Welcome to Rocket Launching, a midweek RLCS column that discusses the wonderful world of Rocket League esports. Here are some of our favorite observations after the seventh week of the RLCS Season 7.
This week, we’ll discuss all-time Rocket League What Ifs and the Bayern Munich-like approach of Renegades in the context of OCE. Buckle up, mates, it’s about to get speculative.
RLCS What Ifs
The Godfather of columnists, Bill Simmons, loves to write about NBA What Ifs. He dedicated an entire chapter of his book to detailing situations that led up to major events in basketball history and what the league would look like if those events had gone differently.
For example, what would the NBA look like if the Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t trade James Harden in 2012?
Would the Thunder have won a championship by now? Would Kevin Durant have never left to Golden State? Was it possible for them to co-exist with Russell Westbrook? These are the kinds of questions we as fans all ask ourselves, and now I want to pose a few What Ifs within the world of Rocket League esports.
What If #1: Chicago Makes the RLCS in Season 4
Season 4 was the first season to feature the Rocket League Championship Series’ second division, the Rival Series. The decision to expand to a second tier is quietly one of the most beneficial to the scene in its history. Look back at the RLRS Season 4 rosters and you’ll find a plethora of current or former RLCS players. Justin “JSTN” Morales, Nicholas “Wonder” Blackerby, Michael “Memory” Moss, Jake “JWismont” Wismont, Jordan “EyeIgnite” Stellon and Reed “Chicago” Wilen were all playing in the RLRS that season.
The play-in tournament for Season 4 still has an impact on the RLCS we see today. The top six qualifiers from the NA play-in landed in the RLCS, and the next eight made RLRS. The six RLCS teams spent more than one season in the top tier (Cloud9, Ghost, G2, FlyQuest aka Evil Geniuses, Renegades (later Counter Logic Gaming) and Emotion aka Allegiance).
Fibeon eSports just needed a win against Ghost in the upper bracket or against Emotion/Allegiance in the lowers to make RLCS.
They got swept in both of those series so they were the first team assigned to the Rival Series. Chicago played like an absolute madman in the RLRS. He scored 1.41 GPG, had 0.82 APG and made 1.50 SAPG. He and JSTN were the undisputed rising stars of the league (interesting side note here: JSTN scored 52% of his team’s goals that season, which is absurd).
Fibeon finished first in League Play and dropped just four games all season (the most dominant RLRS season ever). JSTN’s Out of Style squad went 6-1 and also earned a spot in the Promotion Playoff. This is where the What If gets juicy.
Allegiance finished seventh in League Play because of game differential, and Renegades finished eighth despite having beat Allegiance during the season. Fibeon played Renegades and lost 4-2 in the first round of the Promotion Playoff. Chris “Dappur” Mendoza was unreal in this tournament for Renegades. He led them to a 4-3 win in the second round and regained his team’s place in the RLCS. Out of Style beat Allegiance 4-1 in the first round, so Fibeon played ALG in the loser’s bracket.
ALG narrowly beat Fibeon 4-3 and ended Chicago’s RLCS dream (for now). The kid was RLCS ready even then, but couldn’t get over the hump in Game 7. Chicago decided to stick it out with his team and try and requalify. They kicked Hayden “Hato” Balsys in favor of current RLCS analyst Isaac “Turtle” App and moved to a budding new org named Team Dignitas (ever heard of them?). Out of Style picked up Hato (more on that in a minute), and got absolutely demolished by the RLCS in Season 5.
Another interesting side note: why did Out of Style pick Hato over Chicago when JSTN left? I don’t know how the decision was made or if Chicago rejected the offer, but he was clearly the next best option. Evidently Hato was kicked in favor of Turtle, and Out of Style very nearly disbanded after JSTN left (another great What If). Fibeon, the org, didn’t pay the team and things got messy with their manager and Chicago played Season 5 in the RLRS. I wonder how Out of Style would have done with him.
Chicago played well again in Season 5, but his team struggled. They finished fourth, he moved on to Evil Geniuses, then G2 and is now the beast we know today. I wonder what would’ve happened if he and Fibeon had earned promotion instead of Out of Style, or if they would have disbanded and forfeited their spot to Fibeon. Would NRG have offered him their third spot instead of JSTN? Would he have led them to a Grand Finals run in Season 5? We wouldn’t have had that iconic “THIS IS ROCKET LEAGUE!” zero second moment from JSTN, that’s for sure.
