RLCS Regional Finals recap and Throwdown finals preview

We may not know where the World Championship LAN is going to be held (last second pre-publishing update: it is London), but we do know eight of the ten teams that will be contesting it following an exciting weekend of regional playoff action. The once “anything can happen” nature of Europe has been replaced with the confident dominance of Gale Force, securing back to back regional titles in commanding fashion, while G2 survived a late fightback to end NRG’s push for an undefeated season and steal away the regional title in seven games.

One unfortunate aspect of the regional weekend was server issues, apparently the recent hotfix did not do enough to improve performance and several series had to be restarted in Europe and Oceania. When issues like these are happening it is hard to know if whiffs and poor plays are the result of connection issues or just nerves, particularly when it is uncharacteristic such as with Cloud9. Psyonix needs to have a real hard look at why they roll out major updates in the middle of the RLCS season; two seasons in a row updates have had a major impact on RLCS play.

The final two participants in the World Championships will be decided this weekend at the Throwdown OCE Championships, where Chiefs and Legacy will be joined by Tainted Minds and Dark Sided, the expected result but one that took plenty of drama to achieve. This week in Rocket Surgery we will recap all the regional finals action, and of course dish out another big preview of the Oceania top four playoff.

Before we could decide regional champions we first had to find our LAN finalists. In North America there were two clear favourites for those positions and they duly qualified, though Rogue took plenty of fight to Evil Geniuses for a team under plenty of off-pitch turmoil. The series started with three overtime games, two going to Evil Geniuses who then held out a brief fightback from Jacob, Insolences and Sizz. Rogue frustrated Evil Geniuses with a physical defense but couldn’t carry that through the full series, accuracy letting Rogue down over the whole series. It marks the first time Chrome will be appearing in the RLCS World Championship in five attempts.

Cloud9 gave up the first game to Ghost and hope of the mammoth upset brewed, but in the end Cloud9 got it done 4-1 with all but one game decided by a single goal. Cloud9 put on a defensive clinic, conceding four goals in five games and showing the composure they had been known for last season that was missing in some of their losses this year. For Ghost it ends a disastrous season where a tough first week put them behind the eight ball and had them scrambling the rest of the way.

NRG and G2 were the top two seeds for a reason, and both ran over their opposition in the semi finals, sweeping through their opponents. For NRG against Evil Geniuses it was hardly a surprise, the undefeated regular season champions outscored EG 12-3 in four games with GarrettG continuing his amazing season and scored one of the great individual goals, beating all three defenders in a single dribble. Their offensive pressure was great, but the shutdown defense of NRG ensured their victory here, keeping EG to a pitiful 9% shot accuracy as they couldn’t get clean chances with any regularity.

G2 had a much tougher task ahead of them in Cloud9, but like NRG cruised through with a 4-0 sweep. Cloud9 weren’t at their best but sometimes it is about how well an opponent lets you play, and G2 were relentless in their pressure and tighter with their team plays. G2 may have shown the best way to shut down Cloud9, controlling boost throughout the series and nullifying the aerial passing plays Cloud9 are known for. Cloud9 took the third place series against Evil Geniuses 4-2, getting some of their attacking confidence back after a frustrating G2 series, while EG will now face the first placed OCE team at LAN.

The stage was set for a huge G2 v NRG final, and this series delivered in every way possible. G2 couldn’t put a wheel wrong in game one, NRG in game two, before G2 imposed themselves on the series with back to back victories and sat on match point thanks to more shutdown ball and boost control. Then NRG exploded. Fireburner carried them through two convincing wins, going into a deciding game seven with all of the momentum.

Game seven was suitably epic, a defensive clinic as both teams repelled the best their opponents could throw at them. As is so often the case, a tight game like this was decided by a mistake, the scoreless game broken with only seven seconds remaining as Fireburner mish*t a goal front clearance leaving a soft floater for Rizzo to punish from close range. It was a disappointing finish for NRG but another day, another time they take this series. On this day it was G2 who secured their first regional championship and top NA seeding at the World Championship.

Europe saw our only upset of sorts on the day, with the lower seeded Envy beating Flipside Tactics in six games to secure a LAN position. It is a disappointing end to the season for Flipside, who took down some big names during league play but ultimately lacked consistency. Envy have very slowly rounded into form after a rough season four, and now the season three champions make a return to the World Championship.

PSG ended their disappointing league campaign with a 4-2 series loss to the hot Vitality, but not before giving the third seed a real scare of a reverse sweep. PSG dropped the first three games in convincing fashion then took back two games, ultimately dropping to Vitality who were driven by a strong performance from Fairy Peak, continuing his epic regular season form. PSG never got much going in league play and didn’t have the magic attacking touch they showed so often in season four.

Envy’s run ended in the semi finals against rivals Gale Force, dropping the series 4-1 as Gale Force shifted up another gear, a scary thought considering how they often seemed to be cruising through league play. The key was back to back overtime wins in games two and three, under the pressure of golden goal Gale Force constantly stand tall.

