How depression and stagnation wrecked the original ‘Rocket League’ champions

A lot has happened in a small amount of time in the world of Rocket League esports. And thats true for one of its top teams, as well.

North American team G2 Esports, led by Cameron “Kronovi” Bills, won the first-ever official Rocket League Championship Series last August. He and his team came into season two as clear favorites expected to once more guide the region to victory over Europe, and establish North America as the dominant force in the competitive car-soccer-like video game.

That didn’t happen. G2’s troubles began in the qualifiers, as the squad struggled to find consistency and bounced between sloppy losses. After bowing out of League Play and missing the playoffs entirely, the team unraveled, leaving only its well-known captain to try and assemble another winning squad.

And that’s exactly what he’s done. G2 Esports’ new Rocket League lineup has been on a tear so far this season.

The team members that started it all

Formed as Cosmic Aftershock in June 2015 and later playing as iBUYPOWER Cosmic the team now known as G2 has been a fixture of the Rocket League competitive scene before there even was a proper competitive scene and even before the final version of the game was released.

Confetti flew as Cosmic was crowned the first RLCS champion.

By the time the first RLCS season began in April 2016, Kronovi was well-known as a streamer and, specifically, for his trick videos. The finalized lineup with Brandon “Lachinio” Lachin and Cody “Gambit” Dover seemed like a sure bet for success. Both teammates were recruited from other NA squads, and were well-known in the community. Cosmic was all set to be Rocket Leagues first powerhouse team.

Cosmic was all set to be Rocket Leagues first powerhouse team.

Late-season struggles kept the team out of the online finals. Kronovi admitted that rivals had figured out how to counter the aggressive style that initially brought them success. Still, Cosmic had accumulated enough points to make the live finals in Hollywood in August 2016. But then, a month before the LAN, Gambit had to step away. The stress of competitive play was too much Gambits struggle with depression led to a series of anxiety attacks and he decided not to attend.

That forced Cosmic to elevate backup player Ted “0ver Zer0” Keil to cover the starter position. The revised trio practiced extensively in those last weeks. According to Kronovi, 0ver Zer0 took to the starter role well, but given the late-season struggles and roster shake-up, they were still anything but a sure bet.

Luckily, all three played out of their minds at the LAN, ultimately beating Euro favorites FlipSid3 Tactics 4-2 to secure the championship and take home $27,500 between them. Kronovi proved his offensive capabilities with mind-boggling accuracy, hitting the goal nearly 59% of the time significantly higher than the next player on any team.

The stress of competitive play was too much.

0ver Zer0 took MVP honors for sterling all-around play, whether it was consistently beating opponents to the ball or notching insane aerial scores. Fans dubbed him Rocket Jesus for his flowing locks and miraculous abilities.

The comfort zone that killed their success

Just like that, Cosmic ruled the Rocket League scene, and they parlayed that success into a move to the larger G2 organization. Kronovi later admitted that success made them comfortable. The trio stopped working as hard to maintain their elite level of play, and it showed in their early season two stumbles.

“After the win, we got a little complacent and didn’t practice as much as we could,” he said. “There were so many people that got close the first LAN, that were biting at our heels, and we had a target on our back that we didn’t notice was there.

Fellow North American player Braden Pluto Schenetzki was on Genesis, one of the teams gunning for G2 at the start of season two. He picked up on what he called G2s notoriously over-aggressive playstyle. But [exploiting that is] easier said than done with three of the most mechanically gifted players on the team at the time in NA,” he said.

We were kind of being relaxed about our win, and we just didn’t work on our team dynamic enough. 0ver Zer0 was our substitute, and he performed amazingly at LAN, but we didn’t have that long-term team synergy,” Kronovi said. “Once everybody’s habits started to set in, they just got worse and worse.”

“Once everybody’s habits started to set in, they just got worse and worse.” – Kronovi

G2 tried to shake up its strategy during the season to better contend with surging teams, but they had trouble keeping it together. “We would try to adapt to certain teams, but usually one of us would always revert to rotating a certain way or transitioning to offense/defense a certain way, and that would mess things up,” Kronovi said. Often one person would be on a different page than the rest during a match, and that caused many problems for us.”

