Step aside League of Legends and Dora 2 or whatever it is you call yourself. There’s a new e-sport in town.
The inaugural RLCS international grand finals were held over the weekend and Psyonix has crowned its first undisputed Rocket League champion.
A couple big dogs were knocked into the lower bracket early on Saturday. FlipSid3 and Mock-It EU were sent down by iBuyPower Cosmic and Exodus respectively. Exodus swept Mock-It, only to then get swept by Northern Gaming. Mock-It looked to be moving on in the first round of the lower bracket, up 2-0 in the best of five against Genesis. But Genesis came back, winning three in a row to send one of the best teams in the tournament home. Paschy later tweeted it was their biggest upset to date “but it can only get better the next time.”
Northern Gaming was a powerhouse in the upper bracket. They didn’t lose a game heading into the semi-finals with iBP. It looked to be their tournament, especially after they trounced Cosmic in game one 5-0. iBP was losing all the 50/50 balls until midway through game two they just clicked. It was a close series with iBP winning the best of seven in six games. Markydooda from FlipSid3 said he initially expected Northern Gaming to win the upper bracket, but in this series it was obvious “quite early on” that iBP was on fire.
For most of the weekend, games were determined by passing and positioning. FlipSid3 dominated the lower bracket with smooth passing plays that put their opponents on the back heel. They had goal after goal coming from rebounds off the back wall. We saw it with Flying Dutchmen over Genesis, we saw it with FlipSid3 over the Dutchmen: teams that controlled the ball controlled the play, and it forced their adversaries to make mistakes.
The final series was on another level. The key factors became pressure and composure because the positioning for both teams was just too good. For five of six games FlipSid3 scored first, but they only really controlled one or two games. The opening match was all Flipsid3. They pushed and pushed and iBuyPower Cosmic showed great resilience but one uncharacteristic miss from Over Zero cost them. F3 stayed all over iBP for the second match, but Cosmic kept weathering the storm until they sort of just figured themselves out. They had to bleed a little.
Game three was a mess — although that’s unfair. One thing that struck me while watching Sunday: like in soccer, professional Rocket Leaguers play at such a pace that their accuracy takes a hit. But they have to play at that pace because they’re all that good. I once saw Robin van Persie messing around, playing keep-away with some kids; he was incredible. He can do anything. He’s just playing against other people who can do anything. So it is at this level of Rocket League. Anyhoo, game three: Marky had a brutal miss — not his first in the series — but then tied the game with a beautiful snipe into the top corner. It ended in OT with all three iBP players jumping for a save and missing.
It was 2-1 Flip at that point, but from game four forward it was the iBuyPower show. Although Kronovi scored a hat-trick in game four, Over Zero was deservedly crowned MVP in the end. A late addition to the team, he was doing his darnedest to give us a freestyle highlight reel goal; he had to settle for a nifty dribble into the back of the net in game five. Over Zero came up big on defense several times and made very few mistakes throughout the tournament.
Kronovi made no mistake in his prediction that the grand finals were going to North America. “This is our turf,” he said.
iBP beat F3 twice over the weekend. They sent them to the lower bracket, then put a stamp on that message in the finals.
It was interesting that the broadcast ended with the proclamation “Rocket League e-sports has arrived!” I was under the impression it was already here. But the whole production had a bit of a “We’re just getting started” feel. Psyonix vice president Jeremy Dunham declared on Sunday that next season will be “bigger and better.” Rocket League has been such an obvious e-sport giant to me for so long that it’s strange to think it’s still small potatoes, but it’s $55,000 prize pool doesn’t quite compare with the $20-million being offered up at Dota 2’s The International 2016 (holy moley).
Almost 80,000 people were watching last night’s finals on Twitch (chat was, as usual, horrifying, but that’s not what this is about). The Avalon in Hollywood, where the event was held, sold out. The production was top-notch: analysts were great and the pacing was spot on. If the plan is to build up from here, I’m excited to see where it goes.
Mark McAvoy is a Contributor for AYBOnline.com. His opinions are his own.