FC Barcelona find themselves in a strange position. They were the first promoted Rival Series team to qualify for LAN and did it by finishing second in Europe.
Yanis “Alpha54” Champenois won MVP in his rookie season but was lured away by a bigger club in Team SoloMid. He leaves a hoard of production behind, and Aldin “Ronaky” Hodzic is coming in to try and replace it.
FC Barcelona’s means of operation in the football world finally came back around to bite them on the esports side. A rising star turned world class player leaving a successful team for more money and opportunity elsewhere. Sound familiar, fans of Neymar?
Then in true FC Barcelona fashion they poached another up and comer and ripped another team apart in the process. Sound familiar, fans of Ousmane Dembele?
That leaves the club in a strange position. They aren’t going to just plug Ronaky in and run it back. Alpha54 meant too much to the team. How do you move forward without your team’s keystone?
This is Best Case/Worst Case, a Game Haus preview series profiling each Rocket League Championship Series team. With the season just weeks away, now is the perfect time to project each team’s ceiling and floor looking ahead to Season 8.
Season 7 Results: 2nd place in EU (5-2, 17-10). Automatically qualified for the World Championship. Made it out of groups but fell to Cloud9 in the quarterfinal..
Off-season Movement: Added Ronaky (0.70 GPG, 0.50 APG, 1.73 SAPG) in place of Alpha54 (0.85 GPG, 0.48 APG, 1.44 SAPG)
Off-season Performance: Day One exit at DreamHack: Montreal, 3rd DreamHack: Montreal Closed Qualifier, 5th-8th DreamHack: Valencia.
Team Stats: 2.04 GPG (4th), 1.41 APG (6th), 4.52 SAPG (5th), 1.48 GAPG (2nd)
Team MVP: Dan “Bluey” Bluett
Realistic Team Goal: Make LAN.
Background and Team History
FC Barcelona use so much boost. Alpha54 used more boost per minute than any player in NA or EU in Season 7. Second place was his teammate, David “Deevo” Morrow. They used 20 boost units per minute more than third place. Bluey finished eighth in most boost used between the two regions.
Usually one boost heavy player is counterbalanced by a low boost player. Mariano “Squishy” Arruda used a lot of boost (449.23) and his teammate Kyle “Torment” Storer only used 338.83. Same for Reed “Chicago” Wilen (446.65) and Dillon “Rizzo” Rizzo (370.05) as well as Jos “ViolentPanda” van Meurs (444.24) and Pierre “Turbopolsa” Silfver (356.71).
In Season 7 FC Barcelona threw that business against the wall and just collected and used boost like it was an everything must go sale at RC Willey. It worked, too. Outside of being shutout and swept by Vitality, FC Barcelona had an unblemished season.
They struggled at LAN, dropping a series to Rogue and then being eliminated by Cloud9, but it was their first World Championship together. Alpha54’s departure doesn’t set them all the way back to step one, but there’s a long trail of chemistry building and mutual understanding ahead.
Since the team formed under the moniker Savage! they’ve done a lot of winning. They dropped one series on their way to promotion and only lost two series last season. The LAN results haven’t quite come, but the most important live event is on the horizon.
Ronaky isn’t the dribbling/flip-reset mastermind that Alpha54 is, but he’s a very serviceable striker and found success with Triple Trouble. He used more boost than the average player in Season 7 and will have to get up to speed in the bim and bam high speed offense.
As good as Alpha was during the regular season, he struggled to find space in LAN contests. Ronaky is also unproven in LAN environments, but has shown flashes with Triple Trouble. FC Barcelona’s early exit from DreamHack: Montreal is concerning.
Overall, if Alpha was going no matter what, then Ronaky isn’t a bad replacement. He wasn’t really a clear free agent coming into the offseason, so stealing him away is a big win.
Their speed focused style paid its greatest dividends on defense. Only Vitality allowed fewer goals per game in Season 7. Only Team SoloMid allowed fewer shots per game.
Barcelona had the lowest assists to goal ratio in Europe. They lose Alpha54’s solo plays, but may see more goals on passing plays and crosses.
