Three more games. That’s all that stood between G2 Esports and the most sought after trophy in Rocket League. The North American third seed defied all expectations. They beat eventual champions Renault Vitality, won their group and found closure against their former team mate, Cameron “Kronovi” Bills, by way of a 4-0 sweep against Rogue in the semifinal.
The crowd chanted their name. In rhythm shouts of “Let’s go G2” filled the Prudential Center, urging their North American heroes forward. And they obliged.
G2’s run to the Grand Final starts long before their arrival in Newark for the Rocket League Championship Series World Championship last week. It started with a leaked rumor.
The org found its way into Rocket League back in Season 2, two and a half years ago. They signed the champions of Season 1, the famed iBuyPower team that shattered expectations and won the World Championship as a third seed from NA.
That team employed Kronovi, the most famous and respected Rocket League player of all time. When G2 bought the team in Season 2 they flopped. They finished seventh in League Play and G2 elected to kick Kronovi’s teammates and try to find a better supporting cast for their star.
They added Dillon “Rizzo” Rizzo and Jacob “JKnaps” Knapman, who were the stars of the Season 7 G2 team that made the Grand Final in Newark.
Kronovi was also a star in Newark, but with a different team. Rogue made a shock run to the semifinal with Kronovi as their leading scorer. In their first season without Kronovi, G2 faced him with a shot at the Grand Final on the line.
After bombing out of the Season 6 World Championship Rizzo and JKnaps decided it was time to move on from their longtime teammate. They didn’t exactly handle Kronovi’s exit with grace.
The longest standing member of G2 found out he was being dropped from his girlfriend. She heard that he was losing his spot from a third party and passed on the news. Neither Rizzo, JKnaps, the team’s manager Jahzo or someone from the org itself told Kronovi his fate.
Roster movement happens in esports all the time. Metas move quickly, players get dropped. It happens. This move felt different though. Fans understood why it happened. Most didn’t like how.
Now G2 went from being the fan favorite with the game’s most beloved player to a team with something to prove. There would be no excuse making for Kronovi. They had to win without him.
So they did.
G2 added Reed “Chicago” Wilen, who had been considered one of the game’s best rising stars since he dominated the Rival Series in Season 4. He was a proven striker and a rock solid mechanical player. He turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.
“In NA you always hear about the big three [NRG, Cloud9 and G2],” Chicago told reporters in Newark. “So when you get an offer to join them and compete at the top and stay at the top, it made me feel excited because now I get to constantly compete with the best and maybe even be the best. You don’t want to be on the outside looking in at the top.”
Chicago had an absurd 83.93% goal participation and finished second in the MVP voting for NA. He and JKnaps ran the offense while Rizzo locked down the defense. They finished 6-1 in League Play and qualified for LAN.
Then Cloud9 swept them in the Regional Championship. Then they didn’t make day three at DreamHack: Dallas. It seemed that the momentum they had built with Chicago was dwindling.
They decided to try a more aggressive play style and Rizzo was coaxed into a more attacking role. Days before the World Championship is not exactly the ideal time to change how a team plays, but they felt it was necessary to reach the next level of play.
They felt supremely confident going into the Season 7 World Championship. Playing without Kronovi and implementing the more aggressive playstyle meant that they could potentially reach new heights.
“Maybe the confidence is higher because it’s a brand new roster,” JKnaps said. “Our confidence is higher, and there’s more to prove.”
“I’ve never felt this confident before going into a tournament,” echoed Chicago. “I actually feel like I could win the championship.”
G2 also had chemistry riding in their favor. The squad is constantly joking with one another and their relationship translates into a more comfortable group out on the field.
Better relationships lead to more open communication and the ability to correct one another’s play without hurting feelings. That’s something that the team, while not directly stated but certainly implied, couldn’t do with the same conviction with Kronovi.
The schedule played out in G2’s favor. The team only played on Saturday, when the crowd was more full and when Renault Vitality were lulled into a false sense of security after they beat GroundZero on Friday.
G2 beat Vitality 3-1, and they’re the only team who attended the World Championship that can say that. That series, in hindsight, was the second most important of the weekend (beside the actual Grand Final). G2 won their group and landed on the much easier side of the bracket because they upset Vitality.
Instead of facing NRG in the quarterfinal they played PSG. Instead of taking on Cloud9 in the semis, they met their old friend Kronovi.
Every player at the World Championship gathers into a lounge between matches where they kick back, practice and go over game plans. All 36 players spend time in that room. Given the nature of how Kronovi was dropped. One has to wonder, is it awkward seeing him around the player’s lounge?
