Opinion: Dallas Empire Benching Huke Is Just the Latest in the Line of Mistakes for the Champs
One of the greatest teams in the Call of Duty League right now is, without a doubt, the Dallas Empire. They are the reigning champs of the inaugural 2020 season and number two in the leaderboards when writing this. However, they are not perfect and have been making a lot of mistakes lately, especially when it comes to how they handled Huke.
Breaking Down Dallas Empire Benching Huke
If you didn’t already know, it was announced late last week, right in the middle of the first week of Stage 3 for the 2021 season, that Dallas Empire is moving Huke to the bench for now. This decision was made for a specific reason and at a random time as well.
The Empire had just won three to one against the Paris Legion is a pretty unsurprising match overall. It wasn’t a terrible one for Huke by no means, but this decision was made suddenly after that. Furthermore, the person who replaced him had already been lined up to join the starting lineup.
That player was none other than FeLo, the latest member to join the current reigning world champs in the Call of Duty League. Tyler “Felo” Johnson joined the Empire in January this year as the substitute player for the team in case of any reason that they might need a sub.
Thus far, that hasn’t been necessary, but it seems Dallas Empire decided to move Huke to the bench in favor of FeLo. Johnson isn’t exactly a new player himself as someone who has been in the business since 2014 professionally, playing for great teams like Rise Nation, eUnited, and Evil Geniuses.
He played for the EastR Challengers division team as a loaned player during the beginning of the 2021 season. Since he didn’t need to play for the Empire, he could compete there and did quite well for himself, even placing first in the Challengers Stage 2 division.
Felo is a good player and is certainly worthy of being in the main Call of Duty League, but this move is quite controversial. While I, for one, would like to see Johnson get his chance in the main league, I don’t think it should be at the cost of Huke.
And there are plenty of fans who agree with this point. If you check out the comments on the Twitter post announcing this decision from late last week, you will see that the community is not too happy with this decision, and, honestly, for pretty good reasons.
Coach’s Reasoning Behind the Decision
Ultimately, this decision is up to the Dallas Empire and its parent organization, Team Envy, and not up to us, the fans. In the end, it seems the bulk of the blame for this decision to move Huke to the Dallas Empire bench was put on the coach himself: Hastr0.
Mike “Hastr0” Rufail recently spoke with the Dallas Morning News, going over the team’s state and this radical decision to bench one of the star players for the Empire. As the coach and general manager for Empire, he blamed this, but it was ultimately up to many at the organization.
It seems that the decision was made because these pro players have been on the scene for a long time. They “felt like they could not make progress.” If this is true, then the decision was already made. If Huke felt like he was unable to make progress and decided to sit this out for a while, that is understandable.
However, it is worded oddly and certainly feels like there is more to this story. After all, you should never take words at face value, especially when said in a biased and indirect way. This is especially seen when the statements from the coach continued.
Rufail noted that the team felt like other teams were “catching up” to them and that “there were issues” with Huke holding back that progress for everyone. We do have to wonder who “they” is. Is it Huke himself or someone else or multiple other players on the team?
We would also like to address that some rumors are floating around social media regarding this decision. They are only rumors at this time and probably just made up by some fans to stir the pot more with drama, so please take random comments from users on Twitter and other places with a huge handful of salt.
Regardless of the reason behind this, this is a first huge roster change for Dallas since the start of the 2021 season. There was one other major change last year (we’ll get more into that in a little bit), but there hasn’t been a huge shift like this for the team at all.
It is a monumental moment for the team and one that is concerning. Even as someone, personally, who isn’t a dedicated fan of Dallas, I can say that the community should be alarmed by this. As such, I will dig into why I think this move was a mistake and how it is not the first mistake, or potentially the last one, that Dallas could make this year.
Opinion: This Bench Was a Mistake
I’ll go out and say it right now from the start: I think that dropping Huke was an absolute mistake by the Dallas Empire. Let’s say that he wanted to take a break from the pro scene for a bit and center himself: that is an admirable approach and something respectable, for sure.
However, there is no evidence to say that this is the case. From my point of view, it seems that it is more on other people to make that decision for him. If that is the case, I think that Dallas Empire has made a mistake in benching him at this time.
