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RLCS Season 5 Regional Championships Preview

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It has taken five seasons and been denied by some final week stumbles several times, but at last we have not one but two undefeated regional champions in the RLCS. Both NRG and Chiefs went 7-0 in the North America and Oceania regions respectively, but for both squads their work is far from done. Chiefs haven’t even secured their position at the world championship LAN, though it would be a brave rocketeer who would bet against the long time regional powerhouse. NRG are in the box seat to claim their fourth North American RLCS title in five seasons, but two big names in G2 and Cloud9 will have plenty to say about that.

In this bumper edition of Rocket Surgery we have an extensive preview of the regional finals for Oceania and North America, unfortunately power outages have delayed the final week of European league play until Friday morning AEST, leaving little time for a thorough analysis of the European regional final. First, a quick recap of the final week of league play.

In Oceania, Chiefs assured their undefeated run the hard way, needing a reverse sweep to take down long time rivals Dark Sided and bookending their league schedule with comeback victories. Chiefs had a horror start to the series before a classic passing play tied up game two with seconds remaining, only for Dark Sided to quickly secure match point in overtime. Chiefs then fell behind early in games four and five but stormed home in both, showing the kind of clutch performance (and freakish defence) you expect from a team of their standing.

It wasn’t all bad news for Dark Sided, who earlier took down Legacy in what may be a preview of the opening round of the regional finals. Legacy started strong in that series but were soon beaten down by Dark Sided to give up a crucial psychological advantage in a finals series where only two teams will move on to glory (and face it, one is probably going to be Chiefs). Legacy also had some joy on the day, knocking over a faltering Tainted Minds squad including a massive 7-1 Brazil in the deciding game four.

Earlier in the day Love Decks let a chance of a top six finish slip through their fingers, dropping a series to Legs Are Silly then falling to Tainted Minds. Those losses ensured Retirement Home and JAM Gaming would only be playing for a psychological advantage in their series, unable to advance into the top four nor fall out of the top six. Both squads will meet again next week in an elimination qualifier, Retirement Home taking the honours here 3-1.

North America packed its own surprises in the final week, with Counter Logic Gaming becoming only the second North American team to beat Cloud9 in a meaningful series in the last two seasons. Not only did CLG win, they swept Cloud9 convincingly and finally showed some of the form that had pros predicting them for great things prior to season five. It left Counter Logic with a chance to avoid the relegation playoff if they were able to take a single game from G2 later in the day, a feat they were unfortunately unable to achieve against the hot E-League champions.

G2 earlier assured Out of Style a place in the relegation playoff, winning 3-1, then Rogue locked in their own playoff position with a 3-1 win that left Out of Style winless for the season. NRG knocked over Evil Geniuses in the first leg of their double header, then delivered the first undefeated season in RLCS history by marching through Cloud9 in a match that would have no bearing on the final standings thanks to Cloud9’s earlier loss.

Regional Championships Preview

Oceania is trying a new playoff system this season, with two weeks of playoffs starting with an elimination 5th v 6th battle and a 3rd v 4th qualifier. The winner of 3v4 moves on to the top four playoff with Chiefs and Legacy, while the loser of that game plays the winner of 5v6 for the final playoff position. The top four play for two spots at the world championship LAN and for the title of regional champion next weekend.

North America and Europe are using their traditional formula, 3rd plays 6th and 4th plays 5th, the losers go home and the winners go to the world championship LAN. NRG awaits the winner of the Rogue v Evil Geniuses battle, G2 for Cloud9 or Ghost, with a single elimination bracket deciding the regional champion.

Oceania

Retirement Home v JAM Gaming

This is a classic battle of wily veterans against young upstarts, a pickup group of veterans who planned to give the game away against a returning prodigy in Bango and his handpicked squad with dreams of making the biggest stage in the world. Only one can move on for a shot at a top four position, and in just about every way they are evenly matched.

