South America’s Big Four began to crumble earlier this year, but how did it happen?

18:30, 27 Jul 2020

At the start of the year, South America remained dominated by the same set of twelve players that it had been for the entirety of 2019. Seven months later, that dominance has been ended and the “Big Four” has been shattered. How did such a turnaround happen so quickly? To find that out, we have to look into how four teams had stayed in a commanding position for such a long time in the first place.

The Big Four’s rise came early on in South America’s scene. FC Barcelona’s Argentinian coach El General pointed out that “you can go back as far as 2016 to see the same names pop up in the top places.”

In early ESL and Rocket Street events, it was clear that this group of high-level players were going to dominate.

The Big Four has been almost the same players since the beginning, consisting of veterans that stuck with the game perfecting their chemistry and grinding daily.

- El General

The twelve veterans who stayed at the top of the game were Firefox, Juan, Haberkamper, CaioTG1, math, valt, tander, caard, renaN, repi, PJ and matix. Even those early events helped to push these players further, as “without those tournaments, players would have had nothing to play for other than their rank.”

South America’s first big event was the SAM Championship, eight months before the region’s introduction to the RLCS. When the LAN finals rolled around, it was the veteran side of Lotus that took the title, with Firefox, Haberkamper and Juan cementing their spot at the top of South American Rocket League. As Psyonix support began to ramp up with Rocket Street’s Grind Series, the gap still remained. Lotus, Erodium and LaQuímica e-Sports (all made up by nine of those twelve players) finished in the top four in all of the Grind Series events. Speaking of Psyonix’s support, El General added that “continuous events and support from the developers would make the scene a bit more stable, with these players actually being able to dedicate fully towards the game.”

Brazilian Rocket League

In April 2019, South America’s first RLCS League Play began. The inaugural Grand Series saw an incredible divide between the Big Four and the rest of the region. Erodium (Caio, math, valt), Lowkey Esports (tander, caard, renaN), INTZ (repi, PJ and matix) and Lotus (Firefox, Juan, Haberkamper) dominated the standings. Now with a firm grasp on the region, those four rosters only dropped matches against each other and occupied the top four spots in both league play and the playoffs. After the RLCS season, South American teams also played in the ESL Brasil Premier League. Although INTZ failed to reach the top four, this was only due to ESL’s seeding as they were placed in a group with Lotus and Erodium. There was also the closed qualifier for DreamHack Montreal, where Lotus came out on top ahead of, you guessed it- INTZ, Lowkey and Erodium.

Now it was time for the first South American shuffle. The Big Four, determined to stay intact, sent four players on a roster move merry-go-round as Caio, Juan, matix and renaN all found themselves on a new lineup ahead of Season 8 commencing. However, it almost wasn’t to be as for a hot minute valt was replaced by Droppz on The Three Sins (ex-Erodium)’s lineup. In the end, valt rejoined the team two weeks later, keeping the Big Four intact going into League Play. Who could’ve guessed, they were on top again. This time, cracks began to show as TTS dropped a game-five overtime series to fifth-placed Oxey Team, but once the playoffs began the domination resumed. Lowkey returned to the World Championship, this time alongside The Three Sins, where they would take South America’s first WC victory against Veloce Esports.

After two seasons of ruthless domination, things finally changed. Shortly after their elimination at worlds, math was dropped from The Three Sins, finding himself replaced in the Big Four by Droppz. After nearly breaking into SAM’s top ranks in the previous season, Droppz was now on INTZ’ roster, replacing the outgoing PJ (who joined up with TTS). math’s new roster, picked up by Most Wanted, made waves by taking down the INTZ lineup (going by Poison Bullets after being released by the organisation), eventually finishing third in the regional championship. Less than a year after almost taking down NRG at Season 7’s World Championship, Poison Bullets faltered to a 2-5 record and were beaten by True Neutral in the first round of regionals. The roster parted ways shortly after, marking a dismal end to one of South America’s titans.

RLCS was followed by the Spring Series, by which time the Big Four had shrunken down into the Big Three. Ellevens Esports (ex-Lowkey), Avidity Esports (ex-Lotus) and Team Renewed (ex-Three Sins) finished in the top three, with Matix and Repi finishing lower down and Juan nowhere to be seen. Three players had been cut from South America’s elite, and from there, things only got worse for the Big Three.

True Neutral, a team consisting of two Argentinians and a Chilean, were rising up the ranks. After a fifth-place finish in the RLCS, they brought in ajgAnotherGuy_ in place of Lexim. Alongside Reysbull and SHADDD, ajg’s new team reached top six in the Spring Series. Whilst they had already taken down Poison Bullets during RLCS, Rocket Street’s LATAM Championship would see them claim an upset like no other.

Following an upset win against Avidity to qualify through the first qualifier’s upper bracket, True Neutral took down several ex-Big Four players to qualify for the playoffs with ease, going 3-0 in the swiss stage. Pêra (valt), No Mercy (Repi) and Wright Light all fell as TN secured their spot in the upper bracket. Despite losing 4-2 to Team Renewed in their first series, they upset Ellevens Esports before dominating Team Renewed to take home the title. It was a historic day. According to El General, “True Neutral taking the trophy is HUGE. Since the SAM scene was born we have seen glimpses of skill and unique players from outside of Brazil, but they have been a rare sight and they always lacked the spark to take that extra step and reach a top spot consistently.”

So, why is a non-Brazillian team winning such a huge deal? Well, after what feels like a lifetime of the same twelve Brazillian players being on top of South America, El General commented that “we're witnessing a possible change in the future of the scene.” He also added that “as more Spanish-speaking members of the community will take them as an example and make a bigger effort to keep up with SHAD, ajg and Reysbull.” Brazil’s dominance was also a result of the technological limitations, with many Chilean players being forced to play with a ping of well over 100ms.

What’s next for South America? With the region’s RLCS plans yet to be announced, we’re not quite sure. Now that the Championship Series has moved to a circuit format, it’s unclear what’s going to happen with South America and Oceania, with Psyonix saying that they’re “working with South American and Oceanic tournament organizers to create their own circuit of events that will serve as official pathways to Majors and the World Championship.” When those plans do get announced, one thing is for certain - SAM is in for some exciting multi-national competition.

Images via Zeebo | DreamHack

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