Ups and Downs
The University of Salford Rocket League team have had the highest highs and the lowest lows so far this season. After an outstanding performance in the University Rocketeers Winter Cups, one of Salford’s star players “BjayB” had to leave in order to pursue a full time job, which left the team a bit discombobulated. Freshman “Arton” stepped up to take BjayB’s spot next to players “Jiggi” and “Keude.”
The new trio did incredibly well after qualifying for the Group Stage, winning 7/8 of the series within their group. However, their performance didn’t carry over to the Playoffs, and they suffered a devastating 4-0 sweep at the hands of Nijmegen in Round 5 of the Lower Bracket. They still had another chance to qualify for CRL Worlds through the Last Chance Qualifier, though, which they took full advantage of. Things were looking bleak for Salford when they lost 3:4 to Hamburg in the Upper Semi-Finals, but they clutched their way through the Lower Bracket, making it all the way to the Lower-Bracket Final for a rematch against Nijmegen. The series was incredibly close, but Salford were able to exact their revenge and pull out a 4:3 victory to qualify for the World Championship.
Humble Beginnings to Admirable Winnings
I got the chance to speak with Salford’s coach WIlliam “saff” Saffhill, who provided some interesting information on the background of the team and their performance so far this season. I first asked saff how he and his team met, to which he replied: “Me and Arton met in college in 2018 on the same course and we happened to have a similar crossover of friend groups without knowing each other personally. We have been friends since and we came to Salford and lived together for multiple years. Arton met Jiggi during our freshers try-outs in 2020 for the Rocket League team and started on the second team together playing in NSE and NUEL league play. I at the time had retired from Rocket League, however living with Arton I saw how the Collegiate Rocket League was progressing and I wanted to load up the game again and get involved. We had heard that Keude was going to join Salford during summer 2021. He was a dominant player in the high school scene with a lot of potential and when he joined us he hit the ground running with some dominant performances in the Winter Cups.”
Bumps in the Road
When I asked saff what Salford’s biggest challenge has been this season, he told me: “This season has been tough for us, there has been many times where we have had to use subs and with BJayB leaving less than 2 weeks before CRL was announced and EURC started, we had to rebuild the team and play style with Arton as the third. As such we had a poor couple of weeks during EURC finishing 7-8th after an almost perfect run in the groups.” Losing and replacing a member so abruptly is sure to take a toll on a team’s performance, but Salford seem to have adjusted pretty well accounting for their performance in the Group Stage and LCQ.
Preparing for Worlds
I wanted to know what Salford have been doing to prepare for Worlds since their qualification in the LCQ. Saff told me: “In all honesty, the run up to worlds has been hectic, with it being the heat of exams season in the UK we haven’t had enough time to really prepare as much as I’d like. We had played RLCS regional 1 together back at the end of April and are only about to have our first scrim since.” It’s unfortunate that the team hasn’t had much time to improve together, but it’s important that Collegiate players hold academics as their highest priority to ensure a successful future outside of esports.
When I asked saff if he can give any information about the future of Salford’s esports program, he shared: “I have many aspirations of what we may be able to achieve, I am hoping to be able to help setup the future of Salford Esports with the inclusion of a field leading Esports course and the ability to offer prospective students scholarships and more. In the near future we would like to open an esports centre.” Esports centers give dedicated spots for teams to play together and can help improve chemistry, so if Salford could acquire one that could be a game changer for their teams. Scholarships could also help them gain more talent, improving their program overall, so these would be smart additions if saff can pull them off.
Teeming with Talent
To close our discussion, I asked Saffhill to give me a fun fact about Salford’s Rocket League program. He told me: “The only fun fact about Salford would probably be how small our society is compared to the talent we have, the Rocket League Society consists of only 8 people with the lowest rank being GC2. As such we have only been able to field one team this split.” Salford have been able to achieve a lot despite their size, and it’s important to recognize the hard work that both saff and the players have put in to get to where they are now. Good luck to Salford on the World Stage!
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