While their playstyles couldn’t be more different, there is little to separate these two teams statistically. Both teams sit at the bottom of the league in shot percentage, goals scored per game and goals against per game. This lack of offensive explosiveness is to be expected from a glorified pickup squad like Retirement Home, but the attacking capabilities of Bango and Walcott are well known and it is surprising they have had so much trouble cracking opposition defences in league play. There have been the occasional highlight reel solo plays, but montage dribbles can only help so much at the highest levels of competition.

Decka has primarily been a setup man for his technical freak teammates, the RLCS rookie finished last in the league for average game score and bottom three in goals per game while shooting at sub-20%, also bottom three in the league. Generally, JAM has been a team lacking in synergy, Walcott and Bango should be a big one-two attacking threat but only Bango is keeping his end of that deal, Walcott sits bottom five in goals per game and bottom three in assists while Bango is top six for goals, score and shooting percentage. Both have been forced to do a lot of defensive work, and both are top five in the league for saves.

Retirement Home have often looked exactly like three individuals just riffing off each other, with only scattered breakouts of teamwork. It shows in their assist numbers, all three members are in the bottom half of the league in that category including Kia and Ellusive in the bottom six. Kia and Daze are both bottom six in goals per game, but Daze is at least converting shots at a solid 29% rate.

So how will it play out? Retirement Home will feel confident after beating JAM in the final week of league play, and if you exclude JAM’s series against Legs Are Silly, they have won only four games total since beating Tainted Minds all the way back in week one. Retirement Home have won three of their last four series, only dropping a sweep to Chiefs in week four. That run includes an impressive Easter series win over Dark Sided, and generally they have improved as league play has progressed.

JAM need to find their best, and fast. The pressure shouldn’t get to Retirement Home, all three members have big time LAN experience, but JAM should be more cohesive and you always have to respect the individual brilliance of Walcott and Bango. Maybe JAM were foxing last weekend in a game that ultimately didn’t matter, and they’ll really bring it to Retirement Home on the bigger stage. Retirement Home get by with executing a simple attacking style well, being reactionary rather than predictive. That was enough to get a win last week, and whether JAM can adjust will decide who gets a shot at the finals. It is hard to go against form and Retirement Home have to be the favourites here.

Dark Sided v Tainted Minds

This is a battle of two veteran squads that made off season changes in the hopes of leaping Chiefs to the top of the region. It hasn’t gone quite as planned for either team, with Tainted Minds the only squad that played in Throwdown season 4 to regress in goal scoring between this season and last, while Dark Sided have looked the goods at various points but in the end finished league play with a 4-3 record and losses to two of their fellow top four squads.

The advantage in speed of play that Tainted Minds held over their opponents last season has been chipped away, both by opposing squads playing faster and their own style changes. They aren’t creating as many shots as they did last season nor are they converting the chances they do have at the same rate. Kamii hasn’t been the dominant force he was under the Pale Horse banner, where he led Throwdown in score and assists per game. His assist numbers have halved, his shot accuracy is down and while it is an imperfect measure his score per game has dropped 50 points, or 20%. If Tainted Minds are going to return to RLCS, they need more from the season 4 MVP runner up.

Like most teams that carried over from season 4, Dark Sided are shooting and scoring more in season 5 and they have maintained an ability to stop opposing teams from shooting while benefiting from new recruit Dumbo shooting at 33%, a top five league rate and well above the man he replaced in Montyconnor. Shadey and Express have basically mirrored their numbers from season 4, I doubt they are complaining considering they finished top six players last go around. Dark Sided certainly look more formidable with Dumbo in the lineup, and on paper this is an RLCS calibre squad.

Unfortunately Dark Sided have had some recent issues with performance under pressure. They built up a legendary run of second place results in Gfinity Cups and carried that over to the Throwdown Open. Surrendering a reverse sweep to Chiefs last weekend will do little to build their confidence and while this is an online final, their LAN performances over the last nine months have also been subpar. You have to dig way back to find the last time Dark Sided won a meaningful game five, and Tainted Minds in particular have had it over Dark Sided in major competition from Throwdown to ESL.

