Clayster: ‘I feel crisper and more snappy now than I did five years ago’
There comes a time in life when a commander must lay down their sword and admit that their blade doesn't cut as deep. But there also comes a time in life to do your best Jordan Belfort impression, look the camera in the eye and say, "I'm not leaving".
Over the past few years, these devils have danced across the conscience of James "Clayster" Eubanks, jabbing and sparring until one conquers the other.
And with the red-gloved sword hand slicing away at many of his friends in the scene and golden-age competitors, the blue-crested will to push on might once have appeared to be entering submission.
But in the dark depths of hopelessness, the fist of will and strength has surmised its biggest knockout punch yet, and for now, at least, is pinning down the retirement thoughts in his mind.
But truth be told, there are actually a number of reasons why Clayster isn't even considering putting down a controller yet and hopes to be playing for many years to come.
Shortly after announcing his intentions to continue playing in the Call of Duty League for the next season, and revealing an unrestricted free-agency status, GGRecon sat down with Clayster to discuss how Vegas Legion's support felt like being an OpTic player again, how much petrol is left in the tank, and what's left on his legacy bucket list.
First off. What are your thoughts on the Vegas season as a whole? I know the Cinderella story didn't quite come off, although we were all rooting for it. Was there anything that you could have done earlier in the season to set you up a little bit nicer?
Yeah, I definitely think that, although we didn't qualify for Champs, we fought until the last Saturday of the last Major and that's something that I preach to my team: "just keep fighting".
So obviously if you look back over our whole season, there's a lot of stuff we could have done differently. We failed a lot of online matches, our record versus London, LAG, and Florida was abysmal. We didn't beat FaZe all year. Even in the two tournaments where we got last place, we lost to LAG for last place and then got New York/Florida for last place.
So you look at all those points, you just can't get last. You can't go 2-3 or 1-4. You've got to actually get more 3-2s. You've got to win a couple of matches - or at least one - at every Major if you wanna qualify. There's a lot of stuff we could have done differently, but we were dealing with roster changes every other Major, so it was hard to gain footing.
I think we probably did the best that we honestly could have.
I think over the season that you did like obviously progress really well, to a point at the end where you were quite a promising team, probably within the top six or eight sides.
You did end up actually having one of the biggest fan bases in the league. How did, you specifically, work alongside the Vegas team to rebuild the brand that we've seen be quite minimalistic so far over the years?
I obviously bring a pretty big fan base with me, but not only did I bring it but Temp is streaming 2K late at night and the presence he had - and Standy, he's been streaming a lot of 8's too - towards the end. I think we all did a good job of trying to like pitch in our own little thing and really grow the Vegas fan base.
The ownership noticed that, the people over there noticed, and they were crazily surprised about it. Everyone loves an underdog story, so I think that was part of why we had so much fan support.
It was in the wake of Scump retiring, me being the last OG, plus Don having his fan base, Teej and Eli having their fan bases. It was kinda like the perfect storm, and I really think that's why we had such a big support.
We had so much support this year and it blew my mind, honestly, every event the whole crowd - if OpTic wasn't playing - there were cheering for us, which is pretty cool.
I know we're not everyone's favourite team, but if we can get the crowd going when we're playing, that's all I really, really care about, honestly. And everyone always has had such good things to say to me this year and been overwhelmingly positive with messages and stuff, which I'm not really used to.
It was kind of like an abnormal year for me because. Normally when I lose or do badly, my Twitter mentions are just super toxic. But like this year they were all just like really positive for the most part and I think having the community's support this year really helped us to even get as close as we did to qualifying.
Have you really felt that support? In the absence of Scump and Crim this year and as the last OG, basically, have you really felt that fan base come through and everybody chipping into the push you on for as far as you can go?
Oh, a hundred per cent. I think the amount that everyone's supporting me, just this year, I definitely felt it. This year felt way different than almost any year other than the year I was on Optic. The year I was on Optic was very similar to this year.
We did hear you say that you don't plan on retiring at the end of the season and that you want to keep it going. Have you still got the fire in the belly?
What is it about you that's keeping you spurring forward and keeping you going?
I don't know, man. I think I've got more left than a tank. I'm a good player. I think I have a lot of value to add to a team.
I could make similar money to what I'm making now, doing something else, but it's not even about the money or anything anymore. I know that once I'm done competing, this part of my life is over.
I think that I want to like stretch that to see what the limit I can push to is. Until I start getting annoyed over it or something, I'm going to want to keep playing more and more. I don't know if that means I would take a minimum contract and play with a bunch of amateur kids, but it really just depends on the quality of the offers the quality of teams and organisations behind it.
There's a lot up in the air and so really, I don't wanna say, 'yeah, I'm retiring' or, 'yeah, I'm not', because it depends on how everything shapes out. Though I want to play again next year, I want to play on a good team. I want to try and contend with chips again. I know I can. Now will that opportunity get presented to me? I'm not sure. So we just have to wait and see.
I'm quite a firm believer that age is a bit of a myth in esports. Maybe your fingers won't shoot quite as quickly as they used to as you grow up, but what goes inside the head only gets better and better and better over time.
Have you felt that your play style adapted as you've grown up a little bit?
Because the movements are so small on the controller, I genuinely don't even feel a difference. I don't feel slower, as if I can't shoot straight or anything.
If anything, I feel crisper and more snappy now than I did five years ago, and really what goes on in the head, as you said, just builds and builds. Experience, experience, experience.
Then, you kind of have to reshape your mind because you have so much knowledge. Let's cut out eight years. Let's go only to the last two years of knowledge. Let's think about how CoD is played now. It's, an interesting juxtaposition because CoD when I started versus CoD now is two different things.
I can only imagine how hard it's to kind of keep up with the advanced movement and stuff like that.
I joined a press conference with you just after Dallas Empire won the World Championships, and you mentioned creating a legacy within the game.
I know that that chapter of your career didn't necessarily go as you planned, but it's always stuck with me that you wanted to cement a legacy in Call of Duty, whether that's within yourself or the people that you've played with and nurtured by teaming with them, such as the FaZe (eUnited) lads.
What is left on your legacy bucket list that you want to achieve over the next like couple of years?
It's tough. As you said, there's a lot I've done for this game and a lot I've done for the players. A lot I've accomplished. Like there's nothing left on the list where I'm like, 'Oh, I need to win this tournament'. I've done it probably a couple of times at this point.
I think for me it's, at this point, if you're asking me right now what am I trying to accomplish, it's really just to get one more, at least, chips. It doesn't have to be a ring, but I just want the feeling of winning at least one more tournament.
I think if I can get one more like that will satisfy me enough and then I'll be comfortable calling it quits. If I was forced to quit right now, I think I would be unhappy with it. But if I win a tournament next year and I get forced out the year that like after next year, I think I'd be okay with it.
I think we're all rooting for you to get at least one more as well. Obviously, it depends on what kind of team you land on the next season - Whether you stay with Vegas or you get opportunities elsewhere - but we are all rooting for you.
We've now seen you on the analyst desk. Is that something that you'd want to pursue afterwards?
I have no idea, man. When it comes to what is after, I don't put any thought into it until that time comes. I'm focused on winning. I'm focused on competing. I'm not trying to give too much thought to the after-playing era.
There's no doubt in his mind that there's more left in the tank, and with a free-agency announcement too, the League is Clayster's oyster for as long as he can shoot straight.