With our top matches of FIFA 18 countdown completed, it's time to turn our attentions to the high points of Rocket League Season 3 in the Gfinity Elite Series. You may think that, with the playoff places sewn up a week in advance and not a single match in the knockout stages going to a deciding game, we might be lacking in choices for our countdown. Think again. The groups themselves produced some epic battles and plenty of reverse sweeps, as well as some major shocks as previous Elite Series reputations counted for nothing. And in playoffs, we were treated to high-quality Rocket League play across the board – with one match in particular living long in the memory.
5. UNILAD vs ARES Esport – Group B
This one might have slipped your mind somewhat, buried as it was in amongst so many entertaining matchups in the group stages. But it's earned a spot on our list not only for how impressive a feat UNILAD pulled off in defeating ARES 3-2 in a reverse sweep, but for its wider implications.
For context, ARES' team featured Season 1 champions Tinny and Cheerio and Season 2 semi-finalist Sebadam, and entered Season 3 as potential favourites to lift the trophy. And coming off an epic victory over arch-rivals Method the previous week – more on that one later - they will have entered this contest as big favourites against the unproven UNILAD team still without a win at this point in the season.
The first two games went as you'd expect them, with Tinny's men on the rampage and Cheerio scoring goals for fun. But in Game 3 something extraordinary happened, and UNILAD's young stars woke up and set about putting together an epic comeback. Given UNILAD's shaky defence, the best form of defence was most certainly attack – and Speed, Calix and Caro started to overwhelm their hugely experienced opponents with superb passing plays and clinical finishing.
The reverse sweep was duly clinched in stunning fashion by UNILAD – their only victory of Season 3. This shock defeat also sent ARES into a tailspin, and a week later FNATIC would eliminate them from Season 3 altogether – a massive shock given Tinny and Cheerio had never failed to make it to the Grand Final in the two previous Elite Series seasons. Make no mistake; the ramifications of this result were huge.
4. Renault Team Vitality vs Envy – Group A
We were treated to two excellent contests between arguably the two best teams of Season 3. And whilst their rematch in the Grand Final featured some absolutely world-class Rocket League play, we're giving the edge to their first encounter way back in week 3, on the same night as UNILAD's shock win over ARES.
This match actually played out in a similar fashion, too; Envy raced into a 2-0 lead, with EyeIgnite leading by example as he did so many times in Season 3 with pace, power and precision. But with Vitality struggling to organise and misfiring in attack, they pushed the reset button in the third game and went right back to basics. Simplified passing plays and a tighter defence helped Gregan's troops establish a foothold in the match, and from there momentum and confidence grew.
As the old saying goes, they found a way to win – and once they built up a head of steam, Envy were unable to prevent the reverse sweep. This was actually the closest Envy have got to beating Vitality so far in 2018 – alongside the Grand Final result, they also suffered a shutout loss in the RLCS. And out of all three matches, this was definitely the one that got away – but the one that also established Vitality as major favourites for the Elite Series trophy.
3. Hashtag United vs Renault Team Vitality – Group A
Oh hello again, Vitality, back again so soon? I'm sure you guys might not want to remember this match quite as fondly as the previous entry, but there's no denying that Vitality's only defeat of Season 3 was memorable for a multitude of reasons.
Going into the final round of league play, the battle for top spot in Group A was on. And despite Envy defeating exceL in the game before, Vitality needed just one point from their last group match to claim top spot by virtue of their win over Envy we discussed in the last entry. And up against a Hashtag United side already eliminated and without a win all season, this looked largely like a formality for the men in black and yellow.
However, the mischievous Doomsee evidently hadn't read the script. Or if he had, he'd laughed and ripped it to shreds. He and his cohorts Data and Flarke set about causing chaos in the Vitality ranks, playing with verve and aggression right out of the gate to cause Vitality big problems. And whilst the talents of Hashtag's roster had never been up for debate, the biggest question marks were over their mental fortitude – too many times they would allow one lost game to derail their momentum.
But even when Vitality put a game on the board and threatened a comeback, Hashtag were not to be denied and they duly wrapped up a richly-deserved 3-1 win. In the process they denied Vitality even a losing bonus point, meaning Envy snatched top spot in Group A at the death – and with Vitality going on to win the Season 3 championship, it'll be fascinating to see what happens if these two sets of players face off against each other again in Season 4.
2. ARES Esport vs Method – Group B
This was the match dubbed as the unofficial rematch of the Season 2 Grand Final, which might have seemed confusing given neither Method nor ARES actually competed in that match. In fact both of the Season 2 finalists, Reason and Endpoint, had departed the Elite Series before Season 3 got underway.
However, two-thirds of Reason's championship-winning squad in Rix Ronday and Borito B had made the switch to Method for Season 3, and were joined by one of their opponents in that Season 2 grand final in Shakahron. Meanwhile, the remaining members of the former Endpoint roster moved to ARES and recruited Sebadam to fill the gap left by Shakahron. So with this match featuring five out of the six players from the Season 2 Grand Final, now you see the incredible significance of these players doing battle with each other once more.
And did the rematch live up to the hype? Yes – and then some.
This was another pulsating, see-saw contest between the free-scoring mavericks of Method and the ultra-clinical and tenacious ARES. It was the latter who crept into an early 2-0 lead by grinding out tight wins in the early games, but as Method's attack started to kick into gear it seemed like ARES were in danger of being overwhelmed – as so many other teams have been by the attacking partnership of Rix Ronday and Borito B.
It all came down to one of the all-time classic deciding games; with ARES bouncing back from going 1-0 down with a combination of goal-line scramble saves and two excellent goals from Sebadam to clinch a magnificent victory over their old rivals. Method would have the last laugh by winning the group and making it to the semi-finals, but in an ultimately frustrating season for ARES this was unquestionably the high point.
1. Renault Team Vitality vs Method – Semi-Final 2
So how do you top all of that? Here's how; add in the exceptional talents of Renault Team Vitality into the mix, sprinkle the added pressure and excitement a semi-final match brings, and dangle the carrot of a place in the Grand Final in front of both teams' noses.
And then stand well back and watch the fireworks.
This was arguably the dream matchup of Season 3. We all knew about the all-star lineup of Method as detailed in the last entry, but going up against a Vitality squad in such outstanding form meant Rix Ronday and his men were actually in the rare position of being underdogs – especially when you factor in their poor form in the RLRS. Conversely, players like Fairy Peak and Freakii were playing some of their very best Rocket League when it counted at the sharp end of the season.
Method would need their best performance of the season, and winning the first game in spectacular fashion seemed to suggest they had found it. However, this only woke the sleeping giant of Vitality, who started to utterly dominate the match with Fairy Peak playing Rocket League from another planet at times.
But with Vitality on match point at 3-1, Method's last stand begun – and boy what a sight it was. They threw everything but the kitchen sink at the Vitality goal and were rewarded for their bravery, clinching a crucial game in overtime to drag the match back to 3-2. And what turned out to be the final game of the match was an absolute slugfest, Rocket League's equivalent of 'stand and bang' from combat sports – both protagonists going toe-to-toe, throwing haymaker after haymaker and swinging for the fences.
And in the end it was Paschy90 who landed the knockout blow, finally vanquishing Method for good with one last out-of-this-world goal in overtime to clinch Vitality's spot in the Grand Final. It's almost a shame this match didn't go to a deciding game, and it was great to see the very best this Method side had to offer even if it was too little too late.