Based on that, and despite some reservations, I’m going with Tainted Minds here. They haven’t had the ideal preparation but they have the psychological edge in what is otherwise an evenly balanced series. Kamii needs to step up for Tainted Minds, but if he can find his best then it is going to be difficult for Dark Sided to get it done.

The Final Qualifier

I find it hard to go past Dark Sided and Tainted Minds for the two qualifiers, but there are certainly some interesting scenarios that could come into play for that final position. To recap, the winner of Retirement Home v JAM Gaming will play the loser of Dark Sided v Tainted Minds for the fourth and final position in the playoffs.

JAM Gaming put Tainted Minds to the sword in week one, dominating that series in a way they didn’t manage for the rest of league play. Retirement Home played Tainted Minds close in two of three games in their sweep loss in league play, but the prospect of a revenge game for Kia would have to lift his performance. Retirement Home wouldn’t mind either opponent, having beaten Dark Sided 3-1 in league play. JAM took a game off Dark Sided in week two, but ultimately went down in a high scoring series. Should they get through the first round they would much rather face Tainted Minds in the qualifier.

North America

Evil Geniuses v Rogue

Or put another way, the battle to be the team everybody else thinks they can beat at LAN. That isn’t to discredit their efforts in league play, but the mere presence of Klassux on a team seems to indicate they should be underestimated while Rogue may be lucky to stick together until LAN, with drama threatening to engulf this squad. This also doubles as the battle of the teams that missed out on LAN last season, though both have made significant roster moves since season 4.

Evil Geniuses look like a completely different squad from season 4 where they competed under Flyquest. They are tougher defensively and have dramatically improved their shooting percentage from league worst in season 4 to a respectable mid table in season 5. This comes from both the addition of Klassux and a change in role for Chrome, who is taking more shots and has improved his accuracy, hitting goals at 29%. For comparison, he was second last in shooting percentage last season with 20%, ahead of only his former teammate Sadjunior who hit a pitiful 11.5%.

Klassux has taken on more playmaking and less defence with his move to Evil Geniuses, but the upgrade in shooting compared to Sadjunior accounts for a lot of the improvement in this Evil Geniuses squad. Another factor is balance. CorruptedG was an offensive freak last season, second in RLCS NA in goals per game and the league leader in shooting percentage. It was a brave decision to shift to a balanced offense but it was the correct one; his shooting percentage proved unsustainable but his overall contribution to the team has improved in this style thanks to doubling his assists total.

It is hard to believe Rogue are an inferior attacking team compared to season 4, particularly when new recruit Jacob leads RLCS in shooting percentage with a frankly ridiculous 41.8%. Their season 4 attacking numbers were skewed by big wins against inferior opposition, but they have also dropped from the highest number of assists per game to bottom three in RLCS, indicating a lack of team cohesion and passing nous. Sizz and particularly Insolences are well down on their season 4 assist numbers, while Sizz has also dropped from one of the most accuracy shooters to one of the least in a single season.

I don’t see this clash going well for Rogue. Evil Geniuses play a frustrating, physical style, the type that might break a team that already has communication and trust issues and are struggling to get on the same page. EG took the league play matchup 3-2, with a dominant win in game five after surrendering games three and four. They’ve put up tough fights against the top three teams and frankly deserve the LAN placement more than Rogue. I’ll never count out #Jacobthings entirely, but he and Rogue are up against it here.

Cloud9 v Ghost

Cloud9 have looked far more human this season, but they should still have too much for a struggling Ghost Gaming here. Ghost haven’t been able to take a series from Cloud9 in major events in four attempts, their only wins this season in league play have come against the two relegation squads, and it simply unimaginable that Cloud9 could miss the World Championship finals entirely after being favourites to take it down just six months ago.

