Call of Duty World League 2019 Las Vegas preview

Seth "Scump"Abner of Optic Gaming. Kyle Grillot for ESPN

After weeks of hype and tremendous sales numbers behind Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the Call of Duty World League is finally kicking off in Las Vegas on Friday. Two hundred and seventy two teams from all over the world will converge at the Hard Rock Hotel for a shot at part of a $250,000 prize pool.

It's the first competitive LAN tournament for Black Ops 4 and it introduces a few changes to the league's rules -- including a transition to a five on five format. While online tournaments have shown some competitive play in the past month, this is the first time we'll see serious strategies in action. Anyone could surprise us.

Twenty teams will participate in pool play to compete for a spot in the championship bracket. The first twelve spots are based off placement from CWL Pro League Stage 2 which includes powerhouses like OpTic Gaming, 100 Thieves, eUnited, and Luminosity Gaming. Four other teams will qualify via a relegation style play-in made up of the eight teams with the most CWL Pro Points from 2018 and the final four teams will qualify through open bracket play. In short, a ton of talent will get knocked out before we even get to the pools.

All the action begins at 12:00 p.m. PST on Friday. Here are some of the matchups, players, teams and storylines to keep an eye out as the weekend approaches.

Fighting through the deepest pool

It's clear the first pool will be the most challenging to get out of this weekend. Matches between eUnited, 100 Thieves, and Team Reciprocity, alongside whichever two teams qualify, are candidates to go five games. Some are even calling it the "pool of death."

Out of that group, the most anticipated match up has to be between eUnited and 100 Thieves. They have two of the most commanding assault rifle duos and it'll be fascinating to see how they play in the new five on five format. Despite a slower start in online play, 100 Thieves' Austin "SlasheR" Liddicoat and Ian "Enable" Wyatt should help lead the squad to good placing in the championship bracket.

eUnited is another solid team that has performed well throughout the offseason and is actually one of the few teams that have kept up with OpTic gaming. Their acquisition of Jordan "Jkap" Kaplan, who left Luminosity Gaming, should help mature the team and turn them into a cohesive unit. I'd also point out Tyler "aBezy" Pharris whose raw talent should be especially entertaining during the seasons first LAN.

Can OpTic continue to dominate?

It's not unusual for teams that dominated in online play to come into the regular season and completely drop the ball. Performing in-person under the pressure of the crowd is a different experience than in the comfort of your own chair. All eyes are on Team OpTic to continue their streak of commanding performances.

OpTic has taken control of pre-league tournaments, plowing through scrimmages and the North American 2K tournaments. They've beat Luminosity, 100 Thieves, and eUnited in a commanding fashion. They've cemented themselves as the team to beat at the league opener.

But if last year is anything to go off of, we can't count our chickens before they hatch. OpTic performed similarly in 2018 online tournaments and scrimmages before placing poorly in several CWL LAN events -- including the championship.

Another European mystery

Like every year, European squads come into the season as unknown entities since they don't practice against North American teams often. Red Reserve, the UK squad now based in Las Vegas, is the biggest example of this heading into the 2019 season and are Europe's main chance at representation this year. Their squad looks talented on paper but haven't proven themselves on the big stage yet.

While they did show a lot of potential during the 2018 season with Call of Duty: WWII, its safe to say that they weren't happy with their own performance. Roster addition Ben "Bance" Bance, who also had a poor 2018 season, is the only new face on the squad and that roster consistency could help them beat both Evil Geniuses and Team Luminosity early in pool play.

Spaniards fighting through the open bracket

Although most discussions heading into the weekend focus on the teams already locked in for pool-play, it'd be foolish to ignore the hundreds of squads fighting for their worth through the open bracket. One to keep an eye on is Heretics KFC.

The Spanish squad has won back to back European CWL 2K tournaments by sweeping Team Reciprocity twice in what were supposed to be close matchups. While they weren't able to three-peat in the most recent December 2k tournament, they still performed well before falling to iDomina Esports. They haven't played a ton of North American talent this season, so how they perform against US teams could be the deciding factor in whether or not they secure a spot in pool-play.

A partnership in name only

Str8Rippin, the squad made up of Michael "Spacely" Schmale and his team, are a favorite of the teams facing off in the play-in tournament ahead of the weekend. What's interesting is that Schmale squad's partnership with Str8Rippin is in name alone. They are only working together for the Las Vegas event and will continue their search for an organization once they qualify for the 2019 season.

While I'm sure Schmale and his crew could have had a contract by this point, they want to prove their worth before signing anything. Schmale is hoping that his squads performance will raise their stock price and negotiation power if they make it into pool-play. It's a gamble though, if they don't they may see some lucrative offers dry up. The pressure alone will make the Str8Rippin squad one to watch.