The Meta. Every esport relies on a precise balance of weapons, heroes/specialists, and roles. This balance, however, is fickle. Each game patch may present minor changes to specific game mechanics or variables, but those small changes in the hands of a professional player can become paradigm-altering. Some meta-changes happen overnight, via developer updates, and some slip by for months, unnoticed, but when they are put into the spotlight, they can alter the outcome of entire tournaments.
At the beginning of the Black Ops 4 season, amid all of the Rostermania, Luminosity Gaming assembled a dominant roster, as talented as any other. Luminosity first added superstar slayer Pierce “Gunless” Hillman before replacing the struggling two-time Call of Duty World Champion, Jordan “Jkap” Kaplan, with Nicholas “Classic” DiCostanzo to play the flex role. The latter move paired up former teammates Classic and Josiah “Slacked” Berry. Classic has long excelled as a flex player and was in the conversation for best player in the world just two years ago during the Infinite Warfare season (when he was teammates with Slacked). Luminosity also held onto Johnathon “John” Perez and Matthew “FormaL” Piper from their Call of Duty: WWII campaign to round out their roster.
Luminosity got off to a rocky start to the year; the team’s online performance was often inconsistent. Despite this, at CWL Las Vegas, the first LAN tournament of the year, the team rode Gunless’ ridiculous 1.31 K/D to a respectable 4th place finish.
However, once the CWL Pro League rolled around, Luminosity’s inconsistency persisted. Luminosity began the Pro League with a 0-4 record but turned things around by winning their final three matches and finishing with a 3-4 record. Throughout this season, Luminosity always seemed like less than the sum of their parts, but after the appointment of vaunted Call of Duty veteran Richard “Ricky” Stacy as their coach and a massive improvement by Slacked during the latter half of the Pro League, their chemistry and team outlook improved dramatically heading into CWL Fort Worth.
With Slacked having improved his play and John, Formal, and Gunless all finding their stride within the roster, Classic was left as the only member of the team still struggling to find his place. His slightly slower pacing as the flex player did not gel well with the team, especially with FormaL serving as one of the more aggressive Assault Rifle players in all of Call of Duty. Enter the Rampart-17.
Retired former Call of Duty World Champion Adam “Killa” Sloss had been singing the praises of the gun for a long time due to his positive experiences with it during S&D tournaments and online league play matches. The argument for the weapon was simple: while the predominant choice for the main Assault Rifle remained the ICR-7 due to its extremely manageable recoil, respectable fire rate, and a robust distance-damage profile, the Rampart-17 was simply a stronger weapon. According to early testing by YouTuber XclusiveAce, the ICR deals 37 damage up close and 29 damage at further ranges, making it a 5-6 shot kill with a time-to-kill of 400-500 milliseconds. On the other hand, the Rampart deals an incredible 46 damage up close and 37 damage at further ranges, and despite its slower rate-of-fire, sports a time-to-kill of 348-464 milliseconds.
Furthermore, while the gun’s recoil was higher than the ICR, the recoil pattern was straight enough to be controlled. The gun also had a stronger Full Metal Jacket attachment than the ICR, dealing greater damage to enemies behind cover. The biggest pro for the weapon, however, was the flinch it dealt to enemies. Flinch, or how much one’s aim kicks when shot with a bullet, is directly related to how much damage the bullet deals, and with the Rampart dealing roughly 25% more damage across all distances than the ICR, the flinch it would inflict on an opponent was also considerably higher. All of this meant that if you were in a gunfight and got the first bullet into your opponent with the Rampart, the opponent’s aim would shoot straight skyward, and they had almost no chance to win the gunfight.
Luminosity, on a whim, decided to have Classic run the Rampart on maps requiring multiple main-AR players, and the effect was incredible. Not only did the gun play into Classic’s slower playstyle and allow FormaL to be more aggressive around the map, thus fixing several pacing issues. But Classic’s veteran savvy with regards to his positioning also allowed him to win many critical gunfights across all maps and modes. The gun shined especially in Search and Destroy, a game mode where gunfights are more staggered and individual.
Ultimately, Luminosity finally reached their full potential, winning the event, and leaving several other teams feeling jealous and somewhat cheated.
Fallout and Gentleman’s Agreement
After the event, the Rampart dominated the discussion among the pro community. Several notable Call of Duty veterans such as Austin “Slasher” Liddicoat and Ian “Crimsix” Porter cried foul that the gun was just too powerful. Among their claims were that the gun added inconsistency to the game, where better positioning and strategy was often bested by the Rampart alone. Especially troubling were the Full Metal Jacket and flinch benefits that the Rampart enjoyed over the ICR.
Eventually, every professional team except for Luminosity agreed that the Rampart should be out of the game, resulting in a “Gentleman’s Agreement” by all participating teams never to use the gun.
However, the Rampart for Luminosity was seen as more than just a powerful gun; it solved several chemistry issues for the roster, leading them to a championship. As they were reluctant to stop using the gun, the other 15 teams began to blacklist Luminosity, refusing to scrimmage with them or even play with any of their players in any capacity whatsoever. This blacklist caused a good deal of grief among Luminosity players, many of whom tweeted their frustrations. Also voicing his frustration alongside Luminosity was the original champion of the gun, Killa, who claimed that the professional community’s propensity to remove every strong variable from the game resulted in a blander product with less creative strategies and playstyles. Nevertheless, the other 15 professional teams remained resolute in their decision to remove the Rampart from the meta.
During the following week of Pro League matches, teams facing Luminosity would have a player play with the Rampart only for that matchup, and some (EnvyUs and Heretics) even found success against LG with the weapon. Luminosity finished their week in the Pro League 2-2 but refused to give up using the Rampart going forward. For a time, it seemed that Luminosity and the other 15 teams were at an impasse with regards to the weapon, and one that would last for a considerable amount of time.
However, that was not to be. After a significant outcry among the professional community, Treyarch released a weapon tuning update that would nerf the Rampart’s base damage from 46 to 40, thereby reducing its flinch to a level more in line with the ICR. Immediately following the update, Midnight Esports player Christopher “Parasite” Duarte confirmed that the professional community had voted to make the Rampart available to use once again, though the weapon had lost much of its appeal. So far, the use of the Rampart in the professional community has been sparse at best. We have yet to see if Luminosity elects to stand by the weapon, though it does not appear likely.
What Does this Mean Going Forward?
The Call of Duty meta is an ever-evolving idea. There have been several instances in former titles where game-breaking abilities or weapons have won teams whole tournaments, and surely there will be several more such instances. However, this quick episode regarding the Rampart has shown that the line of demarcation for what is and isn’t game-breaking has increasingly diluted over the years. More so now than ever, the professional players decide what kind of game they want to play, and this should be commended to an extent, but this also often constrains the available avenues for game strategy in the name of a more consistent and safer product. However, a big part of every sport is finding and exploiting favorable game mechanics, and this promotes a richer and more granular competition for the spectator.
Ultimately, the goal of the Gentleman’s Agreement is to remove overpowered game mechanics, and that is a worthwhile objective. However, the primary goal of the professional community should be to produce the best spectator product. Every removal of a variable comes at a cost: a constriction of thought and strategy. Thus while the removal of a few game-breaking features may ultimately improve the professional product, the removal of too many will do the opposite. Frankly, nobody knows if removing the Rampart would have actually improved the quality of play over the long term, but this incident is symptomatic of a professional community that has become strongly controlled over recent years. Many community members are beginning to question (and rightfully so) whether or not these decisions have reached a tipping point in terms of their effectiveness, and more importantly, whether or not they are being made for the right reasons.