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Rocket Launching Season 8: Chicago’s Dominance and Panic for Complexity

Rocket League column

Reed “Chicago” Wilen is one of the most incredible Rocket League players I’ve ever seen.

His average score per game was 649.75 during week one. No player in his region eclipsed 500 per game. The next closest was Justin “JSTN” Morales, who averaged 449.50. From first to second there was a full 200 point difference.

Alexandre “AxB” Bellemare averaged 261.00, about 200 points behind JSTN, good for third to last in NA. The difference between Chicago and JSTN was the same as the difference between the second best player in the league and the third worst.

Score isn’t a perfect indicator for how well a player performed in the match, but it is a decent indicator of how involved a player was throughout. Chicago’s Week 1 performance against Birds was uncanny.

The man was everywhere. He assisted on four goals in Game 2 against Birds, then got a hat trick in Game 3. Then he escorted Birds to the door with another hat trick and a couple of saves in Game 4. Look at this sequence:

In Ultimate Frisbee they call this kind of sequence where you get a save and then immediately score “bookends”. That’s clever. I like that term.

Chicago now leads the league in goals, assists, shooting percentage, score, points and is fourth in saves. The desk rewarded his performance with the player of the week award, but his near perfect performance was far greater than that.

It was a truly dominant performance. The exact kind of quality that deserves to be written about and admired. Those are the kinds of moments that Rocket Launching was made for.

So without further meandering, welcome to Rocket Launching, a midweek RLCS column that discusses the wonderful world of Rocket League esports. It’s been a full month of team previews since the last Rocket Launching, but it’s here to stay with the return of the Rocket League Championship series. This time there are five observations. Let’s do this.

1. Holy Cow, Veloce Esports Are On Top

I wrote a thousand words on this earlier this week, but I can condense it down a bit here. Veloce are 2-0, but they seemed shaky in the opening moments after Sandro “FreaKii” Holzwarth and Andy “Kassio” Landais whiffed a fairly straightforward clear in Game 1 against Complexity.

Jack “FlamE” Pearton came to the rescue and nothing came of the double whiff. For a moment it seemed like the nerves were creeping in to trip them up in their first RLCS match together.

Then FlamE grabbed those nerves by the throat and ripped them in half. FlamE was a nuisance for Complexity and Dignitas, and his well-timed cuts in rotation kept them from finding a rhythm.

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FreaKii – Courtesy of Alexander Scott for DreamHack

That lack of rhythm led to mistakes, and Veloce capitalized on nearly every one. From there they just needed to play solid defense and they did.

They shut down Hrant “Flakes” Yakoub by limiting his space to maneuver through early challenges. They gave up 18 shots to Dignitas in Game 3, but made 11 saves. Veloce played their best Rocket League and deserve the first place spot they’re in.

Things are going to change next week against Vitality, but the 2-0 start has them in dreamland after Week 1. Still a long season ahead, but they may have already done enough to avoid relegation in just the first week. One or two more and they’ll be challenging for a LAN spot.

2. Atomic Announces His Presence

Massimo “Atomic” Franceschi was a fairly unknown quantity heading into Season 8. Yes, he made Rival Series before being banned (well, kind of, it’s a long story), and yes, he played at DreamHack: Montreal, but his arrival has not been highly touted like Kyle “Scrub Killa” Robertson and Flakes were.

Atomic looked really solid in Week 1. This double tap was nice:

Against Cloud9 he scored an impressive read from the corner and a zero second goal to force overtime. His speed and confidence opened up the field for Ghost.

That’s not to say Atomic was perfect. He had a couple of miscues. A weird approach cost him a goal on a shot he should have scored in Game 3 against Pittsburgh, and a double commit cost his team a goal in Game 4 of the same series. 

His debut was a bright spot, and now they’re 1-1. The win over Pittsburgh was huge, and Cloud9 didn’t exactly run Ghost off the field in the 3-0 sweep. They look like a much faster offensive team, and it’s allowing Michael “Memory” Moss to make plays like these:

 

I really liked Ghost coming into the season, and they’re neck and neck with Pittsburgh in the chase for the fourth LAN spot.

3. Torment Carried Cloud9 Without Scoring a Single Goal

Pretty much the title here. Kyle “Torment” Storer does all of the little things for Cloud9 and really is the team’s engine. Here are three examples.

Watch how patient he is when given space in Game 1 against Ghost. At any point he can just smack this ball onto the backboard, but he doesn’t and it leads to Jesus “Gimmick” Parra redirect.

Nasty. Example number two, the way Torment stays with the ball after Mariano “Squishy” Arruda misses, gets a demo, recovers perfectly, bumps Memory and then forces Allushin into a mistouch that sets up Squishy with the equalizer.

His game sense is unreal. Speaking of which, this pass he makes to Squishy in his own half to keep possession is phenomenal.

The announcers sort of brush it off, but Atomic is bearing down on Torment so any mistouch could result in a goal. Squishy is heading the opposite direction and Torment puts it in on his hood without Squishy having to slow down. Not a glamorous play, but the type that set great teams apart from good teams.

Cloud9 did not look great against Ghost. They escaped in overtime in Game 1, Allushin bumped Memory out of a save on Gimmick’s late goal in Game 2 and Cloud9 only had two shots in Game 3 and Memory probably should have scored at zero seconds to force OT. Squishy and Gimmick can play a lot better, but even when they’re just good Torment can carry them over the top.

