No RLCS means time is running out for Rocket League in Asia
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Original Reporting
Subject Specialist

The Asian Rocket League community is growing impatient and worried about the state of the competitive scene in their region. Some have hope they will get the chance to play in Season 11 of the Rocket League Championship Series, which is expected to start later this year. They’ve never had that chance before.

Others are less optimistic. After years of disappointment with each season’s announcement, and with no hints of what is to come in RLCS Season 11, players still have no idea what to expect. But, like the Middle East, they are at risk of falling far behind other regions. Many are worried they may never be able to catch up, despite having competed for years.

A history of minor events

The competitive Asian Rocket League scene and its current top players have been around since the game’s launch in 2015. However, to run professional Rocket League events and tournaments with over $5000 in prize money, organizers must get approval from developer Psyonix. That didn’t happen in Asia until July 2020, when APL Esports ran The Kickoff. It was the first-ever Psyonix-sponsored Asian event, boasting a $45,000 prize pool. It was, perhaps, a sign that Psyonix was beginning to take note of the Asian scene.

Despite hosting tiny events over the years, players always hoped to play in the RLCS one day, including star player Shogo “ReaLize” Ikeyama. The Japanese player is the most well-known by the international Rocket League community, and is considered the best player in Asia.

“I’m always playing with the expectation that I might be able to play in RLCS soon,” ReaLize said. “I had planned to move to Australia a few seasons ago, but COVID stopped that. Intel World Open is the same. We had the opportunity to play with the world’s top pros at a LAN if that was held in 2020.”

ReaLize at DreamHack Montreal 2019
ReaLize at DreamHack Montreal 2019. Provided by Stephanie ”Vexanie” Lindgren / DreamHack

Big events are important for the Asian players’ motivation, ReaLize noted. He had won almost all the larger tournaments, including the Gulliver Cup, which was the biggest Japanese Rocket League LAN with nearly $10,000 in prize money. But it wasn’t enough for him.

ReaLize and company have set their sights on competing alongside the best teams in the world. It’s the reason they were the first Asian team to make it to an international LAN at DreamHack Montreal in 2019, and it’s how they won the biggest Japanese LAN in 2020.

Stacking up against the rest of the world

Whether ReaLize, and others, get their chance to compete in their own RLCS or not, Asia has yet to prove itself against the top Rocket League regions. Both ReaLize and Indonesian player Louis “LCT” Thamrun think they have the potential to someday challenge the titans of Europe and North America. Even if, according to LCT, Asia is not good enough right now.

“ReaLize is the only person that’s good enough in Asia,” LCT said. “The others, his teammates? They’re all around like my level. They would probably make top eight OCE. But that’s like top eight. OCE is pretty hard. So I don’t think they can make top eight, honestly. I can play Aussie RLCS, because I’m from Indonesia. So, I tried qualifying for OCE. We just made top 16.”

According to APL Esports Director of Broadcasts & Events Ben Hurst, the Middle East is ahead of the rest of Asia, partially due to its geographic location.

“The reason why the Middle East is able to sort of be theoretically competitive on the world stage, is because they’re able to relatively comfortably play against European teams,” Hurst said. “That’s not a thing in Asia. And I think because of that, it’s gonna take a while for teams to sort of acclimatize to international competition.”

Forbidden Temple Rocket League
The Forbidden Temple arena was originally exclusive to the Chinese version of Rocket League before releasing globally in 2020 | Provided by Psyonix

Without that practice, the Asian teams might never be able to catch up. Japan currently leads the charge with the best depth in player talent. They are followed by the likes of Singapore, India, Malaysia and Indonesia. South Korea is the odd one out, as they are not a country well-known for fielding strong Rocket League teams. Along with China, they are lagging behind the rest of Asia. Rocket League just never quite took off in those countries.

The Chinese especially had an extra hurdle to climb, as the game, published by Tencent, released later there. Its beta phase began in April 2017, but it didn’t fully release until 2019. On top of that, Chinese players can only play on Chinese servers unless they play with a VPN and the regular Psyonix-published version of the game. They are often unable to compete in tournaments outside of China.

China was not on the list of eligible countries for APL Esports’ first Psyonix-sponsored event, for example.

For over a year, Chinese publisher Tencent, with the help of APL Esports, tried to get the Rocket League scene off the ground in China through small tournaments, and even an attempt at a regular season in 2019, the Rocket League China Open. This online Asia-wide event was held just once and was meant to serve as a qualifier for the Rocket League China Masters.

