Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) veteran Victor “Ferra” Francal has flirted with the top of the European league play leaderboard during his six seasons in the league. He famously came close to a perfect 7-0 season with Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) in RLCS Season 4 before a final match loss secured them a 2nd-place finish behind Method.
Since forming this current roster with Emil “fruity” Moselund and longtime teammate Thibault “Chausette45” Grzesiak, they’ve finished 3-4 in Season 6 (5th in league play) and 4-3 in Season 7 (3rd in league play). This time around, now under the Team Reciprocity banner, that incremental season-by-season improvement brought them up to 5-2, which landed them at the top of the region at the end of Season 8 league play.
“I think people expected Vitality to be at this place, but at the beginning of the season, a lot of people predicted us to be Top 2. It finally feels good to meet expectations, because it’s something we never really did in the past,” Ferra told Rocketeers this week. “Every time we had a huge result, we would often crumble shortly after. It’s good to see that we can actually meet expectations and get really, really strong results when everyone expects us to.”
— Rocket League Esports (@RLEsports) November 3, 2019
By finishing Top 2 in league play, Team Reciprocity has already secured its spot at the RLCS World Championship in Madrid next month. Doing so required a win against Mousesports last weekend, and Reciprocity rose to the challenge with a tight 3-0 sweep. Ferra says that the play-in scenario was essentially the same as the season prior, and that they knew they’d still have an opportunity to make Worlds in the Regional Championship if they fell short against Mouz.
“We knew that even if we lost, we still got two more chances because we were Top 4, at least. It was the first of our three chances to make LAN, so we were not really nervous,” he says. “And we were really confident, because we know we are pretty comfortable against Mousesports. It’s definitely not one of the teams that we struggle the most against.”
After a middle-of-the-pack finish at the last World Championship in June, the Paris Saint-Germain roster bounced back by winning the DreamHack Valencia Pro Circuit in July against NRG. However, it would be the team’s final major appearance under the PSG banner after nearly two years with the football club. Ferra says that they wanted to stay with the organization, but didn’t feel like PSG was ready to recommit for another long haul together.
“[PSG] didn’t make it seem like they wanted to stay for long-term,” he says. “After our contract ended, it was getting really hard for them to make us a reasonable offer for what we were worth.”
After departing PSG and once more adopting the Frontline name, Team Reciprocity was one of the interested organizations that reached out. They had what the team saw as not only the best offer, but also the best overall opportunity.
“It’s not really a matter of money—it’s mostly in terms of experience. They had a lot of top teams: they had a top team in Call of Duty before it went to franchising, and they have top teams in PUBG and Rainbow Six,” he says. “For us, it means something to have top teams, and those top teams say a lot of good things about them and are really happy to be there. For us, it was a good pick, and we knew from their experience that we’d be able to do great things.”
During the season, Team Reciprocity also announced the addition of longtime Oceanic coach and caster David “yumi_cheeseman” Lane as team coach and manager. Yumi brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team, but Ferra suggests that his greatest influence has been as an outside perspective on the players and their opponents, as well as a calming presence during tense matches.
“For a long time, it was pretty hard for us to find ways to improve, because sometimes as a teammate, you don’t really want to say stuff that could hurt your teammate. It’s pretty hard sometimes to say things. Sometimes it gets a bit awkward,” admits Ferra. “I think having an external eye, someone that can provide an external perspective, that’s his job to be it pretty much. It helps us to understand each other better and have a better understanding of what’s going on in the series.”
“When you play the game, you only focus on your point of view. To have him as coach, especially during league play, was very helpful because he was able to see the stream and how everyone was playing—if there were some huge issues that we couldn’t really see, or if the other team was doing something that we didn’t really notice,” continues Ferra. “It’s also surprisingly helped us being calm during the series. He’s helping us with cooling off nerves. We had issues in the past getting nervous, and it’s not been happening anymore at all this season and the past few months. I think he’s one of the reasons for that. We are more and more confident during the series, just because his presence is calming for us. It’s good to have him.”
The best offense is a good defense, right? That has definitely been the case with Team Reciprocity this season. According to Octane.gg, the region-winning team scored the second-fewest goals in EU during league play at just 1.61 per game. However—and more importantly—Reciprocity only allowed 1.39 goals per game, which was the lowest in the region. That margin is a thin, thin sliver, but it was enough to string together some serious wins this season.
“We have a really good defense, and I think we focused on the right things from the start of the season,” says Ferra. “I think a lot of teams didn’t really play at their potential. Vitality had a rough couple of weeks where they were not really playing as good as they could, and some teams never really reached their full potential—like Complexity, TSM, or even Barcelona or Dignitas. It took them a lot of time to figure things out. Since we were teaming for a long time together and we already knew what’s working for us and what’s not working, it didn’t take long for us to get everything working.”
