Welcome to Rocket League season 2018! With the return of the Rocket League Championship Series this weekend comes the return of Rocket Surgery, your weekly wrap up of all things competitive car soccer. The Rocket League off season would put any physical sport to shame with org changes and team switches, so there is plenty to catch up on to be primed for season 5 of RLCS.
We’ll start at home where only one team from last year returns in the same form you remember them, the region conquering, RLCS World Championship busting Chiefs. They added the Throwdown Open Series gauntlet to their trophy cabinet in the off season, bringing their record of major Oceanic tournament victories to 11 of the last 12. They’re still the benchmark, but the scattered success opposing rosters have found against them in various tournaments give hope that the result of Throwdown Season 5 is not a foregone conclusion.
Their biggest challengers will be Dark Sided, Tainted Minds and Legacy. Dark Sided is the former JAM Gaming roster of RLCS season 3, Tainted Minds the former Pale Horse roster of season 4. Both have new additions since their international appearances, while Legacy is partly the former Avant Gaming roster that has always been a top four contender without ever making an appearance on the world stage.
Yesterday's winners, with this exceptionally epic zerohero goal, were @delusionRL, @SikiRL_, and @simplycyrix! Congrats, guys. This was such an amazing moment. (via @ThrowdownTV) pic.twitter.com/yqsculZTDB
— The Rocket Dailies (@Rocket_Dailies) February 27, 2018
Legacy had an impressive three win run through the Throwdown Open Series gauntlet before ever so narrowly falling to eventual champions the Chiefs, who they have had success against this off season mostly in Gfinity series tournaments. Dark Sided topped the Open Series league play but have made a habit of second place finishes, luckily for them second place in the RLCS qualifiers sees them going to the World Championships. Tainted Minds found plenty of success in later Gfinity Cups and are still a force to be reckoned with, but didn’t have the happiest Open Series.
Joining them will be four teams with plenty of familiar faces. First is the new JAM Gaming roster, built around returning RLCS season 3 star Bango. They’ve had flashes of success but haven’t yet combined their individual skills into sustained top level performance. Next is Retirement Home, a collection of back from the dead Rocket League retirees whose veteran wiles have seen them gel relatively quickly and take games, if not series, from more fancied rivals. Love Decks is a similarly theme-inspired pickup squad, this time a collection of thick accented Kiwis who presumably share a love of outdoor sitting areas. They have a series win over the Chiefs to their name in the Open Series. The last qualifier is Legs Are Silly, the former Legacy roster who were replaced after missing Open Series qualification. Consistency has never been their strong suit but the individual brilliance is certainly there for them to contend.
— The Rocket Dailies (@Rocket_Dailies) March 12, 2018
While RLCS is the focus of the next two months, it isn’t the only show in town. Gfinity has made some waves since announcing their multi-game, city based franchise league would be expanding to Australia, and while two of those franchises have been announced (Chiefs representing Sydney and Avant representing Melbourne) there are still a lot of details up in the air about the upcoming league. The Challenger Series has concluded, but how the draft will integrate with existing organisations Rocket League squads we don’t quite know yet. Gfinity hasn’t exactly endeared itself to fans in recent weeks, their shift away from Twitch to Facebook streaming for the latest European season hasn’t been popular, but hopefully we get more clear details soon.
The European and North American RLCS rosters didn’t see the same level of turnover, largely due to rules that force teams to forfeit their position in the big leagues should they replace more than one starter in an off season. In Europe the biggest changes came to the squads in the relegation zone, with season two world champion Markydooda moving on from Flipside Tactics to Excel, where he replaces Zensuz. Envyus has taken on RLRS star EyeIgnite, while former PSG sub Yukeo joins Flipside Tactics.
North America saw a bit more turbulence. Ghost Gaming dropped Klassux and picked up Matt from Rogue, while Klassux moved on to Flyquest. Fan favourite Jacob moved from NRG to Rogue, while his place was taken by RLRS standout JSTN, who left the newly promoted Out of Style. Moses moves on from Renegades to sub for NRG, Mijo moving into his starting role.
