Concluding the series, we speak to El General as he explains how esports is more than a project, for them, FC Barcelona is a family.
Whilst many football organisations have come and gone, one team has been able to withstand the trials and tribulations that come with Rocket League esports. But what sets FC Barcelona apart, and allows them to remain as a powerhouse in Europe?
(Part 1 looked at the fall of PSG and RCD Espanyol with the insights of former RCD Espanyol manager and Spanish caster Marco' Isengard' Montouto.)
(Part 2 looked at the demise of AS Monaco, discussing the impacts of coronavirus and other fatal blows to the organisation with Simon' s1moN' Bicking.)
When you think of FC Barcelona as an organisation, their football side is often known for exuberant flair and acquisition of the finest talent in the world. It was no surprise that when they entered esports, and subsequently Rocket League, that they needed a talisman as part of a star-filled roster. So when a Savage! side consisting of Season 3 World Champion, David "Deevo" Morrow, former DreamHack Leipzig winner, Dan "bluey." Bluett, and upcoming rising star, Yanis "Alpha54" Champenois, became available, it was no surprise that this was the time that FC Barcelona chose to take the plunge into Rocket League esports.
Instantly, FC Barcelona Rocket League became a hit. With an organisation of this stature, many non-Rocket League fans were intrigued to see what attracted a business, boasting the likes of Lionel Messi, to play a football car game. Their entrance into Rocket League could be argued to be one of the most fascinating and influential decisions that this esport has ever seen, especially when you consider the direction that Psyonix had lined up. With Epic Games acquiring Psyonix just a month after FC Barcelona joined the scene, a speculative eye may have seen this as a stunningly clever coincidence, with Epic's history of targeting mainstream audiences and converting casual fans into dedicated fanatics.
Assuming Epic always intended to attract mainstream audiences through the Olympic Games and going free to play, tying their arrival with FC Barcelona's outreach was nothing more than a stroke of genius. As for the organisation, their goal had yet to be defined, and they had solid competition. Despite Epic's arrival to Rocket League being unknown to FC Barcelona prior to the takeover, they fit the bill of the vision that Epic had, and even though they didn't know it, they were already vital to plan to hit a mainstream audience. Their place within RL esports was crucial. However, having several similar football organisations in the scene at the time, what could they do differently to catapult them to the top of Rocket League esports, and have sustained success? Well, their story was just getting started.
The first season of their journey was one to remember for both good and bad reasons. In just their second game in Season 7 they became the first team ever in EU RLCS history to be swept without scoring a single goal. However, in a rapid turnaround, with the help of coach of Robert "Roken" Kendall FC Barcelona were able to kick on in form and scratch up a 5-2 record, finishing second in League Play. In their first season as a trio in RLCS, and a monster organisation behind them, the effects were paramount as they secured a place at the world championship. Also getting to the final of the European Playoffs FCB had become the second-best team in Europe, just six weeks after joining the scene.
Insane rookie, Alpha54, had been the compelling spearhead of the roster, earning MVP during the season, to their own demise. The young gun was quickly snapped up by Team SoloMid, leaving Barca without their most explosive player - a story that would come quite a pattern for FCB. A testament to the organisation themselves, they continued in their reign, and captured the signature of Aldin "Ronaky" Hodzic, an offensive player plucked from Triple Trouble, and Germán "El General" Micciullo as coach. It was here that FC Barcelona found their gold dust, and the focal points behind the organisation as a whole.
From the minute Ronaky entered, he's described the club to be bigger than just a team. Earlier this year he told us "This team, this club, we really are more than a club", and this bodes the difference between other organisations and Barca. Whereas the likes of PSG, AS Monaco, and RCD Espanyol have considered their teams to be a side project in the past, the way that both Ronaky and El General speak about Barca it's clear to see that they are a part of the overall club and are indispensable to the bigger picture.
Comparing Barca to the previously mentioned orgs, El General stated: "It's a matter of sticking to the project. Most of them [other footballing orgs] decided to step off for what I assume has been insecurity in the Esports ecosystem and overall bad results/returns to the organisation, which I understand from a business point of view. But once you start investing time and resources into something new I would hope they try to come out with solutions and keep yourself growing, just as Barça has done all this time.
"The main reason is that FCB has made sure to stick to its Esports project, once they set their eyes on something they will do everything possible to keep it growing, expand it and perfect it, and that's exactly what is happening with their Esports branch".
