Recently Psyonix revealed in their fourth year anniversary blog post that Rocket League has been enjoyed by over 60 million players worldwide. Despite that large pool of talent, Jayson “Fireburner” Nunez stood head and shoulders above the rest as a founding member of Kings of Urban and NRG. Attending every World Championship to date, Fireburner proved he belonged with the best of the best, but unfortunately he remains the best to never win.
King of Urban
Looking back at the scene for this article made me realize just how much has changed since RLCS Season 1. While there were a few familiar names (Turbo, Kuxir, Kronovi) a lot of players have since retired or fallen from the top of the scene. Kings of Urban were the number one team in North America going into the RLCS Season 1 finals but took a quick exit through stage left with losses to The Flying Dutchmen (all since retired) and FlipSide Tactics (only Kuxir remains from that roster) the tournament runners up.
The tournament MVP was not Cameron “Kronovi” Bills, but Ted “0ver Zer0” Keil who has been absent at the pro level since 2018. While some pros have remained at or near the top of the pro scene (Turbo, Kuxir, GarrettG, Kronovi) none have had the consistent career that Fireburner had.
That consistency is what makes Fireburner such a special player. Fireburner was the only member of the Kings of Urban (who would be bought out by NRG) to never be kicked or leave the roster. That consistency and loyalty was not always rewarded, unfortunately. In the middle of RLCS S1 qualifiers, Cody “Gambit” Dover left for iBuyPower Cosmic leaving Fireburner and Jacob “Jacob” Mcdowell forced to replace him.
At the time I was pretty annoyed and so was my team mate, Jacob. At the time it was me, Jacob and the guy that left – that was the team… We were pretty annoyed at the time, not exactly because he left but how he left. That was more annoying than anything at the time. – Fireburner
Fireburner never seemed to let it get to him and the Kings of Urban grinded through online play winning ESL Weeklies, Monthlies, and other online events as they continued to prove they were one of the elite teams in America online.
That online success turned the Kings of Urban aka Fireburner, Jacob, and Kais “sadjunior” Zehri into Kings of North America winning the NA RLCS Season 2 under their new banner, NRG. The number one seed from North America went into the event as favorites, and iBuyPower Cosmic (who became G2 Esports) were nowhere to be seen as the reigning World Champs floundered in the regular season.
The biggest of stages for Rocket League pros moved to The Netherlands, and all eyes were on Fireburner, but unfortunately, NRG lost in the first round of the upper bracket and were unable to mount a large loser’s bracket run finishing 5th-6th. At their lowest point as a roster, NRG was forced to make a change and Sadjunior was dropped and rising star Garrett “GarrettG” was acquired.
RLCS Season 3
GarrettG had been a rising prospect on Orbit Esports and after they placed 7th-8th at Season 2 Finals, he joined NRG Esports. RLCS Seasons 1 and 2 were great displays of competitive Rocket League, but the esport really started to catch on as teams started to be signed to professional orgs and the prize pool kept increasing (now at $150,000).
Season 3 saw the team crush it throughout North American League play. Going 6-1 (19-6 map count) and cruising through the regional finals to a solid first place and another first seed going into a major LAN. By this point, the team had bombed their first two LANs, but this looked to be a different final.
Fireburner earned the award of Golden Striker for scoring .92 goals per game, but Jacob was an absolute stud earning Clutch Playmaker of the season and the season's MVP top honors. Could things go right for Fireburner for once?
Season 3 Finals came back to LA in the Wiltern Theater and NRG were able to avoid the first-round exit with a resounding 3-0 win over Northern Gaming. A semifinal win against the perennially excellent FlipSid3 Tactics vaulted them into the winners' finals against Mock-it EU, but NRG would lose 3-4 and be sent to the loser's finals. NRG would not have a full redemption arc as they would go on to lose 1-4 to Season 3 champions Northern Gaming and bowed out with a 3rd place showing. NRG was unable to exorcise their LAN demons fully, but they showed that they could hang with the best EU could throw at them and outplaced all of their NA rivals.
So what better than to do some soul searching at X-Games?
FaceIt X-Games Rocket League Invitational
There had been some smaller non RLCS events before X-Games, but none had all of the best teams in a really iconic location (and broadcast on ESPN) like X-Games. The event may have been in a tent, but it was the coolest tent we have seen in esports and the $75,000 prize pool meant the winner would be taking home more than just bragging rights.
