Grand Valley Esports Rocket League shocks fans in conference debut


Nick Moran and Avery Meiste

Grand Valley State University’s Division 2 dominance is often boasted about on the field, but the Lakers are continuing that success online as well. Grand Valley Esport’s Rocket League A team has been making waves after surprising the Collegiate Rocket League (CRL) competition so far and selling themselves as a sleeper pick set for playoff qualification.

After two weeks of competition, the Lakers are ranked No. 4 in the eastern conference with a record of 6-2, only facing defeat from University of Michigan and University of Waterloo. Team manager Preston “PresJ” Janeski-Demlow said the rest of their schedule only leaves them with tough games in Akron University and Rutgers University, making him hopeful that the team will make it to the in-person playoffs in November.

In Rocket League, teams of three players control futuristic cars that aim to score goals with a large ball. As with other esports, competitors play from computers through rounds of structured play, with the winners being the first to win a best-of-five set. As part of CRL, teams play several matches a week with hopes of placing top eight to make the cut for playoffs.

In addition to battling the other team, competitors are often battling to convince spectators that competitive gaming is a sport. GV Esports Rocket League player Mitchell “Yirps” Lawton said that his history of playing hockey and his current experience as GVSU’s D3 Men’s Hockey assistant captain helped him realize the immense amount of skill and mental fortitude go into each game.

“Being an esports athlete takes a lot of mental toughness, especially in Rocket League because there are highs and lows just like in sports, and the game is played at a very fast pace when you get to the higher levels,” Lawton said. “Positioning and rotations become a huge part of the game and not just skill, so there is a lot more strategy involved than most people would think. I would say playing a sport has helped me with my success in Rocket League because of the fast-paced nature of the game. Funny enough, I often find myself more nervous for my Rocket League games than hockey games, so it really can be a mental battle.”

Player Trevor “AverageBaguette” Tynan said GVSU entered the eastern CRL division without much attention, as most of the other teams had previous season’s worth of stats to boast. However, their conference debut has been attracting attention from over the 16,000 livestream viewers and followers on Rocket League Esports’ Twitter account.

The team’s underdog story was highlighted live on the official Rocket League Twitch channel, as 83 percent viewers voted they would lose to Miami University. The masses were surprised to see the Lakers take the set 3-1, improving their overall record to 4-0 and keeping their No. 1 rank.

“We kind of qualified last year as a wildcard, but we only got one stream game,” Tynan said. “So (the Miami University game) was our first real game in front of 16,000 people. We saw the poll when we were loading into the game and we were laughing at that because these guys don’t know what we can do.”

The team also features a familiar face in sub David “Delta” White, but the addition of Elliot “Dangles” Koeppe was a surprise, as he tried out for the team out of nowhere over the summer, Tynan said. Since his addition, the team has tried to organize schedules to find as much time as possible to bolster their teamwork. Despite the new addition, Tynan said Koeppe’s addition was a welcome one.

“Dangles just kind of came out of the blue over the summer so we picked him up and we’ve been playing,” Tynan said. “The chemistry is kinda naturally there, which is good.”

Janeski-Demlow said that he’s enjoyed seeing team chemistry on the rise, as this is the first season these three members have been able to play together. With their proven success so far, he said he’s optimistic the team can qualify for the LAN playoffs in Arlington, Texas, Nov. 9.

“I’m just happy that we could get Baguette, Yirps and Dangles together for the season,” Janeski-Demlow said. “This is the best our team has ever looked and I believe this is our season to put up some results to really be proud of and brag about in CRL.”
The Lakers look to improve their record in week three as they compete against No. 1 Akron University Monday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. on the Rocket League Twitch channel.