GREAT FALLS — I’ve chosen to write this story from the first-person perspective -- me, Tom Wylie with KRTV and MontanaSports.com.
This is not the story I originally set out to write. So buckle up because it starts out great, gets fraught in the middle, and smooths out by the end.
On Wednesday, the Montana State-affiliated Call of Duty team (@BarstoolBobcats), won the inaugural College Gaming Championship presented by the popular sports and pop-culture website Barstool Sports. The Barstool Bobcats were an afterthought No. 14-seed in the 64-team bracket but made an incredible run through the tournament, knocking off heavily favored North Carolina, Arizona, Seton Hall and Grand Canyon on the way to the title.
The team consists of Great Falls CMR graduates Trevor Funseth, Brayden Ginnaty and Kyler Lawhorn. This was your classic feel-good story about a scrappy group of underdogs, overcoming the odds and shocking the world -- with a local twist!
The tournament also provided a profile boost to the team captain, Funseth, who had transformed into an overnight viral sensation affectionately referred to on social media as “The Mop”.
He talked trash, he was quotable, and he had an electric personality.
On Thursday, I messaged The Mop and it just so happened he was traveling home to Great Falls and would be available to meet up for an interview to reflect on bringing a national title back to Montana.
Score! This will be a fun story … so I thought.
I arrived at the Funseth family home and we sat down for a quick interview.
Question: How did it feel to wake up a national champion, still pretty surreal?
The Mop: “I still don’t quite believe it, I don’t think the heart has slowed down at all either. It’s definitely insane.”
Q: Can you walk me through the day?
Mop: “I was crazy stressed yesterday, second week in a row I puked before the game just out of straight nerves. Once again we pulled out the win at the very end. I thought my phone was going to melt afterwards from all the people reaching out. It was a crazy night.”
Q: I saw Barstool extended an invitation to their streaming team. What’s next for you?
Mop: “I’m going to be playing in more events with them, streaming with some of the people that work there. We got a lot of stuff planned. But I’m going to take a few weeks off, before I get back in the competitive scene. Spend some time with family here in Great Falls.”
Q: Tell me how you guys pulled this off?
Mop: “We practiced more than any other team. Every single night we were in there for three hours at least. Working as a team, testing out different strategies. That all paid off for us.”
Pretty standard stuff. I went home, transcribed the interview and started getting ready for dinner (not relevant, but it was spaghetti) with plans to throw together a story for the 10 p.m. news.
Minutes later, my wife showed me her phone and said, “Have you seen this tweet from Barstool Gametime?” My brow instantly furrowed. In the moment, I felt hoodwinked, bamboozled, led astray.
The news took me a while to digest and I still don’t understand exactly how it works, but after an investigation from Barstool writer and tournament host Smitty, it turned out that maybe the Bobcats’ championship wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows after all:
— Barstool Gametime (@StoolGametime) December 18, 2020
The Mop and his team did something called “reverse boosting” (???) to game the “skill based matchmaking” (???) of Call Of Duty: Warzone.
As my colleague Sam Hoyle explained it: SBMM is meant to level the field for bad players, which in theory is good for the game as it provides an even playing field for all skill levels. But players can take advantage of it. Players can purposefully throw games to make the system think they're a bad player and get in lobbies with worse players. Basically, it's like signing up a 13-year-old to play with 10-year-olds because the age limit was not specifically listed.
Technically, it isn’t against the rules of the College Gaming Championship since reverse boosting wasn’t specifically stated in the tournament guidelines. So the title still stands, though tainted somewhat.
Now look, I’m on the wrong side of 30. I grew up playing Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. In college, I was a mean sniper in Call of Duty 2, but my hardcore gaming days are behind me. So I didn’t know what to think or how to frame the story in light of these new developments.
I started receiving messages from people across the country asking me if I’d asked The Mop why he cheated.
I decided to sleep on it, and in the morning The Mop responded with a video of his own:
— Trevor Funseth (@tpfunseth) December 18, 2020
Suddenly it all clicked.
Of course The Mop used any means at his disposal to win the tournament. Of course The Mop would take advantage of vague rules to game the system. This is chess, not checkers. There is more than one path to victory and, yeah, Montana State walked a more crooked line than some of their competitors.
Totally Fair? Maybe not.
Smart move? Absolutely.
It’s clear that the powers that be behind Barstool Sports and the College Gaming Championship got more than they bargained for when they allowed a team from Montana State into the tournament.
In fact, the exposure that The Mop received wasn’t just fleeting. It was life-changing. The content creators at Barstool Sports still plan on working with him in the future, which will open up countless doors that a kid from Great Falls, Montana had never dreamed possible.
— Barstool HooliganZ (@stoolhooliganz) December 18, 2020
As the character Stefon on Saturday Night Live would say: This story has everything! Adversity, triumph, betrayal, scandal, redemption, more triumph.
I’m not an arbiter on what’s right and wrong when it comes to eSports, but I do know that The Mop made Montana proud and provided a much-needed distraction during a rough year.
And as he told me on Thursday:
“We showed what the American Dream is: You keep working hard, you’ll succeed. We’ll see where it goes from here, we’re not done yet. That’s for sure.”