Now, I know y'all are hyped about E3 and the new games that are set to be released over the next few months - but I’m here to tell and show you what Owen Chan/Gargontara and I got up to over the weekend, as we took a train into London for the Rocket League World Championship Finals.
So, the event itself - held at the Copper Box arena in the Olympic Village, Stratford was an absolute treat. Owen and I arrived in this awesome venue that was lit-up by a 4-screen set-up in the middle of the arena, hanging above the two rows of three PCs. In the centre of the two rows was an epic trophy that was only going to be lofted by one team at the end of the 3-day event. The whole place was lit up with spotlights, huge screen panels and looked the part both on-camera to the tens of thousands watching online, and inside They did a massive job of making a spectacle of the small footprint the stage filled compared to the remainder of the arena.
The Copper Box - that played host to Hockey and Badminton in the 2012 Olympics - was extremely well organised from the minute you approached the arena, to crowd and queue management inside. We spoke to a couple fans outside prior to Saturday's games who said that they were told the original seats they had were due to be obstructed, so were helpfully allocated different seats before everything kicked off, a credit to the exemplary planning that sometimes isn’t even seen at higher-profile sporting or music events.
Owen and I got a chance to interview some of the big-name players on the Saturday including top-ranked North America team G2, and the best team in Europe - Complexity. All the players were very humble, and seemed to be more interested in the awesome event they were taking part in - let alone the opportunity to walk away with $100k. The team that did walk away with the prize money - Team Dignitas for EU - were gracious in their back-to-back victory. They stayed cool during their post-win interview and when asked how hard they were going to party that night, there was a clear response. ‘We’re gonna get drunk’ said team captain ‘ViolentPanda’.
The crowd was unreal and nobody could expect what impact they would have on transforming the event from an eSports final, to the perfect advert for the entire eSports scene. All the casters, viewers online, players and pros attending were in absolute awe of the atmosphere inside the arena. There was seldom a dull moment, and it was so noticeable when there was that the casters mid-game would call us out on it, responding with another roar or hilarious chant. We had the fortune of getting front-row seats - but no matter your spot, you had a perfect view of the stage.
Saturday was my first visit to an eSports event of any kind whilst I'd normally think that I'd peaked too soon - being fortunate enough witness such an awesome event - I knew that this was just the start. The Rocket League eSports scene like many other games' has come along leaps and bounds from its humble beginnings, and there's no sign of slowing down. There's talk of eSports being including in the Olympics in the near future (not just being set in the venues) and the crazy thing is that Rocket League, in particular, isn't even the most impressive when looking at numbers. Counter-Strike, DOTA, LoL, and Overwatch are streets ahead in terms of viewership and visitor revenues with online events that stream to tens of thousands taking place every day. Even Fortnite that has been completely absent from official competitive gaming will have a $100m, yes $100m prize pool for its inaugural eSports year offered by Epic Games. Yet, going back to Olympic eligibility, IOC president Thomas Bach stated that no games that include the ‘promotion of violence’ or ‘any kind of demonstration’ would not be included in the Olympics, so it’s likely some of these games mentioned wouldn’t be considered.
What I think Rocket League boasts over its eSports competition - is being immediately engaging and understandable to the casual viewer. Games like League of Legends require you to have a general understanding of the genre before making heads or tails of what's considered a top-strat or clutch play. Rocket League has one goal... well, two - score the most goals to win, no matter how. Sure, players of the game will appreciate the slight nuances that split the field from pro to casual players, but everyone gets Rocket League.
As a spectator this weekend, I felt wrapped in positivity from the entire crowd. There wasn't a home or away vibe, any angst between fans or players - everyone was there to have fun. That comradery is what elevates Rocket League and other eSports above traditional sports in some ways. You don’t have the fights, the split of fans, or the negativity. Fans support the game, not just the individual teams. I genuinely believe I will struggle to match a live sporting experience like I have at RLCS 5’s finals.
You could say that Owen and I may have had a somewhat disjointed view of this, considering the crowd were just THAT fantastic, but if every Rocket League LAN event was half as good as what we witnessed, then it's no wonder the viewer numbers are climbing, the big name brands like Snickers and Old Spice are taking notice, and the prize pools are getting larger - there's no sign of stopping the Rocket League or eSports phenomenon. Sure, we had some luxuries that others didn't, but I can assure you that every single person that paid £35 for the entire weekend's entry (that's at least 6 hours of Rocket League action for three days), was screaming, laughing and lapping up the excitement of the event just as much as us. Heck, a premier league football game in this country could cost you double that, and it could end 0-0 after an hour and a half.
If you aren't a diehard fan of eSports right now, just like I was last week, you'll get swept up in it soon enough. The scene's buzz and electricity is authentic, and the roaring crowds and crazy streaming numbers are just a part of it, and this is just the start.