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Rocket Launching: Winners and Losers from the RLCS World Championship

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Welcome to Rocket Launching, a midweek RLCS column that discusses the wonderful world of Rocket League esports. Season 7’s conclusion was one of the most raucous in recent history. So many storylines reached their climax in Newark. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of celebration and forget about some of the small victories (and massive L’s) that were earned this weekend.

Let’s not let some of the small intricacies of this moment and time be swept in the Kyle “Scrub Killa” Robertson hype pieces and memes about NRG losing again. Here are the winners and losers from the Rocket League Championship Series World Championship (bit redundant eh, Psyonix? How about the RLCS Finals or something?).

Winner: NA

What a showing on home turf. For both the crowd and the competitors, New Jersey was the best performance for the region in Rocket League history. All four NA teams went undefeated and won their groups. Three of the four made the semifinals, and G2 made their deepest run of any RLCS event.

We saw Cameron “Kronovi” Bills take on his old team in the semi-final. G2 adapted their playstyle on the fly and rode that success to the Grand Final. Cloud9 showed Barcelona what ball chasing is all about. NRG did pretty good too (more on them later). Everything was clicking for the NA squads and they nearly had an NA sweep across the tournament.

RLCS World Championship

Courtesy of RLCS

The crowd was electric too. They set the record for the longest wave (was there a Guinness representative there? The Psyonix people the press sat with said that was not something they had planned prior to the event, so I don’t know if it’ll stand up in the face of the prestigious world record gatekeepers), got some pretty good “Let’s go G2!” chants going and didn’t even boo anyone this time. Overall, pretty solid showing from the NA crowd. Definitely more intense than the crowd in Las Vegas for Season 6’s World Championship.

Obviously, EU come away as the real winners because Renault Vitality won the whole tournament, but overall NA experienced a major revival. G2 winning it all would have been the icing on the cake, but Jacob “JKnaps” Knapman had a couple of costly defensive mistakes that changed the series. I never would have thought they’d be there in the first place, so kudos to them.

Loser: NRG

I can’t talk about NA’s success without at least acknowledging NRG’s failure. I’m not going to condemn them though. They ran into the best Rocket League team in the world in their absolute best form. It’s hard to dunk on them too much.

G2 threw a wrench into everything when they won their Saturday series against Vitality. NRG won their group and were rewarded with facing the best team in the world. G2 opened up a path to the Grand Final and ended the hopes of NRG in one fell swoop. Vitality were the best team in the world on Sunday, and it’s not NRG’s fault they had to face them in the quarterfinal.

But you have to play the cards the Rocket League gods deal you, and NRG were simply outclassed by Vitality. No one could find a way through Vitality’s impressive defense. NRG were no different. The air dribbles and midfield challenges that opened up space for the NA champs throughout the season weren’t producing the same chances on goal.

The series was incredibly close. If NRG locked down their kickoffs more (see: game two overtime), they probably would have won. Vitality capitalized on kickoffs throughout the series (and throughout the playoff really), and it was clear they focused on that as something to exploit. It carried them all the way to a championship and it cost NRG one.

We’ll never know if NRG would have made a run if they were on the other side of the bracket. They were unlucky to face Vitality so early on. They would have been better off losing to INTZ and playing G2 in the quarterfinal.

Still, no excuses. I wonder if this is the moment where they’ll look at themselves in the mirror and decide to make a change. Is there a player out there right now that would be an upgrade over Jayson “Fireburner” Nunez? Is Fireburner ready to move on from Rocket League? One roster move completely changed the trajectory of Vitality. Maybe it could do the same for NRG.

Winner: Wonder

Rogue have looked like a new team since Nicolas “Wonder” Blackerby graduated from college. Kronovi and Alex “AyyJayy” Aebi had big moments, but Wonder’s elevated play is the reason they beat FC Barcelona.

This team has been going for nutty plays all season, but they just didn’t land them with any real consistency. Then Wonder started hitting beautiful double taps and making better choices on defense and Rogue rolled right through their group.

Have you ever played Rocket League and had a session where you could do no wrong?  One where you always seem to be in the right place at the right time and are hitting shots with absurd consistency? That’s how Wonder played this weekend.

