Jack “Speed” Packwood-Clarke was a wide-eyed lad with uncanny excitement when he made his LAN debut at the World Showdown of Esports 4 back in January. It’s crazy to think that that was just this year, it feels so long ago.
Speed was essentially getting his physical at Flipsid3 Tactics before the transfer became official. His jersey was much too large for him, and his smile too large to ignore.
He dominated that tournament in the game and around the studio. With every goal he’d let out a hearty, “GET IN THERE!” or “LET’S [EXPLICATIVE] GO!” He had Francesco “Kuxir97” Cinquemani, one of Rocket League’s smallest players in terms of both physical size and decibel level, bouncing in his chair after goals.
During the eternal break after the client froze in Game 1 against Cloud9, Speed just shot the fat with WSOE employees and swayed back in forth in his rolling chair. Mariano “Squishy” Arruda coldly kept warm in free play, likely frustrated because of the client freeze.
There he was, 15 feet from the reigning World Champions, playing in a studio less than ten minutes away from Orleans Arena, where Cloud9 were crowned, and Speed acted like he was about to queue some ranked matches with his cronies on a smurf account.
Then he bopped them. He just completely pantsed the most decorated team in North American history in his first major LAN. Everything he touched turned to gold, and Flipsid3 swept Cloud9 in four games. Cloud9 had been swept once in all of 2018 and once in all of 2017. Then they ran into Speed.
They’ve been swept 0-4 three times since. Speed broke them back in January, just nobody knew it yet. In the three seasons before Cloud9 played Speed at WSOE they were 16-5 in RLCS League Play matches.
In the two seasons since, they’re 5-7.
Now, according to nallen.me’s probability scenarios, Cloud9 have a 52.86% chance of finishing in the relegation zone in NA. They play Rogue and G2 Esports this weekend.
Speaking of G2, what happened to them? Weren’t they going to light the world on fire after finishing second at the Season 7 World Championship AND DreamHack: Montreal? They’re 2-3 with a -4 game differential. That’s the same as Birds. And Cloud9.
Birds have the same game differential as Cloud9 and G2. Has Ragnarok finally come?
Did Speed break G2 as well? Well, no. They’ve never played each other at a major.
Perhaps Speed didn’t break them directly, but he had something to do with it. He brought a new energy to the scene, and with it a fresh wave of talent unlike anything seen before in Rocket League.
Rocket League’s power dynamic is shifting, and it’s because of the talent the game has bred in the Rival Series. Speed and his generation of rising stars are no longer rising. They’re here, and they’re too busy shining to care about the esport’s tradition.
Of the top four teams in NA right now (NRG, Pittsburgh Knights, Spacestation, Ghost) only Garrett “GarrettG” Gordon and Pierre “Turbopolsa” Silfver are the players who never played a season in the Rival Series (and Massimo “Atomic” Franceschi who weirdly technically never played in the RLRS).
It’s not that Cloud9, G2 or Rogue and Cameron “Kronovi” Bills forgot how to play Rocket League. They didn’t lose their gamesense or work ethic, the players around them got better.
Age may play a role, but studies have shown that peak reaction speed for gamers comes at age 24. There is some evidence to support the idea that 14-18 year olds have higher reaction speed, so maybe there’s an argument to be made for G2 aging out, but all three of C9’s players are 18 and so is GarrettG.
The most obvious answer seems to be that the talent pool has gotten exponentially deeper much faster than anyone expected. Those players that were on the fringe are climbing past the vets while they make their way down the mountain.
It happened in EU last season with Dignitas and Team SoloMid who narrowly avoided relegation and both made roster moves to get younger. Now it’s Cloud9 and G2’s turn.
This article is not to suggest that Speed is the sole reason for Cloud9’s demise (overcommits, anyone?) or that all of the older players are washed. Look at Team Reciprocity, Vitality and NRG still chugging along. Speed’s teammates are wily veterans as well. Experience still pays.
But that begs the question: are they invincible or will their time come too?
It’s hard to believe, but back at WSOE no one would have dared to think Cloud9 would get relegated within the year.
Rocket League moves fast, and it has to leave some players behind. Maybe Cloud9 and G2 can get back up to speed, because the windows are closing quickly.
Featured image courtesy of WSOE.
Follow me on Twitter: @connorssanders.
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