What you need to know about the new RLCS format

by Andrew Kulp

With its biggest and most inclusive format yet, the Rocket League Championship Series is giving new meaning to the term “world champions” this season.

RLCS 2021-22 is set to kick off on Friday, Oct. 15, with the main event of the first fall regional event. Some of the changes will be immediately apparent, as two of the esport’s three new regions will be on display opening weekend.

Teams from the Middle East & North Africa and Asia-Pacific South will join those from North America and Oceania in competing in regional events this weekend, while an Asia-Pacific North division will debut one week later when Europe and South America get their seasons underway as well.

The RLCS also announced support last month for a Sub-Saharan Africa region that, while not a full participant for the 2021-22 season, will send two teams to its enhanced world championship playoff tournament in July (more on that in a moment).

At this point, the only part of the globe that seemingly doesn’t have some level of representation in the RLCS is Antarctica, a concern officials are probably already hard at work on solving for next year. (I kid.)

The addition of these regions promises to have far-reaching impacts on the pro Rocket League scene, so let’s take a closer look at what it all means.

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The world championship is back, bigger than ever

Based on this news, one can conclude RLCS is optimistic it will be able to crown its first world champion since 2019 after COVID-19 forced the cancelation of the last two tournaments.

And assuming worlds do return, it will do so with its largest field to date as part of a nearly two-week extravaganza.

Eight teams automatically qualify for the world bracket straightaway based on a weighted point system in regional play. Another 16 squads are entered into a Swiss-style wild card tournament from which the top eight will advance to the group stage, essentially creating a two-tiered, 24-team playoff.

Over the final six days, the remaining 16 teams will form four smaller double-elimination groups, which will then filter into a single-elimination bracket to produce a world champion.

Get your popcorn ready

In case the revival of an RLCS World Championship playoff -- traditionally an in-person event -- was at all unclear, the league is planning its return to LAN during the ‘21-22 season.

As of now, the “full intention,” per the language used on the RLCS website, is to hold all three majors as well as worlds with a live format, beginning with inviting players and essential staff only to the Fall Major, then re-evaluating fan attendance for future events in 2022.

Of course, as we’ve seen time and time again, the pandemic can take a dramatic turn, so there’s no telling what will actually transpire.

What they’re saying is there’s a chance, which after the last 20-odd months with no LAN is certainly a step in a positive direction.

The seasons are changing

Even the path teams must travel to get to worlds will have new twists and turns this season that should give each stage a slightly different end game and help prevent RLCS from feeling stagnant midway through the year.

Although the season is still divided into fall, winter and spring splits with a 16-team major at the end of each, they will all be set up differently.

The Fall Major will use that Swiss format that feeds into an eight-team single-elimination tournament; the Winter Split will conclude with a round of group play which will be used to seed teams in a double-elimination bracket; and Spring will see the utilization of a straightforward double-elimination format.

With each split having its own final, it should keep things fresh during what can sometimes seem like a long season.

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What does it all mean for RLCS in 2021-22?

Though the revamped regular season format is a nice touch, the bottom line here is we’re seeing a concerted effort to not simply resurrect the RLCS World Championship, but recreate it as something that is truly a worldwide celebration of Rocket League.

The great thing about the RLCS circuit is it democratizes the sport, meaning anybody can compete as long as they can find two teammates and participate first in their region’s open qualifier at smash.gg -- yes, even last year’s regional champions NRG, Vitality, Ground Zero and True Neutral.

And with $6 million in total prize money on the line this year, you may just want to find out how you stack up.

Even if you’re not standing on the world stage at the end, the 24 teams that do make it from all around the globe will have earned their place there. Expect a wild ride along the way.

Lead image credit: Psyonix

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