Who says Esports is immune to the elements? Certainly not JAM Gaming, the top ranked Rocket League team in Oceania coming into this weekend’s ESL AU/NZ Rocket League Championship Finals. Cyclonic winds in Sydney saw JAM’s MontyConnor make a ten hour road trip from Queensland on Friday night thanks to a cancelled flight, while his teammates Shadey and Express were both delayed several hours. MontyConnor arrived at dawn, getting only a couple of hours sleep in before the finals kickoff.
JAM may have been tired, but they got there and were hoping to translate recent online success into a first LAN title; having taken down the Throwdown Gauntlet just the week before and holding strong recent results against all three opponents they would face. Those opponents were Chiefs ESC (JAM’s fellow Oceania representatives at RLCS, the Psyonix backed worldwide championship), Pale Horse Esports and The Other Team, who chose LAN to debut their new affiliation with Avant Garde. All four teams had qualified for the finals through a series of four ESL Cups in July, culminating in an 8 team double-elimination qualifier that was contested by the best performers in the Cup series.
Chiefs have long held the title as kings of LAN, taking down every Oceania LAN final since PAX Australia in November 2016, including the first ESL AU/NZ Championships in May. Formerly under the name Alpha Sydney, their recent online form had been patchy (in their own words they have “sucked online” for the last month) and many wondered if the level of competition in OCE had finally caught up to them. Pale Horse are a relatively new team with an extended roster of five that have nonetheless made a big impact in recent tournament play. Avant aren’t known to be the most consistent squad but are capable veterans with recent wins over all three fellow finalists including a Throwdown sweep of JAM Gaming. JAM were favourites here, but all four teams had their backers.
— The Rocket Dailies (@Rocket_Dailies) August 19, 2017
If Chiefs were on the downswing they certainly didn’t show it, opening the double elimination bracket with a 3-0 sweep of Pale Horse, while JAM showed no signs of fatigue in beating Avant 3-1. That led to a showdown of the top two teams in the region and a rematch of the RLCS OCE Season 2 final, Chiefs and JAM Gaming. The first game lived up to the rivalry, Chiefs scoring the solitary goal in a 1-0 win. It proved as close as the series got, Chiefs running away with a sweep and winning by margins of 5-2, 6-2 and 4-0, applying relentless pressure that JAM couldn’t hold out. It was a result that surprised even the victors, “we didn’t expect it to be that convincing” Chiefs’ Torsos said post match.
Avant and Pale Horse then faced off in the first elimination series of the day. After trading convincing victories (3-0 to Pale Horse, 5-1 to Avant), the two teams contested the match of the day (you can see it for yourself in the ESL VOD, starting at 3hrs, 31mins). After trading goals, Avant went ahead on a beautiful bang-bang passing play from Cyrix to Siki with 55 seconds remaining. Avant weathered plenty of pressure until time expired, where Kamii and CJCJ combined with a one-two pass off the wall that resulted in a rocket shot into the top right corner to force overtime. A long clear saw Kamii snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for Pale Horse, Avant wearing their despondence on their faces as a golden chance slipped through their fingers. That heartbreaker was too much for Avant to recover from as Pale Horse went on to finish the series in the next game, eliminating Avant from the finals.
The win set up a Pale Horse v JAM Gaming showdown, a tough ask for Pale Horse who had never tasted victory against JAM in tournament play. In what was the series of the day each team traded wins early, first Pale Horse holding out a late comeback to take a 3-2 win in game one, then getting shellacked in game two 6-0 in a result they couldn’t help but laugh at. Some magic in overtime from Kia saw Pale Horse take game three, but strong defense saw JAM edge it back to tie the series 2-2.
Pale Horse then recreated their overtime heroics from the Avant series, tieing game five with five seconds left in regulation then pulling out some huge defensive plays and turning the tide to take a 3-2 win and series lead. JAM weren’t done and forced a decider in another game highlighted by incredible defensive plays, but they conceded an early 2-0 lead in game seven. A bad defensive whiff from Pale Horse gave JAM their first goal of the comeback, but despite getting five touches at 0:00, a beautiful MontyConnor drop shot was blocked at the goal mouth and Pale Horse sealed their first series victory over JAM Gaming and booked a spot in the final.
— ESL Australia (@ESLAustralia) August 19, 2017
Pale Horse would need to win back-to-back best of seven series against Chiefs to claim the ESL AU/NZ Championship, while Chiefs needed only a single series win to continue their LAN dominance. The fast passing game and speed to the ball of Chiefs saw them take an overtime 2-1 victory in game one and a dominant 4-0 game two shutout. Pale Horse rebounded strongly with their own 3-0 shutout in game three, but it was as close as they would come. Chiefs took a tight game four 2-1 and with a 3-1 series lead the ESL organisers trotted out the championship trophy. It only took one more game for that trophy to be claimed, Chiefs taking out the ESL AU/NZ Rocket League Championship in clinical fashion with a 6-1 victory.
Chiefs remain the kings of live play, something co-co-captain Jake attributed to the excitement of live play bringing out the best in the squad. Jake (whose lovely parents were in attendance to support him and kept me company through the day) admitted they were a little stale in online play coming back from the RLCS finals, and a focus on fixing the issues they identified in their play from the Los Angeles LAN was not necessarily conducive to success in regional play. With the big RLCS games starting in September and their qualification already guaranteed, hopefully the LAN win has revitalised Chiefs and we can expect to see their best in the weeks ahead.
— The Chiefs Esports Club (@ChiefsESC) August 19, 2017
For Pale Horse it was a strong result in their first live play, especially considering how little their starting lineup had played together. A five man rotation and life circumstances has meant they often play with substitutes; the team cohesion seen from Pale Horse is quite remarkable considering those circumstances. Their focus will now shift to the ongoing MockIt League Championship series (where they have already secured league play victories over Avant and Chiefs) and ensuring qualification for RLCS Season 4.
JAM were visibly disappointed to miss this chance at a first live title, but circumstances conspired against them here and you have to say physical and mental fatigue played some part in their losses to Chiefs and Pale Horse. Some unpolished finishing cost them and their passing game was not as prevalent as usual, but with their RLCS qualification also assured JAM will remain a huge threat to return to the RLCS finals.
Special note needs to be made of the ESL Studios, an awesome venue with great production values that gives these growing Esports like Rocket League a big event feel. The atmosphere was one of camaraderie; competition is fierce but played in a good spirit. I got the feeling many Oceania Rocket League pros feel the bigger battle is for respect on the world stage and they are all in it together, though the faces of the Avant and JAM Gaming players after their losses show they still care deeply about results locally.
Oceania Rocket League is certainly on the rise. The top teams are improving at an exponential rate, and anybody can beat anybody within those top five or six squads. With an international trip to the World Championships LAN and big prize money on the line in the upcoming RLCS, Rocket League is in for a huge September and October. With games that are easy to follow (put ball in goal) and excellent production values, it is a great time to jump into the local Rocket League scene. You can check out all of the ESL finals action over at the ESL Australia Twitch channel, catch the ongoing MockIt Championship on Wednesday and Thursday nights from 6PM on Twitch, and mark September 17 in your calendar, when RLCS Season 4 league play begins.