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Rocket Launching: Week 2 Power Rankings and Defensive Dominance

RLCS Column

It’s Bizarro World over in NA right now. NRG sit at the top of the table, and then in second place it’s… *checks notes* Ghost Gaming? Then in third it’s Pittsburgh Knights? Birds got a win before Spacestation Gaming and Rogue?

One of the fun things about a five-week season is just how much things can change from week to week. Right now G2 aren’t even in the top half of the table, and it’s only because they lost to NRG. It still feels foreign to see them anywhere other than the top three.

I’d say the most likely outcome is that Cloud9 and G2 correct course, but Ghost and Pittsburgh’s early-season success is interesting. Even if it’s not something that will last, it is at least some indication that the talent gap might be closing in NA.

Evil Geniuses and Ghost are the only teams not named NRG, Cloud9 or G2 to finish in the top three since Cloud9 made RLCS in Season 4. Is this the season where they finally give and someone new breaks into the top of the table?

Probably not, but it’s fun to theorize. Cloud9 have shown clear signs of weakness. G2 could barely make a dent in NRG’s defense after the first half of Game 1 and the Ghost/Pittsburgh combo is dangerous.

If these results held it would be monumental, and for the first time in a while, it does feel like there’s at least a chance someone could challenge for top two. It’s just an inkling of hope, but it’s something the region hasn’t had in ages.

I love underdog stories. Especially when they’re as confident as Slater “retals” Thomas. Keep those tweets drenched in swagger coming.

This is Rocket Launching, a midweek RLCS column where I talk about some things I noticed from this week’s RLCS action. Usually, there are quite a few observations, but I tried something new with Mixed Bag, where I look at one good and one bad moment from each RLCS team. Let’s just talk about the importance of defense and power rankings this week.

A Good Defense is the Best Offense

This should come as no surprise, but the best teams in Rocket League are often the ones who concede least often. NA’s three best defensive teams all sit in the top three of the standings and it’s a pretty consistent trend throughout Rocket League history.

Since Season 4 (which I’d say is Rocket League’s modern era since Cloud9 and the Rival Series arrived then) six of the eight league winners have allowed the least goals per game in their region. The only exceptions were Method and Cloud9 in Season 4.

The trend holds true for offensive leaders, but it’s impossible to get the offense going when you spend most of the time picking the ball out of your own net. Just ask, Rogue.

RLCS column
Jesus “Gimmick” Parra who is last in NA in SAPG with 0.50 – Courtesy of Todd Gutierrez

NRG, Pittsburgh and Ghost are allowing the fewest goals per game in NA. They’ve got a decent 10+ game sample size to base things on, and keeping the net clean has been essential in their success thus far. 

Pittsburgh and Ghost and the offensive chops to back up their stalwart defenses, so keep an eye on how they defend against their best opponents. 

It’s a similar story in EU. Vitality and Reciprocity have allowed the fewest GPG in the region and are both 2-0. Defense is key, and it’s not usually what we think of when we list attributes of the best players in the world.

So, a good team plays good defense, but like, duh. Of course they do. The thing is, the minute decisions and mechanical inputs on the field translate directly to the stat sheet. It’s not like the best defense are just good just because. They make unreal plays to keep the net clean.

Here are three keys to the best RLCS defenses.

  1. No poor clears. This seems so simple, but RLCS teams punish nearly every poor clear, and limiting scuffed hits makes a world of difference. Veloce beat Complexity by just waiting for them to mess up, and it almost worked against Vitality, too.
  2. Read the scouting report. NRG had so much space to play against Birds, and it had a lot to do with Birds’ positioning. They always just rotated into goal instead of floating around the edge of the box to block passes. Knowing your opponent is everything and the best teams are the most prepared.
  3. Demo avoidance. Physical play has really found a foothold in Season 8, and avoiding bumps and demos has been paramount in good defense thus far. Defenders aren’t even safe on the backboard or deep in their own nets anymore (see Nick “mist” Costello vs Mariano “Squishy” Arruda) so they have to be aware of their surroundings more than ever.