Cloud9 have come back to the pack this season. Their passing plays aren’t as crisp, their individual brilliance has not shone through as often and their impenetrable defence of season 4 is now merely tough to crack. They allow opponents to take an extra 1.4 shots per game over season 4 and take 0.3 shots less than last season, despite keeping a near league best shooting accuracy. They also don’t pass the eye test as convincingly, there are less “wow” moments in a Cloud9 match this season compared to last.

Gimmick in particular has been disappointingly human compared to last season, where he took down the golden striker award and finished second in MVP voting. His freakish goals per game and shooting percentage are both down this year, while he and Squishy have gone from shared playmaker award winners last season to well down the list in assists this year, an accurate reflection of the lack of prescient passing plays in the Cloud9 offense this year.

Ghost Gaming’s fortunes in season 5 can be summed up by their shooting percentage, down from 26.8% to a league worst 23.5%. They are also letting in more goals per game and giving up more than one extra shot per game to their opponents. They certainly miss the physical presence of Klassux in defence, but also his playmaking. Replacement Matt is second last in the league in assists per game, while only fractionally improving on Klassux’s season 4 goal and shooting numbers. All of Matt’s numbers are down from his time in Rogue last season, a disappointment considering most thought his replacing Klassux was a clear upgrade for Rogue.

Matt hasn’t been the biggest problem for Ghost though, that title belongs to Zanejackey who has bottomed the league in goals per game, score per game and shooting percentage, resulting in offensive performance half of what he contributed last season. His efforts blunt what has been another top performance by Lethamyr, who has been a defensive rock for his side and really directed this team through a difficult season. He probably won’t repeat his third place in MVP voting but rest assured, without him Ghost would have been lucky to win a series at all.

Just about everything is against Ghost here, and this series may come down to whether Ghost can win a game at all. Upsets can happen in Rocket League, Cloud9 fell victim to one just last week against Counter Logic, but on the big stage it is hard to go past a team that until last week had not lost a meaningful match to any North American team aside from G2. Now G2 await them in the semi finals, and I don’t see Ghost putting up much fight to stop that rematch occurring.

NRG and G2

NRG have been scary this season, returning to their ways of impenetrable defence while the addition of RLCS rookie Jstn has both turbo charged their offense and allowed GarrettG to come into his own as an attacking force. NRG are clear leaders in North America for shots and goals per game, and concede an incredible 0.41 goals per game less than the next best defensive squad, letting in only 1.29 goals per game. Last season they were still a defensive powerhouse but sputtered on offense, this season they are clicking on both sides of the pitch.

GarrettG is a lock for season MVP, scoring 1.25 goals per game, well clear of the next best in JKnaps, who himself has a huge gap to third place Squishy. Garrett also tops score per game and shots per game, while in the latter Jstn joins him in the top three in shots per game. A league second-worst shooting percentage for Jstn of only 20% means he hasn’t matched Garrett for goalscoring. GarrettG sits second only to former teammate Jacob for shooting percentage at 34.3%, and while Jstn may not be shooting well he has certainly provided plenty of chances, sitting fourth in the league for assists.

This is a big switch up from season 4, where Fireburner did the heavy lifting for NRG in goal scoring while Jacob was the primary setup man. GarrettG clearly prefers a more attack oriented role, and the NRG team generally look more comfortable in their roles this season than last. Jstn has not looked out of place at all in this squad, and his addition has changed the NRG playstyle for the better this season.

NRG have big match experience, have reached a new level with the addition of Jstn and now have solid victories over every team in league play. Only Ghost took them to five games and they swept through G2. They should easily account for whoever wins the Evil Geniuses v Rogue playoff, and while I think Cloud9 still present a stiff challenge for them on the biggest stage, they are definite favourites to take down the regional championship.

G2 have come a long way in two seasons, going from an inconsistent and selfish roster to one that has lost only two league play series in two seasons and finally has a major title to their name after winning E-League in the offseason. JKnaps remains one of the best players in the world, a likely runner up to GarrettG for MVP, as he was in goals per game and shots per game.

