Echo Fox in Winners Round One. Everyone expected this to be a three match series that may have even gone to the entire thirty nine rounds—however, the Green Wall was impenetrable. With a 7-3 score on Foundation and 7-1 on Forge, OpTic mopped the floor of their long-time rivals and ex-teammates. Praized said it best in the post-game interview: Echo Fox played like a “Garbage Team.” This, however, wasn’t the end of the grudge match.

(Image courtesy of MLG)

Next came another surprise in Ghost Gaming. The champions of Las Vegas so far had a terrible event, bombing out joint last in their group, though they scraped their way into Winners Bracket via countback - a system that takes round wins into account. They may have dodged a bullet by not getting into Losers, but they couldn’t avoid OpTic’s shots as the team once again proved their dominance in a fifth consecutive 2-0.

Going into Sunday, everyone was thinking of “The Dream:” something that lurked around in every OpTic members’ minds in Gears of War, Call of Duty, and previously Halo—the perfect tournament, not dropping a single game. So many events in each esport had come close. Only once had it ever happened, back in Gears of War Paris Open 2017, and OpTic were looking to do it again. But first, they had to get through EU’s Finest.

OpTic started off hot, going 1-0 up in the series thanks to a comfortable 7-3 win on Impact. However, EU’s Finest proved that OpTic are still human, taking Forge Blitz 7-5. Still, that lit a fire under the team as they steamrolled Reclaimed 7-0 to book their spot in the final.

To no-one's surprise, the Foxes met them there. Having been defeated quite horrifically once, Icy and his crew were looking for revenge. Trash talk was flying left and right in the pre-game interview, with Icy calling his former team fake champions. With the interview over, the “fake champions” looked to reclaim their throne once more.

(Image courtesy of MLG)

It started off well for OpTic, with a quick 3-0 advantage. However, power weapons are a big thing in Gears of War eSports. Having a Sniper or Boomshot (Grenade Launcher) that can kill someone instantly from range? Those types of weapons can immediately swing the game in a team’s favour. This was seen throughout the series from players like Praized and Victor “M Powerz” Mateo, whose double Boomshot granted Echo Fox map point. That, combined with the hill changes mid-way through the game and OpTic getting ahead of themselves, meant that Echo Fox took seven rounds in a row, winning the first map.

The crowd was loud, the players even louder. This match meant everything for every one of the 10 players, as well as the two coaches standing behind them. After a reset and a good talking to from Nicholas “Ashes” Ridgeway, the Green Wall reinforced itself and stood strong, taking the second map within twelve rounds.

It was clear that fatigue had become a factor as the teams began the third map—Echo Fox had been playing since Losers Round Four on Sunday, whilst OpTic had played only EU’s Finest. Regardless, the third (and final) map of the series was a total domination. Praized and Gilbert “Xplosive” Rojo roared over at their ex-teammate Icy. The crowd began to chant and Echo Fox crumbled. With a statement, OpTic Gaming won on Reclaimed, 7-1, and retook their throne at the top of the GoW pro scene.

(Image courtesy of MLG)

Looking to the future

That win by itself was sweet, but beating Echo Fox twice was even sweeter. OpTic Gaming are fired up and confident going into the off-season, and should be ready for Competitive Patch 2.8 rolling out before the next event in San Diego. This update brings changes with movement and with the shotguns. Long/short wall cancelling has been disabled, and instead has been replaced with a faster movement system. To complement this, there will no longer be health regeneration and aim assist when using shotguns. Furthermore, shotgun accuracy has been tuned and peeking from cover has been altered to be much quicker. All of these changes will shake up the meta, making way for different playstyles and tactics. This could threaten the fast paced style that OpTic seems to love running, but it can also let clutch players like Billy “MentaL” Putnam shine and rise above the rest.

(Image courtesy of MLG)

Furthermore, a lot of pro players have spoken out about the growth of Gears as an esport and how new maps may help the scene. With The Coalition listening to their player base closely, will a new map be added during this time?

(Image courtesy of The Coalition)

Who will learn the meta quicker? Will OpTic continue to rule Gears of War? Will Echo Fox come back with a vengeance? We’ll find out September 28th-30th in San Diego.