0ver Zer0 and Kronovi in better days, as they finished off their season one win.

Lachinio felt the same way, acknowledging that trying to address their struggles mid-season put all three members outside of their comfort zones. When I felt out of sync with my team in season two, I just felt like my position was completely off; and I wasn’t really an essential part of the team since I didn’t really know where to be, he admitted. I believe the reasoning behind that is because we took each other’s positions on the pitch and left each other in our weakest areas. At the time it didn’t work at all, but today, it definitely enhanced our skills in our weakest areas and positions. At least for me, it did.

In a matter of weeks, G2 Esports went from community favorites to missing the playoffs entirely.

In a matter of weeks, G2 Esports went from community favorites to missing the playoffs entirely, forcing this team of surefire talents to watch from the virtual sidelines. Lachinio left soon after. He went on to try his hand with a brand new squad, Team Iris, and seemed excited about the opportunity to start fresh. The parting was deemed mutual. I feel like we were kinda stuck, he said about the G2 roster he departed.

Meanwhile, 0ver Zer0 seemed to withdraw from the game after the season ended. “He just didn’t seem really motivated to make a huge comeback, Kronovi said. Rocket League wasn’t the game for him. And he distanced himself from the Rocket League competitive scene after we didn’t make it.”

Kronovi and 0ver Zer0 had also moved into an apartment together early in the season, but 0ver Zer0 moved out in January. “A lot of the struggles in the online season potentially got to both of us,” Kronovi said. By the end of January, 0ver Zer0 announced his retirement from competitive Rocket League play.

The pressure of performing live in front of thousands of people in a competitive environment started to get to me, especially when I began to underperform,” 0ver Zer0 wrote in February. “This [led] to depression, anxiety, and general stress related to Rocket League, which further inhibited my performances in season two of RLCS.

0ver Zer0 continued to say that he wasnt happy in the living situation with Kronovi, and that he didnt see a career path ahead in competitive Rocket League. He did not respond to requests for comment on this article.

The attempt to rebuild from the wreckage

Their season had ended prematurely, and two-thirds of the starting lineup departed. Mocked in some corners of the community that had crowned him a champion just months earlier, Kronovi took his time to formulate a battle plan and attempt to build a new championship-caliber G2 roster.

Jacob JKnaps Knapman was the first addition. He had caught Kronovis attention despite not having much RLCS experience. JKnaps played with Selfless Gaming last season, but they lost in the qualifiers and never had a chance to shine in the weekly streams. Still, his precision striking and finishing skills made Kronovi a believer, much as they have endeared JKnaps to RLCS viewers this season. The G2 captain saw him as a potential premier starter.

“I had a lot of synergy playing doubles with him for a while, and it felt like with any teammate I put into a threes tournament with him, we would win,” Kronovi said.

“Since the start of Rocket League, Kronovi is the guy you wanted to team with,” JKnaps said. “And the Steam message you get from him saying, ‘Hey, are you interested in teaming?’ That’s like a light bulb going off, saying, ‘Obviously, it’s a yes.'”

“Rizzo showed up at the last second, but he was absolutely our saving grace.” – Kronovi

Some other players tried out for the third spot, but it was Dillon “Rizzo” Rizzo who secured the seat, which might have been a surprise to anyone who followed the RLCS last season. Rizzo was a member of the highest-ranked North American team from season two, Take 3, which initially seemed like the regions best bet for success at the time. “Rizzo showed up at the last second, but he was absolutely our saving grace,” Kronovi said. “He was like the glue to the team. He fit the puzzle perfectly.”

Rizzo (center) came over from Take 3, North America’s best team last season.

Although Take 3 appeared primed for continued success, Rizzo opted for the new beginning with G2. “I was struggling for a while to really figure out if I enjoyed playing competitively. And I kind of realized that I was on one team for basically the entirety of my Rocket League career, so I decided to make a switch to see if I enjoyed it more. It’s worked out,” he said.

