Soniqs’ Shock on winning RLCS MVP, impact of COVID-19

April 23, 2020 - 23:20
Rocketeers / Interviews / RLCS / Teams /

The Susquehanna Soniqs sent a real charge into the North American competition this past Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) season, and a large part of that success came from rookie Nathan “Shock” Frommelt. Flanked by returning RLCS veterans Chris “Dappur” Mendoza and Matthew “Satthew” Ackermann, the Soniqs racked up wins and found itself in 2nd place during Weeks 6 and 7 of Season 9.

Unfortunately, a 3-0 sweep at the hands of G2 Esports knocked them down to 3rd place for the regular season, and a total collapse during the regional championship—being swept by both NRG and Ghost Gaming—had the season ending on a down note. Still, the Soniqs showed that they could hang with the region’s giants, and Shock himself earned the North American MVP honors for the season.

As Shock told Rocketeers during an interview last week, the impact of the World Championship being canceled seemed to dampen their momentum a bit, but he’s optimistic that they’ve ironed out their late-season issues. We caught up with Shock to discuss that along with the experience of quarantining together, signing with the Soniqs, and the future of Rocket League esports. 

Rocketeers: How are you holding up right now, and how has it been quarantining with the team?

Shock: Honestly, it’s kinda same-old, same-old. We usually play at an office and then sleep at separate apartments, but now we’ve just moved our PCs into our apartments so we don’t have to travel, but it’s basically the same actually. It’s been pretty nice, and we don’t mind being around each other, so it’s been good.

This has been a surreal couple of months for everyone, but I imagine that’s especially true since you guys had such a strong season, but then Psyonix had to cut it short because of COVID-19. What has this time been like for you?

Obviously, having such a great season in and of itself is fantastic, and we were really excited to be able to compete for a LAN spot—and felt that we were really, really close to getting that. When it was announced that the LAN was canceled, it was very disheartening. Rocket League did feel way more dull. Even in the RLCS matches, it didn’t feel like we were playing for much. It definitely put a kind of negative light for us on the season.

We’re still happy with it, and these last few months have been fantastic, just in terms of team bonding and just getting better in general. We’ve had a lot of fun with it, so even though COVID-19 has kinda made this season feel less important, it still is important in our eyes, for our own success.

What do you attribute your team’s success to this past season? What was working so well for you guys?

I’d say definitely how much work we put into game planning each week. We would take a look at the teams we were playing, take a look at ourselves, and come up with plans and strategies to execute during the game. I think that’s what really helped us.

This is our first RLCS season together, and I think we all kind of knew that individually, we weren’t going to be able to show up and have one of us just hard carry—to just show up and either 1) not be nervous at all, or 2) absolutely pop off. There was a possibility, but we weren’t relying on that. We were relying on the strategy as a team to win.

How much of a role does the team apartment setting play in terms of building synergy and improving communication?

That’s a good question, because I actually didn’t expect it to be as useful as it actually is, before I came here. I thought it would just be a nice thing to play with each other, kind of like a LAN environment. But I realized that just being all together and playing the game actually encourages being productive when you’re playing the game, and it also provides another level of involvedness when you’re playing.

Everything is super focused when we’re playing; we’re all trying to get better as a group. It just feels more cohesive. It’s definitely a huge boost, and obviously it’s hard—because the scene is young—for a lot of teams to be able to do that, but teams like G2 and us had a lot of success with it.

How did it feel for you personally to claim the NA MVP honors in your first RLCS season?

It was an absolute dream come true. I never expected that. At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t like: Oh yeah, I’m going to be in the running for MVP, no problem. I was just trying to go in there and play well and help my team win, and it kind of blossomed into something much more than that.

To bring that title home is something I’ll never forget. To be recognized at the top level, to be stated as one of the best in the region that season, it’s truly a blessing. I will never forget it.

When I spoke with Satthew and Dappur right after the Soniqs signing, they both told me that they thought you were the best player on the team. What do you think makes you such an effective RLCS-caliber player?

I think it’s mostly because I practice the way I play on stream. A lot of people, when they practice, they play very unrealistic—like in ranked or in scrims, people will do things that they wouldn’t normally do. They practice in a way that isn’t conducive to help them when they’re on the stream and there’s pressure, because it’s very easy to play careless and like there’s nothing on the line in ranked and scrims.

When you get on the stream and you care about it, you have to be prepared to play in that mental state. I’m always playing like there’s something on the line, and I’m always trying to practice the way I know I can play on the stream. I think that’s what really helped me in my rookie season, because I should be nervous, per se—because I’m a rookie and I’m coming in. But if I’m always practicing the way I should be, then it’s going to be less nerve-wracking when I’m on the stream.

Beyond that, did having veteran teammates help at all with getting ready for the RLCS level and being in the right mindset?

Absolutely. It was comforting to know that they had already been there and done that, and I just basically had to fill in. Like I said earlier, planning for these teams definitely helped, and they’re good at that. Also, I just knew that they wouldn’t fall under the pressure; they wouldn’t be unable to operate on the stream.

Honestly, it kind of just put it on my shoulders, and I kind of like that. Most people, I’d say, probably wouldn’t feel like they were responsible for what needed to happen, but I really like the feeling that if I show up and I do what I need to do, then we have a great chance to win. I think having that veteran experience around me definitely helped.

It felt like the Soniqs were a surprise pick for some Rocket League fans who thought you might pull in a better-known organization. What made them the best choice, and ultimately do you think you made the right decision?

To start off, we definitely made the right decision. One, obviously, being the team house. I think we’ve all found it to be a great success. And two, the Soniqs, even though they’re not a more established big org, they definitely feel like one. They came in with a great offer, they were super accommodating, and I honestly love everything about them.

Even though they’re a Tier 3 org technically, in terms of following, they have Tier 1 backing. Basically, we get all the stuff that a Tier 1 would have, except with no exposure. But honestly, I don’t care about the exposure. It’s just about the environment, what they can bring to the table, and obviously the offer was above and beyond what we got from others. It was definitely the right choice, but I could see why people would be surprised by it.

I know you guys had a rocky regional championship. Were there any things that you guys have been working on to try to improve since then?

Yeah, it was definitely rocky. We were disappointed about that. We’ve been working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Honestly, it’s the same thing as before. We really have to focus and come up with plans and be very critical of ourselves. I think before the regional championship, we were not being as critical of ourselves as we needed to be.

I think we were sort of complacent. I think a lot of that had to do with there being no LAN, but that’s no excuse. We should have showed up and played like we knew we could. What we definitely needed to do was be hard on ourselves and work ourselves a bit more before it happened.

With the pandemic putting a big question mark on the horizon for live esports events, are you concerned at all about the short-term future of Rocket League esports, or do you think Psyonix will be able to maintain momentum during this time?

I’m confident that Psyonix will be able to maintain the momentum. It really does suck that… honestly, Rocket League recently has been gaining a lot of speed and traction, and to have COVID-19 stop all the live events and definitely make the future uncertain…

I think Psyonix will be able to push through. The Spring Series is a great start for that, and I’m hoping they’ll continue that. I think we’ll see Rocket League continue to thrive even though the live events are canceled.

Andrew is the Lead Editor of Rocketeers, and has been covering Rocket League esports since RLCS S1 for publications such as Red Bull Esports, Esports Insider, The Esports Observer, and Waypoint. He is also currently the Content Lead for The Esports Journal magazine and has written about games, gadgets, etc. for 100+ publications since 2006.