Are RLCS teams taking a huge risk when signing unproven players?

18:00, 09 Jun 2020

There’s no denying that the Rocket League Rival Series has helped mold some of the game’s newest superstars. Players like Sypical, Alpha54 and even Jstn had their breakouts by commanding their respective teams to promotion as they traveled along the established path to pro en route to RLCS that is commonplace for any prospective pro player..

But what if you just skip RLRS?

Since the inception of RLRS, six players have gone straight to the RLCS without any prior RLRS experience. And who can blame them, chances to play in the top flight are few and far between, especially when last place in RLCS yields a cool $26,000 per roster nowadays. With Archie joining the former Veloce side, Itachi trying out for FC Barcelona & Joreuz seemingly headed to Dignitas, both with zero RLRS experience in their own right, there isn’t a better time to examine this small group of players and the similar trends they mostly followed.

Yukeo

Yukeo joined Flipsid3 Tactics in January 2018, replacing the outgoing legend Markydooda. Notable for being the first KBM (Keyboard + Mouse) player in EU RLCS and earning his F3 tryout purely on stellar showings on the 6-mans ladder. The Austrian would be thrown into the deep end at Dreamhack Leipzig 2018, as with Miztik falling ill, Jessie was drafted in as a last-second super-sub. Somewhat miraculously, F3 would place 5th-8th, largely down to magic from Kuxir97 but Yukeo’s solid showing in difficult circumstances, particularly in the 3-2 win vs World’s runner ups Method earned him a full-time RLCS contract.

However come RLCS, there were struggles, F3 got off to a slow start but incredible victories over Gale Force & Vitality put them in the playoffs. It was there they would fall to Team Envy as Flipsid3 missed out on a trip to London. The despair was lessened as they would qualify for the 2nd Northern Arena Invitational and place 3rd at the LAN main event, only losing to titans Dignitas & NRG. The early jitters for Yukeo were gone as 2018 rolled on, 2nd place in RLCS league play, 3rd in the European regional finals, and 5th place at both the RLCS finals in Las Vegas and at ELEAGUE, only ever losing to Dignitas, Cloud9 & We Dem Girlz. Individually, Yukeo was a standout as the year ended, outperforming even Kuxir97 in a career renaissance. He has since gone on to join Dignitas and become a mainstay at the top of European Rocket League.

Scrubkilla

While Yukeo was a name barely anyone knew before 2018, Scrubkilla was the most anticipated rookie in RLCS history. Never has a fifteenth birthday been so hyped up but once Scrub was old enough to play in RLCS, it wasn’t long before he earned an RLCS signature from Renault Vitality. Built as the side to take down Dignitas, the ceiling and then some was the expectation for Scrubkilla’s debut season in the RLCS. Those expectations quickly went down the gutter with consecutive losses to lowly mousesports and Fnatic. Vitality would recover to make playoffs, but crash and burn at the hands of PSG and miss out on the world finals in Las Vegas.

Now sure, you could argue Vitality’s turn-around in 2019 came with one of the GOATs joining their roster in Kaydop, but it would be naive to say Scrubkilla didn’t look like an absolute star in 2019. With a season’s experience under his belt, he was voted Vitality’s most valuable player in RLCS league play and at the world championship where they would crown themselves as the best team in the world. Scrubkilla hasn’t looked back since, even when not on an active roster, he is rightfully viewed as one of the world’s elite.

Fruity

Scrubkilla wasn’t the only player in RLCS S6 to debut in RLCS with no prior RLRS experience. Another KBM player in Fruity found himself on PSG Esports just days before the roster lock after Bluey’s tumultuous exit from the squad. The lateness of the move meant PSG was playing catchup from the beginning, sitting at the bottom of the league standings with two games left. However big wins over We Dem Girlz & Fnatic saw them scrape into the playoffs, where they would be ones to eliminate Vitality and advance to Las Vegas. 

Fruity had a rough initiation but really turned up in the defining series vs Vitality and as time went on, it looked more and more like the right call. PSG would be Cloud9’s first test as world champions and force them to seven games. In the following season of RLCS,  PSG would have a more profound impact, emphatically eliminating Dignitas from worlds contention while very nearly besting both World’s Finalists in Vitality & G2. Fruity continued to be an essential cog in the machine that enabled a certain Chausette45, and the second half of 2019 saw the trio reap the fruits of their labour. Dreamhack Valencia Champions, Rocket League Summit 2nd place, and RLCS S8 European Champions. The slow start of late 2018 was a distant memory as Fruity’s trio was firmly established as one of Rocket League’s top teams.