I have no problem with Felo getting his chance to shine, as mentioned already, but I think that Huke was the wrong player to bench overall. Without a doubt, there is at least one other player that I would have benched on the team before I would have chosen him.
Normally, I don’t get too candid with opinions like this one, but as I did with OpTic Chicago recently, I will be blunt and upfront here as I do like the Empire and want to see them be the best that they can be. Instead of Huke, it should have been iLLeY or maybe even someone else that should have been moved to the bench.
Let’s take the recent match of Paris Legion and Dallas Empire, for example, during the first week of Stage 3. This match was a pretty simple three to one win for the Empire, coming off a round one loss in Hardpoint to Paris. Paris destroyed them in that first round, so everyone on Dallas was in the negative.
In terms of ratios, Huke’s was the least worst here and easily the best performer in this round with the best objective time. The next round was a quick Search & Destroy match where almost everyone did well. Control was tough for Huke and his worst round of the match, but he did capture the most objectives simultaneously.
Then in the final Hardpoint round, they destroyed Paris for the win. He came behind Crimsix as the second-best player of that round in terms of ratio combined with objective time. He did well and certainly not the worst on the team, but to drop him? That’s problematic.
Sure, he has had a mix of moments of lame performance this season but not more than the other members of Dallas. Even Crimsix has had several matches where he has been the worst of the bunch and randomly shows why he is one of the best players in Call of Duty history.
Without a doubt, this is a more ingrained issue with Dallas that is not relative to just one player. There is much more happening underneath for the team and trying to solve it by moving one player, who isn’t the main problem in the slightest, will spell even more trouble for the reigning champs.
This Mistake Is Sadly Just the Latest One for Dallas
It is clear because this mistake is, unfortunately, just the latest one to happen this season for Dallas Empire. It all began, in fact, right after the win at the playoffs over Atlanta FaZe and taking home the crown. We were looking at one of the best squads in the entire Call of Duty esports history.
This team was unstoppable and looked to be the reigning champs again this year, but they made a poor decision right off of the bat. With the league returning to four-player squads, it sadly meant that every team had to drop at least one player or move them to the bench.
This even meant that the golden Dallas Empire squad had to do the same, and the casualty was Clayster. This was a very bad decision that we talked about when it happened. It was only the beginning of the mistakes that Dallas had made for this season.
Clayster was far from the worst player on the team and, while we get the emphasis on rookies, it has potentially blinded some of the leaders at Dallas for the time being. The loss of Clayster has been felt this season already with a team that is, honestly, slowly going downhill.
While I would argue that Chicago is like this but in a worse position, Dallas is headed down, too. The loss of Clayster has been felt, and now the loss of Huke will be felt as well. I don’t have to guess at this. It has already been felt. It hasn’t even been a full week since the decision at the time of writing this.
Dallas Takes Another Step in the Wrong Direction
One of the biggest statements from Dallas’ coach regarding this move was that “if it pans out the way we think it will, and it’s not easy for everyone to see right now, then it will be a step in the right direction.” It is certainly hard to see right now, given that Dallas hasn’t been slowly moving in the wrong direction, and I believe this just hastened it.
We go from Dallas winning pretty easily against Paris to a match against Toronto Ultra. The Ultra has been a fantastic team lately and proved this past week that it was not just for show at the second Major. This was seen in the fact that it easily swept Florida three to nothing.
And then it came time for the marquee match of Dallas Empire and Toronto Ultra. I theorized recently that, perhaps, the momentum for Toronto is what carried the team to victory during the Major, even defeating Dallas and Atlanta FaZe in the process.
They unequivocally proved that it was not a fluke at all, winning this match in yet another sweep three to nothing. I would argue that Dallas Empire would have lost even if Huke had stayed (again, signs of a much larger problem here).
However, here’s the issue: they wouldn’t have lost this bad. The Empire did much worse in this rematch than in the first one, losing in a much sooner fashion. The stats weren’t great across the board. This is not a good start for the team in the third stage.
It remains to be seen how the team will perform moving forward, but I would guess that this team is headed in the completely wrong direction. While they remain in second place, I do not expect them to win this group (again) nor win the third Major.
Dallas Empire seriously needs to figure everything out as even if they do come out still near the top of the leaderboard by the end of the season because I have no doubt that this is no longer a championship-worthy team while other teams like New York, Atlanta, and Toronto are seemingly much better right now.