The Fall 2019 season of Collegiate Rocket League came to a close on Saturday at Esports Stadium Arlington, and the team that couldn’t seem to lose all season just kept steamrolling the competition in pursuit of its second straight CRL title.
When all was said and done, the Akron Zips took the crown after a grand finals sweep over the local favorites, the University of North Texas (UNT). It was a pretty efficient run for University of Akron’s team, with a 3-0 sweep over Northern Virginia before the first run-in against UNT in the Winner’s Finals. That 4-2 win sent Akron into the Grand Finals, and UNT forced the rematch by beating Arizona in the Loser’s Finals.
Akron’s skilled trio put an exclamation point on the final series, however, winning four straight games following the automatic one-game freebie win (for coming from the winner’s bracket) to secure the 5-0 blowout. Zips player Buzz “Buzz” Krager says they felt good going into the grand finals, but didn’t expect the clean victory. “We were confident that we were going to beat them, but we didn’t know that we would sweep them,” he told Rocketeers just minutes after the win.
They didn’t drop a single match all season on their way to a perfect 5-0 Grand Finals sweep.
GG WP 🏆 pic.twitter.com/dCONr1b9LS
— Rocket League Esports (@RLEsports) November 10, 2019
“I knew the only reason we lost last time was because of our mistakes, and we adjusted what we had to do,” added Tristan “.tristn” Roberts, a newcomer to the roster since the Zips’ previous Spring 2019 CRL championship win. “I was expecting it to be a little bit closer.”
According to Isaac “Reticence” Stecker, they were playing well together in preparation before the matches, and they came into the championship feeling like they were going to take it. “We pretty much won most of our scrims, and in ranked I’m pretty sure we went on a 10-game winning streak and I got up to #15 on the Top 100 or something like that,” he said. “We were just playing really well today.”
Zipping to victory
Of course, the Zips have been playing incredibly well all season long. Akron handily crushed the Eastern division with a 15-0 record, including a staggering 45-4 in games. Add in a pair of 4-1 wins during the Eastern playoffs and another three wins on Saturday, and they ended the Fall season with an undefeated 20-0 match record.
Western team LSU nearly matched their regular season record at 14-1, but then fell apart in the playoffs. The Zips, on the other hand, maintained their incredible run all the way through to the championship. And they beat UNT twice on the main stage in Texas, with the crowd clearly favoring Akron’s rivals. That didn’t bother them: their small Akron crew was slathered in body paint to spell out “GO ZIPS,” and they were louder than just about anyone.
— Rocket League Esports (@RLEsports) November 9, 2019
“That was the fun part,” says Buzz about playing in front of an opposing crowd. “We got to show off in front of everybody that was against us, and we had our boys with us, so it didn’t matter. We had, what, eight people with us? And they sounded louder than the whole crowd. It didn’t matter.”
“I think we started off a little shaky, but we quickly picked it back up and found our rhythm,” adds Reticence. “The Akron boys were supporting us, and we could hear them over the Texas crowd.”
The University of Akron has a robust varsity esports program that competes across multiple games, including League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and has brand sponsors such as SteelSeries and Audio-Technica. Buzz says that they’ve felt strong support from throughout the university system.
“The support is insane,” he says. “We have a legitimate esports program, so the support is already there, and we were at the last two nationals and had the program then, and they were like, ‘Hey, we need to support these guys even more.’ We had support from the university, from the students at the university, and from the faculty at the esports arena. We have everybody behind us and it’s kind of crazy, really—but we love it, man. It means the world.”
According to Reticence, solidly defined roles help them rise above rivals on the pitch. He takes the third-man position in the back, helping to set up his teammates, while .tristn—known by some as the CRL equivalent of NRG’s Justin “jstn.” Morales—drops loads of flashy plays. “.tristn’s like the freestyler, and he pulls nutty stuff on them all the time,” says Reticence. And Buzz? Buzz also plays more upfield, but he’s known as the “harasser,” says Reticence, due to his physical play and boost steals: “[Buzz] makes the other team hate him.”
WHAT HAS GOTTEN INTO @ZipsEsports?! 😱
Buzz can’t be stopped. #CRL19
— Rocket League Esports (@RLEsports) November 9, 2019
They’ve all been “Rank A” players in 6mans, which basically puts them a step behind Rival Series-level skill—but they can’t be far from pushing up against that bubble. As caster Joey “Jorby” Ahrens told us last month, he sees real potential for top CRL players to qualify for Rival Series in the upcoming seasons. .tristn in particular is a key player to watch, but there are players from all four of the finalists who could rise to that opportunity.
“We’re a solid, well-rounded team, and there’s no other [CRL] team you can say that has all three players that you know that are solid and can compete at the top level,” says Buzz.
Still, they’re college students first and foremost. Reticence admits that while the idea of being a pro player sounds appealing, that’s not their primary focus at this time. “There’s obviously the ambition of going pro, but we focus on our degrees because we’re in college,” he says. “That’s the reason we’re in college—to focus on what we want to do with our lives rather than focus on video games. Of course, if we go pro, it would be nice, but we’re here to focus on our degrees and have fun.”
“It’s tough balancing school and Rocket League, but I think we figured it out,” says .tristn about the impact of Rocket League and collegiate esports. “It helps a lot, just playing together and having fun—that’s what CRL is all about.”
Even if Rocket League isn’t their absolute top focus on life right now, that doesn’t mean that the Akron Zips plan to give up the CRL title easily. They’ll have a little time to rest ’til another season starts in 2020, but Buzz is already thinking about adding at least a couple more championships to the two they’ve amassed so far.
“Back-to-back-to-back-to-back,” says Buzz. “As many as we can get, we’re gonna take all of them.”
Photos courtesy of Psyonix