Tainted Minds' Call of Duty Team

Tainted Minds talk COD World Championships and Black Ops 4

© Tainted Minds

We chat with Tainted Minds Call of Duty team about playing in the CWL, what they think of Black Ops 4 so far and how they're preparing for the upcoming COD Champs.

Before 2018 Tainted Minds lingered on the outskirts of the Call of Duty Pro Scene, battling to break in. As an Aussie and Kiwi team competing overseas, it was tough, but thanks to a stack of hard work they qualified for Stage 2 of the CWL Pro League. They'd follow it up with a Top 8 finish at the Anaheim Open. They'd arrived.
We sat down with Giancarlo "Nimble" Vagnini and Hayden "Damage" Handakas from Tainted Minds to discuss how they're working harder than ever to improve as they head to the Call of Duty World League Championships this month.

Regional Management

Like so many Oceanic esports professionals, Tainted Minds' COD team struggled for a time to remain competitive in a region that is often overlooked. The opportunities for high level play are, too often, just not available in Australia or New Zealand. There are just a handful of competitions here for teams to earn chances against the rest of the world and the top teams gobble those up quickly.
"For our region specifically, I guess it's a bit tough," Nimble explained. "It rewards the very top teams of our region so there's not much to play for if you're not within the top one, two or three teams that are able to go over to the events in America consistently. I think it's kind of tough for players and teams outside of the likes of Mindfreak, [Tainted Minds] and Taboo to play [competitively] because there are not many consistent events over here. They've all been moved over to America now."
And exacerbating the issue is the fact that the best teams will spend most of their time playing their best COD elsewhere.
"There's two splits [in each CWL Pro League Season]," Nimble continued. "There's stage one and stage two. Mindfreak got in stage one, so they were pretty much away all the time. So it was hard for us to practice. But then when we got in to the second stage alongside Mindfreak, then it just becomes even tougher for all the other teams that are here as well. Suddenly there's two top teams missing for the likes of Taboo [to compete against]."
The problem, as Nimble and Damage see it, is a lack of third party support — with a smattering of corporate politics in there as well.
"I think there's just a lack of third-party organisers that sort of give love to our scene," Nimble said. "We don't have an organiser that's affiliated with MLG [locally] to run events over here either… they don't like giving the contracts to ESL, and ESL is the…"
"They're pretty major for us here in Australia," Damage interjected. "I don't think anyone else really does it like them. They can put us on big stages and put up good prizes and stuff as well."
"Yeah, last year there were a few Australian events," Nimble continued. "This year there's been none.It's definitely due to a lack of third-party organisers. That and things to play for outside of the CWL to keep other players around."

BLOPS 4

Hopefully those opportunities will come. Companies in Australia are warming to Call of Duty more in recent years, and with a Treyarch game around the corner, hype for the series is on the upswing.
With the Beta on over the weekend, I had to ask the COD pros what they thought of the upcoming Black Ops 4.
"I think [Black Ops 4] has got everything it needs to be one of the good CODs for competitive," Nimble said. "Especially when it's made by Treyarch. I feel like Treyarch are always the one developer out of the three that are just… I mean, you always have faith in Treyarch and personally I always like the Treyarch games so I feel like it's going to be another good year."
"Treyarch are very on the ball, making changes, bringing out new things, making the game exciting for everyone," Damage added. "They usually do a really good year competitively as well, in all aspects, so we're hoping for something similar, and yeah, that's pretty much it."
"If they pump more money into competitive that would be good," Nimble continued. "Like just give more incentive for people to play. Make it viable for it to become a full time thing for us, where we can allocate more time."
It's going to be a big change from World War 2, though. The emphasis on specialists is going to shake things up quite a bit — so too will the deployables. Still, Damage doesn't think it will be a huge deal.
The Black Ops 4 Beta Continues This Weekend
The Black Ops 4 Beta Continues This Weekend
"It just comes down to us adapting quickly, and being able to learn the game as quickly as possible, and kick off the season in a good fashion," he said.

