Rocket League Championship Series: Season 4 North American Preview

After a brief but action-packed offseason and an intense qualifying phase, the time has finally come for Rocket League Championship Series League Play to begin in full. This weekend, we’ll get to see four separate divisions start their respective seasons, as both the Championship Series (RLCS) and the Rivals Series (RLRS) will begin in both Europe and North America.

The action on both sides of the Atlantic looks to be intense, and teams from all across the globe will truly take the first steps towards establishing themselves as perennial contenders within Rocket League’s esports scene – considering that placing in the top six of RLCS guarantees you a spot in the league next season, and finishing in the top two of the RLRS is the only way to get into the RLCS, this season is easily the most important in the history of the league.

After an intense day of games in the Rivals Series, the Championship Series will begin in full, with North American League Play kicking off today.

Here’s a look at how the best teams in North America stack up against each other, and what to expect from each team this season.

Cloud 9

One of the things frequently discussed on this blog is the fact that RLCS experience matters – it’s rare that a team without veterans from the game’s biggest stage finds success, especially for prolonged stretches of time.

For Cloud 9, though, inexperience hasn’t mattered. Neither Squishy nor Gimmick have appeared in previous RLCS, and though Torment was in Season 1 and Season 2, he missed out on Season 3 entirely. The trio is still considered by many to be the best North America team headed into League Play, especially given their performance at the offseason’s final major tournament.

They’ve been especially dominant since the latter half of the offseason. After falling to to Take 3 in a monthly ASTRONAUTS tournament back on June 30th, Cloud 9 has lost just one series (a close 3-2 matchup with Gale Force Esports) while going on an absolute tear through the rest of the competitive scene. In the past couple of months, they’ve beaten Team EnVyUs, NRG Esports (x3), G2 Esports, Gale Force Esports, and Ghost Gaming, showing that they belong at the top of the pack when it comes to North American Rocket League.

Their biggest competition by far is NRG Esports (and maybe G2 Esports…), a team that they’ve won their last three series against. NRG may have won the previous three North American Regional Championships, but expect Cloud 9 is really going to threaten that streak this season.

NRG Esports

For the past three seasons, the duo of Fireburner and Jacob has been the best in North America, taking home three straight Regional Championships while playing with SadJunior (Seasons 1 and 2) and GarretG (Season 3). The addition of GarrettG to the roster last season helped propel the team to a 6-1 record in League play, and a third place finish at the International Finals – their best performance to date.

The skill level of this team is undeniable, with only Cloud 9 (and maybe G2 Esports…) having the firepower needed to hang with NRG for a full series. The battle for North American supremacy will almost certainly come down to either Cloud 9 or NRG, and the Week 7 matchup between those two teams has the potential to be one of the most exciting series in the history of the RLCS.

Will NRG continue to rule supreme? Or will Cloud 9 knock them off the North American pedestal?

G2 Esports

In North America, there really are three tiers of teams. In the first tier, you have Cloud 9 and NRG Esports – these two teams typically beat everyone else, then battle each other to see who the champion is. Next is the second tier of teams, which includes Renegades, FlyQuest, Ghost Gaming, and maybe Rogue. These teams typically beat every team except for Cloud 9 and NRG, and are known as the 4th to 8th best teams in the region. The third tier consists of Rivals Series teams, and other teams that aren’t quite good enough to qualify for the RLCS.

Then there’s G2 Esports, who I place in Tier 1.5. They’re better than teams like Renegades and FlyQuest (especially when they’re on their game), but they haven’t been able to consistently string together victories against NRG and Cloud 9.

They also failed to qualify for the International Finals in Season 3, mainly due to their struggles with inconsistency. They started off 4-0, with victories over Rogue, Denial, Selfless, and Set To DestroyX, but then lost to Take 3, Genesis, and NRG, to finish with a 4-3 record. At the regional playoff, they lost to Denial (who finished the Season 3-4), and saw their season come to a disappointing finish.

I may be going off on a tangent here, but I feel like G2’s performance this season really hinges on how well they can stick to the changes they made this offseason. Here’s a look at their Joyplots from Season 3, and then from the offseason. (Note: The background is the distribution for the statistic. The dot is the player’s location on the distribution. The further to the right, the better. For Season 3, Kronovi and JKnaps are located at the exact same spot for goals.)

The most striking aspect of this chart is how clearly defined player-roles are. Kronovi is the shooter, JKnaps is the distributor (and occasional sniper), and Rizzo is the defenseman. That shows a lack of rotational gameplay, something that hurt G2 (especially in the playoffs, when a loss to the 6th seeded Denial Esports kept them from qualifying for the International Finals). Rizzo’s shooting percentage is the best example of this; despite having good shooting ability, Rizzo essentially sits at the bottom of the league. He was consistently being forced into taking weak shots in order to be able to rotate back in time to compensate for his teammates offensive positioning.

