With two European teams in the upper finals of the Rocket League Championship Series (opens in new tab), the outcome of Sunday afternoon's lower semi-final would determine which of the two remaining North American teams still had a shot at the trophy. Cloud9 was the favorite to win the best-of-five series by most accounts, while players Kronovi, Rizzo, and Jknaps from G2 Esports were the clear fan favorites. It was the perfect setup for what turned out to be a perfect series.
Both teams were under a ton of pressure. They were battling to be the best in North America, and to be NA's only chance at winning the grand final as underdogs against formidable EU teams Gale Force and Method. The bulk of the crowd in Washington DC was about to pin its hopes on one of them, and in return they put on a show with the most entertaining series of the day. You can watch the whole thing below, and it's worth it.
Right away, the Cloud9 predictions seem to be confirmed as Squishy scores first, but just a few seconds later Kronovi ties it with a beauty. Game one goes into overtime, and Cloud9 brings all the pressure. When G2 finally escapes its end after some tough saves, Torment is forced to make an unreal save on Kronovi. As the ball returns to center field, it looks like the better team is still Cloud9—but Kronovi isn't done, popping a slow shot beneath Torment to win game one.
The crowd loves the underdog taking game one, but then comes game two: a 5-0 blowout for Cloud9. The series is tied and the theater gets a little quieter, until a gentle Cloud9 chant starts in the balcony.
G2 has only scored two goals in the series at this point, both in game one. I'm starting to wonder if they can keep getting balls past Cloud9's defense. Game three answers that, with Cloud9 and G2 trading goals to a 3-3 tie for another overtime game. This one doesn't end so quickly, though, turning into a four minute endurance battle that finally ends with a Cloud9 win at the wheels of Gimmick.
The crowd is waiting for a moment to breathe, but we don't get one. In game four, G2's reinvigorated defense keeps them leading the game 1-0 as the clock ticks down. The clock hits zero, and then it becomes another thriller. The ball has to touch the ground to end the match, and as it hasn't done that, Cloud9 can still tie it. It bounces around in Cloud9's end, they smash it out, and then Kronovi has to rush across the goal to save a fast shot from Gimmick nearly 20 seconds after the clock stopped. G2 finally wins, and the series is tied 2-2.
Game five's second 1-0 finish, this time for Cloud9, sounds unexciting by comparison, but the series coming down to a single goal is the perfect, heartbreaking cap.
Cloud9 didn't make it to the grand final, where Gale Force put on a hell of a show against Method, and all the teams and final series were great. Still, this is the one that stuck with me after we filed out of the theater, so full of fantastic Rocket League moments: the narrow overtime win for G2, the blowout, the four minute OT, the thrilling zero minute plays by Cloud9 to nearly tie game four.
Being there made a big difference. With the crowd cheering for every shot, save, and goal it didn't feel any different from being at a hockey game. Watching sports is a social activity for many, so I expect that creating physical and virtual spaces (aside from the mess that is Twitch chat) is going to be a big part of esports' future. Rewatching it now on YouTube, it's still a great series, but in the theater it felt legendary.