Plenty of changes have been made to organisations as well. The former Mockit roster has left the maligned organisation and taken up with Vitality, while the former Method roster now represents Complexity. In North America the former Flyquest roster now represents Evil Geniuses and Renegades have moved to Counter Logic Gaming.
So for all these swaps, what can we expect from season five? If tradition upholds, Europe will be completely open while the familiar faces in North America should continue their winning ways. Cloud9 will hope to stay one step ahead of the pack; their passing, redirects and ceiling shots have become the new meta but undoubtedly Squishy and co. have some new tricks up their sleeve. G2 will be buoyed by their breakthrough tournament win at E-League in December, where they defeated Cloud9 and Gale Force on their way to the title. JKnaps has been making a strong case for “best in the world” honours with his every appearance, and G2 are getting better and better at creating opportunities for him. NRG and Ghost consider their new additions upgrades and should both be top four contenders, but who joins them in the top six is up in the air. With double headers in the first week, Out of Style and Evil Geniuses will need to hit the ground running to make their claim on those playoff positions.
— The Rocket Dailies (@Rocket_Dailies) March 13, 2018
Europe honestly could go to any of the eight teams competing. Excel and Flipside Tactics appear to have the toughest run of things, with new additions to their rosters and not a lot of success in the off season to carry through. Even then, Excel boasts the season four MVP in Nielskoek while Flipside is one season removed from back to back European finals appearances. Despite falling just short in the season four finals, Complexity haven’t had a happy off season and many predict they will struggle, with more expected of Vitality and Fnatic, who will both be hungry for success. Fnatic in particular have a point to prove after crushing the RLRS last season. Gale Force and PSG should remain strong, but we were saying the same last season about Flipside and Envyus, who now are both expected to be closer to relegation than the championship.
The Rivals Series enters its second season, and with promotion and relegation to RLCS in full effect and open qualifiers only providing teams a place in this second division league there should be a bit more interest this time around. The Open Qualifiers were very entertaining and did big viewer numbers, hopefully the interest in those teams that made it through leads to a more prominent placement for the Rivals Series going forward, even if it is still broadcast at the unfriendly time of Friday 10am PDT (4am Saturday AEDT).
In North America, off season fan favourites The D00ds made it through, backing up their impressive Dreamhack Leipzeig qualification run. Splyce also qualified after being the highest profile squad to miss out on both divisions last season, though they didn’t do it easy having to go through the losers bracket. Europe saw the new Method roster make it in alongside Triple Trouble, Placebo and Zebra Nose.
Rocket League Esports continue to go from strength to strength, and this upcoming season promises to be the most exciting yet. Moves that amazed us last year are already becoming standard, particularly shots and passes off the ceiling, long range redirects and mind games to beat defenders one on one. We’re still nowhere near the skill ceiling for individual players, and team coordination only gets stronger as some top rosters start to approach 12 months together.
Dates and Times
- Throwdown Season 5 OCE Championship: Sunday March 18, 11AM AEDT
- RLCS North American League Play: Sunday March 18, 6AM AEDT
- RLCS European League Play: Monday March 19, 3AM AEDT
- Rivals Series NA League Play: Saturday March 17, 10AM AEDT
- Rivals Series EU League Play: Saturday March 17, 4AM AEDT
Games to Watch
- OCE – Tainted Minds v JAM Gaming, 2:45PM Sunday. Should be a great demonstration of individual skills and if JAM Gaming can get the upset, they will announce themselves a real force this season.
- NA – Ghost v NRG, 8AM Sunday. Two teams that were close but not close enough last year have made big roster changes and will expect results straight away.
- EU – Vitality v Complexity, 7AM Monday. A tale of opposite off seasons, Vitality had some good results while Complexity floundered. A poor start here will see plenty of questions asked about their hopes for 2018.