Deevo settled in well to his defensive role. Only three players spent more time in their own half last season than Deevo. He excelled in buying time for his more aggressive teammates with slow dribbles and world class back wall play.
Now FC Barcelona need to figure out how they’ll fit together. The middle of Europe’s table will be heavily congested, and Alpha moving on casts them down to battle it out for a LAN position. Ronaky has enjoyed plenty of time to mesh with his new team, and also celebrated his nineteenth birthday this weekend.
Happy birthday, Ronaky.
Ronaky either needs to get up to speed, or FC Barcelona need to adjust their style to accommodate his skillset. Much like the football club that houses the team, finding and sticking to an identity is crucial.
Alpha54 was Lionel Messi on the car soccer pitch in terms of creativity and technical ability. Both players dominated lesser opponents but disappeared at times in big contests. They lose his mechanical ability, but his inconsistency goes out the door with him.
In his stead Ronaky can be a more calm and consistent scorer. While Ronaky isn’t really the type of player to weave his way through three players and score, he is a great striker of the ball and doesn’t try to do too much.
Triple Trouble had the second highest assists to goal ratio in EU last season. Expect more passing from FC Barcelona in Season 8 with Ronaky as the target forward.
Bluey is probably the most important cog in this machine. He’s the reason they played so quickly in Season 7. His aggressiveness in stealing boost and maintaining momentum put mounds of pressure on defenses.
FCB’s best case scenario revolves around Bluey, because someone has to make the passes and create the space needed for Deevo and Ronaky to score. Euan “Tadpole” Ingram did the gritty work for Triple Trouble, and now Bluey will have to do much of the same.
It’s not going to be the same glamorous, clip-conducive offense from Season 7. Bluey will have to wrong foot defenders, confuse oncoming challenges and play precise touches to open the goal for his teammates. He’s experienced and capable enough to do it.
FC Barcelona probably won’t waltz through League Play on their way to an automatic LAN bid. They may struggle in certain matchups and drop games that they should win, but it should be easily chalked up to growing pains.
Those growing pains are not enough to excuse missing LAN, however. There’s plenty of skill and experience on this roster, and they should contend for top two in EU. Maybe they can win a few games at the World Championship like Rogue and G2 did last season.
Is it worth considering that Ronaky may not be the smoothest fit for Barcelona? Would someone like Hrant “Flakes” Yakoub have been better equipped to shoulder the burden of replacing Alpha?
Should Ronaky try to play more like Alpha so that FC Barcelona can recreate their breakneck pace? What is their best playstyle? Will opposing defense key in slowing down Bluey’s distribution?
Plot Twist picked Barcelona apart at DreamHack: Montreal. They scored 17 goals in five games and shut out the Spanish club in game five. Part of adding a new player is adjusting to his tendencies defensively.
It’s easy to talk about how Barcelona are good because they’re fast enough to out play everyone, but the real benefit to constant ball chasing is how it limits opposing offenses. There’s so little space to clear the ball, and their opponents usually don’t have enough boost to do anything.
If the timing of those challenges is off, then teams will break away and score easy goals. Deevo’s ability to slow things down and buy time for his teammates has been a godsend. He may be under even more pressure this season.
Ronaky led EU in shots per game last season. He was also sixth worst in shooting percentage, and Bluey was fifth worse. If they can’t improve their accuracy, then they’ll need to create more chances. Alpha54’s 25.27% accuracy was eleventh in EU, right around average.
If they aren’t applying waves of pressure on offense, then they’ll have to do a lot more defending too, and they might not be up to that task. Pressure is the backbone of the team, and it impacts every element of the game.
Relegation would be an incredible fall from grace, but missing LAN may be a reality for a team in such a loaded region. TSM and Dignitas were forced to confront that in Season 7, and it may be the same situation for FC Barcelona in Season 8.
TL;DR: Replacing Alpha54 is a tough ask, but Ronaky can score plenty as well. His adaptation to their fast style could spell success, but any struggle could put them near the bottom of the table.
Featured image courtesy of @ZeeboDesigns on Twitter.
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