Alpha54 on zen, leadership, legacy, and conquering the world

Alpha54 on zen, leadership, legacy, and conquering the world
Team Vitality

Written by 

Jack Marsh


25th May 2023 14:05

There hasn't been as much hype surrounding a European Rocket League team since a certain French organisation decided to go all out and sign a Scottish wonderkid with a reputation for excelling the skill ceiling higher than it ever has been before.

Now, history looks to repeat itself, as Team Vitality's revolution and pipeline continues to pump and evolve, with another generational talent being thrust into the RLCS again and proving to be just as good as the contorted whispers made him out to be.

But arguably the best success story of recent weeks for Team Vitality is that of Yanis "Alpha54" Champenois, who has proven that he can dine amongst the greats of this region.

Having stepped out of the shadow of the legends that he teamed with, he's now captianing the esteemed organisation back to where they belong.

Following Vitality's RLCS Spring Open success, the first that the organisation has seen in two years, GGRecon sat down with Alpha54 to talk about his journey back to the upper echelon's of Rocket League, how Alexis "zen" Bernier isn't just a clip merchant, and setting a legacy to inspire a new generation of players.

Alpha54 leading Team Vitality in the RLCS Fall Major
Click to enlarge
Rocket League Esports | Flickr

First off congratulations on your recent success with the Spring Open.

Thank you.

Let's start with the Regional. How does it feel to be back to winning ways?

Well, of course, it's really good and we worked really hard since zen has arrived. I mean, we worked hard at the start of the season with saizen but we worked really hard with zen because we knew that we didn't have that much time between San Diego and the first Regional.

So we knew that we had to take every scrim seriously and try to have a proper play style to take into the tournaments. The tough thing is that we managed to actually play how we wanted to, which is quite hard when you're playing scrims. Usually, you don't play the same in high-pressure situations compared to scrims.

So we won a Regional and we knew that we played well. It's not that every team was not that good and we just managed to be the least worst team, I think we actually played really well. So yeah, it's really, I'm really happy about it.

I do think, as you said, the skill level in Europe is through the roof at the moment. So it's not as if you were the best of the worst, you were the best of the best this time around, which is really fun to see and good to have Vitality back at the peak of Rocket League.

You had to come from behind quite a few times in the two series against Liquid. With it being your first event together as a three, were there any nerves going into these pivotal games or was it simply that when you came from behind, you just had that ice to clutch up when it mattered?

I can't really speak for everyone, but, for me, when we were down 2-1 and 3-2, we weren't tilted at all. We knew that the games were already tough and that it was just one bit of something that we were missing in each game.

It didn't even go through my mind that could lose the series. I was so confident that we could come back and win that I didn't really think about losing. I said, "Okay, now we have our backs against the wall and have to win," but, it didn't add any pressure.

I think we knew that we had to play just a little bit better because we were already playing well and Liquid were playing well too. So it was just that we had to make a clutch move that would make us win the games. But yeah, I don't really feel pressure anymore, like when I was new.

This is your first event win since the end of Season X. What has your journey been like to finally put yourself back in this position?

I've been grinding. Way more than before. A lot of people know that I used to be a bit lazy and not grind a lot. But this has changed for good now.

I feel as if I haven't felt this motivated since the beginning of this season and I wanted to do something great because I knew that with Radosin and saizen that we had a really solid roster that could do something good. But we had a tough start and mentally it was hard.

And then we just grinded and grinded and we managed to finally find some results, like the Regional Final in the Split two, then the top-eight San Diego where we showed up and only lost against the really good Liquid. So that's not shameful. And now that we know that we have zen, who is one of the best players in the world, we know that we have a Major-contending team, I just try to grind as much as I could and keep motivated.

How have you found embedding zen into the starting lineup? You mentioned in the first question that it's been a really quick turnaround but given his hype and a little bit of added pressure on him to perform, how have you found that journey?

I don't know what he thinks about the hype and people talking about him, but from what I'm seeing from him, since we are all three really good friends, I think he's in a really chill environment. He knows that everyone likes him and that we are not going to be like "Oh, we expected you to do more".

We just cheer him up. Even in the first series when we beat Quadrant 3-2 in a really tough series, after the game, I asked him "Were you a bit stressed?". I didn't mind, I just asked him because it was normal. He has a lot of pressure and understands it fully.

We wanted to, of course, win the original, but we said "If we at least make the top four, that's a really good result for the first event," because everyone is waiting for us to lose. Everyone wants us to lose to say that "hah, zen has arrived" or "zen is overrated", etcetera.

Eventually, we're going to lose. We are not invincible, at all, so we're going to lose. But we are mentally prepared for it.

He probably feels pressure, because he knows that he has to perform, but I think after this Regional, he's a bit more chill in his head because he can say, "I've done good work. If we don't win, it's not that bad because we've already won an event". I think he deals with it really well. He doesn't really talk about it, but I guess he's feeling good. As long as he is feeling good and a lot more comfortable, then we're only got more to see from him.

