The Collegiate Rocket League scene has grown quickly over the past few years. At first, it was an informal gathering of collegiate teams that grew into the Collegiate Carball Association, but there was no support from game developer Psyonix. While Heroes of the Storm had Heroes of the Dorm, League of Legends had uLoL and Overwatch had its own Blizzard-sponsored tournaments, Psyonix seemed overwhelmed by the task of handling its growing pro scene.
Eventually, it saw the demand and teamed up with Tespa to produce the once-a-semester Collegiate Rocket League seasons.
The 2017 product was raw, finished online and featured teams that did not deliver anything close to pro-level play. However, it was still exciting to watch and collegiate programs started to get onboard as soon as Psyonix showed commitment to the idea. Northeastern would win the first CRL in fall 2017, the University of Arizona would prevail in fall 2018, but the Akron Zips would become the first team to win back-to-back national championships to dominate the 2019 season.
Akron Zips bring in coaches, facilities
Though other programs might feature a LAN center with no coach or a coach with no facilities, Akron has provided complete range of support to ensure that its esports teams compete at the highest level. Ever since bringing on student coach Nick “NicNac63” MacKay in May 2018, the program has seen a steady rise in success. Its first major tournament was the fall finals, where the team lost a 1-4 series in the losers finals to a very strong University of North Texas. For Akron’s players, this was merely the start of their varsity career.
“Placing top four in national finals is an insane accomplishment for a team who (at the time) had only been playing together for a few short months. However, it was never enough. Each and every one of my players has the constant drive to get better,” MacKay said.
“Even after winning both spring and fall 2019 national finals, as soon as we come back home from the LAN events, we may take one night off but then get right back to the grind. Mandatory practices are held throughout the entirety of the semester, from beginning to end, regardless of whether the league/season is active, and my players are always playing on their own time as well. It’s all about the mentality of the players. They’ve gotta want it, and my players always want it. Their time and effort put into me and into the game show that.”
Akron’s program is quite impressive, and the main reason why is the support that the school gives the varsity teams. In a new 5,200-square-foot facility, Akron’s varsity players are expected to practice three times a week, meet to go over film and maintain a positive attitude. While balancing school and semi-professional Rocket League is not easy, Akron does its best to make it easier on the players with priority class registration and scholarships to ensure its student athletes play at their peak.
This year’s Akron team has undergone some personnel changes, but the core of Isaac “Reticence” Stecker and Buzz “Buzz” Krader has stuck around since fall 2018. The latest addition of Tristan “.tristn” Roberts has generated the most hype around the team as well as collegiate esports because of the absolutely filthy plays he has managed to pull off against top-tier opponents.
Akron is clearly more than three Rank A players who go to the same university. It has emulated what traditional collegiate sports programs do to foster and build talent in order for the players to improve as individuals and a collective unit. Even though they have had several thirds to their core two, the results have been impressive throughout their collegiate Rocket League career.
Good coaching can go a long way, too, and MacKay has proved to be a consummate professional in and out of the server. His view on coaching collegiate players is that they should take as many opportunities to improve as possible.
“We believe that any experience is good experience. Any chance that our team gets to play together, we jump on,” he said. “Prize pools don’t matter, opposing teams don’t matter. Playing together to grow and build as a team is what matters.”
This approach has seen the school build a successful program where others have failed. Rival University of North Texas lost 0-5 to Akron in the best-of-nine grand final on its home turf in Esports Stadium Arlington. The University of Arizona has remained a strong team by retaining its core from the 2018 championship team, but it has been unable to reclaim its former success.
If colleges wish to compete with Akron, they should try to follow in its footsteps and seek to surpass them in the future because the Zips show no signs of slowing down.