UCF Luke: "To have a two or three-year advantage teams can be the difference… which is why I think NA has that advantage [over EU]."
The University of Central Florida opened their 2022 Collegiate Rocket League World Championship journey on the right foot by finishing first in Group D thanks to a pair of victories they earned over Stockton and Oakland University, earning them a spot in the quarterfinals.
This upswing, which happened after UCF reached the tournament for their runner-up finishes in the NA Last Chance Qualifier, has allowed them to be regarded as one of the hottest teams in the tournament. With a compact lineup consisting of Marcello “Bambii” Aedo, Alex “Azfura” Hernandez, and Luccas "Luke" Oyarce, the team is looking to continue their momentum for the start of playoffs and have it ultimately culminate in world championship glory.
During UCF's rest day, Luke spoke to BLIX.GG to discuss his overall experience in Dallas, the ongoing EU-NA rivalry, how his team will approach the final day of CRL Worlds, and much more.
Pedro Romero: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview, Luke. You're one of the teams that are taking a rest and scoping the rest of the competition as they fight their way to the quarterfinals. How are you and the rest of the team taking in this rest day?
Luke: We're definitely taking it slow. We know that we have the day to take off and kind of relax and watch other teams play and get a bit of information on those we might have to play. As of this recording, we're either looking at Keele or Valleyfield as your next opponent. We've played Valleyfield in the past multiple times, so we know how they play but watching Keele is important too, so we can see how they play. Besides that, we've been working out together as a team by doing things such as hitting the gym, going out, eating together, and just basically using as much of our time as possible to build that chemistry. We already knew each other outside of this event, but we're continuing to form that bond and grow as a team.
I was about to ask about your current state in anticipation of your next opponent, but judging by how you're taking it with your answers, you have plenty of confidence, is that right?
Luke: Yeah, definitely. Especially for the quarterfinals, I think we're very, very comfortable. Heading into the semi-finals, we're going to the number one seed Northwood, who is everyone's favorite, to win it all. Then again, there is another capable team, such as Columbia, who can win it also, but a lot of the casters do have Northwood winning overall, so for us to play them in the semifinals, I think it's definitely possible for us to beat them. We have beat them before, but they had a different player on the roster, so it'll be a completely different game, I'd say. Even so, I think we still have the confidence to believe we can still win. It's not like we're going into it knowing that we don't have a chance. I think we really do have a chance, and we can really show everyone that we have the potential to be a winning team.
There's been plenty of storylines revolving around each team, but perhaps one of the biggest, in addition to seeing who's going to come out on top, is the inclusion of European teams for this event. Of course, this marks the first time an international collegiate RL event is held. I've talked to a couple of EU players today regarding where the EU stands in relation to NA, and they have said that it is not that far behind. From your point of view, how would you view the gap between these regions.
Luke: I think, especially in the collegiate RL scene, there's a very big divide--not just skillswise--in terms of how we've never played them before, we don't know how they play, and they don't know how we play, and so far, they haven't really shown up as much as everyone had hoped they would. There are a lot of expectations going into a lot of the top teams, and I think five out of the six European teams are already out, and the last remaining team for a year for you is supposed to play later today. They haven't really shown up.
They're about to take the last bottom six spots of the entire tournament, and a lot of teams had expected more out of them, but I think it's just a different play style in how they play in Europe compared to how they play here, and I think we've just outpaced them and outplayed them overall. I think they're right when they say they're not far behind. I'd say, though, that by playing a couple more seasons and practicing with us, in addition to getting more international leagues, I think they can start to push up and play well and get into that. But I think, for now, I still think they are a little behind, and they need to work on it to be able to beat the NA scene.
That's another thing that those EU players mentioned before. The fact that they started off much later compared to the NA guys. NA started off with its own collegiate RL scene, and the EU eventually followed suit. Do you feel that the delayed start served as a major advantage for how the EU and NA played out in relation to each other in this tournament?
Luke: I think it's definitely possible. A lot of the EU teams, as you said, haven't had that experience for a long time in the league. They go to their colleges--and college systems in Europe are also very different than it is in North America when it comes to scholarships. For example, Northwood is on a full scholarship, and a few other teams are on a full or at least a partial scholarship, whereas in Europe--I talk to a lot of the EU guys--it's not the same. A lot of them ended up going into this school and casually joined their respective teams. Stuff like, "Hey, you guys play RL? Oh, we play RL!" happens, and those players play, you know?
Fortunately, they are now starting to get that recognition in terms of the collegiate esports scene where they can play together and compete in these tournaments, but it's not something that they've had for a long time, whereas in NA, it's been almost four or five years where they have at least an organized collegiate league. To have a two or three-year advantage teams can be the difference that pushes them ahead, which is why I think NA has that advantage.
With yourself and the rest of the playing field convening in Dallas for the RCL, I'd like to know how your experience has been so far from exclusively playing Rocket League to just enjoying the city life.
Luke: LAN is always a fun experience. We've played a few smaller local LANs with our team, and they've been definitely fun overall. You get to meet in real life the people you normally know online and finally adventure out by doing whatever you want with these people. I think it's definitely a very fun experience. Overall, traveling around Dallas, getting to eat out at restaurants, and hanging out at the hotel here and around the entire convention center at DreamHack has been a very fun experience. Not to mention getting to see everyone and getting to just have the entire experience is definitely something I'm glad that came back.
I know we had a year or two off with COVID, and that really sucked because there was a point where a lot of teams really wanted to get that LAN experience or have those tournaments. As much as I'm sure there are viewers out there that want to watch and love watching events such as these, I can tell you the players love playing in it even more, and when it comes to these events, the players are ready to play. They want to play really badly, and they're ready to compete and win as much as they can. So it's definitely an amazing experience to be able to play on LAN and compete with other teams.
As you know, tomorrow is gonna be a hectic day, what with UCF potentially playing three consecutive matches in a gauntlet-esque playoffs format. What's going to be the team's general mindset with a potentially wild day approaching?
Luke: I think it definitely does suck a little bit in the way it is formatted, in my opinion. I think ending it on a single-elimination bracket and for us to go in have the possibility of losing to these teams that have already lost kind of sucks in the way it plays out. However, our mentality is such that we're here to win it. We're here to give it our all, wake up, get a good breakfast, start the day off on the right track, get our practice in, and then just play our hearts out for the tournament. Whether we lose in the first round, we lose in the second round, or even if we win it all, we'll give our hearts at 100% until the last minute. So until the ball hits the ground and there are zero seconds on the clock, we will give 100% of our hearts, minds, and everything else to our game.
We'll see if UCF manages to hit that proverbial walk-off grand slam in due time. Thank you so much for doing this interview. Do you have any final words to share?
Luke: Just thank you to all the fans that have been supporting us. I know we've been getting a lot of people reaching out to us on Twitter and supporting us. I know a lot of us have different careers outside of collegiate. Still, it's amazing to see everyone come together and watch college Rocket League and have fun with it.