The Winter Split resumed in North America this weekend, putting a spotlight on rookies and transfers around the region. Some teams instantly saw the payoff from their moves, and we watched NRG win another tournament. Here are ten takeaways and quotes from the X Games Open, the first Winter Regional.
FaZe Clan were one of the most enticing teams to follow this weekend after bringing in Caden “Sypical” Pellegrin. Generally regarded as one of the best players in the region, his influence was obvious. There were still some of the typical defensive issues associated with FaZe Clan’s play, but they were still able to take third place on the podium. Sypical was brought in after Braxton “Allushin” Lagarec was released, who was also a quality player. It is not mechanical proficiency that limits FaZe’s defense, and adding a player like Sypical only increases their ceiling in their ability to control the ball and play out of defense with each other. If they can sort out their defensive positioning, they should continue to fight for top finishes.
FaZe looked dangerous against NRG in the Upper Bracket Final. Despite losing in Game 7, every single FaZe loss was by a single goal. They put on an excellent show with some great link-up play but ran out of steam by the end of the series. Plays like this make FaZe so dangerous, when they combine their creative passes with their mechanics. As Jason “Firstkiller” Corral settles the ball at midfield, Austin “AYYJAYY” Aebi makes a run down the left flank. He receives the pass and places his shot perfectly in the far corner. As the series went on, though, this type of play diminished. They did not have the same level of ball control and gave away too many free touches, a pattern for losing against a team like NRG. (1) Rocket League Esports on Twitter: "TOP SHELF 💥 #RLCS https://t.co/zwUFSgIe9L" / Twitter
In the post-game interview after that FaZe/NRG series, NRG captain Garrett “GarrettG” Gordon said, “Sypical, he is super consistent, so I continue to expect them to be in this match pretty consistently, in the Winner’s Finals, or at least in the Winner’s Semis. Yeah, it was hard.”
In their first RLCS match together, Sypical and his new FaZe teammates displayed the same offensive flair that made FaZe such a noteworthy team over the past year. All three players ranked in the top ten in goals/game for the tournament, with their newest arrival in Sypical posting a 65% goal participation, the best on the team.
Spacestation Gaming were another team that impressed with a new member on the roster. Daniel “Daniel” Piecenski was brought in to replace Sypical. Spacestation lost to FaZe and Sypical in the group stage but put up a fantastic performance in the Lower Bracket Final. Spacestation limited FaZe’s dangerous offense through much of the series. There was a period of around seventeen minutes (!) when Spacestation only allowed a single goal from the :45 second mark of Game 2 until the :35 second mark in Game 5.
Daniel seems to be the real deal for Spacestation. He was the most hyped rookie entering the split, receiving plenty of praise before playing a single game. He lived up to the billing, though, helping Spacestation on their road to the Grand Finals. His debut was solid and should only get better from here. He had a team-best 0.79 goals/game. It was exciting to watch him mesh with Tshaka “Arsenal” Lateef Taylor Jr’s and Slater “retals” Thomas’ aggressive styles.
Another rookie with a striking debut was Christopher “Aqua.” Campbell on Rogue. After a lackluster Fall Split, Rogue needed a change. Aqua. filled that need, but it was not enough this weekend. Popular caster and content creator, John “JohnnyBoi_i” MacDonald discussed on his stream that one day, Aqua. will be on a top-five roster. While it might not be in this specific iteration of the Rogue roster, Aqua. certainly has the talent.
It is hard to disagree with that. Aqua. did nearly everything for his team. He tied for the best goals/game in the tournament at 0.93 and had a goal participation of 82%. His flair in attack should at least keep Rogue in contention for the 9-12th range in this split. Rogue never finished higher than twelfth last split, so even slight improvements like this are good signs.