Vitality became the only quarter finalist to progress to the finals from both regions, knocking over Complexity 4-0 in a surprising romp. Three of the four games were close but Complexity were starved of boost and it broke down their unique “one up” style of play, while strong defensive efforts shut down the chances Complexity did generate. It didn’t get any better for Complexity in the third place series, going down to Envy 4-1. G2 proved last year that a poor regional performance might not spell doom for the World Championships, and now Complexity will stand in the way of the second OCE qualifier, a daunting task.

For how strong Vitality looked in their opening two series, Gale Force ran them over in the final. It was frightening to watch how good Gale Force were here, every individual member of the team can make claims to be the best in the world and the synergy they have as a team on top of that is just unfair. They are the masters of the passing game, making it look so easy and rarely putting on individual highlight plays. Yet no other team in the world can match them for consistency, for the ability to break down an opposing structure with crisp passes, and few teams manage to regularly break through their defensive rotations. They will be hot favourites to go back to back in season five, and you get the feeling anything less would be a disappointment for Kaydop, ViolentPanda and Turbopolsa.

Oceania delivered plenty of its own drama in trimming a field of six down to four, with the best of seven hybrid bracket delivering a fun day of play. Dark Sided and Tainted Minds went back and forth in the first series of the day, Dark Sided breaking through but Tainted Minds clawing back to level the series each time, before Dark Sided fired off in a dominant game seven performance to secure their space in the top four.

JAM Gaming v Retirement Home was a bit of a grudge match, with both off-field beef and last weekends results adding some spice to this elimination playoff. Retirement Home shot out of the gates with three quick wins, JAM continuing to struggle with their offensive output. Then suddenly everything clicked. Walcott powered up and drove the JAM offense to three consecutive wins of their own, throwing caution to the wind and benefiting from that level of carefree play. Unfortunately for JAM, Retirement Home found their groove once again for game seven, digging deep into their experience and holding things down to progress for their own shot at the top four. It was a promising finish to the season for JAM Gaming that leaves them some positives to build on in the off season.

While server issues plagued the second elimination final, luckily the drama was provided by the players on the pitch not the backend infrastructure. After a high scoring game one was taken by Tainted Minds, game two was killed by server issues and remade. It is interesting to see the difference in how OCE broadcasts handle server issues versus the RLCS coverage, which is Psyonix run and casters seem to be under the threat of death should they ever mention server problems. Throwdown still dances around these embarrassing breakdowns but at least acknowledges them.

Anyway, after that break Retirement Home started a three game winning streak, taking each one by a single goal. They showed plenty of grit in game three to come back from deficits then taking the win in overtime, then doing the same in game four to take the series to match point. It looked all but over two minutes into game five, Retirement Home breaking out to a two goal lead but unable to hold out the Tainted Minds comeback, going down 4-3. Game six was the first not decided by a single goal, Tainted Minds running home strong in the last two games, Kamii going off in game seven to secure a hard fought finals position. Retirement Home just got better and better as the season went on, and while circumstances may stop them from teaming again for season six (most of their original retirements were due to study or life commitments) if they can stick together they could easily be a top four contender on their individual talent.

It was a long day of Oceanic Rocket League, every series going to seven games. It ended with our matchups for next weekend, Chiefs v Tainted Minds and Legacy v Dark Sided, with a double elimination bracket to decide our regional champion and just as importantly, the two representatives for Oceania in the RLCS World Championship. Let’s take a closer look at how those series’ will play out.

Chiefs v Tainted Minds

I’ll do my best to stop this from being a gushing expression of love for the Chiefs, but the only way to describe how good they have been here in season five is through superlatives. In a season where offense exploded in Oceania, Chiefs somehow tightened their already stingy defense to the point where they concede 25% fewer goals per game than the next best team, Dark Sided. They take a frankly absurd 10 shots per game, and they finished just short of Legacy for goals per game this season, with both well ahead of the rest of the Oceanic pack.

Ball control is the primary material that weaves the Chiefs iron curtain; teams find it hard to get clean shots and extended passing plays off against a squad that rotates and positions themselves so well. Only four times in the entire season did an opponent score 3 or more goals against them, and twice that was Legacy. Tainted Minds managed four goals in a three game series, and three teams this season managed even less than that in their series against the Chiefs. You have to work incredibly hard to crack them, and over a seven game series it is hard to see anybody breaking them down consistently.

It is unfair that Chiefs have been able to keep this defensive front and still create opportunities in attack, with all three team members taking top four positions in shots per game while Drippay leads the region in goals per game and Torsos sits top five. It is hard to split those two for best offensive player in the region. That isn’t to discount the contribution of Jake, who is a more than capable offensive talent but has played the enabler this season, leading the region in assists and generally improving all of his numbers from season 4.

Tainted Minds showed plenty of heart to continually claw back their series against Dark Sided then take three in a row to beat Retirement Home, and big comebacks aren’t new to this squad; they needed one to overcome Scylla in a season four elimination final. It isn’t a sustainable path to success, and it is one they haven’t been able to replicate against the Chiefs. A couple of early Gfinity series (likely played without complete rosters) and a hard fought 2-1 in the Throwdown Open Series are the only competitive wins Tainted Minds have over Chiefs in 2018, and in 2017 you have to go back to July to find a win for the old Pale Horse roster.

