'No, we definitely didn’t expect to make it anywhere near this far. No one did.'
The Barrage Esports Rocket League roster has come a long way since their formation (as “Opp Block”). No more than a week before the RLCS Season X roster deadline (last Saturday), they upset Magnifico in the final round of Swiss Stage 2 to reach the playoffs of Regional 2. In Finlay “rise.” Ferguson’s own words “no, we definitely didn’t expect to make it anywhere near this far. No one did.”
Rise himself was working his way up the Portuguese domestic scene this time last year, while Sam “Cynical” Kilby, the other English player on the roster, was coming to the end of an unsuccessful time at Comrade Gaming. In the meantime, Ole “Oaly” van Doorn was establishing himself as a top player in the Dutch domestic scene with Game Fist and Goskilla, but barely missed out on qualifying for the RLCS Season 8 Rival Series.
Climbing the Mountain
It took a few fortunate events for the three to end up in the same place at the same time, the first being Rise's transition away from the Portuguese scene in late 2019. After going out in round one of the Portugal Dreamcup, and placing sixth in the Portuguese edition of Rising Stars, this would be understandable, but that wasn't what motivated him to make this decision: "I wanted to improve quicker, I started playing 6Mans a lot, and then I teamed with non-Portuguese people, which meant I couldn't play in Portuguese tournaments anymore."
6Mans was also where Rise met Cynical, however due to Cynical's commitments to Exilium Esports (Cynical, Kingjs, and CrisiZ), they didn't end up on a team together for a while.
The two would cross paths multiple times over the next few months - Rise, with ApparentlyJack and Alex837, took down Exilium 2-1 in an Omni Nation Rocket Cup. Exilium returned the favour in the group stage of the Rocket Kingdom National Championship. That 3-2 victory was the match that got Exilium to the playoffs and eliminated Rise's Blitzn't. Later, in Rocket Baguette Europa Rising Stars, Rise's VoiD took down Exilium to progress to the playoffs.
On April 18, with VoiD's time in the RBRS over and with the Exilium Esports roster disbanding, Cynical and Rise were finally able to team up. The "Wompers", featuring Rise, Cynical and Frozen (also known as Womped) dominated the qualifier for the Shazoo Rocket Smash Championship. Wompers went on to win the entire event, but with Chippy instead of Rise. Soon after the event, Cynical and Rise parted ways once again, but this allowed Cynical to be on a team with Oaly for the Spring Series qualifier. They, alongside Hakeem, placed in the top 16, an admirable performance - but nothing particularly special.
After a few of Cynical and Oaly's thirds didn't seem to work out, they combined the mechanical talents of Oaly and Rise with Cynical's experience to make a giant-killing machine known as "Opp Block". The trio's first real test was the July nicecactus monthly. They were swept in their first match by Rix_Ronday's "Sarandonga", but over the course of the next two days, the mixteam won six consecutive series, including two over VENC Gaming in the grand final. According to Rise, this was the result that attracted the attention of Barrage Esports: "We were first approached by Barrage when one of Cynical's friends, Clovuhh, told them about us. That was just after we had won the nicecactus monthly finals. We spoke with the org and got the contracts sorted soon after."
“Opp Block” went into RLCS X Regional 1 with no expectations, according to Cynical: “it isn’t good to go into a tournament expecting any particular result, I just play as the games come.” They qualified comfortably for the event, but fell in Swiss Stage 1 after losing to Magnifico in the final round. In hindsight, this was an impressive feat at the time - I hadn’t given any thought to them in my first RLCS X prediction article. Cynical attributed his increased success with Barrage to having more maturity in his playstyle:
I’m a different player now. Back then I think I was way more aggressive and risky as that was what worked in those teams; At the end of my time at Exilium I started playing a lot more 6Mans which conditioned me to playing more methodically, I think that has made it easier for my teammates and allows them to play the game they want without me treading on their toes.
On the Saturday of the finals weekend, Barrage Esports made the decision to sign the roster, and in their first event under the blue and white banner, the trio qualified for the Elemental Series alongside the likes of Sandrock Gaming and The Last Resort. They rode this high into The Field, where they placed sixth in August, and crucially into the Regional 2 qualifier, where Barrage progressed to the main event through the upper bracket.
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After wins against Team Orange Gaming and Nameseekers, and losses against FC Barcelona and Monkeys, the Barrage players found themselves in a very similar spot to Regional 1, but now their final round opposition was a lot tougher - Oxygen Esports were widely regarded as top-eight material going into the event. Barrage managed to reach match point after just two games, but with Oxygen starting to work their way back into the series, the situation seemed dire. Then, with less than ten seconds left on the clock in game four, Oaly found a critical demo in the Oxygen backline, all that was required from Rise was a quick turn and a strong shot to beat out Ferra.
Oxygen seemed to be cursed, but it didn’t matter to Barrage, they had to focus on a much tougher Swiss Stage 2. An upset win over Renault Vitality allowed Barrage to build some momentum at the start of the evening, but once again Rise, Cynical, and Oaly found themselves in the final round of the Swiss bracket. Since Magnifico had already played the other two teams in Barrage’s seeding pool, the two were bound to face each other. Instead of being the long, close series everyone was expecting, Barrage decided after going 2-0 up again that enough was enough - they won game three 11-2 to progress to the playoffs.
In the end, Barrage Esports were eliminated in the quarterfinals, but that didn’t seem to upset Cynical: “It feels amazing to pop off when it matters, and there isn’t a better place to do your best than in RLCS.” The next big event for the trio will be RLCS X Regional 3, which, for Barrage, starts with the open qualifier on September 21.
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Image via epicLAN