But even if the odds seemed stacked against them, Northern remained confident about their chances with a substitute in the starting rotation. And they proved the naysayers wrong on Sunday, rising up from the loser's bracket to defeat EU champion Mock-It eSports in back-to-back Grand Finals series, taking the last battle to a seventh game in the all-Euro finale.
It was a stunning victory for Northern, a top team since the beginning of the RLCS that had come up just short in third place in both previous seasons. They finally pushed through this weekend and secured their status as the world's best team with precise, high-pressure play, and did so without their usual third starter. Given that, what do they do now?
Coming in strong
Originally formed as We Dem Girlz, the team has been a European mainstay and a fan favorite for the entirety of the RLCS thanks to their overpowering pace and impressive rotational skill. Captain Remco "Remkoe" den Boer and Nicolai "Maestro" Bang have anchored the team from the start, with a different member as the third starter each season — Marius "gReazymeister" Ranheim in season one, and then David "Miztik" Lawrie last season.
For season three, they picked up offensive threat David "Deevo" Morrow from last year's runner-up, Mock-It Aces, and got off to their strongest start yet with a 6-1 run in League Play. That put them at the top of Europe going into the regional championships, but then the bomb was dropped: Maestro announced that he would miss the LAN due to exams.
Some fans figured they would miss out on the championship without the impact of that power player, but as detailed in our feature from last week, Northern had actually planned for this scenario. They recruited former Mock-It EU season one starter Pierre "Turbopolsa" Silfver to be their substitute with the dangling possibility of filling in for Maestro should he have to miss the World Championships, and that's exactly what transpired.
After weeks of relentless practice and entering numerous online tournaments with the revised trio, they descended upon Los Angeles for the finals — and found that they were easily cruising past the competition in scrims before the weekend. According to Remkoe, they faced four different teams on Thursday and "beat all of them," giving the team plenty of confidence and momentum going into LAN.
RLCS analyst David "yumi_cheeseman" Lane confirmed Remkoe's assertion when we spoke after Northern's win. "They started dominating everyone. They clean-swept in scrims, like eight games in a row against [season two champion] FlipSid3 Tactics," he affirms. "We were like, 'OK, Northern Gaming is here to play.'"
Northern got off to a quick start against JAM Gaming, the weaker of the two Oceania teams that made LAN, sweeping them 3-0 while allowing only a single goal. It was an early show of force for the confident squad, but it didn't last: They then faced the relentless offensive force of North America's NRG on Saturday and fell 3-0, knocking Northern into the lower bracket.
Remkoe admits that the loss took some of the wind out of their sails, and that it followed some rough scrimming in the morning. "That confidence kind of fell down," he says. At that point, his goal for the team was to finish in the top four, acknowledging the challenge of rising back up from the lower bracket, but still expecting to do well the rest of the way.
Northern played well against Denial Esports, winning 3-1 against the fourth-seeded NA team, but next up was a more significant North American threat: No. 2 team Rogue, which won over the U.S. crowd with its energetic, American flag-draped entrances and giddy camaraderie between teammates. Remkoe admits that the very loud, very American-centric crowd was overwhelming at times.
"You try to block the crowd out of your mind when you're playing, because you know they're so heavily in favor of all the NA teams. All you try to do is basically not think of the crowd," he says. "But no matter what you say to yourself, once the NA team starts scoring and starts playing well, you hear the crowd through your microphones cheering so much for them, and the 'USA' chants."
"It's not something you can avoid," he adds. "It doesn't really tilt you, but it's like being in a real-life fight and you're three people against 1,000 people. It definitely plays a big role, 100 percent."
And yet it didn't faze them in the Rogue battle: Northern emerged victorious in a clean 3-0 sweep. "Beating them, I was super happy," says Remkoe. "And then after that, it was just … everything just happened. We kept winning."
They really did. Next up was The Leftovers, the late-formed squad that smashed expectations this season, but Northern beat them in another 3-0 sweep. And then came the NRG rematch. NRG had been bounced down into the loser's bracket by Mock-It in a 4-3 defeat, despite NRG coming out swinging with a 6-1 first game win in that series. Now Northern would have to face the team that beat them the day prior.