Tainted Minds have shown glimpses of the team they were in season four, but both Dark Sided and Legacy are more competitive than they were that season and Chiefs have stepped up to another level. CJCJ has taken on a bigger role in the team, going from a traditional striker to a true all rounder, but it has come at the expense of Kamii who hasn’t been as dominant as last year. I never want to write Tainted Minds off completely, but if they’re going to make top two here it will happen through the lower bracket. There they have a better record against Legacy and Dark Sided, though both squads have got the better of Tainted Minds in this season. I feel they’re the most likely squad to bow out in two series here.

Their opponents here have never looked better. Chiefs are hitting peak form at the right time, have the confidence of strong international performances behind them and have proven time and again they don’t feel the burden of expectation. They might not get to prove themselves yet again the LAN kings of Oceania (the Throwdown finals are for the first time being held online), but even online they should prove too mighty for the field and find themselves heading to RLCS for a third time.

Dark Sided v Legacy

Dark Sided will have the confidence of their final week league play win over Legacy, who are at a psychological disadvantage on just about every level going into these finals. Cyrix in particular has been so close yet so far so many times, dating back to pre-RLCS competition. More recently, Legacy made a huge run through the Open Series gauntlet before blowing a 2-1 series lead against the Chiefs, and of these final four teams they only had a league play series win over Tainted Minds.

Not that Dark Sided have fared much better, racking up second place finish after second place finish through the Open Series and Gfinity. I think they’ll take a second place here, as it will still book a trip to wherever the LAN is being held, but neither squad has proven themselves on the biggest of stages and the winner here may come down to composure.

On paper, Legacy are the superior squad. They led Throwdown in goals per game and assists per game, showing both individual skills and fantastic team synergy. Their team 33% shooting percentage was easily best in the region. The big surprise was Delusion, who broke out from the OCE bubble in style with the second highest goals per game in the region at a monstrous 1.11, just ahead of teammate Cyrix with 1.04. Siki was a pedestrian 9th in the region for goals with “only” 0.78 per game, but he made up for it in assists, tying for second with teammate Delusion. If it wouldn’t be a massive injustice to not give season MVP to one of the Chiefs (likely Drippay) then Delusion would be hot favourite for the award, a huge achievement for a player who was winning the Vapour-Nordic league with Lynx last time RLCS league play was taking place. Cyrix and Delusion are both shooting at above 40%, a frankly unsustainable rate.

The most impressive part of Legacy’s performance is that they have kept it up against the best teams in the league. This isn’t just a roster that beat up on weaker competition, they put 13 goals on Tainted Minds in 4 games and 11 against Chiefs. The only team to hold them (relatively) quiet? Dark Sided, who conceded 5 in a first up loss before holding Legacy to 2 goals in 3 games.

Considering Legacy have some good form against Chiefs dating back to Gfinity, their least preferred opponent in these finals will be Dark Sided, a squad they may need to beat twice to secure their place at RLCS. Their performance this season deserves that spot, but sometimes deserve got nothing to do with it. You need to perform in the big moments, and Dark Sided will have plenty of confidence here. I think they play twice this weekend and split their series, unfortunately the second series will be worth a whole lot more than the first. I love a good storyline, so I’m going to run with Legacy to qualify in that second spot, which by my twisted logic means Dark Sided win here in the first series.

The Qualifiers

Chiefs will win the region, though probably not as easily as some may expect. They should get through to the final in two wins, and it is hard enough for a team to beat Chiefs in one series, let alone the two required by a bracket reset. Legacy have the best chance of dethroning them, but that chance is still rather slim. The lower bracket final will be epic, and it may come down to attrition as we’ve often found the team losing the upper bracket final has struggled to then match up against a team coming off an elimination series. I’m predicting that will happen yet again, and Dark Sided will be the unfortunate victims once more. Any one of these three squads are deserving of joining the Chiefs at RLCS (if Chiefs somehow miss out on qualifying it will be a tragedy), and hopefully the second Oceanic team can find some success on the international stage for the first time.

Next week we have the promotion/relegation series for RLCS/RLRS, and hopefully we get an announcement on where and when LAN will be held. In the meantime we will have Gfinity Australia starting June 2, with the final three franchises announced as Perth Ground Zero, and two Gfinity controlled franchises, the Sydney Roar and Brisbane Deceptors. Good luck to the Roar competing against the Chiefs in Sydney, but it is very interesting that Gfinity is running those franchises themselves for now, rather than bringing in existing organisations. Of course, none of those three franchises have Rocket League teams, so there will be plenty of intrigue as to how they put together a squad.

With RLCS finished for now, you can find all the Throwdown Finals action on the Throwdown Twitch channel from 12PM AEST on Sunday April 29.

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About the author

Stuart Gollan

From Amiga to Xbox One, Doom to Destiny, Megazone to Stevivor, I've been gaming through it all and have the (mental) scars to prove it. I love local multiplayer, collecting ridiculous Dreamcast peripherals, and Rocket League.

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