Alpha54 has become the captain of Team Vitality, leading zen and Radosin towards the 2023 World Championship
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Rocket League Esports | Flickr

As for yourself, you've transitioned from being Vitality's breakout kid to now entering a captain position. What have you learned from the years playing alongside Kaydop and FairyPeak! that now helps you lead this new and young Vitality roster?

Some fans don't even realise, but I was the only player in Season 7 Worlds in EU that is still on a top-ten team. So I'm really "OG" compared to others. I know what high-pressure situations are like, so, I've become more comfortable throughout the years.

For example, when Radosin came, he had no experience at a really high level. He made top eights and top six, but never won or ended in a really contending spot, so I'm just trying to lead them by knowing that if we lose, especially in this format, it's not that bad, because we can still climb the bracket in losers.

It's never over. Until the ball hits the ground, it's not over. So I'm just trying to share more to motivate them. I think they don't even need to be pushed to be motivated, there is a really good atmosphere in the team.

I don't even need to do that much as a captain. The only things I do as captain is between games I talk probably a bit more than them, but yeah. I don't really need to do anything. They know what they have to do and they do it well. So I don't really need to say anything.

That's the dream of a captain.

Yeah. Even with saizen, he is a really nice guy and we didn't have any issues. I just say things as a normal teammate would. I think "don't need to lead them, they're already hyped and motivating it for events."

There is nothing better when you've got players that just get on with their own game. As a captain, I've often found in sports that when you're put in that leadership role, you end up thinking about what everyone else is doing and not what you are doing yourself.

But it's nice to have people that can just crack on so you can focus on your own game as well.

That's what I try to do. I try just to focus on what I do because I know that zen and Radosin are gonna focus on themselves as well. So if they, if they play well, then I just have to play well as well and we are gonna win.

Team Vitality at the RLCS Winter Major 2023
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Rocket League Esports | Flickr

I recently asked Ferra something pretty similar, but you've played alongside these legends of the game in Kaydop and Fairy Peak!. How was your transition away from that team into this new French Revolution? 

I think that over time we realised that the play style that we were playing was just outdated. In my personal play style, I've always been ball-chase-y and mechanical. So I always tried to be ahead of the time in terms of mechanics.

I think that's the biggest reason why I'm still here and still playing at the best level because I always try to push the game to its limits. I've tried to just keep being the best in every era. So that's why I get longevity, it's because I just try to always revolutionise the game.

Of course, talking about the old roster, we knew that something was wrong and we knew that we had to make a change, so then we first picked Radosin, who we knew had really good potential and I liked how he played. He was a good "turn man" [pivot] and had really good defence.

Then we picked up saizen, but we found that saizen is kind of the same role. So he pushed Radosin more in offence, which he is good at it as well. Now that we have got zen, everyone expected him to hit triple-resets in every game, but the thing that is impressive about him is that he doesn't need to clip on everybody, or I need to have the spotlight. He doesn't care.

He just wants the team to win and he knows that it's not by going for every ball and trying to hit Musty flicks or cycles. He knows that he has to play simple Rocket League.

He played so well in the Regional, but people are saying that it's not enough for whatever reason. The only thing I want, and what I say to him is, don't listen to people that are gonna say, 'We need more from you'.

I don't need more from him. He's doing a great job. He enables so much space. He creates a lot of opportunities. He's so good on the pitch, but people just want him to hit insane shots. But if he doesn't need to, why would he?

You can find Ferra's comments on the transitioning roster in our Winter Major interview, discussing the wider French Rocket League scene and Team Vitality's re-invention, here.

I agree with you. I did see quite a lot of people on social media, Reddit, etcetera, expecting to see this 1v1 wonderkid hard carry. But I don't think he was. It was very even throughout the team.

A lot of people wanted that explosion, but also some more experienced fans were pleasantly surprised that he wasn't and that you worked well as a team.

Well, the thing is that when you are a 'hard carry' player and you want to hard carry and show yourself off to the people, you will never have as good results as if you try to fit in the team and play your role.

zen played his role almost to perfection, in this Regional. It allowed us to play so relaxed with Radosin and myself. Some people are saying that we outperformed him, but he made us outperform him, by playing his role.

Alpha54 looks to cement a legacy in Rocket League Esports
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Team Vitality

I've seen quite a lot of discourse recently on how French players were moulded in Rocket League by having a string of idols to look up to and being able to play against them in Regional tournaments, like the ones hosted by Rocket Baguette.

Firstly, who was your idol growing up?

I never really had one. When I played the game, I looked up at every RLCS player. When I was watching at 13 or 14 [years old], and I wasn't allowed to play, I was hoping that someday I will be good enough to be on that stage and play alongside these people.

