In the high-turnover world of esports, a pro player spending four years with one organization -- let alone four uninterrupted years with the same teammate -- is like a lifetime.
So, when Dillon "Rizzo" Rizzo announced his retirement from competitive Rocket League in March, ending a lengthy run with G2 and Jacob "JKnaps" Knapman, the news shook the game's community -- even if some type of move wasn't entirely unexpected.
"To say I didn't know it was coming for a while would be a lie," JKnaps admitted in an exclusive interview with Nerd Street Gamers.
He obviously had inside information, though outside the organization, there were reports G2 was looking to replace Rizzo leading up to his departure amid the team's tight battle to qualify for one of the final spots in the RLCS X North American Championship.
Still, Rizzo calling it a career wasn't the outcome most fans were anticipating, while any move figured to dramatically alter the landscape of the sport.
Rizzo and JKnaps were the longest-tenured duo in the RLCS, having played together since February 2017. Although the pairing never produced a world championship, it was largely responsible for making G2 one of the top-three winningest franchises in the game's history.
"We had a lot of accomplishments together, and we kind of started from nothing," JKnaps said. "The first season we came in, we didn't make worlds."
"It was a good run. I can't be mad at anything we did."
Photo credit: Dreamhack
"You can pick any third you want," JKnaps said, recalling the recruiting pitch to join G2 coming from former teammate Cameron "Kronovi" Bills.
At the time, JKnaps didn't know Rizzo personally, but was a fan of the latter's content and would engage in the practice of stream sniping when he played Rocket League.
All in good fun, of course. JKnaps wound up choosing Rizzo, and the rest is history.
"We were always good friends outside the game and inside," JKnaps said. "That would never work if you guys weren't friends, right? You couldn't team with someone for four years. But I think me and Rizzo had a good friendship, so it worked out."
When Rizzo announced he was stepping away from competition to pursue content creation full time, JKnaps might have understood that decision better than anybody.
"I always knew he had more fun streaming, and doing competition as a pro player and streaming is a lot of work on your mental," JKaps said. "I knew for a while he wanted to. It was just a ‘when’ kind of thing. Then the whole COVID situation, and the new format of RLCS Season X is a lot more playing than the old seasons ... that was a big reason.
"I think Rizzo is enjoying streaming a lot, and he's doing all the viewing parties for the tournaments, so it's pretty fun."
Job security being what it is for pro players, JKnaps realizes the importance of planning for the future. While he has no intention of following Rizzo's lead and retiring anytime soon, he can envision himself stepping into another role three or four years down the road, possibly as a coach.
For now, at least, he still has unfinished business in the RLCS.
"If the world championship ever comes up again, I want to win that," JKnaps said.
Photo credit: DreamHack
Where does G2 go from here?
Fortunately, G2 isn't suddenly bereft of talent or stability after Rizzo's exit.
"Before it happened, it felt like it was going to be such a bigger adjustment," JKnaps said.
Reed "Chicago" Wilen is shaping up to become another G2 lifer, having been with the team for over two years and counting already, while newcomer Andres "dreaz" Jordan has adapted quickly to a 3v3 format despite previously playing a lot of 2v2 and 1v1.
"Me and Chicago really thought we were gonna have to change our playstyle," JKnaps said. "We thought it was gonna be a lot of adapting and working through it, but it kind of clicked right away and we're just improving off of that -- but it never felt really off."
At just 15 years old, dreaz could be construed as a gamble for such an established team, especially considering what's on the line at this juncture in the season.
G2 is currently holding down one of the final two qualifying spots for the RLCS X North American Championship, leading FaZe Clan and Shopify Rebellion in the standings by less than 100 points with only the Spring Major this weekend to play.
"We chose dreaz not really knowing how he would be, and then instantly he's very mature for his age," JKnaps said, praising the rookie's mechanics and ball control. "It was a big surprise for me. It just shows the young talent pool in Rocket League. He can keep up with all the best in North America."
In three tournaments so far with dreaz, G2 has reached a semifinal, posted a runner-up finish and failed to escape the knockout gauntlet in the latest spring regional tournament.
JKnaps feels some of the pressure is off, however, with the world championships being canceled this year due to the coronavirus. What's driving the squad instead is putting on a show for the viewers.
"Honestly, I hope we can just keep having fun," JKnaps said. "Even when Rizzo was with us, our main goal was trying to have fun with each other. The gameplay the fans get from that is way better."
One gets the sense JKnaps feels like G2 has a little something left to prove in the RLCS, too.
"It's a big motivation boost just having a little change in the team," JKnaps said. "It does get a little stagnant after four years."
Lead image credit: DreamHack