Atomic

It almost feels like cheating to include Atomic here, he technically qualified RLRS with Naventic in its first season, however he was playing on someone else’s account while underage, resulting in a one year ban from when he turned fifteen. Once he turned sixteen, he joined Ghost Gaming and unlike everyone on this list, he hit the ground running with an MVP caliber season out of the gate.

Ghost Gaming would claim some impressive victories, particularly over both Dreamhack Montreal grand finalists in Pittsburgh Knights & G2 Esports, largely down to Atomic having the highest score per game (apart from Sypical) in the league. Despite being in the conversation for regular season MVP, his bomb dropping performances ultimately failed to yield any team success, as Ghost lost two game sevens to Knights & eUnited to miss out on the RLCS finals in Madrid. That setback hasn’t demotivated Atomic, as by the end of the most recent season of RLCS he was being touted as one of the best in NA after going nuclear in the regional championship vs Cloud9 & the Soniqs as Ghost cracked the top four. Now he hopes to help usher in an era of dominance under his new organization Team Envy.

Aztral

Also making his RLCS debut in season eight was Aztral. Despite not playing in RLRS his path of progression was very clear. 2019 started with his pickup side “Mindset”, featuring Calix & Oscillon eliminating Rogue from Dreamhack Leipzig. In the qualifiers from Dreamhack Dallas, him, Eekso & Tylacto would place 4th place in a bracket featuring a who’s who of RLCS talent. The stellar showings earned him a spot on RLRS side Method for the LAN itself, where they would get the upset win over Spacestation Gaming. And by the time Dreamhack Valencia rolled around, Aztral was on Dignitas. The concern about this was the fact he was replacing Turbopolsa of all people...

Despite impressive showings at Rocket League Summit & Dreamhack Montreal, 3rd & 5th-8th respectively, Dignitas was a question mark that quickly looked perilously close to relegation as the season went on. However, in their last series vs Vitality, Aztral would truly breakout in a star-making performance to upset the reigning world champions as Dignitas made the playoffs. Come playoffs, a reverse sweep over FC Barcelona, a 4-2 win over mousesports and a valiant 4-3 loss to Reciprocity signalled Aztral’s and Dignitas intentions and the rest is history. 

A statement top-four finish at the RLCS finals in Madrid and victory in the most recent European Championship has been added to Dignitas impressive trophy cabinet, in large part down to Aztral, who’s sophomore season saw him crowned regular-season MVP and in the eyes of many, the best player in the world.

Firstkiller

And to round out this list is a player we’re all too familiar with. Despite only having a solitary season of RLCS under his belt, Firstkiller was rightfully touted as one of the upcoming players. His reputation for regularly taking down many RLCS sides in the years prior to his fifteenth birthday meant it was no surprise to see him slot straight onto an RLCS roster. However despite being dubbed the “NA Scrubkilla”, Firstkiller also struggled to adapt to the RLCS pace, as Rogue floundered and nearly were automatically relegated from RLCS.

But since that sweep over Flight, Rogue has been a roster on the rise. Impressive showings in off-season events such as the Spring Skirmish and Astronauts cups meant it was little surprise Rogue survived the relegation playoffs through the upper-bracket. And with the addition of Turinturo, it has unleashed the potential Firstkiller was already showing glimpses of in the month prior. 3rd in the Rocket League NA Spring Series and 3rd-4th in The Brawl Invitational has not only established Rogue as a potential top-four side in NA, but Firstkiller as one of the elite players in the region, and the kid is still only fifteen.

In conclusion, if we’re to make assumptions about how Archie (and potentially Joreuz and Itachi) will fare on their new RLCS rosters, it's probable they face rough initiations. You can have all the experience in the world, RLCS is a different level, no fifteen-year-old should have the expectation to transform their team into immediate title winners...

But there is a reason these players go straight to RLCS. RLCS roster spots aren’t handouts, especially with so many talented players in RLRS, you have to possess something special to be picked up by an RLCS side, even if it isn’t apparent immediately, odds are it will pay off in the not so distant future.

Stay tuned at GGRecon for RLCS updates.

Image via ZeeboDesigns

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