The group text goes out, and the game is on: "Roll call." The five members of the Old Men of OpTic are busy professionals, but this is the moment they look forward to all day long. This is their metagame – their chance to report in and claim a spot in tonight's action.
"At some point tonight, a couple of things are gonna happen," says Ryan "OpTicJ" Musselman, chief operating officer of OpTic Gaming. "We're going to upset a team, they're gonna be pissed, and they're gonna be talking trash. We're gonna be talking trash to each other, no matter what. Even if we win. And there's a joke we have with Hector that – whether we win or not – Hector has to criticize us. … And not in a constructive way, but like a 'You idiot.'"
Most of these men, now in their thirties, have known each other for more than a decade. Their game of choice is Call of Duty, their favored mode is Search and Destroy, and games are their livelihood.
Musselman's the right-hand man of Hector "H3CZ" Rodriguez, the longtime CEO of OpTic; Ryan "Fwiz" Wyatt is the head of global gaming at YouTube; and Shaun "Hutch" Hutchinson and Mike "Di3seL" Carr earn a living streaming their gameplay on YouTube and Twitch, respectively.
"I didn't really play video games [prior to Call of Duty 2]," says H3CZ. "In fact, my now-wife – at the time, girlfriend – and I went to Costco, and I said to her: 'I'm gonna buy this Xbox 360.' And she looked at me and said I was crazy. … 'You're an outdoors guy. You're always playing sports, fishing, playing poker. What are you gonna do with an Xbox? It's gonna sit there and collect dust – why waste your money?' The last video game I played before that was probably Ocarina of Time on the N64."
Call of Duty became H3CZ's world, and he worked hard for years building something of a multimedia empire out of the OpTic name, first on YouTube and then in esports arenas around the globe.
According to H3CZ, his vision for the OpTic brand arose partly from watching old interviews on BET's Tha Basement – and from the Wu-Tang Clan in particular. "Wu-Tang as a whole, as a brand, is massive, but then you have the individuals who are super popular, like Method Man and Raekwon," he explains. H3CZ understood that in order to grow into the esports organization and multimedia brand it eventually became, he needed to recruit the right talent: the underdogs, the players who could be "killers" in-game while also remaining authentic, and the people he could trust.
Before the existence of Major League Gaming's GameBattles, the online tournament system the team ("OMoO," pronounced "ooh-moo") uses to find matches nowadays, there was a niche Call of Duty community called NxGamers. That's how Musselman ("J") and Rodriguez met.
"Back then it was a little bit difficult to find matches, and not a lot of people were recording their gameplay," J recalls. "But you also had a lot of cheaters out there, right? So people were saying, 'Well, hey, this score that you reported against our team is wrong.' And there's nothing you could do about it." The resulting controversy led NxGamers to require competitors to have a designated referee present in order to validate tournament scores. "Hector was that dude who was always available, because he was so in love with Call of Duty – we all were. So we met because he was the guy that would always be reffing our matches."
Di3seL was another member of J's earliest OpTic team, competing in NxGamers ladders and tournaments years before the informal Old Men of OpTic team came into being. Fwiz was brought into the fold about two years later, as a student at Ohio State University. He worked part-time as a live commentator for Major League Gaming, and the three of them began playing CoD together.
"Hector had a really big Call of Duty channel on YouTube," says Fwiz. "I want to say this was 2008, maybe? Long time ago. Nine or ten years ago – right around the time when Call of Duty 4 came out. … And they were doing kind of broad, general entertainment – so they were making montages and all this different stuff on YouTube that was not competitive in nature. And Hector started to get interested in having the OpTic Gaming brand in esports. So he showed up to MLG 2008 or 2009 – one of those events – and we met up in person and hit it off."
Not long after that they established the first unofficial "OpTic House" in a rented Los Angeles apartment, and H3CZ, J, Fwiz, and Di3seL became roommates.
"We were broke as hell," Fwiz says with a laugh. "I was living in Ohio at the time, so with the salary that I got, I was like: 'Oh, I can make this work.' Not really calculating the difference between the economics in Ohio versus Los Angeles. So we were all living paycheck-to-check. … We went to Ikea and we got this long brown table, and we got Xboxes and monitors set up, took over the family room, and created this big LAN setup so we could play together – so all of us could sit next to each other and play."
That first "OpTic crib" became the prototypical streaming house, pre-Twitch, and helped to cement the relationships that would lead to the formation of the Old Men of OpTic several years later. Hutch, like the rest of OMoO, was working for Machinima at the time, and would travel to the house to play in GameBattles events. The team would broadcast their gameplay on the now-defunct Justin.tv (which would give birth to Twitch), order a steady supply of Chinese takeout ("There was a Wokcano right across the street," says Fwiz), and begin to chart their futures, whether they realized it or not.
"I have such fond memories of those days," Fwiz tells me. "OpTic Gaming made gaming cool."
