by: Caleb Simmons
2017 has witnessed a changing of the guard in Rocket League. As the ELEAGUE Cup approaches, the likes of Gale Force Esports and PSG have soundly and consistently beaten the old titans Flipside Tactics and Team Envy. North American dynasty NRG, the long-standing Kings of the North, have conceded the throne to the rookies, Cloud9. Of the 24 players invited to ELEAGUE, only three have played in an RLCS championship grand finals before 2017. But despite this changing of the guard, the top spot has never been more hotly contested. New names and new rivalries define the scene as we look ahead to ELEAGUE’s competition.
For the first time, a challenger has arisen from Oceania. The Chiefs ESC roster had won every event of 2017 in the OCE region, but there were still questions surrounding the team and their ability to hang with the big dogs of the west. Then, at the Season 4 RLCS World Championships, Chiefs ESC ran the gauntlet of the American titans, forcing G2 Esports into game five, knocking NRG out of the bracket, and taking Cloud9 to four games, including two overtimes. Chief’s defeat of NRG is widely considered the greatest upset in RLCS history; their performance against North America’s best settled any debate on the strength of the Oceanic champions. Riding their momentum from the RLCS Championships, Chiefs ESC are the first team from OCE to be invited to an international tournament. Can they continue to sparkle now that they have the spotlight? Can they put down another dynasty? These questions easily make Chiefs one the most exciting teams to watch at the ELEAGUE Cup.
In the way of rivalries, one need not look further than the vibrant battle at the top between European teams Method and Gale Force Esports. The largest doubles tournament of 2017 witnessed a Gale Force vs Method finals with Gale Force taking the victory. The RLCS Season 4 World Championships repeated these results as Method took second to Gale Force in the grand finals. Gale Force Esports won the world title with a clean sweep over Method, but mere hours earlier in the upper finals, the two teams battled to a full seven games, including three overtime finishes. Was the grand finals sweep due to Method’s fatigue? Was the upper finals seven game brawl a more true representation of the matchup? Gale Force’s 2017 victories cleanly put them on top of the Rocket League world, but could a rematch another day be all the difference needed for Method to finally snatch a victory? The only way to find the answers is to let the series continue; the ELEAGUE Cup will surely see the next chapter of the Gale Force Esports vs Method rivalry.
There are so many fascinating stories coming into this event, too many to recount in full. G2 Esports, the North American sweethearts, with former world champion, Kronovi, looking for their first real victory as a team. The young guns of PSG Esports or the wildcards of Ghosts Gaming both formed from the unwanted remains of roster cuts, now proving everyone wrong over and over. Mockit, the only organization to make it to the championships every season, are led this year by the single greatest team captain, Paschy90. The meteoric rise of the North American Regional Champions, Cloud9, and their star player SquishyMuffins, is singlehandedly redefining how Rocket League is played at the top. All of this and more defines Rocket League as an esport, as the stage is set for the ELEAGUE Cup. While Gale Force Esports’ seat on the throne is undisputed, their competition has never been stronger. Despite having a clear world best, there are a precious few outcomes that would be a true surprise. Every team invited has proven themselves worthy, every roster full of respected names. The difference between defeat and victory is both the blink of an eye and the twitch of a finger. As the players prepare, the world looks to ELEAGUE in anticipation.