Team XtaZ and their preparations for CoD Champs in LA

Xtaz Logo 2013

We decided that this week is as good a week as any to let our traditional ‘Gamer of the Week’ feature take a small break, so that we could focus on the four gamers that make up the Call of Duty team on everyone’s lips… XtaZ.

If you asked: “why?” – we’ve dispatched an elite zombie hit squad to your location, because you clearly don’t deserve those brains.  While they’re shambling their way to you, let us paint the picture for you.

Team XtaZ is going to Los Angeles.  They’re going there to take on 31 other international teams in what is most likely the biggest console based Call of Duty tournament in the world.  Ever.  Call of Duty Championship has a mammoth prize pool of one million US Dollars.  Yes.  One.  Million.  US.  Dollars (around R9,288,499.83 at the time of checking…)  The first place team will score a cool $400 000 to share between their four man team.  That’s as close to being a millionaire in South Africa as any one person playing games can get.  It’s frankly mind blowing.

Blops 2 Championships_SAHowever, let’s not get overly carried away just yet.  Team XtaZ wasn’t just handed this opportunity, and had to take on a number of other South African teams last Sunday (17 March) in the South African Qualifiers which included some very tough opponents in Hi5, F34R and others.  Facing down F34R Elite in the final, Team XtaZ showed a real sharpness and a real hunger to be the team to represent South Africa in L.A. and the game – while tight and highly entertaining – was taken 3-0 by XtaZ, and takes us to where we are today…

We last caught up with you just over a year ago, after you had won the Clan Connection tournament.  You’ve just won an even bigger tournament – the Call of Duty Championship SA qualifiers.  Congratulations.  How are you guys feeling?

We are extremely excited to have the opportunity to go to such a prestigious tournament. We are basically still in disbelief that this is actually happening.

You’re off to L.A. to play some of the best teams in the world early next month.  How are you guys preparing for it?

We are going on what we call “a heavy grind”. We will be trying to fit in as much practice as possible before we leave. On the weekend just before our departure, Frostbite and I will be flying down to Cape Town so we can meet up with the Eos and Hazardz to do some LAN practice, as well as possibly using the Mcave to play against Europeans on a decent connection.

Have you looked at your qualification and thought: “the expectation of a nation is on our shoulders” or have you guys just tried to keep a “just another tournament” approach?  Even though it’s clearly not?

Our aim is to keep a calm and composed approach to this tournament, as we would normally do, so that we can perform at our best. We are however aware of the support and expectations of South Africa behind us and I think this can only add to our motivation.

You guys looked really sharp and focused in the final (and all you matches in general in the qualifiers) against F34R Elite, even though HAzzardZ had only joined you earlier in the week due to age restrictions and passport requirements.  How did you guys click so quickly and how much time did you have to practice and sort out your callouts?

We chose Hazardz not only for his skill and competitive experience, but also for his team position and play-style. He slotted in quite quickly as he didn’t have to play too much out of position. We tried to sort out callouts as soon as possible and then just scrim and practice together for the next week.

Give us a little background on each of the four players that played in the qualifiers.

Frostbite was recruited at the end of Black Ops 1. He became very quickly one of the best MW3 players, especially in CTF, and since then has clearly become one of the best players that South Africa has to offer.

Eos joined the team after the first ClanConnection tournament, but has been playing competitive since MW2. He is a very strong player, who can play a variety of roles. His experience really shows in Search and Destroy.

Hazardz started playing Call of Duty on MW2. He has been in quite a few teams over the years, but became a really stronger player in Adios La Vida, in which he has been for over a year.  He especially excels in Hardpoint.

I, Ph0bia, have been playing Call of Duty since COD4. I started XtaZ back in 2010, over MW2 and have been leading and growing the team ever since. I think that I am one of the most experienced South African players when it comes to competitive on console, having participated in most of the major tournaments.

The levels of excitement and anxiety must be pretty high for your trip to L.A.  Are you guys expecting to find that playing ‘live’ and face-to-face with your opponent may be an added pressure?  We get very few occasions to play that way in SA, and the other countries may gain an advantage from having more experience with it.

Playing on LAN will most definitely add some pressure, if not by being face-to-face with the opponent, but by being constantly under the eye of the camera/crowd. I’m sure we can handle it though, as playing on LAN will be a breeze compared to our South African internet (me and my all famous timeouts are more stressful than anything a team can throw at us).

Do you think South Africa will need to start hosting more LANs to prepare teams for (hopefully) more competitions of this nature in the live environment?

I think South Africa needs to definitely start hosting more LANs, and of a different nature to the ones that have previously been organized. The Free-for-all LANs are great for introducing new players, but they do not develop e-sports enough. Big events, such as the EGL and MLG ones, grow and drive the community in Europe and America, and that is needed here.

Which teams are you most looking forward to playing against (or even watching and meeting) at the CoD Championship in L.A?

I think we are all looking forward to meeting the big names, such as Optic Gaming, EnvyUs and Complexity.

[You can view the full list of teams competing in the tournament here – Undead Ed]

I assume you have marked a few teams you would consider “easier” opposition.  Are there any teams you would rather face in the group phase that may make qualifying to the knock-outs a little easier?

We are taking every team seriously, and hope that we do well against each team we face.

What would you consider will make Team XtaZ come back satisfied that it was a successful tournament for them?  First prize, or just to have gained the experience, or something else?

We will be very satisfied with a top 8 placement. However, just the experience of going to such a big event and being surrounded by the top teams of the world will be satisfying in itself.

You mentioned last year thatcompetitive console gaming in South Africa needs a lot more exposure, so that we can get more public interest, as well as more competitions.”  Do you think things have moved in that direction yet?

I think that we have taken a huge step forward since last year. Firstly, Holden’s work with ClanConnection has been greatly beneficial towards the community. Now, with this tournament, we are getting interest from around the world as well as some much needed exposure from South African media. The future of South African e-sports is looking brighter every day.

What else needs to happen for SA console gaming for it to be a real force?

First of all, I think that we need to see more LANs (as was said before). I think that we also need a unified console platform, especially with the next gens just around the corner. If the South African community could be present on one console, we could almost match the pc community in size and exposure. Events and opportunities would then be a lot more abundant.

You guys will probably find yourselves in the position of sponsors coming to you now that the exposure is almost guaranteed.  How important is sponsorship to XtaZ?  What do you expect from the sponsor, and in return, what do you think the sponsor expects from you?

Sponsorship is very important to us. It helps promote competitive gaming as a serious sport, and once sponsors get on-board growth is guaranteed. We expect that sponsors will help with providing crucial equipment as well as helping with travel to events. In return, we would promote the sponsor as much as we could, through videos, presence at events and word-of-mouth.

We would like to wish you guys all the best, and thank you for taking time out to chat with us.  We’re pretty sure the support of South African gamers will be there for you.  Is there anything you would like to add before you head off to practice?

We are very grateful towards all the people that helped create this once in a lifetime opportunity, so many thanks to all those involved. And to all those South African gamers out there that are giving us their support, we will do our best to live up to your expectations. We will also try document all our travels so that you guys can share the experience with us! Thanks once again!

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If you missed the finals on the 17th of March, check out the recorded footage courtesy of Mweb Gamezone, with commentary from Nic ‘HoldenZA’ Holden, Franco ‘Dastrix’ Duncker and Clint ‘CS1977’ Smith.

Finally, all the matches from Call of Duty Championship will be streamed live over the tournament weekend of 5 to 7 April.  Show your support for the team from South Africa and watch their matches, and voice your support for them via all the social media available.