But NRG didn't seem like the same powerhouse threat after the Mock-It loss: Northern emerged with a 4-1 win in the best-of-seven series, sending NRG home with a third-place finish. "Against Mock-It they played well, and against us it just… maybe it's because of Deevo," Remkoe suggests, citing his teammate's MVP-caliber offensive attack. "I guess it all fell apart and we just stomped through them."
Northern had proven itself in the loser's bracket, but winning the championship meant going up against Mock-It, who hadn't lost a series all weekend and proved the legitimacy of their European Championship and top seed. And because of that dominance, Northern would have to beat Mock-It in back-to-back seven-game series to win it all, due to the bracket reset. Mock-It, meanwhile, only needed a single series.
Anchoring this season's Mock-It squad is captain Miztik, the former Northern Gaming third, along with Alexandre "Kaydop" Courant (from last season's 5th-6th place LAN team, Precision Z) and rookie Victor "Fairy Peak" Locquet. Both teams put a premium on passing plays and pitch-perfect rotations, and as the first series unfolded, it was clear that we'd be seeing a defensive showdown between these impressively cohesive squads.
Even so, while the back-and-forth kept offensive to a minimum much of the time, Northern pushed a bit harder and exploited Mock-It's miscues. Deevo says his strategy was to hit the backboard often with shots and try to "force mistakes out of their defense," while Turbopolsa suggests that Mock-It's wide ball clears gave Northern's players more opportunity to pick up boost, starving their rivals and giving them the advantage. "Therefore, we can make plays because they don't have any boost," he explains.
Northern won that first series 4-2, forcing a second and ultimate Grand Finals battle to decide the championship. Going into the second series, Mock-It tightened up its play and started racking up early wins, pushing a 3-2 advantage after five games.
"They played super well in both halves of the series, but we had been playing well all day, pretty much," says Remkoe. "Obviously, even the second series was scary, where we were not super confident that we were going to win. But we were on the right track. Those guys played amazing, I'll admit. It's actually a super good team. Probably the best team in the world with rotations. It's very hard to counter."
With their backs against the wall, Northern didn't give up: In fact, they allowed zero goals in those last two games while pushing just one through in each game to secure the wins.
In game six, Remkoe scored the lone deciding goal with a dazzling solo effort (above), tangling up both Miztik and Fairy Peak as he smashed it into the goal. "I was not expecting that to happen," Remkoe admits. "But then I just flipped it to Miztik and the ball went past him, and then Fairy Peak goes behind him. I was 100% sure Fairy Peak was going to clear that, but he flipped to the left and barely missed the ball, and I kept going and it somehow went in. It was unexpected, but super exciting."
And it kept them alive into game seven, where once more a single goal was scored—this time with Turbopolsa serving up a shot for Deevo to slam in after it bounced off of two defenders. Northern held its ground for the rest of the match, and when the timer ended, they embraced each other onstage, and hoisted the trophy together as confetti rained down on Rocket League's new World Champions.
"This is what you dream of when you go to an event like this," says Remkoe shortly after the victory. "Winning it is just mind-blowing. I don't know what to say. I feel amazing."
Asked about the immense payoff for his big gamble of taking a backup role this season, Turbopolsa struggles to put it into words. "You can't even describe the feeling right now," he admits. "Nobody expected us to win, except maybe one person. I have no words for how I feel right now."
As noted earlier, Deevo was crowned the most valuable player for his bold offensive play over the course of the entire weekend. "He scored a lot of good goals," says Remkoe about his squadmate. "Especially in that [second] series against NRG, I've never seen a teammate play so well, I think. It was definitely the biggest part of that series."
Just as Remkoe says that, Deevo — who is much quieter in interviews than he is on the pitch with his aggressive play — flashes a sweet smile at his captain's praise. Deevo, however, suggests that Turbopolsa would have been just as apt to earn the MVP designation, given the impressive rise from a sub to starter, but still admits it "felt great" all the same.
Given the fallout from last season, after Mock-It tried to poach FlipSid3 Tactics' roster during last season's live finals and seemingly showed little confidence in its own team, he concedes some satisfaction in taking down his former organization following that callous maneuver. "Obviously, last season I was on team Mock-It, so it felt good to join a different team and beat them," says Deevo.
