As we look back on 2020, here is our team of the year.
On paper, determining the best Rocket League team of 2020 seems impossible. Obviously, due to COVID-19, international competition has been off the table, leaving a plethora of region-locked matches that serve as qualifiers for eventual returns of international LANs in 2021, hopefully.
However, in the absence of said international play, the discussion and debate on who would be, or is the world’s best, if such a thing can even exist in this online era. RLCS Season Nine had many ponder who would have reigned supreme in Dallas, whether it be Dignitas, G2 Esports, or Renault Vitality? Or even now, a hypothetical showdown between Team BDS or Team Envy would split any analyst's desk. But there is only one side that can say they’ve been in that conversation for the whole of 2020, and that's Spacestation Gaming.
Ascent To The Top
SSG looked to start 2020 like 2019 ended, with a rapid ascent up the totem pole. After massively impressing at the RLCS Season Eight World Championship in Madrid with a 3rd-4th placing, it was clear the careers of Caden “Sypical” Pellegrin, Alexandre “AxB” Bellemare, and Tshaka “Arsenal” Lateeg Taylor Jr were beginning to blossom. They entered season nine an established and well-respected 2nd best in NA, from both fans and fellow pros. The only side to be ranked above them domestically was the recently crowned world champions in NRG, but with some of NA’s brightest prospects in their ranks, and Robert “Chrome” Gomez really coming into his own as a coach, SSG had their eyes set on being top dogs.
Season nine started and Spacestation was clearly showing a hunger to actually be NA’s best, and unlike many that had come before, they had the talent to back it up. They banished two-thirds of the fabled “NA Big 3” to the relegation tournament the prior season and in the eyes of many, when they took down the third head of the cerberus in NRG in week three of league play, SSG had claimed the title of best in North America. Sypical continued to cement himself as one of the most all-round gifted players, happily playing a more midfield playmaking role to set up AxB for an incredible goal-scoring campaign of his own, all while Arsenal would roam the pitch with a swagger that caused chaos wherever he drove. SSG would top league play with an 8-1 record, becoming the first roster not to feature GarrettG or Torment to achieve that since 2016. While the pandemic robbed them of a chance to flex internationally, it seemed the future was indeed now and the record-setting season nine regional championship would be their coronation…
So Close Yet So Far
To be perfectly blunt, Spacestation’s performance in that regional championship was ugly. Despite cruising past an in-form Ghost Gaming in the semi-finals, a complete mental capitulation saw them get rolled over by a rejuvenated G2 in the grand finals in a clean sweep, Their crowning moment was within inches, and it had slipped away and then some, and with the benefit of hindsight, it was a blow that that particular SSG roster would never recover from. However, undeterred, Spacestation marched on and made a habit of playing any and all tournaments, and generally proving themselves to remain a worthy NA 2nd best, even netting wins when G2 didn’t show up.
But when it came to the big events, they’d regularly come up just short of first. Let's not get it twisted, only missing a single top-four placing despite being the most active side among NA’s elite is truly impressive, they never left the conversation for being among the best teams in the world, it's just that they never really got that conversation going either. Sure they could win The Brawl Invitational vs C9/G2 hybrid, but come to the 10K they were getting 4-0d in semi-finals. G2 eventually did falter, but just as that happened, the new improved NRG with SquishyMuffinz snatched the mantle of NA’s best, besting them in two titanic Bo7s in Codename: COVERT. And this was despite having Sypical being unanimously praised as the single best player in the world, sometimes pulling out miracles in spite of his teammates’ performances, but that hot streak came and went and after finally falling into the 5th-6th range at the Summer Shuffle, SSG went back to what made them great; Making extremely ruthless roster decisions in the name of success.
An Overdue Coronation
On July 23rd of 2020, a little over a week from the roster lock for RLCS X, SSG replaced AxB with Slater “Retals” Thomas, a player who himself had made his name a year prior by tearing down the establishment. With three genuine superstars on their roster, Spacestation entered the Fall Split looking to do what they should have done back in the Spring. Become NA’s best. Through the first half of The Grid, they won three times and got a second place. On the pitch they dazzled, with all three players regularly taking turns to dominate the pitch. Their head-to-head record vs their nearest rivals was absurd, they regularly handed losses to both G2 & NRG, and thus cruised through the first RLCS X regional event of the Fall Split and finally secured that big win.
There was a bit of turbulence after their success, The Peeps would upset them in the second event, but every time SSG has been knocked down, they’ve bounced back twice as hard. Only an inspired Kansas City Pioneers would defeat them in the third regional event in the semi-finals, however come the Fall Major, Spacestation would not be stopped. It may have taken seven games vs G2, and six vs NRG, but Spacestation ended the split as major champions, and undisputedly on top of North America. Their bold claims of being the best team in the best region were factual, and even if some twitter fingers bit them in the butt to start the Winter Split, a dominant losers’ bracket run in the most recent WInter regional event served as a reminder that Spacestation only exists at the top, and that has been the case for the entirety of 2020. Only a recently resurgent Team Envy has consistently been able to usurp them in the Winter Split.
Crowning Spacestation Gaming as the best side of 2020 wasn’t a clear-cut decision, especially since Team BDS does exist. The European outfit has truly dominated the second half of the year in emphatic fashion, the likes of which we have not seen in Europe since dynasty Dignitas. It’s amazing that a roster that came straight from the RLRS is even in this conversation, but it is that fact that BDS only rose to prominence in that second half of the year, having had to work through Rival Series in the Spring, while Spacestation was still placing 2nd in RLCS calibre tournaments simultaneously that edges the award in the favour of the NA side. This is not us saying that SSG is the best in the world right now (although in this writer’s humble opinion, SSG at times has showcased a level of play that would fully warrant that mantle), but for the entirety of 2020, SSG has been the only side to consistently be one of the best, never dropping below the top two or three domestically in NA’s golden era, and therefore are worthy winners of Rocket League’s Team Of The Year for 2020.
Images via ZeeboDesigns