4. Complexity Should Be Worried

There’s no shame in losing 3-1 to Vitality, but Complexity looked entirely shell-shocked against Veloce. Flakes couldn’t get much going, but Joonas “Mognus” Salo and Marius “gReazymeister” Ranheim really struggled.

Complexity could only manage one goal against Veloce. They only scored more than one goal one time against Vitality, so in seven of their eight contests they were held to one goal or less. That makes it really hard to win, unless the defense in perfect.

In Week 1, it wasn’t. Greazy’s giveaway in Game 1 against Veloce was the difference in the game. FreaKii perfectly read Flakes’ dribble in his own corner and scored a wide open goal in Game 3. Later in that game Mognus made a bad touch off and handed a goal to Veloce. In Game 4 Mognus and Greazy double committed on the back wall and FreaKii punished them again.

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Mognus – Courtesy of Todd Gutierrez for DreamHack

Veloce did everything they could to stop Flakes, but they didn’t really fear Greazy or Mognus. They gave Greazy plenty of space when he had the ball, and let Mognus take open shots. Other teams in EU will likely approach them the exact same way.

Vitality pounded shot after shot on Complexity, and while they did make a ton of saves, they couldn’t ever break out of their half. Complexity won Game 2 because they allowed just four shots (all from Fairy).

Look at Vitality’s shot totals in Complexity’s losses: 10 in Game 1, 23 in Game 3, 16 in Game 4 (nine from Fairy). Complexity were under a constant barrage, and they’ll see more of the same in EU.

There’s plenty of time left in the season, and Flakes has played well despite not filling up the stat sheet. He’ll have an even bigger role to play if they want to avoid relegation.

Starting 0-2 is unsettling. Here’s a list of every team that’s started 0-2 and where they finished since Rocket League adopted the League Play format in Season 2:

Dignitas S7: 0-2 finished 5th

Fnatic S6: 0-2 finished 8th, Relegated

Vitality S6: 0-2 finished 4th

PSG S6: 0-2 finished 5th, Made LAN

Secret S4: finished 8th, Relegated

Mock-It EU S3: finished 5th, won the regional championship

Resonant S3: finished 6th

OhMyDog S2: finished 7th

Summit S2: finished 8th

Deception S2: finished 8th

G2 S2: finished 7th

SetToDestroyX S3: finished 8th

Atelier S3: finished 2nd, Made LAN

Allegiance S4: Finished 7th, Relegation

Renegades S4: Finished 8th

FlyQuest S4: Finished 6th

Out of Style S5: Finished 8th, Relegation

CLG S5: Finished 7th, Relegation

Ghost S5: Finished 6th

Rogue S6: Finished 7th, Relegation

Ghost S6: Finished 6th

FlyQuest S6: Finished 5th

Ghost S7: Finished 5th

Rogue S7: Finished 6th, Made LAN

Six teams were relegated (despite Seasons 1-3 not having relegation yet), and only four made LAN out of 24. Complexity aren’t going to go 0-7 barring a tragedy, but they may very well have to face the Promotion Playoff once again. What a scary thought.

5. Pittsburgh’s Interesting Position

Pittsburgh Knights, Rogue and Ghost are all gunning for the final LAN spot, and since the Regional Championship is the only thing that really determines who secures that spot, as long as they avoid the bottom two, they’ll have a shot in the postseason.

I know the page playoff system favors the fourth seed from League Play, but Rogue finished 6th and made LAN just the same. So what happens now doesn’t really matter, but it’s fun to speculate.

Pittsburgh clobbered Rogue 3-0, and Ghost outlasted Pittsburgh 3-1. Ghost are also the only one to face a Big Three opponent thus far, and they still have Rogue on deck. If Ghost get a win against Rogue on Saturday, then they have the inside track to the 4th seed.

So, I’ve been looking at the schedule to try and figure out which non-Big-Three team Cloud9 will senselessly lose to, and I think Pittsburgh are a solid candidate on Saturday. Cloud9 lost to Spacestation Week 4 of Season 7 and to FlyQuest in Week 4 of Season 5, but the blue bombers only play NRG in Week 4 of Season 8, so the streak can’t continue.

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Retals – Courtesy of @ZeeboDesigns on Twitter

I think Pittsburgh are too good to overlook, but Cloud9 already beat Ghost and I don’t see them falling to Birds or Rogue. They already beat Ghost, so Pittsburgh and Spacestation are the best chance.

A win for Pittsburgh would pay huge dividends because wins against the Big Three come few and far between. Since NRG signed JSTN they’ve lost to one series to a non-Big-Three (EG in Season 6). G2 haven’t loss to a non-Big-Three in that span, and Cloud9 only lost to FlyQuest and SSG.

This week will be a turning point for a lot of teams, especially for Pittsburgh, Rogue and Ghost. Assuming Pittsburgh lose to NRG and G2 but beat Birds, their season will come down to a series against SSG. Rogue could find themselves in a huge 0-2 hole with the Big Three left to play with a loss to Ghost. Ghost would be 2-1 with wins over their biggest rivals for the fourth spot.

Then you have Spacestation hanging around on the fringes. They can definitely throw a wrench into things, but they face Birds on Saturday. A loss there would have them in a hole, but they can still beat Ghost, Rogue and Pittsburgh.

 

Featured image courtesy of WSOE.

Follow me on Twitter: @connorssanders.

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