How about if Chicago earned promotion and stayed together with his squad? Hato and Zoli “zol” Digness were both great in the RLRS Season 4, and given the lackluster nature of the Small Five in NA, maybe they would have finished in sixth and stayed up. Hato struggled with Out of Style though, and zol never made RLCS. Maybe they would have chopped down Chicago’s potential short of his ceiling.
I think this is the proper timeline for Chicago. He proved his skill with Evil Geniuses (they went from a LAN appearance to demotion with out him) and earned a spot on an elite G2 squad. He’s going to be the cornerstone of that team for a while and they’ll be contenders for as long as he’s there.
What If #2: JSTN stays with Out of Style
JSTN and Chicago are strangely connected. They were the best RLRS players in Season 4 and then they were the best RLCS players in Season 7. JSTN’s Season 4 RLRS performance is pretty astounding.
Out of Style were the very last team to qualify for RLRS. Because Season 4 opened up 14 spots between the two divisions, they had a last chance qualifier for the last two RLRS spots. They pitted the teams that lost in the Loser’s Round 4 against each other. Out of Style beat Loconate’s Sodium Chloride team (in the other Last Chance spot, some randoms named Wonder and PrimeThunder) and made RLRS where JSTN owned the league by himself.
Out of Style earned promotion, NRG poached him away and Out of Style went 0-7. Where would we be if JSTN had stayed with OOS? If JSTN came onto the scene in any other season, he wouldn’t have made the RLRS. Where would we be if he missed out on the RLRS altogether?
JSTN probably could have carried them to a sixth place finish or something, but there was no way they were going to have a chance at top four. There is an alternate timeline out there where JSTN kicks one of his teammates in favor of Chicago and they make a run at unseating the Big Three in NA. Let’s say they go 2-5
In Season 5, kick Jonathan “EPICJonny” Ramrattan or Brandon “Lachinio” Lachin and add Chicago. Then in Season 6, Out of Style (probably picked up by Spacestation or somebody) have JSTN, Chicago and EPICJonny/Lachinio while NRG still have Jacob “Jacob” McDowell and G2 have Cameron “Kronovi” Bills. That’s a top two contender right there.
There’s a part of me that wonders if JSTN would have ever made it on to the scene without that last chance qualifier back in Season 4. I know that RL players find talent everywhere (see: Flipsid3 and Yukeo), but JSTN could have been another top-100 warrior on the outside looking in. I’m glad he won that last chance qualifier, even if it did forever poison Loconate.
What If #3: Greazy on Renault Vitality
If you haven’t heard, Alexandre “Kaydop” Courant is really good at Rocket League. He joined Renault Vitality after three seasons of complete dominance with Dignitas (hey, there’s that budding new org again). Vitality player Kyle “Scrub Killa” Robertson revealed on his stream that if his team didn’t land Kaydop before Season 7, they would have added Complexity player Marius “gReazymeister” Ranheim.
Vitality struggled in Season 6, and a change was in order. Phillip “paschy90” Paschmeyer prevented being kicked by retiring, and Kaydop was the obvious choice. Kaydop was coming off a tough loss in the World Championship to Cloud9, but had solidified himself as the best player on the best team of the last few seasons. Would he really leave Dignitas? Then he did, Vitality became one of the two best teams in the world and Dignitas narrowly avoided relegation.
What if Kaydop would have stayed? What if Dignitas would have won the Season 6 World Championship? Would he have had the courage to leave such a successful team?
Probably. Kaydop seemed like he was on his way out, and the Grand Finals loss acted as the perfect excuse to move on. For my fellow basketball fans, it was a lot like how the Kevin Durant/Warriors thing is ending now, but the Warriors are going to win the playoffs again. Let’s say Kaydop stays and tries to win one more or to continue their streak. How would Vitality have done with gReazy?
EU was extremely competitive this season. Preseason favorites Dignitas and TSM finished fifth and sixth, and all three of the major offseason LAN winners missed the World Championships. FC Barcelona and Triple Trouble had unheard of promotion seasons. PSG finally found the consistency they needed to compete for top two. Even still Vitality were still clearly a cut above all of them with Kaydop. I think gReazy would completely change that, but not just because of his play.
Much has already been made of Complexity’s decision to replace Otto “Metsanauris” Kaipiainen with gReazy after Season 5. Complexity went from a top team in EU to relegation in the course of an offseason, but really it wasn’t entirely his fault. Complexity struggled in every facet of the game.