As Kronovi sees it, each member has his own unique motivation: some recent act of falling short or not living up to potential that they can all atone for together as a team.

“I think there’s an interesting dynamicthere’s a lot of motivation on this team,” Kronovi said. “Rizzo’s coming from the top team in NA, but still not a first-place finish. And Selfless last season JKnaps was on that squad and didn’t make League Play. And then [G2] totally disappointed everyone in League Play, when I was on that roster.”

“So JKnaps and I have a lot to prove this season, and we’re incredibly motivated to prove that [last seasons loss] was a fluke, that we have what it takes,” Kronovi said. “And Rizzo’s going to try to prove that he can stay on top in NA, at least, and maybe this time be #1 in the world.”

The new G2

Though a promising new team was assembled, G2 got off to a rocky start this season. Maybe it was the growing pains of establishing new member dynamics, but the teammates struggled to communicate in the first series, losing their first two games against upstart team Atelier in week one. But they bounced back. They won the next three games, taking that series, and have since defeated both Denial Esports and Selfless Gaming in dominant 3-0 sweeps.

The squad has emerged as a well-rounded threat with a strong emphasis on passing. Rizzo serves as more of a defensive specialist making stunning saves in the net, while Kronovi works his magic all over, particularly in the midfield, and JKnaps delivers devastating shots as the primary striker. That’s all according to plan, they say: If Rizzo makes a clear or save, and Kronovi takes the ball and dishes it up to JKnaps “to do something insane,” as Kronovi said, then that’s a textbook G2 play. Well, at least for this version of G2.

The squad has emerged as a well-rounded threat with a strong emphasis on passing.

“One of our biggest strengths is passing, but we’re definitely trying to work on being the team that has everything: that has solo plays, passing, clears, and the shot placement,” Kronovi said. “We want to be everything, but I feel like if the chips are down and we need to make a big play, it’s going to be a passing play. I’m really happy because it’s something that I personally feel like I haven’t had in a long time: a team that I know I can do huge midfield, multiple-pass plays down the field, more of an EU style of gameplay. I have that with this team, and I really enjoy it.”

They’ve shown a more mindful approach to team play in these early-season series. In the first game of the recent lashing of Selfless, Rizzo had a fantastic hovering midfield bounce pass to JKnaps, who then flung the ball right over defender Dappur into the goal. Rizzo probably could have taken the shot himself, but the redirection worked to their advantage, and the effortless pass helped them seal the deal. You’re likely to see several finessed passing plays in each gameit’s really become the new G2’s calling card.

“When I was previously on Selfless, our mindset was just hitting the ball as quick as we can and trying to follow up and try to score,” JKnaps said. “On G2 now, I think about every touch I take, compared to just hitting it as hard as I can across the field. That helps with passing plays just controlling the game more. And that’s why I think I have more success on this team than my last team.”

Theres still plenty of room for improvement.

Theres still plenty of room for improvement before G2 can achieve the same kind of notorious success they began with. Kronovi has some of those improvements in mind. They still need to refine their defensive play like avoiding the mix-up of having two players commit to blocking an incoming ball but theyre well on their way. Since dropping the first two RLCS games to Atelier, theyve won nine straight games in League Play.

As JKnaps foresees things, they along with Selfless, NRG, and a yet-to-be-determined fourth squad will likely represent North America at the season three LAN in June. Europe dominated last seasons live finals, embarrassing North American teams in the process and triggering a grand roster shuffle that has reshaped the scene. On top of G2s own struggles, its just another layer of motivation for Kronovi to reclaim the championship trophy for his region.

“World champion. That’s my goal,” Kronovi said. “I’m not satisfied until I get to shove it in EU’s face and get the title back.”

Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has covered games, gadgets, and plenty more for over a decade. Follow him on Twitter at @ahaywa or hit up his writing blog.

More From this publisher : HERE