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South America’s True Neutral win Nerd Street’s Rocket League Summer Champs

by Mitch Reames

Every weekend in August will feature a new champion across five major esports at Nerd Street’s Summer Championships. Teams have been fighting to qualify for these tournaments for months and they feature the highest prize pools Nerd Street will award for the entire year. The first champion crowned this month was Rocket League’s True Neutral. Here’s how this past weekend’s tournament played out.

The 16 teams were split into four groups with each one being led by one of the monthly winners. Going into the tournament, two teams stood out as favorites. True Neutral, the winners of the RLCS X South American Championship, and hey bro, led by a 14-year-old player named Daniel who is consistently on top of the ranked leaderboard as he waits to come of age to join the RLCS.

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True Neutral led Group B, while hey bro took care of Group D. In the other two groups, Team .EXE, an up-and-coming squad that managed to qualify for a few regionals during RLCS X North America, took Group A. Group C saw a late addition in Dream, replacing Vibrance, who took the first seed.

Still, there was a clear talent divide with True Neutral and hey bro continuing as the favorites. Both teams looked great with neither one dropping a match in group play, although True Neutral had a tough challenge with a new team called Square 1, a match that turned out to be storybook foreshadowing.

Before we get to that, hey bro’s story came to an unsatisfactory ending. The team was unable to find a sub and was disqualified in Round 1 of the main bracket with only two players available. Iz im dreamin, a team made up of three players who spent the last year competing in The Field, RLCS’s new bridge to pro play which replaced the RLRS, moved on.

It was unfortunate to lose hey bro in that fashion especially as they looked like one of the strongest teams in the tournament. Daniel is a well regarded player who will likely be joining a top-tier roster once he turns 15 in December.

But for this tournament, iz im dreaming moved on. Their semifinal opponent became Square 1, a new team led by former RLCS pro, Jaime “Karma” Bickford. She was the first female player to make the RLCS, competing with Splyce in Season 8. Since then, especially with the move to a more open ecosystem, other women might have joined her as RLCS players but she was the first female pro to reach that level. She is one of a small group of players with true RLCS experience. Her teammates on Square 1 are Hector “Hec” Velazco, an RLRS player who finished third in the final season of the RLRS, and Kadin “Zineel” Zineelabidine, a 16-year-old player climbing the ranks with his sights on breaking through to the RLCS.

After being formed on July 28, just three days before the start of this tournament, Square 1 had already provided True Neutral’s toughest challenge. After a close loss in the initial Group B match, Square 1 ran over the entire tournament to reach the semifinals. In the matchup with iz im dreaming, it was more of the same. With a 3-0 win, Square 1 moved to the grand finals.

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True Neutral's journey

Meanwhile, on the top half of the bracket, True Neutral kept rolling. They swept Mirage first, winners of the June Monthly, then they swept Team .EXE, winners of the May Monthly. At this point, True Neutral had played four different teams and was 10-0 across all the games. Team .EXE especially deserves a shoutout. The team has gone through a few roster iterations but was on the cusp of breaking through multiple times during the RLCS X season.

After a close Game 1, True Neutral's relentless offense became too much for Team .EXE to handle with the sweep coming on a 5-0 routing. It was True Neutral’s hallmark. A relentless offense that just broke other teams under a barrage of shots.

The team is originally based in Argentina but moved to Mexico to compete on better ping while taking on North American competition. It was a move built out of necessity as True Neutral won all three South American majors and the championships. They are ready to try to take on the best competition the world has to offer. The roster of Facundo “Shad” Vallerino, Victor “Reysbull” Duran Parra and Lautaro “ajg” Gusinsky has been together for about a year-and-a-half. They have experience, pedigree and plenty of talent. It showed throughout this tournament with only sweeps up until the grand finals

And it wasn’t just True Neutral. The story of this tournament was sweeps. Only seven of the 27 total matches saw the losing team win at least one game.

In a tournament filled with sweeps, the grand final finally brought the tension. The first matchup between the teams was only a best-of-three, but it was a close one. Now Square 1 and True Neutral got a true best of seven, a fitting follow up for the two teams who have basically swept the entire rest of the field up to this point.

