<
>

Los Angeles' newest team, L.A. Guerrillas, looking to shine amid city of stars

The Los Angeles Guerrillas spoke to the crowd at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum before the Rams' game against the Seattle Seahawks. Credit: Matt Marcheski/Ultimate

The stars were out last Sunday night at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Jamie Foxx and more were on hand in the suites behind the south end zone as the hometown Los Angeles Rams kept their playoff hopes alive with a victory over the divisional rival Seattle Seahawks.

Seated right next to Hollywood's brightest were members of the town's newest professional sports team, the Los Angeles Guerrillas of the upcoming Call of Duty League, a subsidiary of Rams ownership group Kroenke Sports & Entertainment. Before the game began, Guerrillas captain Patrick "Aches" Price led his team onto the field for a short interview, introducing his team to the 70,000 in attendance.

"Just like the Rams tonight, there's a Seattle Call of Duty franchise," Aches told the crowd over the loudspeakers in the Coliseum. "We plan to stomp them too."

For the Guerrillas, it was their first taste of what it means to be a sports team in the entertainment capital of the world. While descending the Coliseum steps to their suite, a couple of the players spotted city legend and Rams fan Danny Trejo, stopping to grab a selfie with the actor. Every direction they looked, someone they had grown up watching was within arm's reach, a seismic shift from where they were only a few short months ago.

"I think when I realized not only what suite we were in but the people we were surrounded by, it hit home on who we're actually playing for," Aches told ESPN. "With [Call of Duty's] history before franchising there was never an ownership group like KSE. And Josh [Kroenke] and Michael [Neary] have really embraced our team, and I think they're just as excited for the future as we are. Especially being able to walk out onto the field and talk in front of 70,000 Los Angeles Rams fans about who we are. [It was] such a surreal moment."

Stepping in front of thousands of fans was the easy part. Getting those people in the stands to tune in for Guerrillas games alongside esports fans will be the true challenge. Out on the field, the team was given a friendly but tepid applause. They're unknown faces in a relatively unknown sport, with the city they represent and the owners of the franchise being the only threads connecting the Guerrillas with Rams fans waiting for their football team play.

To become really known in Los Angeles -- and not just by the association of standing next to people who are "known" -- the Guerrillas will have to win. Every city loves a winner, but maybe no more so than Los Angeles, especially now that the city is full of championship-caliber franchises. After years of disappointment and bottom-of-the-barrel finishes, the Los Angeles Lakers are once again NBA contenders, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis gracing billboards across the city. In nearby Anaheim, the Los Angeles Angels recently signed one of baseball's top free agents in Anthony Redon to a seven-year, $245 million deal with hopes of challenging for a championship next season.

In Los Angeles, having a strong identity and swagger will get people to take notice. But to really become relevant in a city where a vlogger with millions of Youtube subscribers can cause an international incident, you need to win -- and win big, with some style thrown in for good measure.

"Guerrillas by definition is that kinda rebel force ... so we plan on bringing that raw unedited blunt mentality to the league," Aches said.

As with every other major sports team in Los Angeles, the Guerrillas will not be alone in trying to win over the city. The Lakers have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George of the Clippers to contend with. For almost two decades, the Los Angeles Galaxy were the dominant soccer team in Los Angeles, with marquee signings like David Beckham and countless championships, but they've recently been pushed by big-spending LAFC.

Dodgers and Angels. Kings and Ducks. USC and UCLA. Even in the Overwatch League, which is also operated by Activision Blizzard, there are two teams jockeying for city supremacy with the KSE-owned Gladiators (who also had members in attendance on Sunday) and the AEG-backed Los Angeles Valiant.

OpTic Gaming Los Angeles will be that obstacle for the Guerrillas.

"With [OpTic Gaming Los Angeles] being our crosstown rival, I think it's an awesome chance to continue my career-long rivalry with that brand, in the best city in the world," Aches said. "As far as captaincy, I like to think I'm all for my teammates, I'll take the backlash, I'll take the criticism and whatever could be thrown at us for my guys."

Through the first two years of the Overwatch League, neither Los Angeles team has won a championship. Fan support has been strong for both teams, the pair of L.A. franchises featuring some of the largest social media followings in the Overwatch League, but the lack of trophies keeps them out of the spotlight.

Aches, having gotten a small taste of what it feels to be a superstar in one of the world's largest cities, knows what he and his team have to do to turn those tepid claps into thunderous cheers. The fight for Los Angeles might be one of the top storylines heading into the Call of Duty League season, but that's not Aches' main priority.

To win Los Angeles over, the Guerrillas need to be better than the other 10 franchises in the league as well. Maybe then, the Los Angeles Rams will come introduce themselves before a Guerrillas match.

"In reality, I think the entire league is our rival," Aches said. The naysayers, the doubters, we look forward to proving ourselves on a big scale."