On Thursday, Psyonix announced that the experimental season that was RLCS X is coming to close without an international LAN event. Instead, Rocket League will be holding regionals in North America, Europe, Oceania and South America. A total of $1 million in prizes will be awarded after the six-day event in June.
Within minutes of the announcement, a ton of people in the Rocket League community took to Twitter and Reddit to express their disappointment. Although no one knew what Psyonix was going to do, many people saw the news of LAN events in games like League of Legends, VALORANT, Call of Duty and Overwatch as a good sign that Rocket League might have its own LAN to finish out the season.
“[When I saw the announcement] I was pretty annoyed right off the bat,” said Leonardo “Turinturo” Wilson, a player for Rogue in the RLCS. “As players, it felt like we weren’t kept in the loop about what was going to happen this season.”
Rogue, one of the top teams in North America this year and who took second in RLCS X’s Winter Major, were hoping to get a chance to prove themselves against the best teams in Europe.
Read more: Rogue rockets to top of NA RLCS
“I really was looking forward to playing teams like BDS at LAN,” Turintoro continued. “There’s always time for it next season though.”
While players voiced their frustrations, many of the casters for RLCS also expressed frustrations but said they understood the difficulties that go into a decision like this.
“My initial reaction was quick disappointment but also immediate understanding,” said Sean “Spaceman” Rogers, a commentator for the RLCS. “As casters, we learn as the public learns. We rarely have information beforehand. When it comes to the different factors of running a LAN, like Rocket League’s young player base, the overhead, the venue costs, the sponsorship requirements, the vaccination deals, all with the goal of keeping people safe, it’s a lot of moving parts. I’m sad that we can’t have a worlds in a bubble environment, but I think Psyonix did the next best thing.”
As society crossed the one-year mark of the shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, LANs are on the brink of return. In the past week, both the Call of Duty League and Overwatch League announced plans for LANs in the future, with the OWL’s first one coming in June. Riot Games, who put on the League of Legends World Championship in a bubble at the height of the pandemic last fall, is bringing teams in LoL and VALORANT to compete in Iceland in May.
But there’s a big difference from those leagues and RLCS. Besides VALORANT, which like League of Legends is developed by Riot, each one of those leagues is a franchised league. Spots in the LCS cost teams $10 million, the Call of Duty League was $25 million, the Overwatch League was between $20 million and $60 million depending on the city and time of entry.
That money can go toward making sure LANs can happen and are safe, but it also represents a responsibility to the teams that the developer will make a LAN happen if remotely possible. Rocket League teams don’t pay Psyonix tens of millions of dollars to enter the RLCS, and sometimes that is shown through situations like this.
“Funding has to come into it,” Turinturo said. “I don’t know if Psyonix or Epic Games just don’t want to front the money to do that event or if they feel like doing the LAN without spectators would be too big of an investment without the return, but it probably comes down to funding.”
“I know everyone is sad right now, but it’s not a situation where you can say ‘oh, just do it,’ it’s not that simple,” Rogers said. “When you take Call of Duty for example, where you have a franchised league, you have multimillion dollar investments, you have the ability to have someone in the same place, it becomes easier to pull off a bubble.
"Rocket League has only been around five years compared to over a decade for CoD. Because it's been so successful, people are expecting Psyonix to have the ability to just make things happen. But it’s not quite there yet, Psyonix is still trying to figure out the right formats, the right way to host events, what’s possible and what isn’t.”
In many ways, Psyonix has used the turmoil caused by the pandemic as a testing ground. Each season of RLCS Season X has experimented with different formats as Psyonix shifts from the league-play rigidity the esport has had since the second season of the RLCS. While that experimentation has caused some headaches for fans who aren’t sure when to watch their favorite teams, there really wasn’t a better time to experiment than this past year when the status quo ceased to exist.
That experimentation is continuing in this new event. Besides the immediate disappointment of there not being a LAN, Psyonix also introduced a new format called “best-of-sets.” Basically, instead of a matchup being a best-of-seven series where the first team to win four games wins the series, best-of-sets will have teams needing to win two best-of-seven or best-of-five series to advance.
Instead of a team playing a maximum of seven games, they could play up to 21. For a team that starts the regional without a bye, that team could conceivably play up to 72 games of Rocket League over six days.
“It’s a lot of games to look forward to, and it's going to show Rocket League is an endurance esport,” Turinturo said. “In so many ways, Rocket League is different from other esports because you need to have absolute focus 100% of the time, during the game there is no downtime whatsoever. With these long series, having that many games is going to be a challenge.”
Turinturo makes a good point, there is no buy or ban phase that gives many esports players a chance to catch their breath, even a small one. There’s no ramp up to an endgame either like in MOBAs. The simple complexity of Rocket League is the heart of the game, but it also makes it an intense experience, especially at the highest levels. For casters, they are going to have to broadcast up to 108 games over the six days, a tough task for even the most experienced shoutcaster.
“As a caster, there are events where you go into it knowing you are going to have a 15-hour day filled with matches,” Rogers said. “There’s going to be some necessary pacing going into the series knowing they could be 21 games. But the fact that this is worlds-ish and the stakes are going to be so high, the energy is going to stay high.
"I like the fact that there are so many games, and I know some players and other casters might feel differently, I enjoy some of those long days; it seems like that’s when some of the craziest stuff happens.”
While many members of the Rocket League community were understandably upset at the announcement this morning, there’s a sense of understanding why this had to happen. It has been a year of experimentation for Psyonix and Rocket League esports, one that will introduce a new format even at the very end.
Both Rogers and Turinturo are excited for the future of the RLCS and both have full confidence that the league is continuing to improve, even if the international community doesn’t get to be reunited in person quite yet.
Lead image credit: Psyonix