After an absolutely spectacular weekend of action, the curtain has fallen on Gfinity Elite Series Season 3 – and as the dust settles, we can reflect on the fact that have three brand new Elite Series champions. The crowds came out, the Gfinity Arena was packed all weekend, and the noise levels were matched by the skill levels from our teams. Legends were made, reputations were cemented and egos were trashed. And one thing is for certain; heart rates won't be returning to normal for a long time yet. Let's break down all the action from Elite Series Season 3 Grand Finals weekend.
With two semi-finals to deal with on Friday night, we commenced the evening session with perhaps the most insane FIFA 18 match in esports history. Certainly casters Brandon Smith and Richard Buckley were left speechless at multiple moments in a see-saw contest that swung back and forth, took more twists and turns than a Hollywood thriller, and concluded in a penalty shootout that finally saw FNATIC clinch a place in the Grand Final at the expense of Envy as the Gfinity Arena lost its collective mind.
The match actually started off fairly slowly, with Aero grinding out a tense 1-0 win over Rannerz. But as Zimme scored off his first shot in the second leg against EisVogel, everything went completely wild. Both players traded blow for blow in an absolutely epic game; EisVogel came close to scoring so many times, and whenever he finally did break through with just seconds left in the contest Zimme somehow stormed back down the field and scrambled in the latest of late goals to win the second leg 2-1. At 2-2 on aggregate this prompted an extra-time period, and the insanity only ramped up further – Zimme scored again, EisVogel replied, took the lead again, only for Zimme to peg him back at the death AGAIN. Somehow in the hurricane of noise and bedlam in the Gfinity Arena, Zimme stayed ice-cold to nail his penalties and win the shootout – someone give poor EisVogel a hug. Somehow, someway, FNATIC found themselves in the Grand Final.
The second semi-final was a slightly less dramatic affair, but still had its fair share of dramatic shifts as UNILAD dispatched the plucky Method to book their place in the Grand Final. Winning the coin toss, UNILAD elected to put out-of-form Shellz in first against the comeback king Zelonius – the logic being that they'd rather not let Zelonius go in the second leg and pull more rabbits out of his hat. The tactic worked perfectly; Zelonius repeated his 2-1 victory over Shellz from their group stage match, but Gorilla stormed back in the second leg to smashed three goals past Pricey in the first twenty minutes and lock the game down. A 4-2 aggregate victory was duly secured in clinical fashion – Method can be very proud of their efforts for Season 3, but this was all UNILAD as the favourites took their place in the Grand Final.
That set up the Grand Final itself between FNATIC and UNILAD. A fascinating clash between the team that had battled so hard to make the Grand Final up against the team many predicted pre-season as favourites. Surprisingly, Tass was given his Elite Series debut in the Grand Final over Gorilla, and though he fought hard and came back time and again Rannerz was too hot to handle as he won the first leg 3-2. It was all down to Shellz to somehow snap his recent run of poor form against the ice-cold Zimme; and this time, no penalty shootouts were needed. Zimme raced into a 3-0 lead, and as Shellz fought back to 3-2 and sensed an epic comeback, FNATIC's ace dealt the fatal blow and sealed the second leg 4-2; and in the process, clinched the Elite Series Championship in epic fashion.
As the triumphant FNATIC duo took to the stage, ready to finally lift the inaugural Elite Series FIFA 18 trophy, an extra gleam could almost be seen in Rannerz’ eye. The Irishman had travelled further than anyone else to get to this point - fighting his way from bedroom to podium. An exceptional performance in the Gfinity Challenger Series had caught the attention of the Roma Fnatic scouts and seen him placed as a sub amongst a high flying squad of FIFA 18 pros. In week 2 he earned his supersub title with a shock defeat over Epsilon’s Fully. The rest is history. The trophy was lifted, a career cemented and Zimme headed over to the barber’s chair for that promised R9 haircut...
On Saturday afternoon it was time to crown new Rocket League champions – and after an ultra-competitive final match, it was Renault Team Vitality who put the exclamation point on an excellent first Elite Series season by defeating Envy 4-1 to lift the trophy.
This was the ultimate example of a match that was far closer than the scoreline suggested – a brilliant first game saw Envy take an early lead, and even as Vitality grew into the game and took control, the final three games all went to overtime as both teams went blow-for-blow in a titanic contest. Ultimately there was just no stopping the team in form; a Fairy Peak playing on a level few others can touch right now, backed up by Paschy90 and top goalscorer Freakii who were in ruthless finishing form, would have been a match for pretty much any Rocket League team in the world let alone Elite Series. Envy will be frustrated that they didn't quite show their best on the day, but this was still another excellent performance – and having missed playoffs altogether in the first two Elite Series seasons, they can still be proud of a much-improved performance this term. But ultimately, the day belonged to Gregan's boys in black and yellow – and with the Elite Series trophy in their back pocket and a spot in RLCS European Playoffs in the bank, there's no limit to how far they can go in 2018.
It was a similar story on Saturday evening in SFV, as the form team of the season were able to despatch their battling challengers 4-1 in a match that probably deserved a much closer scoreline than it got. Ultimately though, this was the crowning moment for Season 3's breakout dominant force – the unstoppable Nordavind.
After they bodied ARES 4-0 in their semi-final, they entered this Grand Final as overwhelming favourites – with some even wondering if they would register their FIFTH 4-0 of Season 3 on the way to lifting the title. But standing opposite them were a FNATIC team full of gritty determination and confidence having dumped reigning champions Envy out of Season 3 in their semi-final – and ultimately despite the 4-1 scoreline, they gave Nordavind one of their toughest challenges of the season. The unbeaten sensation Phenom blew away Akainu in the opening set, but Zera quickly struck back against Momi to put FNATIC on the board. From there it was a match of tiny margins; Shakz failed to put away SaltyKid twice in their set as Nordavind's wildcard restored their lead, before Momi avenged his loss to Zera in another razor-close set to put Nordavind on match point. Having already lost to him once in this match, to keep his team in the match Akainu had to do what no other player has done all season – beat Phenom. And in a classic final set that swung back and forth, victory flashed before him multiple times and he came agonisingly close.
But ultimately – by the skin of his teeth – Phenom's unbeaten record remained intact, and Nordavind clinched a well-deserved Elite Series championship at the first time of asking. Poor Akainu was devastated at the final bell, but he and his teammates can be incredibly proud of their season in taking FNATIC to the finals at the first time of asking, eliminating both former champions in the process in back-to-back playoff matches. But the night, much like the entire season, belonged to Nordavind – and quite frankly, one has to wonder what on earth it will take to beat this team (and Phenom!) and take the title off them in Season 4.