NRG going into the event was not the odds-on favorite like they had been in previous LANs. They had placed third at Worlds sure but they were in a group with North American Rogue and Team Envy (Northern Gaming) who posed threats to NRG's title aspirations. Their Group saw them beat The Leftovers (EU team who placed fourth at Worlds) and Team Envy 3-1 to qualify for the playoffs.
NRG did not make their playoff run easily, but with 4-3 wins over Selfless Gaming and Gale Force Esports, they won in thrilling fashion as all three members popped off. Sure it was not in front of the largest crowd or for the biggest prize pool, but it was a huge win for beleaguered NRG fans. Fireburner was finally able to have a flair that said he was a Champion, but the good fortunes for this team ended in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
If you're an NRG fan, then you know you do not think or talk about Season 4. DreamHack Atlanta saw The Muffin Men (now Cloud9) take home first place and finally establish a viable threat to NRG's reign at the top of the pole. While NRG were able to qualify for Worlds, if you watched the event you would never know it.
The team bombed out in last place losing to Method and Chiefs eSports Club placing 9th-10th their lowest ever. Would NRG bounce back as Fireburner, Jacob, and GarretG figured out their lack of synergy and take season five by storm? Sadly, the MVP of NA RLCS Season 3 would be kicked from NRG and eventually fade away as the team felt Jacob had peaked and was unable to keep pace with the competition.
Instead, NRG once again picked up a young, talented scorer from a struggling team to replace an aging star past their prime. This time NRG would pick up Justin "jstn" Morales and head into RLCS Season 5 with a new set of expectations.
Rocket League has given us some absolutely incredible moments. From Squishy's ceiling shot to Cloud9's Season 6 loser bracket run, the game has consistently delivered on giving fans hype moments to remember about for a long time. Yet, there has not been a moment equivalent to the shot jstn hit to send Season 5 grand finals into a game seven overtime against one of the greatest lineups in Rocket League history.
NRG's ability to find talent has yet to fail the organization (in Rocket League at least) as the former hard carry of Out of Style joined NRG to high expectations. Season 5 saw NRG once again run the table in the regular season, but it was GarrettG who was the shining star as he won both the Golden Striker (1.25 goals per game) and Regular Season MVP honors.
This time however NRG were unable to win the season playoffs falling short to G2 Esports 3-4 in the regional grand finals. LAN finals were in the Copper Box Arena of London, England and the prize pool was a whopping $250,000. NRG had high expectations to perform, but Team Dignitas were the favorites to go back to back after winning Season 4 as Gale Force Esports.
NRG absolutely ran the table at the Copper Box Arena defeating Team Envy, Team Dignitas, and Complexity gaming dropping a collective two maps to advance to the grand finals with a big bracket advantage. NRG was so close to exorcising their demons and finally giving their fans a World trophy.
Yet, Team Dignitas went on an inspired losers' bracket run and in the grand finals caught NRG napping and easily won the first of two best of sevens with a 4-1 scoreline. The second best of seven was much closer as it came down to a 2-2 scoreline with five seconds to go. Dignitas was able to score the presumed go-ahead goal and it came down to NRG to score with four seconds remaining.
Making use of a good kick-off, NRG was able to move the ball around and Fireburner was able to send the ball to the right wall and jstn took care of the rest as he would send the game into overtime. The moment was immediately etched into Rocket League lore after England native Callum "Shogun" Keir pronounced, "This is Rocket League!"
NRG would go on to lose in overtime giving the Dignitas core a continued era that would last until Cloud9 ended it in Season 6 Finals. Once again NRG climbed to insane heights, but even the heroics of a young star were not enough for the team to win the big one.
Season 6 and 7 would not provide answers for the squad and while the team has come close at other events such as the World Series of Esports and most recently with DreamHack Valencia, the storybook ending remains in flux.
For Fireburner, going out before his flames burned out seems like the right call to a dramatic career. Season 7 saw the captain earn the regional honor of Clutch Playmaker and he ended with a second-place finish in Valencia, Spain losing to PSG Esports in the grand finals.
Why was such a legendary player never able to overcome that block and be unable to win the big one? Can you truly blame his team which changed in composition over time? Can you blame the teams that would create dynasties and other legendary players such as Kaydop seeming to be his kryptonite? Whatever your reason for him not being able to win the big one, Fireburner has collected all of the accolades short of hoisting the RLCS trophy to decorate a long, fruitful career.
While Fireburner will never be able to fill his trophy case with more hardware, he was the defining player on NRG for four years a feat no one else can say. Every story has their end, but at least Fireburner will be able to see the young stars like Jstn pick up where he left off.
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