ROCKET LAUNCHING IS BACK, BOYS.
It’s been 63 days since my last Rocket League column. I’m sorry about that. Who would have known that a full class load, a part time job and a greater role at my university’s newspaper would have left me so strapped for time?
None of that matters now. Slap on your headphones, grab a bag of Cheetos and push up those blue-light-blocking glasses because for the next 1000 words, it’s gamer time.
Season 9 is already underway, and it’s been a rocky ride through two weeks. Psyonix had to postpone the first week of League Play due to PsyNet issues. Hrant “Flakes” Yakoub flexed on everyone and played a series in the Scarab. Garrett “GarrettG” Gordon’s mix up in recalling the number of states in the United States of America was immortalized via in-game banner.
The short turnaround between Seasons 8 and 9 has been action-packed, if not tumultuous. Roster moves came down in gushes, and even with the Week 1 hiccup, it’s nice to have Rocket League back so quickly.
So, for the first time in a long time, let’s talk Rocket League in this week’s Rocket Launching.
Big surprise: Expansion Has Been a Hit
It seems like we say this at the start of every year, but it rings even more true than usual for 2020: this is a very important year for Rocket League’s future.
The stench of Tier One Esport is feeling overpowering after another successful LAN at the end of last year. This summer’s Olympic event could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
Psyonix has built this thing slowly, and while it feels frustrating at times, it might be the best way of ensuring there’s the foundation needed to sustain the heights Psyonix is aiming for. The product has proven itself. It’s fun to play and it’s fun to watch. It can generate entertaining content for YouTube and mainstream cable audiences alike.
Psyonix is betting that they have an evergreen product, so they’re conquering new territory slowly. Think of using the parasite in that old Flash game, Pandemic 2.
Expanding NA and EU to 10 teams is like building up cold resistance. Psyonix seems reluctant to bite off more than they can chew, and considering the PsyNet complications that derailed the opening weekend, maybe that’s wise. We all know that turning your disease lethal too soon in Pandemic will cost you in the long run.
There have been some slip-ups, but I think they’re getting the big picture decisions right. Keeping the esport as fluid as possible seems wise given the drop in average viewership for Overwatch in recent weeks. At this point I feel like the game has embedded itself in my DNA, and there’s plenty of fans out there who feel the same way. That might mean we have no choice but to support the slow build, so we might as well celebrate the small victories like expansion.
My favorite part of the expansion is the increase in sample size for League Play. The best teams will have to prove themselves even more, and struggling teams have more chances to bounce back. Form changes so much from week to week, and accounting for that by lengthening the season ensures the best teams get the most chances to make LAN.
Don’t Give Me No Lip
Trash talking in the RL scene is reaching its apex, and you’d better be here for it.
Pittsburgh Knights star Slater “Retals” Thomas called Flight a “warm-up match” on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. His team almost dropped that series, but pulled it out in five games. Retals finally got justice for Daniel “Aeon” Dunfee, who was dropped from Flight’s roster after they gained promotion from the Rival Series.
There are plenty of people out there who find this kind of stuff annoying. I don’t get that. These kids are funny, and they lean into the sillier side of esports. How seriously can you take yourself when you game for a living?
G2 smacked Pittsburgh, and Retals responded with respect. I don’t think he’s a mouthy kid. He knows that game respects game, and it’s all tongue-in-cheek.
G2 and the Art of Bouncing Back
Speaking of G2, two weeks into Season 9 the team that finished last season in NA’s cellar looks like the most qualified team to challenge NRG for the league title.
Spacestation Gaming, eUnited and Pittsburgh all looked unsettled in their Week 2 losses, so the road to top two might run through G2.
Reed “Chicago” Wilen and Jacob “JKnaps” Knapman look like the offensive juggernaut that took the team to the Grand Final in Season 7, and Dillon “Rizzo” Rizzo has been busy offensively as well. They have the highest assist to goal ratio in the region, and they seem to have worked through whatever held them back in Season 8.
They’re the only team other than NRG with three players in the top 10 in goal scoring (yeah, 6 of 10 play for two teams), and they’re not even allowing a goal per game defensively (0.88 GAPG, best in NA). G2 should make quick work of Flight on Saturday, and a 3-0 start could be the reassurance they need to challenge NRG.
Weekend Preview – Litmus Tests
I’m trying something new a brief “weekend preview” segment. Over the next six rounds of play, each team will have one day where they have to play two games in one day. Double-header days can really swing the momentum of a team’s season, so I wanted to explore those matches further here. I’m calling the double-header days “Litmus Tests” because we’ll know the truth about the team after these important rounds.
Litmus Tests, NA: Flight and NRG
Kicking off Saturday’s action, Flight will face a freefalling Cloud9 team. These are the only winless teams in North America, and given that last place autorelegates starting in Season 9, this series could have massive implications. This isn’t Flight’s only shot to get a win this season, but it might be their best one. It’s a true must-win for both teams, because 0-3 can really start to weigh on a team.
Flight also face G2 in Saturday’s third series, pits the second-worst defense in the league (1.88 GAPG) against the second-best offense in the region (2.14 GPG). This is going to be a huge flight for test, but knocking G2 off their rhythm by clogging up passing lanes and keeping them out of transition could give them an edge. Beating G2 could turn Flight’s season around, but it will be tough.
NRG could send a huge message on Saturday with matchups against eUnited and Spacestation on deck. Both of these teams started to feel themselves toward the end of Season 8, and crushing two LAN teams on the same day could put NRG in a league of their own as they seek to repeat.
Litmus Tests, EU: Team Singularity and Renault Vitality
Singularity picked up a massive upset over Vitality on a game-winning pool shot last week, and they’ve got a chance to keep that momentum going into Week 3. They open Sunday’s slate against a dynamic Dignitas squad. Dig look solid with wins in Weeks 1 and 2, and they have the second-best offense in the region. Singularity has the second-worst defense. This might be a tough one for the newly promoted squad.
They also face mousesports, a team that can be very hard to project from week to week. Mouz figure to be contending for a LAN spot, so they’re an interesting litmus test for Singularity. This is their chance to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with, not just a fluke.
Vitality also face a tough schedule including Yanis “Alpha54” Champenois’ first match against his former Team SoloMid squad. Expectations were low for TSM this season, but they were frisky enough to push Dignitas to five games. After falling to Singularity, Vitality don’t have room to take opponents lightly.
The final match of the day may be the best one of the weekend as Vitality faces FC Barcelona. It’s reunion weekend for Alpha54, and he’ll need to be sharp against Barca’s high flying offense. FCB have the highest GPG of NA and EU, but they haven’t truly been tested yet. These are legitimate LAN teams, and whoever emerges victorious will have a leg up for the rest of League Play.
Hey, if you read this far into the column, I’d hope that means you like what I write. I really appreciate that. I’m a year away from finishing my degree, and I’ve been doing my best to build journalist habits. That means sometimes I live-tweet women’s basketball games and clog up your timeline. If you have to mute or unfollow me on Twitter, then I completely understand. I’ve got more RL pieces in the works, so keep an eye out.
The tweets and messages asking where my stuff has been brought me back to the keyboard. I know it’s small, but those inquiries really lifted my spirits. That’s so rad. Thanks for reading!
Featured image courtesy of Psyonix.
Follow me on Twitter: @connorssanders.
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