And as he suggested during our previous interview, Deevo affirms that having Turbopolsa — a more defensive player than Maestro—behind him likely elevated his own play and helped secure the MVP award. "Definitely, 100 percent," he says. "When I'm on offense, I feel like I have the chance to do more crazy stuff, like funky aerials. When Turbo and Remkoe stay to the back and let me do my own thing, that leads me to shine."
Asked how they were able to play so cleanly under pressure, especially with such a loud, North America-boosting crowd behind their screens, Remkoe credits their extensive practice and strong communication throughout the weekend.
"With Turbo, we had to adapt," he says, noting that Maestro has different tendencies on the pitch. "But it's mostly comms. You just make sure your team knows what you're doing, and you make sure you know what your team is doing. You basically say almost everything you do in the game, and that way your team always — without actually looking — knows where their teammates are, and you can set up a perfect rotation usually."
Caster Callum "Mega Shogun" Keir was effusive with his praise for Northern's play during the broadcast, and when I spoke with him after the win, he didn't let up one bit. "Northern Gaming is probably the most tactically sound team I've ever seen. You saw it in the finals in terms of every time the ball is attempted to be cleared into their half, they are in position to put it back into their opponent's half as well," he says.
Opponents then try to shake up their tactics and dribble, Shogun explains, which typically doesn't work against such a defensively capable team, so they go for passing plays. But with Northern stealing all the boost, their opponents are often hobbled. "It's impossible to do when you are boost-less, which [Northern] also covers. I think that's pretty comprehensive," he adds.
"They got so good that by the time they took on NRG [the second time], they were on another level so high that it effectively killed the entire tournament," Shogun continues. "The crowd couldn't get hype into it. We were looking at it just going, 'How do you deal with this?'"
Yumi_cheeseman says that Northern was "probably the best team I've ever seen," and suggests that Turbopolsa almost singlehandedly pushed the team through the first two days of the tournament. "As you saw, they got better as the tournament went on to the point where Turbo almost feels like he should replace Maestro on a permanent basis," he adds.
That's the big conundrum, isn't it? Having too many brilliant players might seem like a pretty good problem for an organization to have, but only three will be in the starting lineup, leaving an odd man out on the sidelines most of the time. Turbopolsa might have helped secure the World Championship for Northern Gaming, but as far as long-term prospects go, there's no sign that he'll continue to replace Maestro going forward.
Asked about the situation, Remkoe says it's too early to know what they'll do in the future — but he suggests that they may have found the same result if Maestro had been at LAN instead.
"There's no plans yet. Obviously, we're going to have to see how things go. When we played with Maestro, there really wasn't too much trouble, because we were first in League Play. People already considered us the best in Europe, and maybe even the world," he explains. "Getting Turbo in the lineup basically gave people the idea that it was going to fall down, and that there was no way we could beat the top NA and EU teams. But even with Turbo, we managed to beat all of these teams and win the tournament. If Maestro was here, we probably would have won as well."
Following Remkoe's response, I put the question to Turbopolsa, who asserted, "I'm looking for a starting role in a team." And now as a champion, if Northern Gaming decides to stick with its original lineup for the season, it's hard to believe that Turbopolsa will have any trouble finding some very talented players to fill out a new roster elsewhere. He has already joked about it on Twitter (below) with Philip "paschy90" Paschmeyer, his season one Mock-It EU teammate, who is currently without a team after departing Gale Force this season.
"It does give him a lot of options, though, considering he did help our team become the world champions," concedes Remkoe. That discussion may not have happened yet, although with Psyonix ramping up its esports schedule with the 7-Eleven Summer Series events and a pair of DreamHack tournaments with a combined $100,000 prize pool, they may all need to face facts very soon before the next RLCS season rolls around.
Right now, however, they're basking in the glow of their hard-earned victory as the Rocket League Championship Series enjoys its largest viewership tallies by a wide margin, making Northern Gaming the face of the league as its popularity explodes. "Having over 200,000 people watch you win a tournament like this … that's amazing," Remkoe concludes.