“For me personally, I don’t think it’s awkward,” Rizzo said.
“I think it’s really awkward,” JKnaps said. “I feel like he has a personal grudge against me all the time. Everytime we play him I’m like, ‘I’m not losing this game.’”
Imagine how they must have felt when they watched Rogue beat Triple Trouble to advance to the semis. It seemed like destiny. The old teammates finally meet on the big stage. The roster move that has been dissected and analyzed from every angle all offseason finally reaches its climax.
Now imagine how they felt after they sent him home packing with a 4-0 sweep.
Before the tournament, G2 were a dark horse contender at best. Their win against Vitality completely changed the complexion of the tournament, and it escorted them to the Grand Final.
The crowd was never more frenetic than when Rizzo, JKnaps and Chicago made their final walk out to the stage. More than 200,000 people tuned in for the rematch against Vitality.
Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez called them to the stage and they emerged from the tunnel. No signs, no funny
poses and no magic tricks. G2 were all business for the Grand Final.
The first match started with a top shelf strike by JKnaps. The crowd erupted with approval. As the game wore on the Prudential Center faithful winced with every Vitality attack. G2 continued to apply pressure until JKnaps scored again with 1:47 left to play. The crowd belted out a chorus of “USA! USA!” even though JKnaps is Canadian. It was a dream start to game one.
Then came the nightmare ending.
Vitality scored 41 seconds after JKnaps did. JKnaps narrowly missed the top corner with 10 seconds left on the other end. Then as the clock struck zero Chicago pounded the ball into the ground in his own corner, but instead of ending the game by touching the grass, the ball barely hit the ramp and bounced up.
JKnaps cleared the ball to midfield. Victor “Fairy Peak!” Locquet bounced it up the wall and went for a low air drag to keep the ball in the air. He flew past Rizzo and connected with Alexandre “Kaydop” Courant who managed to redirect the ball onto the back wall. Chicago challenged Kaydop’s shot but was too slow to interfere.
That left the net wide open for Scrub Killa. He slotted it home.
Thirteen seconds. The ball was in the air for thirteen seconds. G2 had three chances to kill the ball before Fairy Peak caught it on the wall, but couldn’t quite do it.
The crowd erupted. The casters shouted incoherently. In that moment the series was over.
Of course the open net that awaited a Chicago aerial in overtime saw the ball bounce wide. Of course JKnaps’ shot from a perfect Chicago pass hit the crossbar and bounced out. Somehow JKnaps got a pre-jump save on a beautiful passing play by Vitality 2:11 into overtime, but it didn’t matter.
It just wasn’t meant to be. G2’s magic had run out, and Kyle “Scrub Killa” Robertson drank the last dregs of their potion.
Scrub made a touch off the back wall around Chicago over to Kaydop, but the ball never came down low enough for the shot. Kaydop pushed the ball off the backboard. Instead of giving up on the play and going back for boost, Scrub stayed up and was the first one to the rebound. He shot and missed wide, but it bounced into the perfect position for Fairy Peak to score.
It was an emotionally draining overtime that lasted 4:05. G2 had plenty of chances to win that and subsequent games, but Vitality could not be stopped.
In the same way that G2’s win against Vitality changed the outlook of the tournament during group play, Scrub Killa’s zero second goal changed the outlook of the series in the Grand Final.
G2 battled back and narrowly lost games two and three. They won game four and forced overtime in game five where Fairy Peak scored again to cap off the win.
Three more wins.
Even though they didn’t take home the crown, second place is one hell of a finish. This is the highest finish for JKnaps, Rizzo and Chicago, and more importantly it resulted in validation for a very ambitious team.
Dropping Kronovi wasn’t exactly popular at the time. Many wondered if Chicago was the right replacement. It turned out he controlled the destiny of three different teams.
G2 nearly won the World Championship after finishing tenth at RLCS Season 6’s World Championship without Chicago on their roster. Rogue became the first promoted Rival Series team to reach LAN after they added the displaced Kronovi. Chicago’s old team, Evil Geniuses, ended up being relegated without him.
Even if G2 never make a similar run at a major LAN, Chicago’s play last weekend will forever justify that roster move. It goes to show that even if you have a talented group of individuals, no team should ever rest on its laurels.
Ambition is king in Rocket League. Even if it only brings you within three wins of the title, aspiration will trump complacency every time.
Featured image courtesy of Rocket League Championship Series.
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