Of course, there were outstanding players, like Jstn. in season five or Kaydop through Season seven or even Fairy, all of these insane players, but I didn't really look up to anyone specifically, I just looked up at the tournaments. I just wanted to be there and wanted to compete against these people.

Secondly, should other Regional tournament organizers adopt what the likes of Rocket Baguette do to allow the bubble players the opportunity to grow up alongside their icons?

The thing is that when you're playing three Regionals, (two lots of qualifiers, each one every now and again, and the last one is an invitation), so basically in the span of four months, bubble players can hardly play. They play six days, day one, day two, day three, and if they don't make regionals then they're out. They only have two chances to make Regionals because the last one is an invitational.

So I think that's always been an issue in Rocket League because when it was the League Play circuit, it was games every six months where you had one chance and if you didn't make it there wasn't anything to play for six months. Of course, that's improved because there are more ways to qualify for RLCS, but there are no GFinity's anymore, or ESL leagues, or just tournaments that pros wouldn't be interested in anymore where bubble players could improve and show themselves.

For example, when you are between Regional Three and Regional One from the next split after there is a Major, which is one month after the first Regional, so that's two months when you could just organize tournaments with non-qualified teams. But, I'm not the CEO of Psyonix, I don't know what they think about it.

There are a lot of times when bubble players can only play Ranked and if some people are getting bored then that's understandable. You only have two chances to qualify every four months. I would get bored as well, so I understand. There's so, so much time, it's a bit of a waste.

  • For context, the final Winter Regional Qualifier was on February 3, and the first Spring Regional Qualifier was on May 5, over three months after.

Alpha54 during his FC Barcelona days
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Image via ZeeboDesigns

You are now in a position alongside Vatira and Monkey M00n to be one of these idols that people look up to in the future, especially for French players with such an illustrious history in your region. What does the future look like for Alpha 54?

What do you want to achieve in your career?

I've been a pro for four years and a half now, something like that, so I've already had one of the longest careers as the remaining players in RLCS right now. Everyone came up way after me. But the thing is that I see some players that are coming after me and winning more than me. So I want to at least win a Major and, of course, winning Worlds would be amazing.

My career has been a bit unlucky because when we were at our prime with Fairy and Kaydop, it was when COVID hit. So that's pretty unfortunate because I think we had a great shot at winning Worlds. Or even if they were majors, like winning Majors or Worlds.

I don't even want to remember anything because that's just a bit frustrating, but that's life I don't really mind anymore, I just want to win, one day, and when I retire I will be like, okay, I've done something good in the game.

What about goals for the short term? With Team Vitality, you've set the tone in the Spring Split with quite a remarkable first Regional win. What are your team goals for this year and then moving forward?

It's the last race kind until Worlds. Personally, before the first Regional, I said, 'I wanted to win one Regional out of the three, and then make the top four or higher at the major'.

So it would be an improvement on LAN and online from the Winter Split. That's what I wanted to do at least. So first Regional, we win it, perfect. Now the main objective is to win the Major because we now know that we're capable of doing it.

Even a semifinal or final would be good though [at the Major]. I would be happy with that result because it would be great preparation for Worlds because every team wants to win it.

That's just the basic answer. We're going to aim for first, but if, if we lose, unfortunately, in the top four, I'd be frustrated at the beginning, for a week, and then look back to it as a good result.

So yeah, winning a Regional, it's done. Now. If you can win the Major, this would be amazing.

That's good. Is there an element of making sure that you, first and foremost, do well in Europe because you're currently sat in fourth place in the European rankings?

You've got Moist that is biting at your heels, are you focused on making sure that you get Worlds qualification fighting to overtake Oxygen in third place to boost your way up into automatic spots instead of the Wild Card?

We have thought about it. Before Spring, I think were 21 points behind Oxygen and now we're four points away. We knew that if we made the Major we knew that we were granted to make the Wild Card stage at least.

Now that we have won Regional One, unless we massively choke, we should go to Boston. And going to Boston would pretty much assure you to go to Worlds in the Wild Card at least. But being so close to Oxygen, knowing that they had a really bad first Regional and could maybe miss the Major, of course, we are now aiming for the automatic spots.

It's like not given on the plate, but if they miss the Major, then we are in a really good spot to have the automatic spot. That would be nice because the Wild Card stage could be a tricky situation because there are some very good teams and you could get surprised.

So it's, it's way better knowing that you are instantly in the, in the thing.

Alpha54 for Team Vitality Rocket League
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Rocket League Esports | Flickr

Alpha54 and the rest of Team Vitality will look to retain their dominance in Europe again with the Spring Cup, which kicks off on Friday, May 26, where they have been seeded into the same side of the bracket as Worlds-contenders Moist Esports, Team BDS, and Team Liquid.

Jack is an Esports Journalist at GGRecon. Graduating from the University of Chester, with a BA Honours degree in Journalism, Jack is an avid esports enthusiast and specialises in Rocket League, Call of Duty, VALORANT, and trending gaming news.

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