Even with that kind of defensive prowess, Team Reciprocity finished in the bottom half of the region in saves per game. That’s because they’re keeping the ball away from the net more often due to constant pressure and physical play, as they work to create space—which usually generates an opportunity for the team’s offensive leader, Chausette45. As the casters said during the final league play broadcast, Ferra also led the league in demolitions, surely to the chagrin of rival EU teams this season.
Nice job and GG WP 🏆 pic.twitter.com/7MuPgE9Nqp
— Rocket League Esports (@RLEsports) October 13, 2019
It’s all working. Team Reciprocity may not seem like an overwhelming force, but that’s by design. Ferra says that when they take a lead, they shift focus and hunker down, doing their best to keep the other team from coming back. In the past, he says, this roster focused on creating as many offensive opportunities as possible and hoped some would prevail. Now, however, they’re focused on creating purposeful opportunities and holding down the fort all the while.
“We really focused on: every time we take the lead, it really takes a good offense for the opponent to tie it up. And instead of trying to win games 4-0, 5-0, or whatever—as soon as we score and have the lead, we really make it hard for the opponent to get it back. It’s been working pretty well,” says Ferra. “We focus on the defense part of it and try to get meaningful chances, instead of a lot of chances that maybe won’t really do anything.”
Last season, when I interviewed Renault Vitality’s Kyle “Scrub Killa” Robertson—before his RLCS World Championship win—for Red Bull Esports, he said (mostly) nice things about the ex-PSG roster. “PSG don’t have the individual talent that some teams have, maybe, but it’s almost like a team unit,” he said. “That’s why they work so well. They just have full trust in each other, which is why they’re so good, I think.” Ferra agrees with Scrub’s take on their team synergy.
“I think in Europe, we have the best communication by far. We communicate very well with each other, and we trust each other,” he says. “Everyone is gonna say something, and we’re gonna immediately trust what that guy said. If someone said, ‘I got it,’ we know he’s gonna get a good touch on it. Even if someone has a save to make and he says, ‘I got it,’ we know he’s gonna get the save—we don’t have to double-commit all the time. Never double-committing is practically impossible, but we definitely have very few double-commits, and it’s definitely due to our communication.”
Looking to Worlds
Reciprocity’s Top 2 companion this season was an unexpected one: Veloce Esports. Previously in the Rival Series, Veloce only made the RLCS this season because Triple Trouble fell apart and ceded its spot, and even with all three players having past RLCS experience, they weren’t expected to do much damage against the top of the European class. Instead, they beat Reciprocity, Dignitas, and three other teams to secure the same 5-2 season record as Ferra’s squad, albeit with a weaker games record.
Ferra pointed to better-known EU teams underperforming, but also praised Veloce’s clutch Game 5 wins and steady individual play. He thinks expectations played a part, too.
“I think the fact that a lot of people didn’t put expectations on them really helped them. When you don’t have expectations, it’s a bit easier,” says Ferra. “If you lose, you’re like, ‘Well, that’s what everyone thought we would be,’ and if you win, it surprises people. You’re not really nervous—you want to prove people wrong. I think that’s helping them, but also I think as players individually, they’re all really consistent. They’re a team where you can’t really point to anyone in particular, like, ‘Oh yeah, he’s the carry,’ and I think that’s pretty good for them. They’re a bit like us back in the day—they’re trying to enjoy their time in the RLCS and doing as best as they can.”
Next weekend’s RLCS Season 8 Regional Championship holds not only prestige in potentially winning the European title and snagging extra cash in the process, but also seeding for the World Championship. Team Reciprocity hopes they can at least make the regional final and finish Top 2. However, Ferra admits that planning on beating three-time RLCS champion Alexandre “Kaydop” Courant— winner of five straight EU regional championships—in a potential showdown with Vitality is a tough bet to make.
“I think it would be a bit disappointing if we don’t make it to the finals after a season like that,” says Ferra. “We would really like to at least win our semi-finals match, and we know that if we reach the finals and we have to face Kaydop again, it’s gonna be hard to beat the one who always wins that.”
Likewise, Ferra’s mentality towards the World Championship is pretty measured. Reciprocity will likely have the longest-standing roster there, especially with Cloud9 missing out, and they’re not new to competing on the game’s largest stage. On the other hand, they’ve only had middle-of-the-pack Worlds finishes together, so who knows?
“We have a lot of experience with big losses and hard situations, so we don’t tilt easily. I think that’s going to help us,” says Ferra. “The fact that we’ve been here before, we’ve been here pretty much every season since two years ago—it’s hopefully it’s gonna help.”
“But I’m not sure because we never really… you can’t point at a season and say, ‘Oh, this team did really well at this World Championship,’ because it never really happened,” he continues. “We are always disappointing or have an average showing. We’ll try to do our best, and this time we’ll be really disappointed if we don’t get a huge, huge win.”
Lead image courtesy of DreamHack, credit: Stephanie “Vexanie” Lindgren