Collegiate Rocket League: What Does Europe Need to Compete?
The Collegiate Rocket League World Championship went down this past weekend, and if you missed it, let’s just say it didn’t go great for the European Universities. Of all the sixteen institutions competing, the representatives from UniRocketeers EURC all occupied the bottom spots, without a single team reaching the final day for playoffs, and only one series being won against a North American side.
The champions, as expected, were Northwood University, featuring Ghost Gaming player and RLCS regular Hunter “LionBlaze” Woitas. The whole of the Northwood University side among others are all full scholarship rides, with the university really leading the charge in the CRL industry for doing so. Whether Europe can find or compete with that sort of funding is certainly a hot point of debate for the players and teams going home empty handed.
EU Collegiate Rocket League: What Went Wrong?
There were early signs that it would not be Europe’s weekend, from the very first series of the tournament. In Group A, back to back overtime wins put KIT SC (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) 2-0 up in the best-of-five against Canada’s St. Clair Saints (St. Clair College). What followed was the first of painful collapses from winning positions for the European teams, with the Canadians clutching up, taking three back to back games to take the series in a reverse sweep, giving them the upper bracket match against Northwood, who had dispatched the UK’s University of Salford, the other European team who rounded out the bottom of the group.
In Group B, the European Championship Portsmouth Paladins (University of Portsmouth) had potentially the most shocking of performances. Eager to live up to expectation, they fell to the lower bracket after their opening series, put on the alternate stream as the organizers though it would be a comfortable win for the Englishmen, turned out to be a back and forth series against North America’s bottom seed Penn State (Pennsylvania State University), with the underdogs taking it in Game 5. Crushed after the defeat, Portsmouth would go on to be convincingly dispatched by the west’s UNLV (University of Nevada Las Vegas) on the main stage.
Keele Can’t Hold On, Phoenix Doomed to Burn?
Group C proved home to Europe’s only true hope after the Friday, with the Keele Krakens (Keele University) actually winning on the main stage in a strong 3-0 sweep over Quebec’s Cégep de Valleyfield. They would fight hard but go down with no games against strong contenders Columbia College, and the lower bracket would be home to the unspeakable revenge of Valleyfield. An entertaining series all the way, Keele were three goals to the good with a minute remaining on Champions Field. In one of the finest comebacks ever seen in Rocket League Esports, the Quebecers scored three goals to equalise in the dying seconds, before taking it in overtime to eliminate what was at the time the final European team in the competition in heartbreaking fashion.
And finally Group D, with many hopes on their shoulders due to RLCS professional Maik “Tigreee” Hoffmann being amongst their ranks, the Berlin Phoenix found themselves in what was looked at as the Group of Death. With Central Florida’s UCF Knights and eventual finalists Stockton University in the group, perhaps the Germans underestimated their first opposition in Oakland University’s Golden Grizzlies. A struggle all the way to game 5, with the clock hitting 0, Berlin held the lead. In RL though, the game is never over until the ball touches the ground, and a crucial equaliser from Edward “rahz” Nabeel Azzam taught them that the hard way. Before they or the casters could even catch their breath, Oakland had scored a kickoff goal in a catastrophic lapse of concentration and communication for Europe’s #2 seed.
Understandably as the results fell through, the European community found new lows of pain they did not know they needed to be ready for. Even the most devout and hopeful North American could not have realistically expected the sheer dominance of their region in the tournament. When asked about Europe while on desk following the Grand Final and being named the tournament MVP, LionBlaze stated Europe simply “need more time against the NA CRL teams” as well as “over time it will be like RLCS with Oceania”.
But is it that simple? Certainly the European teams and fans will hope that time can heal their recent wounds, and it is fair to say that time will help as previously it was not on their side. 3 years ago, the first of its time EURC 2019 had a prizepool of just £90, whereas CRL’s first edition 5 years ago was helped to a $50,000 prize pot. This alongside the already existing collegiate sports culture certainly kick-started the North American competition, with Europe certainly being behind in the latter.
The previously point of controversy is the luxurious scholarships that teams the likes of Northwood and Columbia splash the big money on to secure the best collegiate Rocket League players represent their university. These are unheard of across the Atlantic in terms of their magnitude and Rocket League specifics, but some viewers also found that it made the competition less entertaining, with the end result already seeming like a foregone conclusion. It can certainly be said that it almost tarnishes in a way the organic North American teams who get huddled into the same group by frustrated Europeans.
While scholarships could change the face and depth of the European scene, we need to look at this past weekend with a fair eye given their is no sign of them on the horizon. A final factor to consider is the timing of the event, right in the heart of examination season for a majority of the European universities, with Portsmouth’s Josh “Mercy” Norman even revising between days and series for an important exam he had in the days following his return home. Scholarships or not, we know Europe would be back, and if not for five painful game 5 losses we could be looked at their performance in a very different light.