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Can North America Reclaim the Rocket League World Championship in Madrid?

Three of the four teams that will be representing North America at the Rocket League World Championship hadn’t even played in the Rival Series until two seasons ago.

Slater “retals” Thomas, Nick “mist” Costello, Raul “Roll Dizz” Diaz and Colby “Hockser” James weren’t starters on RLRS rosters when Cloud9 won the Season 6 World Championship in Vegas.

Now they’re headed to the World Championship, with the world’s expectations weighing on them.

Spacestation, Pittsburgh Knights and eUnited essentially made a three-team trade in the offseason and it lifted them all the way to LAN qualification. Tshaka “Arsenal” Taylor was the first domino to fall, leaving Pittsburgh (then known as The Peeps) for Spacestation to fill Matthew “Satthew” Ackermann’s roster slot. 

Mist left eUnited (then Birds and the Beez) to replace Arsenal in Pittsburgh, and eUnited brought in Jackson “ayjacks” Carter to fill his spot. It was the most mutually beneficial sequence of roster moves in Rocket League history.

The teams they’ll replace from Season 7’s World Championship all placed very well in Newark. G2 finished second, Cloud9 and Rogue made the semi-final, and NRG fell to the eventual champions Renault Vitality in the semis.

Can they live up to the standard their predecessors have set for international competition? Here’s a look at how North America’s Rocket League representatives stack up, ranked from least likely to win it all in Madrid, to most likely.

Contender #4: eUnited

Regular Season record: 3-4, 13-15 (finished 5th), 3rd/4th at Regional Championship

Players: Raul “Roll Dizz” Diaz, Jackson “ayjacks” Carter, Colby “Hockser” James

Stats (League Play): 1.53 GPG (8th in NA), 1.17 APG (8th), 4.72 SAPG (4th), 1.94 GAPG (5th)

Previous World Championship Experience: None

How they stack up:

eUnited is the most unlikely participant at the World Championship outside of Oceania’s Canberra Havoc. Many analysts thought they were destined for relegation, but a hard-fought win against Rogue and a horrendous overtime challenge by Massimo “Atomic” Franceschi put them past Ghost Gaming and on to Madrid in the Regional Championship. 

When their statistics are put under the microscope, it becomes clear just how much of an anomaly this team is. Two of their players finished in the bottom three of GPG.

It’s not like their defense was outstanding either. The team surrendered 1.94 GPG, fifth-best in the region.

They were the worst offense in NA and mediocre defensively during League Play, but managed to almost break even in-game differential.

RLCS World Championship
Roll Dizz – Courtesy of Todd Gutierrez for DreamHack

Call it luck. Call it a fluke. Call their opponents chokers. No matter how you spin it, they found a way to win games when it mattered most.

If they can maintain their current run of form, they could make some noise in Group A and find themselves on stage for Day 3. They aren’t much of a contender to win it all as of yet, but can take valuable LAN experience back home with them.

Any series win would be a huge accomplishment for the newcomers, and making it to Day 3 would be another massive upset with Lowkey Esports, Veloce Esports and Renegades all vying for the last playoff spot in Group A.

Contender #3: Spacestation Gaming

Regular Season record: 5-2, 17-12 (finished 2nd), 3rd/4th at Regional Championship

Players: Tshaka “Arsenal” Taylor, Alexandre “AxB” Bellemare, Caden “Sypical” Pellegrin

Stats (League Play): 2.03 GPG (2nd in NA), 1.48 APG (4th), 5.41 SAPG (2nd),1.55 GAPG (2nd)

Previous World Championship Experience: None

How they stack up:

The biggest concern with regards to Spacestation is how unproven they are in tournament settings. 

They didn’t make Day 2 at DreamHack: Montreal, looked overwhelmed by Pittsburgh during the Regional Championship and have only played in one major and two minor Liquipedia ranked tournaments since Arsenal joined in June of this year.

The highest they’ve placed in any of those tournaments was 3rd/4th place, losing to NRG in the Beyond Entertainment: ASTRONAUTS Pro Invitational.

Weekend-long tournaments are a completely different beast than League Play. There are long breaks between a team’s series, and the six to eight hour-long days can be draining.

Photo Credit: Stephanie ”Vexanie” Lindgren

If they can handle the rigors of a live environment, then their opponents should be very scared.

Sypical won NA’s MVP award for leading the league in GPG (0.90) and finishing second in SAPG (2.21). He is quick, smart and can hit the ball with a ton of power. He can pop off and take over a series.

Arsenal can too. He led the region in demolitions this season, and loves to be a nuisance for opposing defenses.

Spacestation likes to play from deep in their own half, and allowed  8.58 SHPG during League Play. They aren’t afraid of inviting in offensive pressure and making a few tough saves so they can counterattack.

AxB holds it all down because of how good he is at buying time for his teammates and playing precise passes forward.