Version1 was impressive, finally putting together another top four performance. There were mixed results, but overall, the arrival of Landon “Beastmode” Konerman seems to have been an instant improvement for Version1. Their series against G2 in the Group Stage was dominant, shutting out G2 in three of the four games. Just as importantly, their offense looked great too. They were aggressive and opened the field of play. It would take a Game 7 overtime in their later rematch, but they beat G2 again.
Against Spacestation in the Lower Semi-Finals, their level dropped considerably. They struggled with boost and defense, but SSG is a top team. There is no fault in a top-four finish with a brand new transfer. They were prone to the counter-attack and had some defensive miscues, but as they develop synergy with more playtime, V1 has a chance to break the narrative of being an inconsistent team.
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The North American region as a whole saw plenty of transfers, and most of them went very well. The Beastmode to V1 and Jesus “Gimmick” Parra to Oxygen Esports move seems to be a win-win. Aqua. and Daniel seem to be the hot prospects we hoped they could be. However, teams like G2 and Team Envy were disappointing.
G2 brought in Massimo “Atomic” Francesschi, but the immediate results were not flattering. G2 needed a tiebreaker to make it out of the Group Stage. They seemed to improve as the tournament went on, so there is hope this was an outlier rather than the new normal for a team coming off of a trip to the Major. This team has too much talent for the season to fall apart. Even with some early concerns, they finished 5-6th.
Envy, however, are much more concerning. Andres “dreaz” Jordan replaced Atomic, and Envy looked rough in the Group Stage, failing to win a single series. Allushin was brought in as a coach, so it will be interesting to see how his influence helps the team rebound. One weekend is not enough to judge Envy, but it will certainly be interesting to follow as dreaz works to fit into his new squad.
Some other teams that impressed near the bottom of the standings were Shopify Rebellion and Oxygen Esports. Gimmick helped his new squad top Group D before falling to NRG and Spacestation in back-to-back series. A top-six finish is an exciting moment, though. They have the potential to constantly be in that mix of top five teams now.
Shopify Rebellion also had a strong showing. Will “Paarth” Crews has been applauded as a strong addition to the team. After a mediocre Fall Split, the Winter Split offers new hope for the team as they look to return to their RLCS X form. They finished 7-8th and should rank around that area if they continue their current improvement.
Caster James “Jamesbot” Villar said after NRG’s first-place finish, “It’s just great to see [Justin] jstn. [Morales] and even Garrett… NRG is a team that has been sticking together, a team of veterans. Justin, GarrettG, [Mariano] “Squishy” [Arruda], they always continue to impress, particularly the plays jstn. did.”
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Another Regional, another win for NRG. It is incredible how much they have won over the past year. They finished the group stage at 3-0, despite going to Game 5 against RBG and XSET. Those are not two teams expected to go head-to-head with NRG. Despite these early struggles, they swept Oxygen, and beat the new-look FaZe Clan and Spacestation Gaming on their way to another medal. In a post-match interview, GarrettG discussed that he thinks teams like Spacestation might have more talent, but NRG plays well as a team. They have plenty of team synergy, and that is exciting to watch when they combine that with their mechanics to pull off impressive team plays. NRG on Twitter: "X GAMES GOLD SECURED 🥇 WE ARE YOUR RLCS REGIONAL 1 CHAMPIONS 🏆 #NRGFAM 🔛🔝 @SquishyMuffinz @Its_JSTN @GarrettG @Sizz https://t.co/mmWclBikOh" / Twitter
There will be plenty of competition for NRG throughout the rest of the split, though. Teams like FaZe Clan and Spacestation Gaming will improve as they spend time practicing with their new players. Teams like Envy and G2 might rebound, putting pressure near the top of the standings again. For now, though, they have some more trophies that need new shelves.
There are still plenty of questions regarding some of the Winter transfers. Some teams bounced up in the standings while others fell. NRG continued to rack up their lead in the Circuit rankings, and rookies took over talk in the community. There is still much to be answered about this split, and the first Regional was only a taste of what is next.
All stats due to OctaneGG.
All images due to Rocket League on Twitch.
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