Last season's Rocket League snubs might be this season's favorites

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Do you know The Muffin Men?

It has been quite the whirlwind year for Rocket Leaguepros Torment, Gimmick, and SquishyMuffinz. It’s tempting to call it a Cinderella story, the way they rose to the top of the game in North America. But here’s the thing about Cinderella: At midnight, her gown will always turn to rags and her stagecoach will always turn into a pumpkin. This trio has asserted itself as a staple of the Rocket Leaguepro scene for a long time to come.

Heading into the Season 4 RLCS World Championships in Washington DC this weekend, it feels pertinent to detail exactly how the three of them got here. It started with a disappointing flameout in the spring open qualifiers for Season 3. Playing as Iris back then (and as former champion Lachinio starting and Squishy as a sub), they failed to make it past the one-weekend tournament where the eight RLCS teams were determined.

Them missing out on Season 3 was such a glaring omission that it likely inspired a format change heading into Season 4. Now, teams are allowed to play in anytwoopen qualifiers that they want, meaning that a bad weekend won’t automatically preclude them from competition at the highest level. (Introduced at the same time was the Rocket League Rival Series, a lower division that features a promotion/relegation system with the higher Rocket League Championship Series. It’s a structure that guarantees more stability for the consistently-good teams; the downside is that it takes longer for new players to break in.)

While their peers were playing each other in RLCS, Torment, Gimmick, and Squishy were left to refine their game. Looking at theresults of their time in the Mock-It CS America League— where RLCS teams were not allowed to compete — it’s clear that they didn’t belong there. Practice and wait is all they could do.

They left Iris in May and set off under their own banner: The Muffin Men. (Esports names are almost always dumb andsometimessilly.)Things turned around in a huge way in July at Dreamhack Atlanta. They ran through NRG, G2, and avenged a second round loss to Gale Force by beating them in a thrilling seven game finals. The guys who supposedly didn’t belong in Season 3 had just bested some ofRocket League‘s biggest names.

It paid immediate dividends (apart from the $20,000 Dreamhack prize). Five days later, established esports organization Cloud9 signed the trio. For the first time in 2017, everything was looking up.

The newly-formed Cloud9 squad carried that momentum into the RLCS Season 4 open qualifiers. They blew through the bracket and easily qualified, including a 3-1 series win over SetToDestroyX whose place they probably should’ve had in Season 3; SetToDestroyX went winless throughout all of Season 3, usually looking overmatched compared to the best players in the game.

It has been more of the same story in Season 4. Cloud9 almost ran the table in league play, with its lone slip-up being a week 3 defeat at the hands of Kronovi-led G2. The North American regional tournament seemed similarly easy. Cloud9 cruised to wins over NRG and Ghost Gaming to take the North American crown and the region’s top seed heading into the World Championships. It was an unfamiliar outcome, as NRG (formerly Kings of Urban) had won all three previous North American titles. There’s a new king, though.

As unstoppable as Cloud9 looks right now, it’s missing one crucial element to its game: Big stage experience. Dreamhack Atlanta was good exposure, but there’s nothing quite like the bright lights, huge crowd, and immense pressure of LAN.

Time and time again, we’ve seen disappointing performances from teams who expected better. NRG finally shook the stigma that it couldn’t beat European teams at the World Championships when it downed both Northern Gaming and Flipsid3 Tactics last July. And then it promptly lost to Mock-It and Northern in a rematch that saw NRG get eliminated. Similarly, the last two LANs have had bracket resets in the Grand Finals, seeing the until-then undefeated team choke away two straight best-of-seven series.

But, as we’ve seen before, anything can happen inRocket Leagueand the competition is unrelentingly tough. Gale Force might be the team to watch out of Europe. It finished third in league play but has been on an absolute tear lately and has Europe’s top seed. Players Kaydop and ViolentPanda both have Grand Finals experience but have never broken through; their teammate, Turbopolsa, was the substitute with the golden touch at the Season 3 LAN as he helped steerNorthern Gaming to the title.

It has already been an insane year for Torment, Gimmick, and Squishy. An RLCS championship seems like a perfectly fitting way to cap it all off.