G2 finished second to NRG in goals against per game, shots per game and goals scored per game, topped assists per game and were forced to make the least number of saves per game in league play. JKnaps was one of only two players to score over one goal per game, and remains the focal point of the G2 offense. Kronovi has fully adapted to a provider role, taking the playmaker award for most assists per game by a significant margin. This is a big shift from last season, while Rizzo maintained his role and performance leading to a more dynamic G2 attack, scoring 0.5 more goals per game than last season.

G2 did do it the hard way against Cloud9 in league play and their record against NRG in both major and minor competition is not pretty reading. Their only recent win of note against NRG came in seven games at Dreamhack Leipzig, where Cloud9’s Torment filled in after Jacob was dropped. Last season’s regional final may also be at the back of their minds, where they dropped to fourth seed after losing to both Ghost and NRG in convincing fashion. With a likely showdown against Cloud9 and a rematch with NRG on the horizon, I think it will be a bridge too far for G2 this time around, but I think they make a far better showing of themselves than last season.

Europe

A quick recap of this morning’s European action, which came down to the final series to decide our top two qualifiers. Gale Force took a huge double header against Complexity then Vitality to secure their place atop the ladder, while Complexity joined them in the automatic qualifiers thanks to a fractional winning percentage advantage over Vitality. PSG and Envy also did enough to qualify for the top six, leaving Fnatic at the bottom of the ladder and at risk of relegation after a disappointing season.

This all means that one of PSG and Vitality will not be going to LAN this season, as they face off in the round of 6 for Europe. It is a harsh reward for what was an impressive season by Vitality, but they should be able to get over a faltering PSG side here. On the other side of the draw we will see one of Envyus or Flipside Tactics qualify, Flipside had the much better wins in this season but Envy did take down their league play clash. On performance Flipside look the more deserving but you can’t write off Envy’s chances.

Gale Force remains the favourite to take the region down, but Complexity and Vitality have both proven they can give them a scare, and their only league play loss this season was to Flipside Tactics, their potential semi final opponent. It should be a fun week of regional finals, even if it took as a little longer than expected to get here.

Other Happenings

RLCS may be centre stage this weekend, but it isn’t the only game in town. RLRS concluded last week with a burst of drama, Splyce being accused of not taking their final series against Dignitas as seriously as they should, where only a 3-0 series sweep could see Dignitas leapfrog The Doods to secure a top four finish and not have to go through open qualifiers for Rival Series once again. Splyce gave up that sweep and the current status of The Doods is unclear, AxB having left the roster following the final round.

Flyquest and Allegiance were the squads to secure a place in the promotion playoff, meaning three of the four playoff teams from last season return. Spacestation will feel slightly hard done by, having beaten both Flyquest and Allegiance in league play but unfortunately dropping sweeps to Dignitas and The Doods that saw them miss the top two on win percentage. Incognito suffered the rare indignity of a second winless Rival Series season in a row, winning only four games total.

Europe also saw a team miss out on percentages, with Placebo making a late run at the top two but falling just short of Team Secret and Servette. Triple Trouble were the other squad to assure themselves a place in Rival Series next season, while last season’s promotion qualifiers The Juicy Kids missed out on an automatic spot and are likely done as a team with this roster. The promotion/relegation series for both regions takes place in a couple of weeks following RLCS regional championship play.

Gfinity announced its Australian start date of June 2, and announced Order as their third franchise, representing Melbourne as the second team in that city after the previously named Avant. Neither Avant nor Order currently have Rocket League teams in their organisation, so it will be interesting to see if they attempt to poach another squad, build one from scratch through the draft process or sign one of the few remaining top level squads such as Retirement Home, Love Decks or Legs Are Silly.

RLCS Regional Championships Schedule

  • North America – Sunday April 22, from 5AM AEST
  • Europe – Monday April 23, from 2AM AEST
  • Oceania – Sunday April 22, from 11AM AEST, concluding Sunday April 29

All RLCS North America and Europe matches can be seen on the Rocket League Twitch channel. Oceania matches are found on the Throwdown Esports channel. Special thanks to  for their comprehensive Rocket League stats.