The Pro League

TM's run in the Pro League was, on paper, rough. They only won the one match, and they put that win together off the back of a comeback. Watching from home though, all I saw was promise. Here was a team given a shot against the best Call of Duty teams in the world, and they didn't just seize that chance, they threw everything they had at it.
In their comeback victory — against OpTiC Gaming no less — they showed a killer instinct, even when down. On London Docks, where they snatched a CTF win away, they were clearly out-fragged, but they focused and got the win thanks to pitch perfect tactics.
For Tainted Minds, they'd spent the whole Pro League improving week-to-week. The calibre of teams they were up against, and the sheer amount of playtime — not to mention the opportunities to practice with the best — meant their first experience in the Pro League was a fiery forge, smashing them into shape by of some of the sweatiest play ever.
"I think for us specifically, with it being our first time getting into the Pro League, it was always going to be sort of like a learning curve, a learning experience," Nimble explained. "I think the hardest part for us was just getting our foot in the door. After that, we knew we could just get a lot better over time, which I think we've shown throughout the course of the stage."
"We've put in a lot of work over there," Damage added. "A lot of practice against high-tiered teams and we definitely feel that that work has paid off. And like Ging [Nimble] said, we've showcased that in many of our games over the season."
"I think it just goes to show that with consistent international practise, we're just as good as the players in the other regions," Nimble said. "We can definitely hang if given the right environment."
As Stage 2 progressed, you could see their improvement. They started the stage getting swept, gradually winning more and more as the weeks went by. When Week 7 rolled in, they were basically due for a win. That it would come in such a spectacular fashion, however, could not have been predicted.
"We just desperately needed a win," Nimble said. "We really didn't want to finish the whole stage with no wins. You could see throughout the progression of the stage that as every week went on, we were getting better and better. So it was only a matter of time until we took [a game] off one of the top teams. It was pretty great to do it like that I guess."
"I definitely think they were [tilting], especially considering we were the bottom of the table, and they were the top at the time," Damage added. "So it would have been very disheartening for them for sure."
"Momentum's a massive thing in Call of Duty specifically," Nimble continued. "Because some of the games are so short sometimes, if a team catches fire you can end a series really quickly."

Open Season in Anaheim

Tainted Minds definitely caught fire in Anaheim. After an unsuccessful pool play campaign, they found some form in the Loser's Bracket and never let up. Momentum was on their side.
"We went on a run in the loser's bracket where we were just three-ohing teams really quick," Nimble said. "Really good teams as well, We beat Envy and Echo Fox, and we just felt like we were on top of the world, like we couldn't lose. The series were ending so quick. I'd say that was all due to our momentum that we were building."
Tainted Minds secure a 7th place finish at CWL Anaheim
Tainted Minds secure a 7th place finish at CWL Anaheim
While their momentum was rising, so too was fatigue. The Open was a long series, and tough on the team.
"I think Open events is where fatigue sets in," Nimble said. "In the Pro League stages you just play one or two series a day. Whereas in the Open events, you could be thrown into the loser's bracket, and you just play game, after game, after game, all day."
"Add that with jet lag and you've got yourself a problem," said Damage. "But there really isn't much you can do, especially like Nimble said, when you're playing in open tournaments, you've got to start from the start of the morning and then finish late at night. It's going to hit you later on in the day, and there's not much you can do to stop that."

Onto the CWL Championships 2018

One way to deal with the jet lag is acclimatisation, and with any luck they'll have that sorted this time. They're heading over now (they're probably just settling into their boot camp quarters as this is published), a week ahead of the competition to prepare.
"When we first [started trying to find scrims in the US], we obviously weren't very known or anything, so we were playing top amateur teams," Nimble said. "But obviously as we started playing well, having a good placement at Anaheim and stuff, we gained a bit of respect from all the top teams. So we definitely scrim them against them... they play us normally, it's not bad like we hear it is in some other games or anything. We get good practice against them."
With a week to prepare, hopefully it will shake out well for them.
"I think it mostly comes down to our play," Damage said. "As long as we're sharp and solid on our search and destroy game mode, I think we can go far. You can't really control how the other teams are playing, or what they're doing and stuff like that. So it just comes down to who's playing better on the day. And as long as we tighten up our game modes, make sure we're playing really well, then I think we'll be okay and there shouldn't be too much we need to really look out for."
"We're confident," Nimble added. "I feel like we've got a good group, and we've definitely had the experience behind us this year. We just got to fix our mistakes, learn from what we've experienced this year and we could have another good run like Anaheim -- hopefully top it."
It'll be good to watch regardless. And who will they be watching of the other groups?
"FaZe [Clan]," Damage said quickly. "And MF."
"Yeah FaZe," Nimble added. "They have the hardest group by far out of all four teams that can upset each other."
MF stands for Mindfreak, the other team representing OCE at COD Championships this year. They've also got a tough climb ahead of them, but it will be killer to watch both teams go for it.
Finally, I asked the guys what they thought would take Competitive Call of Duty to the next level.
"I think COD esports has a massive amount of potential just because it's such a household name," Nimble said. "Everyone knows about it. It just has that sort of bad stigma from a lot of years ago… from the players playing it and being very toxic I guess. But, I think if people gave competitive COD another chance... like actually saw what was going on, caught onto all the storylines and followed some players, I think they'd be surprised at how good it is to watch. Especially the Open Events, and the [COD World] Champs."
I absolutely agree — watching competitive COD is gripping, and the stories told through the competition are at times near mythical. Take Tainted Minds' own David vs Goliath story for example. But if you want to see it for yourself, you can check out the Call of Duty World League Championships starting next Thursday, the 16th of August, at the vaguely unappealing time of 2AM AEST, on MLG.com.