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Rocket League Summer Champs grand final

For Game 1, Square 1 won in OT. Zineel especially had some fantastic saves on True Neutral’s talented offense. With both goals in the 2-1 win as well, Zineel certainly capitalized on his chance in the spotlight against a talented team. For the first time all tournament, True Neutral lost a game.

In Game 2, True Neutral got a bounce back with a 1-0 win but these games were not the high-scoring affairs that True Neutral became known for over the course of the tournament.

Game 3 also went to OT. Zineel pocketed his third goal of the grand finals, the only Square 1 player to score through three games, but True Neutral finished this one 2-1 in OT. It still wasn’t True Neutral’s normal style of play, but they showed they don’t mind pushing the attack over and over while preventing Square 1 from having the hope of a counter.

Square 1 really needed Game 4 to tie the series back up. After an early pinch goal from Zineel, Square 1 orchestrated a park-the-bus strategy perfectly. For the next four-and-a-half minutes they blanketed every True Neutral attack, holding the talented team scoreless for a 1-0 win. So far, every game had been decided by just one goal. With the series tied up at 2-2, the teams move to a final best-of-three for the championship.

Game 5 started the same way. Zineel scored an early goal, but this time True Neutral fired back immediately. Shad put a beautiful double tap off the backboard and in. That was the kind of offense that won True Neutral three majors and the championship in South America over the last year.

Zineel needed another goal scorer on Square 1 and Hec stepped up at the two-minute mark for the first goal from a different Square 1 player. Zineel added another one off the kickoff and took a 3-1 lead. It was first time any team took a lead of more than one goal over the entire series. It proved important as Shad added one more, but Square 1 took the win 3-2.

For Game 6, the scoring didn’t come quickly, but not thanks to plenty of tries from True Neutral. Over and over Ajg, Shad and Raysbull put together beautiful team plays to get bangers on net, and everytime it seemed like a Square 1 player, often Hec, was just in the perfect place to deflect it. After four minutes of shot after shot, Square 1’s defense finally broke as True Neutral put together three more nice passing plays to finally open up a lead. It took six games, but True Neutral’s offense broke through Square 1’s stellar defense.

Game 7 was a fitting end for a back-and-forth series between two teams who had only ever lost to each other over the course of the tournament. This time, Zineel got the first goal in the first minute once again. The park-the-bus strategy was there for the taking. But ajg had different plans.

The breakthrough that started last game continued right after with an ajg banger to the top-left corner. And then another to the top right corner right after. A few minutes later ajg put it off the backboard and Reysbull bucketed it to take a 3-1 lead. It looked like the end. But Zineel put up his best play of the entire tournament, a massive flying flip reset to bring Square 1 back to within one at 3-2. They wouldn’t get another goal, and so, like the entire series, the Game 7 matchup finished with just one goal separating the teams and True Neutral being crowned champions.

Post-tournament takeaways

There are tons of takeaways from this grand finals and tournament in general. First, True Neutral wants to compete against NA. During RLCS X, the regions remained separate and True Neutral dominated South America. It’s impossible to say where they would rank had they played in NA all year, but somewhere between 6-10 in NA is a pretty fair guess.

Going into the next season, True Neutral will hopefully get more shots against the top tier of NA so expect to see them in more tournaments soon. Meanwhile, Square 1 had a great start to the next season. The trio will be staying together for RLCS and the new team was just a game away from a fantastic arrival.

Zineel especially impressed a ton by being responsible for all but one of Square 1’s goals in the grand finals. Without any time to really practice together, Square 1 beat a lot of solid teams and nearly took down the South American champions in the final. For now, they are an unsigned team, but with more tournaments like this one, that could certainly change. Karma was relatively quiet during the RLCS X season, but she’s certainly a fan-favorite, and her return to top-level competitions would be a welcome sight. Both teams showed flashes of brilliance in this grand final. True Neutral won an NA tournament, and Square 1 had a great first week as a new team.

Lead image credit: Psyonix

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