G2 Esports’ victory at the Rocket League Championship Series Winter Major at the Youtube Theater in Los Angeles on Sunday was the culmination of a very fulfilling week for Rocket League in North America.
This was the first RLCS event in front of a crowd in over two years, and North American teams performed extremely well on home soil. Not only did G2 win it all, but four of the top six teams at the major were NA teams. And North America teams consistently beat teams from Europe in a marked turnaround from how things went at the Fall Split Major in Stockholm.
In Rocket League, like in many esports, regional pride is one of the motivating factors for fans and players in international tournaments.
“For all of us, we compete against each other, but when it comes down to these kinds of tournaments, we cheer for each other because it is a little bit of pride and we want to be the best region,” G2’s Reed “Chicago” Willen said in a postmatch press conference following the team’s Winter Major victory.
Not only did G2 win a title on home soil, but it was particularly special for Chicago, whose hometown is … wait for it, Los Angeles.
“I felt at home the entire time,” Chicago said. “I think it played a big factor. It meant a lot to win it here in front of family.”
Team Queso proves to be the biggest challenge
Photo credit: Epic Games
That comfort level was one of numerous factors that may have ultimately swung things in G2’s favor. In a tight grand final against Team Queso, G2 needed every extra advantage they could get to ultimately pull off the win. Although they were undefeated and were playing like one of the best teams in the tournament going into the grand final, they faced an opponent that looked stronger and stronger over the course of the playoffs.
The last EU team in the tournament entered the grand final on an epic lower bracket run that began Friday with a win against NRG, continued Saturday against Evil Geniuses and FURIA, and reached its apex on Sunday with wins over FaZe Clan and Spacestation Gaming.
Entering the final, they had beaten every NA team in the tournament except G2. Since they were coming from the lower bracket, they would need to win one best-of-7 series to force a bracket reset, and then win another Bo7 to win the Winter Major. Of course, they won the first series 4-3 to hand G2 its first series loss all tournament.
Fortunately for G2, they got a break in between series to reset.
“We went back to the practice room … just talked about everything we thought was going wrong,” G2’s veteran Jacob "JKnaps" Knapman said. “It was mostly communication and obviously nerves played a big factor in that, but we just knew if we played like we did in practice, talked, communicated like we did in practice, we’d be fine and that’s what we did in the second series.”
Massimo "Atomic" Franceschi, the youngest and newest member of the team, admitted he was feeling nervous during that first series.
“We started figuring out at the end of that series kind of how to figure out a way to play against them that worked, so we felt really confident in that Game 7 honestly,” G2’s other vet Chicago said. “We felt like we were in control. We made the mistakes that let them win. So we knew that we had the momentum and were really confident going into the next series.”
Every single game in that tight, back-and-forth Bo7 was a one-goal game, but the second series was a different story. Maybe it was G2’s experience and leadership ensuring the team made the right adjustments against a very young Team Queso. Perhaps it was Queso finally running out of steam as they played in their fourth series of the day.
Whatever it was, G2 started to pull away.
G2 took Game 3 by a score of 3-1, the first game in which either side won by more than one goal. It was also the first time G2 held the series lead. Entering Game 6, G2 was up 3-2 in the series with a chance to bring it home, and they did so emphatically, winning the deciding game 4-1. Atomic scored three goals in the victory and ended up taking home MVP honors.
A little bit of youth amid a veteran team
Photo credit: Epic Games
G2 acquired Atomic just ahead of the Winter Split, and players from other teams pointed to him as a big reason for G2’s success. On Saturday in postmatch press conferences, both FaZe’s Caden "Sypical" Pellegrin and Spacestation’s Slater "retals" Thomas said Atomic had made G2 stronger.
For 18-year-old Atomic, who has been competing in the RLCS for a few years, this was a huge championship early in his career. For JKnaps and Chicago, though, it was long overdue.
G2 has performed well within NA tournaments, but this was the first major international LAN tournament victory for the pair of G2 veterans.
“It feels amazing, not even just for G2 but for me also it feels like it was a curse that I just couldn’t win a grand final,” said JKnaps, who joined G2 in 2017. “Just that feeling that we finally did it, it’s just surreal.”
G2’s charismatic owner Carlos “Ocelote” Rodriguez likes to joke on Twitter about what bad luck the organization had been having in major finals. In fact, they had just lost a major final in VALORANT earlier in the day.
It was fitting that the person who placed the Winter Major medals around their necks was a longtime teammate and someone who had spent a good chunk of his career with G2, Dillon "Rizzo" Rizzo. Like JKnaps, he joined G2 in 2017 and was with the team through last year when he retired.
“It was honestly surreal. I think Rizzo doing it was like the perfect thing,” said Chicago, who joined G2 in 2019. “We were teammates with Rizzo for a long time and we were all great friends.”
What’s next for G2?
Now that G2 have finally broken through, the question is, can they remain on top? And for how long? It’s a hard thing for any team in any game or sport to stay on top, and like any great team, G2 are already thinking about continuing their success.
“Obviously it’s not Worlds -- that’s the main goal -- but this one really gives us a lot of confidence going forward because now we know we can do it on the big stage in front of people,” Chicago said.
The next chance they’ll get to play in front of fans will be in London this summer for the Spring Split Major. The RLCS will then return to North America for the world championship, which is set to take place in Dallas in August.
Lead photo credit: Epic Games