There is plenty of pop-off potential on this team, and they’ll only need to be better than Dignitas, Canberra Havoc and The Three Sins to make Day 3. They’re the co-favorite with Dignitas for the last playoff spot in Group B but will have to find another gear to make it any further.

If there’s a team outside of the top four that could win it all, Spacestation seems like the most likely candidate. They’re also the best candidate to extend the streak of unique teams winning majors alive. It’s been eight consecutive tournaments with a different champion. Can Spacestation make it nine?

Contender #2: Pittsburgh Knights

Regular Season record: 4-3, 15-13 (finished 3rd), 2nd at Regional Championship

Players: Slater “retals” Thomas, Nick “mist” Costello, Jirair “ExplosiveGyro” Papazian

Stats (League Play): 1.71 GPG (5th in NA), 1.50 APG (3rd), 5.79 SAPG (1st),1.57 GAPG (4th)

Previous World Championship Experience: None

How they stack up:

If Pittsburgh plays like they did during DreamHack: Montreal, then they’re the best team at this tournament. No one could stop them then, and it’ll be hard to stop them now, too.

All three of the team’s players are certified LAN boys. They feed off of crowds, especially when they might be characterized as underdogs. There isn’t an ounce of fear in them, and that can carry them a long way.

Their offensive style has flipped the region on its head. They, like Spacestation, are comfortable in defense and can make a lot of tough saves that lead to goals in transition.

Pittsburgh loves to pass. They had the highest goal to assist ratio in NA during League Play and are willing to take risks to get bumps and demos. When all three are working in tandem, no one can keep pace with them.

They finished the season with a 25.53% conversion rate on shots. The team only took 6.71 SHPG but demolitions made the chances much easier.

RLCS World Championship
Photo Credit: Stephanie ”Vexanie” Lindgren

Retals will rip anyone’s throat out and is not afraid of showing emotion. He has the mechanical ability to back up his swagger, and Gyro and mist can really feed off of it.

The downside is that some of the demo chasing can leave them exposed at the back, and they haven’t really looked like much of a threat against NRG, who they may have to play to make it to the Grand Final.

Winning the World Championship still feels like it would be a bit of an upset, but it’s absolutely in the cards for the Knights. Anything short of the semi-final would feel like a disappointment, and it feels like a pretty place given their performance this season.

Of all the teams in this tournament, they have the most pop-off potential. A few great goals, fist pumps and chants of “Peepsburgh” and the Knights might gain enough momentum to bring the trophy home with them. Need to stay focused and composed for that to happen though.

Contender #1: NRG

Regular Season record: 6-1, 19-7 (finished 1st), Won Regional Championship

Players: Garrett “GarrettG” Gordon, Justin “JSTN” Morales, Pierre “Turbopolsa” Silfver

Stats (League Play): 2.27 GPG (1st in NA), 1.69 APG (2nd), 4.38 SAPG (8th),1.38 GAPG (1st)

Previous World Championship Experience: GarrettG has played at every World Championship. JSTN has played at every World Championship since Season 5. Turbo has played at five of the seven WCs thus far.

How they stack up:

Before the Season 7 World Championship, GarrettG told reporters that his team always plays its best at worlds when they play their best during League Play.

For whatever reason, NRG just couldn’t get over the hump with Jayson “Fireburner” Nunez. Turbo has expanded Fireburner’s role and fills in all of the gaps on the field.

Turbopolsa is the greatest Rocket League player in history with regards to positioning. He has an uncanny ability to anticipate where the ball will be going and to get there before his opponent does. 

His challenges can unlock defenses when they overcommit, or just keep the pressure on when they try to clear the ball away. 

RLCS World Championship
JSTN – courtesy of Psyonix

NRG employs a completely different defensive strategy than Pittsburgh or Spacestation, but it’s even more effective. They do everything they can to prevent shots from ever coming in, and that can lead to instant offense.

JSTN loves to take the ball into the air and use his superior aerial car control to find space to take shots.

GarrettG sets JSTN up often with high passes and careful slowplays but is also incredibly efficient in his movement in the air and off the wall. He’s the best Rocket League player who hasn’t won a World Championship.

That might end this weekend. NRG seem like the clear favorite coming into the tournament, but Team Reciprocity and Renault Vitality will have something to say about that.

They still haven’t won a major in front of a live audience, but Turbo has won three World Championships already. No one understands what it takes to win it all better than he does.

If the tournament was played out 100 times, NRG would probably come out on top more than the other teams in Madrid, but anything can happen in one weekend. Will they finally break the curse and bring the org its first Rocket League World Championship?

 

The Rocket League Championship Series World Championship begins Friday, Dec. 13 at 1 p.m. EST on twitch.tv/rocketleague.

 

Featured image courtesy of Psyonix.

Follow me on Twitter: @connorssanders.

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