Rocket League China
The Chinese version of Rocket League also includes a special garage menu where players can view presets | Provided by Psyonix

RLCM would have followed RLCS seasons 2-9 in format, with a several-week-long round-robin league system and an eventual LAN Championship. The team that would later become Sandrock Gaming won the first iteration of RLCN, beating ReaLize’s team in the final. The second RLCN event never took place. According to APL Esports founder and tournament organizer Nishant “Nish” Chahar sources, Tencent’s tournament organizers were not happy with the viewership numbers and dropped the idea. Soon after that, Chinese organizations Royal Never Give Up and Edward Gaming dropped their rosters.

But in 2020, China would finally get its big international break in the Intel World Open. According to Nish, the region would get a guaranteed spot in the offline Katowice qualifiers, before the main event in Tokyo, Japan. But when the pandemic struck and the offline LANs were canceled, China seemed to fall back into oblivion. The competitive scene, according to Nish, can be considered dead at this point.

In search of support from the developer

After complaints from the community, Psyonix has shown signs that they are looking at new regions like Asia and the Middle East. From show matches to Psyonix-sponsored Asian tournaments, Psyonix is not ignoring them. In fact, according to Hurst, it may imply bigger things are coming.

“I think Psyonix continuing their investment into the region implies that at some point, it’s going to happen,” Hurst said.

Whether that’s true or not, the community’s patience is running thin. Players, tournament organizers and fans are worried that at some point the region will have suffered permanent damage before it had a chance to prove its worth.

A recent open letter to Psyonix on the RocketLeagueEsports subreddit called out the unstable state of Asian Rocket League. User Zupermon, who works for Asian tournament organizer Overlap Esports, addressed the low quality and spotty distribution of Asian servers that prevents the region from competing in high-quality international events. He also brought up the struggle of being excluded from the elite level of Rocket League esports. Psyonix has not responded the letter.

Every year, when the announcement of a new season did not include Asia, the region was at risk of falling apart, according to Hurst. But now, things might be looking upward, even if RLCS Season 11 comes without an announcement for Asia.

Rocket league japan
Neo Tokyo, the futuristic Tokyo-themed standard map that also has an Underpass variant | Provided by Ellis Lane/Psyonix

“I think that’s the case every season. You know, when it doesn’t happen, that’s going to be sort of the final straw,” Hurst said. “But given that Psyonix are now starting to fund events in the region, I think even if it doesn’t happen, there’s still, hopefully at least, Psyonix-sponsored events in the region.”

Hurst went on to explain that before these Psyonix sponsored events, players from Asia had nothing else to look forward to. But now, things might actually be on the horizon for them.

INCIVIK, the owner of Saudi organization Sandrock Gaming, said that he dreamed of an Asian circuit of some kind, when speaking about the state of Middle Eastern Rocket League. Possibly an official regional that would lead into an official international LAN event for Asia.

Regardless, there is no bitterness toward the San Diego-based developer from ReaLize. He is happy with the opportunities they’ve been given lately, such as show matches on the official RLCS broadcast, the Psyonix-sponsored Kickoff event and the APL Nationals.

“I wanna thank them for that,” ReaLize said. “They might be trying to add us to the RLCS, but they may not be able to at this point due to some problem. I appreciate Psyonix, but I’m frustrated with the situation where I can’t do anything for RLCS at this moment.”

Rocket League Malaysia
Thrishernn “Misty” Raaj is one of the top players from Malaysia | Photo by Stephanie ”Vexanie” Lindgren

Neither the players nor the community know why Psyonix is so slow to add new regions to the RLCS. Psyonix is anything but transparent about it and some players are giving up.

Time is running out for RLCS Asia

“Some of the high-level players who have been active in Asia in the last few years have already retired,” ReaLize said. “I also might move to a region where I can participate in RLCS if RLCS does not come next season.”

LCT’s more pessimistic attitude confirms ReaLize’s words. After the Intel World Open, LCT and his teammate, Max “Maxeew” Ng, have felt their motivation dwindle. Even Thrishernn “Misty” Raaj, who studies in Europe and has more opportunities, is giving up, according to LCT. These are some of the highest-profile players in the region.

“I don’t know, there’s no motivation to make like $80 a month,” LCT said. “There’s no point. It’s like, what’s the point if I keep playing the game when there’s no tournament?”

After the community has spoken out on many occasions, the ball is now on Psyonix’s side of the court. The Asian region holds a huge potential player base and audience. They just want to be included.

Michael Kloos is a Dutch esports journalist and enthusiast with a particular like of Rocket League and VALORANT. He is also an avid fantasy/sci-fi reader and writer. He spends most of his time trying not to be in the real world.