If NRG do consider making a roster move, Wonder would be the guy I’d target. He had a breakout performance in Newark. Now that he’s able to focus on Rocket League full time he’s only going to get better. He’s got the mechanical chops to hang with anyone and has a whole off-season worth of grind to sharpen his skills.

RLCS World Championship
Wonder – courtesy of RLCS.

He also has really cool glasses.

Loser: OCE

I guess Matthew “Drippay” Den-Kaat’s move to NA left a bigger hole than we were expecting, huh? Renegades played like they were stuck in molasses this weekend. They were lucky to score a goal against FC Barcelona, and even luckier to take a game off of Rogue.

Aidan “ZeN” Hui looked as rattled as a tin can rolling down a cobblestone road this weekend. It may have been the air cannons. He made a couple of damning decisions and mistouches in defense and never really threatened much on the offensive end. Daniel “Torsos” Parsons didn’t play with the same bite as previous tournaments either.

GroundZero sure played hard, but they seemed completely over matched. You know those videos where Musty will play against seven golds or whatever and they get pretty close to scoring but never really threaten him too much? That’s how GroundZero played against Renault Vitality.

It was nice to see some fresh blood from the region and Christopher “Siki” Magee of GZ was one of the brightest personalities at the event, but GroundZero just didn’t have enough oomph to challenge the best teams in the world. Neither did Renegades.

Winner/Loser: The Format

After talking with the players in press conferences, I’d say the general consensus was that the players liked the group play format, but felt like there weren’t enough teams in each group. Alexandre “Kaydop” Courant even stated that he wants to see four teams from every region.

That doesn’t quite seem feasible. I liked the group play format, but the absence of the double elimination bracket hung over the event like Drippay’s absence hung over OCE. Emil “Fruity” Moslund pointed to the fact that a three day event is a major handcuff for LAN expansion and suggested they make the tournament a week long event.

RLCS World Championship
Courtesy of Psyonix

I’m a huge supporter of this idea, but no matter what the format ends up being, Psyonix need more teams, which means they either expand the existing leagues and thus the amount of qualifying teams, or they add more regions. Considering the amount of rigmarole that South America went through to be included in RLCS, this won’t be a walk in the park for Asia, the Middle East, Africa or whoever else they want to include. 

That’s an issue on two fronts. There aren’t enough world class players to justify too many more regions, and as of right now Psyonix likely doesn’t have the resources to make that happen. Once Epic Games really takes control of this ship it could guide Rocket League to Japan and South Korea where there’s a collection of budding talent.

If they want to have four groups of four teams they need four more teams. Will Psyonix bring on two more regions? Will they expand the RLCS to ten teams in each region and add one more qualifying spot from each region? I think the more regions, the merrier. We’ll see.

Loser: Arsenal

Spacestation really thought they were slick in announcing a critical roster move right as the Grand Final was about to begin, but you can’t get anything passed me. The timing of this announcement is really interesting, especially in contrast to Dignitas’ release of Pierre “Turbopolsa” Silfver. 

If I were Tshaka “Arsenal” Taylor Jr. I’d be very disappointed by the timing of the announcement. This feels like they were trying to sneak this out instead of celebrating the arrival of a new player. When Real Madrid signed Eden Hazard they did it right before the Women’s World Cup when interest in footballing world was high. They didn’t drop the news during halftime of the World Cup final.

Maybe it’s because the org never wanted to release Matthew “Satthew” Ackermann. It could be a massive oversight and they just forgot that the center of the Rocket League universe was pulling in all the attention of fans. Maybe that’s the moment the paperwork cleared and they wanted to announce it as soon as possible. No matter what, the timing was very strange.

Dignitas put themselves out there and took the brunt of the Turbopolsa release right before the event started. Then they went to the event, had Jos “ViolentPanda” van Meurs play 1v1s against fans, rented out a suite to watch the event and generally had a massive presence all weekend long.

Spacestation tried to congratulate Arsenal under the table, when he really deserved to be celebrated more. Imagine how the RL world would be buzzing if they announced the signing today. It would control the esport’s (relatively small) news cycle.

Maybe they didn’t want that. Arsenal doesn’t seem like the type to shy away from the spotlight, but he didn’t  get his chance to flex for the camera like he deserved.


Featured image courtesy of Rocket League Championship Series.

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