As the years rolled on, people left Machinima (and OpTic, although I get the distinct sense that no one ever really leaves OpTic) for mellower pastures – Google, MLG, college, the white-collar career track. But a love of Call of Duty is an evergreen pursuit; at the end of the day, Di3seL, Fwiz, J, and Hutch are lifers just like H3CZ.
Enter the Old Men of OpTic.
"Ghosts had just come out," H3CZ explains. This was late fall of 2013. "I was working on my YouTube channel and looking for content, and J had been out of the scene for a good three years. … I contacted him [via Tweet] and said, 'Yo, are you ever gonna play Call of Duty again?' And he was like, 'Yeah. You wanna play?' And I said, 'Let's create the old team again, Menudo.'" Menudo, a favorite Mexican soup of H3CZ's and J's, had inspired the name of their doubles team, whenever they'd play two-on-two matches.
Di3seL saw the exchange on Twitter, and expressed interest in playing together with them as a team again. "At that point," says H3CZ, "I'm like, 'Alright, if this is gonna be a thing, we can't call it Menudo, because that's J's and my thing.'" He proposed they call themselves the Old Men of OpTic. "And then we reached out to Fwiz, and started playing that way, but obviously with Fwiz working where he works, his time was being consumed by his job. So at one point or another I hit up Hutch, and I'm like, 'Hutch, you wanna play Old Men of OpTic with us?'"
With Call of Duty: WWII on the horizon, the Old Men of OpTic have pledged to be better about making time for more regular "roll calls." The new game marks the series's eagerly awaited return to its World War II roots for the first time since 2008's World at War, and understandably has longtime players itching to recapture something of their glory days.
"Using a lot of the guns that we used back in Call of Duty 2 – that's where all of us got our start in the series, so even something as simple as playing with the Thompson again, or the KAR-98, there's a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in that," says Hutch.
Plus, it's a good excuse for Fwiz, especially, to make time for the game that's meant so much to him over the years. "I shifted from working at MLG, where focusing on Call of Duty was a core part of my job," he says, to YouTube. "I don't get a lot of time to sit down and play, but with the limited amount I do, it's always to go play with those guys. I haven't played Call of Duty in probably two years, now, with much frequency, but this game is kind of going back to its roots. … But we've been talking about how it's a good time to get the Old Men of OpTic back together."
Half the fun of playing with OMoO, Fwiz says, is the playful banter between them all.
"Hector and I have similar personalities – I love instigating just for my own humor. I love seeing all the guys get frustrated, and I just try to pile a little bit on top and instigate more of the fighting. I think all of us still have this very deep competitive side of us, so although we're old and we realize we're not as good as we once were, there's still this deep spirit to win. But we still want to have fun – so there's flashes of competitiveness. And I think, because we've known each other for so long, it's just fun. … Since all of us have found professional success, it's been a good thing for each one of us to be knocked down a peg or two, or try to remain humble, by making fun of one another."
That element, J tells me, is "what makes OMoO OMoO. You think of movies like Grumpy Old Men or Grumpier Old Men, and it's just funny friends coming together and going through life – or, in this case, playing Call of Duty. We know we're not a pro team, but when we come together and play, we play as if we were because we want to win that bad. … You get that full competitive environment, with grumpy competitive CoD players who have been friends for years, and it makes for a nice little banter session. But questionable gameplay, at best," he laughs.
"We've known each other for so long, we know how to poke each other almost to a fault. Sometimes, we all poke way too hard. We might find the happy medium, where it's that perfect session – but occasionally we go way over the top. And it could be about anything. If we feel like it could bother the other one, we'll bring it up," says Di3sel.
"You show me somebody that doesn't talk shit to his friend," H3CZ says, "and I will show you a fake friendship. Because, at the end of the day, friends keep each other in line, friends keep each other honest and grounded, and that's what it is. Look, I'm not gonna say that some of these busting-of-the-balls moments don't get a little bit too heated, because they do, but at the end of the day – at the end of the match – that's all out the window."
H3CZ relates the story of how, during a match one night, a player who shall remain nameless put up a spectacularly poor performance. Instead of offering up constructive feedback, H3CZ took out his phone, held up the camera lens to his monitor, and made the sound of a photo being taken – the idea being that nobody likes to have the worst numbers on the scoreboard at the end of a match.
"But look, man, we're men," he says. "We're grown men full of testosterone who still consider ourselves alphas, so we definitely bust each other's balls. … We didn't think that we were gonna be as passionate about our team – about Old Men of Optic – as we are. For me, OpTic has been my life, my baby, my everything. It's my life's work. So for me to be this enthusiastic about a separate brand like Old Men of OpTic – it's sort of reinvigorated my passion for everything that I do."
When WWII drops on November 3rd, the Old Men of OpTic will be listening for the reveille – that midday group-text message that reads, simply, "Roll call." They'll be streaming footage of their Search-and-Destroy victories on their respective channels; you may even run into them face-to-face, so to speak, in the competitive world of MLG GameBattles.
"We try to teach the young bucks a thing or two," says Fwiz, "and I think in return they teach us a couple things every once in awhile, as well."