Their results since Season 7 have been turbulent. As they began to grow in Season 8, they only managed a sixth-place finish in Europe, which coincidentally was the season that saw their biggest competition, Paris Saint Germain (PSG) leave the scene despite their success. With a DreamHack Valencia win, the predominantly French side was transferred to Team Reciprocity, even though they were PSG esports' most successful team. Whether it was a sizable purchase or a mutual transfer that lead to their side joining Reciprocity, it left question marks around why an organisation like this, with such a social outreach, decided to cash in. It proved that they were not living and breathing Rocket League like an organisation that was built from within esports does, or akin to how FC Barcelona does.
It's building the bridge between sports and esports that was always going to FC Barcelona's difficulty, but done correctly would cement their position within the scene and make their organisation invaluable. Adding more to just a successful team would be their chip that means they would be able to be sustainable and retain their position in esports, and this is exactly what they have done. "Even though there's still a huge cultural barrier between traditional and electronic sports I feel that their strategy is helping to bring this new world to old-school fans, having support from the official FCB account in social media has helped as well, and it is only a matter of time until this becomes part of every Barça fan," explained El General, and this can be proved by the club using their main account to have popular mainstream footballers such as Antoine Greizmann wishing the Rocket League team success. This influences fans and audiences alike to tune in to RLCS, and begin their own journey.
It would be worthless to have all these resources and no success on the field though. Season 9 brought arguably FC Barcelona's best accomplishment to date, even though they were dealt with the blow of losing yet another huge name in Bluey. Again, Barcelona had the regular-season MVP in Season 8, despite coming sixth, and Bluey had shown his talent all over the pitch. Incredibly, Bluey was MVP, Clutch Playmaker, second in Golden Striker, and third in Saviour of the Season, racking up accolades for his fruitful performances. However, off the field team dynamics led the Englishman to leave the team and drop down into RLRS in one of the shocks of the year. Going to Ronaky's former side, Triple Trouble, he left a huge hole in the side of FCB, proving yet another hurdle for the organisation to overcome. This time, they drafted in Team Complexity's Hrant "Flakes" Yakoub, who Ronaky described as "a really unique person, that has been a pleasure to get to know", before adding "It's always a challenge bringing in a new player, and to start from scratch, but I feel like Flakes done a really good job".
With the League expanding, FC Barcelona stayed mid-table, trading blows with some great teams, and come the Regional Championships, the manage a third-fourth-place finish, only to be beaten by runners up Renault Vitality. Showing that, again, they can bounce back from losing players to be successful on the pitch, FC Barcelona as a roster continued to recruit and strengthen, and remain a success story.
From top-to-bottom, this organisation is passionate about Rocket League, overcoming hurdles and obstacles in the way. An invaluable ability to have, which sets them apart from likeminded football teams.
This season is no different. Flakes was released from the roster, wanting to start his own team, and highly-rated rookie, Amine "itachi" Benayachi was drafted in. Despite being ineligible for years, itachi became available, and FC Barcelona was able to use their status to acquire his talent during a crazy off-season where interest in the young Moroccan was extensive. During RLCS X they have managed two top-four finishes in The Grid, and have been improving week by week. With a long season under challenging circumstances, this is their biggest rebuilding job that they have had, in the most competitive league to date. Whilst we saw teams like AS Monaco release their roster rather than rebuild, we can acknowledge how easy it would have been for the org to pack their bags, but by dipping into their pockets, they were able to begin yet another project.
"The club has been helping us with everything we needed so far, be it logistical or staff related they want to make sure the team is always in the best condition to play at their fullest, the rest is in the players' hands," explaining El General, which goes to show that this is a business that cares for the team that they host, and have built a family that they want to succeed.
Even with all of their technical support, FC Barcelona's main reason behind sustaining themselves in Rocket League esports is their passion for the roster, and embedding them into the family, just as an esports org would do. Acting like an organisation that belongs in esports is the key for them, and sets them aside from the likes of PSG and Monaco, both of whom cashed in when it wasn't suitable for the business of football. Combined with their huge status and attracting an audience and fanbase, their drive for success is why they remain as one of Europes best teams, showing no signs of going anywhere.
There is a place for football organisations within Rocket League, but only if they dive 100% into the esport, and look at the dedication that FC Barcelona show. Value, respect, cohesion, and dedication from top to bottom is the only way of making it work.
Image via FC Barcelona | DreamHack