It’s more than a subtle nod. It’s a statement.
One of the most recognized and decorated professional gaming and Call of Duty organizations on the planet has already earned the right to call itself an empire. Now it’s official.
The Dallas Empire.
Envy revealed Saturday evening the branding and team name associated with its new Call of Duty League franchise. Though the name had been circulating throughout the internet for the past few weeks, it’s a fitting one for Mike “Hastr0” Rufail’s club.
Envy Gaming — whether you refer to it as Team Envy or its origins as EnvyUs — is recognized as a pillar in building up competitive Call of Duty, one of the most popular (and best-selling) video game franchises of all time.
Envy has the most World Championship Grand Finals appearances of any Call of Duty team, according to a news release.
So even though the Call of Duty League is new and still in the box (the 12-team, geo-located league will begin competition in 2020), this Dallas club isn’t overstating its impact with a name like Empire.
“Envy was one of the biggest catalysts to grow the entire scene to what it is today,” Rufail, Envy Gaming CEO and Empire owner, told The Dallas Morning News in a phone interview earlier this week.
Back to basic
If the Empire branding is a callback to the organization’s roots, it comes at a fitting time.
The latest installment of the Call of Duty franchise is going back to when the series, which started as a World War II-based first-person-shooter, launched into the stratosphere in switching its format to a contemporary battlefield.
On Oct. 25, developer Infinity Ward and publisher Activision will release Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
The release comes 12 years after the smash-hit Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which spawned two direct sequels and sold over 15 million copies in six years, according to IGN. The game launched the Call of Duty franchise into the lexicon of popular culture, ushering in the next wave of competitive online gaming.
In recent years, the series diverged from its most beloved, and best-selling, tactics. The hype surrounding the upcoming installment promises a game that rewards gameplay achievements instead of a pay-to-win model.
Before the age of lootboxes, that was the winning model that the original Modern Warfare trilogy thrived on.
And at the beginning of Modern Warfare, Envy was an important part of the esports renaissance that has taken over the last decade.
Rufail, who joined Envy in its infancy as a Call of Duty player, said Call of Duty 4 garnered attention from all sorts of pro players, and Envy took advantage by building a monster roster.
“I had put together a roster that was just ridiculous,” Rufail said. “We won 104 matches before we lost a match.”
‘A new era’
James “Clayster” Eubanks knows Rufail well. He’s played him many times before, and he’s also beaten him. He’s familiar with the Envy brand, and the two-time Call of Duty champion had a fitting end to 2019 before joining the Empire.
Eubanks, 27, most recently won Pro League and World League championships with eUnited (Envy finished 14th at worlds). He said he started to hear rumblings of the new Call of Duty League about a year and a half ago.
He said his eventual signing with the Empire was a no brainer, and now he’s looking forward to competing with the squad assembled in Dallas.
“I just trust that they’re going to do things right,” said Eubanks, who currently lives in Austin and, along with the rest of his teammates, will relocated to Dallas, “and I trust that they have such an understanding of Call of Duty that I’m not going to have to be walking them along the whole time.”
The Empire have a mix of veterans and newcomers: Eubanks and Ian “Crimsix” Porter are Call of Duty stalwarts, while Anthony “Shotzy” Cuevas-Castro and Indervir “iLLeY” Dhaliwal are teemage newcomers to Envy. Cuyler “Huke” Garland also re-signed with Envy, having competed with the org for the past three years. All five signings are pending league approval.
The Empire are expected to announce two additional roster additions: those two are going to be in more specialized roles, though, Rufail and Eubanks said, who can help with scouting and specific game types.
The exact format hasn’t been announced yet for next year’s league , but a five-vs.-five format has been confirmed. The Empire will host two home weekend series at to-be-announced venues, Envy announced. The ultimate goal for the team, Rufail said, is to bring championships to North Texas, to a city that craves them.
Empire also offers an Easter Egg to the Texas State Song, “Texas, Our Texas,” which features the line “O Empire wide and glorious, You stand supremely blest.”
“It’s a new era now where we’re representing the city in this part of Texas, North Texas and some parts of Oklahoma,” Rufail said. “So we really want to connect with the fans and players around Dallas and make sure that they understand we’re going to be part of their family like they’re going to be part of ours.”