In the Season 7 RLRS, gReazy was quite good. Complexity finished top two and has a shot at promotion. Maybe he would have led Vitality to a solid mid table finish, but there is a chance that with gReazy, Vitality would have had the exact same season that almost saw Dignitas relegated. The roles couldn’t have been completely reversed. Vitality were plagued by double commits and poor decision making in Season 6, and while gReazy is solid, I don’t think Scrub and Victor “Fairy Peak” Locquet would have respected him the same way they do Kaydop.
Scrub and Fairy are great players. Great players do not defer to their lesser teammates. That was their problem in Season 6, but with Kaydop they’re willing to allow him to perform because they know he’ll make the right play. They didn’t trust each other in Season 6, but they do now and it’s made a world of difference. Would they have deferred to gReazy? Would they have trusted his playmaking ability? I don’t think so.
The Dignitas side of this What If is easy. They’d win comfortably in EU and have a great shot at the World Championship again. They’ve struggled in Season 7 for the same reasons Vitality did in Season 6. There are needless double commits and at times a lack of faith in one another. It’s simple to say that Kaydop would completely flip their results, but I really do think that’s the case. There’s no way gReazy would have unchained Scrub the way Kaydop did this season.
Renegades: The Bayern Munich of OCE
When Chiefs Esports Club signed Order star Aidan “ZeN” Hui, I couldn’t help but think of Mario Götze. Götze was a standout midfielder for Borussia Dortmund who won a couple of Bundesliga titles before Bayern Munich purchased him for €37 million. Munich has always done this sort of thing. They let their fellow German clubs find the diamonds in the rough. Then use their deep pockets to buy them away.
This strategy is doubly sinister. Not only do you improve your team, but you take away the best player from your competition. You get stronger while they get weaker. That’s exactly the strategy Chiefs and now Renegades have employed to riotous success in OCE.
The original OCE kings were Alpha Sydney with Matthew “Drippay” Den-Kaat, Jake “Jake” Edwards and Daniel “Torsos” Parsons. They made LANs, signed with Chiefs Esports Club and everything was cheery until Jake retired after Season 5. That’s when the Bayern mentality got to work. Chiefs only really competition at the time was Tainted Minds, so Chiefs went and scooped their (arguably) best player Cameron “Kamii” Ingram.
Tainted Minds player Cameron “CJCJ” Johns decided to bite back and form his own OCE super team. He recruited OCE stars Jonathan “Express” Slade and Nathan “shadey” Logan from other teams to try and slow down Chiefs. CJCJ kicked Tom “Julz” Jullienne, who he’d been to LAN with in Season 5, but it was no problem for CJCJ, he’d recruited the best players available.
It worked in Season 6. Sort of. Tainted Minds beat Chiefs in the Regional Championship, but Chiefs finished top four at the World Championship and Tainted Minds lost their first two series. Then Chiefs star Drippay left the squad for NA squad Evil Geniuses. Chiefs had to put their Bayern hats back on and go steal some talent from a lesser squad. That’s where ZeN comes in.
Order finished third in Season 6 with ZeN and Julz running the show, so ZeN was a logical choice for Chiefs. He filled Drippay’s role nicely and led Chiefs (now Renegades) to first place in League Play. The Bayern strategy works again. They won the Regional Championship against… *checks notes* Out of Order? I thought Tainted Minds were the other good OCE team? Nope, Julz led Out of Order to a win over his former team and earned a spot at LAN.
Julz formed his own super squad. He ditched Phillip “Dumbo” Donachie for SYF Gaming star Alex “Decka” Decka. Then he replaced ZeN with Legacy Esports star Christopher “Siki” Magee. OCE has so much roster shuffling, it’s insane.
The point is, there’s not enough top tier talent in OCE to go around, so they way to win is consolidating the best players to a few teams. Renegades will rule OCE in perpetuity if they can continue to Bayern Munich their opponents by ripping their best players away. It’s worked in Germany, and it’ll work in Australia. Unless the talent increases, or more teams follow CJCJ’s and Julz’s example and pool their resources, no one will challenge the crown.
That creates a strange disconnect between the top and bottom. There will be no hope for parity if this continues.
That isn’t a bad thing. Pulling together the best talent for the top teams means they’ll have a better chance at winning in international play. Before the season everyone was wondering if Chiefs would make LAN and we gawked about how easy it would be for Tainted Minds, but it never came to be. Out of Order threw it all out the window and put a firecracker in the Honey Bucket by using their opponents strategy.
If you think there is a Big Three in NA, go see the drop off in talent in OCE.
Feature image courtesy of Psyonix.
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