There will be nine debutants from NA alone at the Rocket League Championship Series Season 8 World Championship in Madrid next month. That’s more than any region in history and especially shocking given the Big Three’s presence in NA.
Cloud9 and G2 missed LAN for the first time ever, but what’s more important is who is going in their place. It’s not like a group of cheeky veterans like Veloce Esports snuck up on them. The next generation of superior Rocket League talent arrived in full force and there was almost nothing they could do.
There wasn’t much high-level game film to study of Birds/eUnited. In fact, coming into Season 8 the team hadn’t played a game with Jackson “Ayjacks” Carter at a Major. One blink of the eyes later and Ayjacks has a team that most predicted wouldn’t escape relegation this season headed to LAN. It’s been an unreal season.
Of the 12 LAN qualified players in North America, seven weren’t in the RLCS a season ago and nine weren’t in RLCS two seasons ago. Caden “Sypical” Pellegrin won NA’s MVP award and he wasn’t even playing in the Rival Series 18 months ago.
Slater “retals” Thomas, who finished third in MVP voting, wasn’t even in the Rival Series in Season 6. He got promoted from RLRS, won a DreamHack and made Worlds in the last seven months.
Over in EU it’s no different, but a big chunk of their talent influx made their first appearance during Season 7. Aldin “Ronaky” Hodzic, Andy “Kassio” Landais, Yanis “Alpha54” Champenois and Jack “Speed” Packwood-Clarke all made their debuts last season. Some of those players didn’t make LAN this season, but all but Speed were in Newark
for the Season 7 World Championship.
Add Maello “AztraL” Ernst and Hrant “Flakes” Yakoub into the mix, and there’s a healthy wave of fresh faces popping up in the region.
This new generation is talented, but so much turnover within the elite begs the question:
Is it better for Rocket League to bring in new stars, or will the game suffer without the popularity of players like Mariano “Squishy” Arruda and Dillon “Rizzo” Rizzo playing at LAN?
Can crowds get hyped for eUnited and Veloce Esports? Where will the fanboys turn?
Many Rocket League fans do not support any specific org or player, but just support the scene as a whole. There are plenty of other fans who follow the esport because of Squishy and G2. What incentive do they have to watch the World Championship?
Squishy and Rizzo are easily marketable. They’re two of the most recognizable faces in the game and fairweather fans will be confused as to why they aren’t there.
When young fans’ parents come to live events they often don’t pay attention to the Oceania teams or the scrappy teams that barely make it. They want to see the players their kids have been talking about, so when Cloud9 would come on stage, they’d put their phones down for the entire series.
Madrid won’t have that beyond NRG and Renault Vitality.
This LAN features no Francesco “Kuxir97” Cinquemani, no Cameron “Kronovi” Bills, no Jacob “JKnaps” Knapman and no David “Deevo” Morrow. The bonafide stars will watch from home.
There’s a gravitas to those players, and while they will not be leaving the scene anytime soon, it will feel strange to not have those players on stage. Many fans will have to explain to their friends who Raul “Roll Dizz” Diaz is and why AztraL is so nuts.
But this isn’t really a bad thing. Maybe it’s time for these new kids on the block to take the game to the next level.
If anything, this is just history repeating itself. Think of the energy the Muffin Men brought to the scene after DreamHack: Atlanta. Pittsburgh Knights can inspire the same kind of hubbub.
That brings us to the touchy topic of promotion and relegation. Many orgs have expressed reluctance to sign Rocket League teams because anyone can face relegation. Evil Geniuses didn’t want to support a second division team. There’s a reason why eUnited waited until after League Play to sign Birds. Team SoloMid, Cloud9 and G2 could all be playing in the RLRS next season, but they wouldn’t even stick around to see it.
That’s three of the esports’ biggest orgs having to face a season without esports items in the shop and much less recognition.
Pro/rel is RL’s greatest deterrent and its greatest asset. Relegation might scare some orgs away, but it ensures that the best players will play at the highest level.
Of the 24 players from NA and EU to make LAN, 13 played at least one season in the Rival Series. It’s the best way to push the game’s skill ceiling higher, but doesn’t make financial sense for new orgs.
Psyonix and Epic are at a crossroads in the future of the game. Should they hitch their carriage to proven stars or market the new faces to attract new fans?
It’s a decision they’ll have to make soon, because Rocket League’s next generation has arrived and is here to stay.
Featured image courtesy of Stephanie “Vexanie” Lindgren for DreamHack.
Follow me on Twitter: @connorssanders.
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