Compare that with their summer Joyplot.

Taking the ridiculous amount of saves from JKnaps as a bit of a statistical anomaly, we can see that G2 is playing a much more balanced game, with all three players relatively close to each other for most statistics. The result was an improvement in performance, especially when considering strength of schedule; their average goal differential per game stayed about the same, despite the fact that G2 mainly played powerhouses like NRG, and Cloud 9 during the offseason, and not a balanced set of rosters (containing both good and bad teams) like the group they played during Season 3.

The most likely scenario for G2 Esports is a third place finish, but their new style of play is intriguing. Don’t be too surprised if they shock Cloud 9 or NRG to claim one of the top two spots in North America.

Renegades

After the Selfless organization disbanded, Renegades swooped in to pick up their roster, with Mijo taking a step back to substitute, and Moses being signed on to take his place as a starter on the roster.

This team qualified for the International Finals last season, but hasn’t really been active this offseason, so it will be interesting to see if they take some time to gel during the early weeks of the season. Even if they do gel quickly, they aren’t expected to beat NRG or G2, and will likely be behind the eight-ball after week one.

The biggest matchups for Renegades will be against FlyQuest, Ghost Gaming, and Rogue; they can drop games to North America’s big three and still finish in the top half of the league, but losses to any other teams will start to put them at risk of missing out on the playoffs.

FlyQuest was one of the latest teams to form during the offseason, and in their brief time together, they haven’t “wow’ed”, but they have looked solid. They bested Renegades in a close five game series at the play-in, and slipped past Ghost Gaming in a seven game series to win the August ASTRONAUTS monthly tournament, showing that they might be the best team within North America’s second tier.

Chrome, SadJunior, and CorruptedG don’t have the offensive power to match a team like Cloud 9, but all three players rotate well, and have strong mechanics. On any given day, if they’re hot, they have the potential to surprise opponents, though they might need a bit of luck to pull off any upset.

FlyQuest has the potential to qualify for the International Finals; the biggest matchup of their season will likely be against Renegades, as the two teams are essentially 4th and 5th in North America right now.

Ghost Gaming

It’s not surprising that Ghost Gaming qualified for the RLCS, given the veteran presence on their roster (all three players have appeared at an International Finals), though they lack the star power to do too much damage. They’ve got a chance at qualifying for the International Finals, but it’s certainly not expected of them – they’ll be hard pressed to take down any of Cloud 9, NRG Esports, G2 Esports, Renegades, and FlyQuest.

Rogue Gaming

In every sport, there’s always one team that just completely screws up statistical projections. There’s a pretty good chance that Rogue is going to be that team in this season’s RLCS, because the Elo rating system thinks they’re absolutely terrible, despite the fact that they auto-qualified for Season 4 after a 5-2 performance in Season 3’s League Play and a second place finish in the regional playoffs.

This is mainly because Rogue had a terrible summer, with almost no good performances to help boost their Elo. Here’s a look at some of their results against notable teams this offseason.

  • Lost to Defuse Kids and Gale Force Esports at DreamHack Sweden.
  • Swept by Genesis in the quarterfinals of an ASTRONAUTS monthly tournament.
  • Lost to Team EnVyUs twice at the X-Games (though they did beat The Leftovers).
  • Lost to Renegades, G2 Esports, and Set To Destroy X at DreamHack Atlanta.
  • Lost to Hype Gaming during the CyberPowerPC Extreme Gaming Series.
  • Lost to Hollywood Hammers during Pro Rivalry’s Rival Week, and at RLCS Summer Series 3.

They didn’t play all that frequently, and when they did, they lost. Maybe the roster swap of Insolences for Turtle (which happened after the CyberPowerPC Extreme Gaming Series) makes a difference, but honestly, I don’t see it having that big of an impact.

Rogue could be bad this season. They could also be good, like they were last season. I honestly have no idea how they’ll do.

Emotion

Last season, Set To DestroyX shocked everyone by making it to the RLCS, then proceeded to go 0-7, failing to win a single series during League Play.

No one wants to see something like that happen again, but Emotion is likely going to be this season’s Set To DestroyX. We’ll have to reserve judgment until they play a couple of games, but initial projections do not look good.

Check in later today/tomorrow for our preview of the European Championship Series, and let us know (either in the comments or on Twitter) how you think the North American Championship Series will go down!