A Way too Early Tier List for All 16 Teams


  1. NRG (3-0, 9-1) – Unreal start to the season. On pace to challenge the record for best season ever.
  2. Renault Vitality (2-0, 6-2) – Opened against the RLRS promoters, so still haven’t really been tested.
  3. Team Reciprocity (2-0, 6-3) – Flashed their offensive brilliance against Team SoloMid, and showed how stingy their defense is vs Barcelona in Week 1. Really balanced squad.

Pretty Good:

  1. G2 Esports (1-1, 3-4) – NRG cuffed Jacob “JKnaps” Knapman and they couldn’t get anything going. Important contest against Rogue this weekend. Could make the leap to the next group.

Solid Starts with Plenty to Prove:

  1. Pittsburgh Knights (2-1, 7-5) – Cloud9 were lucky the series even went to five games. Pittsburgh get up for big games, but need to maintain focus against mid to low tier teams.
  2. Mousesports (1-1, 5-5) – Linus “al0t” Mollergren leads EU in GPG and Jack “Speed” Packwood-Clarke is fifth. They’re also top three in shooting percentage. Get that goals against average below two and they’ll be set.
  3. Cloud9 (1-1, 5-3) It’s not that they’ve lost, it’s how they’ve lost. Pittsburgh punched them in the mouth, and they limped to a win over Ghost. Plenty of time left to move up, but uncharacteristically slow start for C9.
  4. Ghost (2-1, 6-4) They have the inside track to the four seed with wins over Rogue and Ghost, but could not get past C9. Tough matchup with NRG this weekend.

Good But Not Great:

  1. Dignitas (1-1, 5-5) Maello “AztraL” Ernst has been up and down over the first two weeks, but is worth keeping an eye on. Hard to judge their level now as they’ve only played the RLRS promoted teams so far in Season 8.

    RLCS Column
    Photo Credit: Stephanie ”Vexanie” Lindgren
  2. Veloce (2-1, 7-6) I’m still not sold on Veloce, but they played Vitality well. The wins over Dignitas and Complexity were hardly convincing and they face Reciprocity on Sunday.
  3. FC Barcelona (1-2, 7-6) Pushed Reciprocity and Mouz to five games and clobbered TSM with a sweep. A lot of upside, but need to close out series.

Down But Not Out:

  1. Team SoloMid (1-2, 4-8) They kept the series against Reciprocity close, but the beating by Barcelona is alarming. A loss to Complexity this week and they might be cooked geese.

BEIGE ALERT (Relegation Scrum):

  1. Birds (1-2, 4-7) I didn’t feel like Birds really smacked Spacestation around. They kind of just let SSG outplay themselves and capitalized. If that’s their only win of Season 8, then it’s very well deserved. Huge match with Rogue on Saturday. Loser leaves town.
  2. Spacestation (0-2, 2-6) Wow, that loss to Birds was disappointing. So many missed touches and bad challenges. Still five games to make up for it, but they’re deep into panic mode now.
  3. Complexity (0-3, 4-9) All four of Complexity’s game wins this season have come in 1-0 mudfests. They can’t keep on offense and don’t really have the chops to park the bus on defense either. Got a loser leaves town match with TSM on Sunday.
  4. Rogue (0-2, 0-6) OOF. Swept by Pittsburgh and swept by Ghost. Only scored seven goals in two weeks and have surrendered 19. They’ve got plenty of time left, but G2, NRG and Cloud9 still remain. Might need to just focus on avoiding relegation instead of making LAN at this point.

This list will undergo a massive shuffle two weeks from now, and that’s what makes Rocket League great. I’d bet my alpha boost on NRG winning the league, but I feel like that’s the only sure thing so far. Even that could blow up somehow.

For now, let’s embrace the chaos. Can you imagine if Cloud9 missed out on LAN to Pittsburgh or Ghost?

Alright, maybe it’s time to reign the chaos in a little bit.


Featured image courtesy of Todd Gutierrez for Beyond the Summit.

Follow me on Twitter: @connorssanders.

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