There were two "Final Four" tournaments that took place in Minneapolis last weekend.
While Michigan State, Texas Tech, Virginia and Auburn fought for the college basketball national championship, the University of Akron, University of Central Florida, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Redlands competed for the title of Collegiate Rocket League spring champions.
Psyonix, in partnership with ELEAGUE, hosted the Rocket League Final Four amidst other weekend festivities, and while the Rocket League booth (if you can call it a booth -- it was huge) wasn't the only booth set up, it was certainly one of the most popular. From beginning to end, nearly every seat was occupied and a full crowd of standing spectators filled in the rest of the area.
"We were approached about doing something like this at the Final Four and thought, 'No way can we turn this down,'" said Cory Lanier, Esports Program Specialist at Psyonix. "It's an awesome opportunity to get to do something here for both the players, and the fans. To get to be the only game here, crowning our collegiate champion in this setting, is just wild".
The tournament began with a 64-team bracket, much like the other tournament taking place, before four teams emerged. The Akron Zips were considered by many to be the clear favorite heading into the tournament. As the only team to be invited from the fall finals, they had experience on their side. That experience helped them quickly earn a trip to the finals. UCF, on the other hand, was met with more opposition.
The difference in scenery between these two squads was extreme. The Zips cruised their way to the grand finals with a clean 4-0 sweep. Not only did they win every game, but they managed to do so without even giving up a single goal. Buzz "Buzz" Krager put together a highlight reel in the Zips' first series by being involved in all but one goal that they scored. From top to bottom, the Zips dominated the University of Redlands.
The Zips were no strangers to the setting, but their mentality was notably different this time around. They finished third in the fall finals. What would make this different?
"We worked really hard on our rotations," Buzz said. "That last final, we were just trying to have fun. Yeah, we were trying to win, but we wanted to be there to enjoy it."
"We just wanted to come in and play our game," Will "Salt" Weiser added. "We figured that we were better than the other teams that were here, and we just had to show up and play."
UCF, on the other hand, needed all seven games to put Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute away, completely caught off-guard by a strong RPI squad.
It was a surprise to the Zips, too.
"It certainly wasn't expected," Isaac "Reticence" Stecker said. "But we knew they were going to play harder in the finals. We knew it was going to be a good match."
UCF fared better than Redlands, but the outcome was no different.
"Seeing that I played well in the first series, I thought, 'I'm just going to try to keep doing what I was doing. If I can keep playing well then we surely can get this win.' That was my mindset going into things," Buzz said.
Buzz was right. Although the Zips finally gave up a goal, and even dropped two games, they were the last team standing. A 4-2 series win gave Akron the title of spring season collegiate Rocket League champions.
The novelty of the weekend and the surroundings were not lost on the players.
"It's crazy to be part of such a big event," Buzz said. "There are easily 40-50,000 people walking around the event. A lot of them are stopping by to say hi and play the game. It's just a big opportunity for both us, and the game."