Sandro ‘FreaKii’ Holzwarth is a professional Rocket League esports player and has played for two teams with sim racing roots.
Image credit: BS+COMPETITION
When it comes to forms of esports, sim racing is making its strides, but it will still be a while before it’s up there with more mainstream esports. Whilst the highest payout in esports history is $40M from the 2021 DOTA 2 International, the most ever seen in sim racing is $1M from the Vegas eRace.
In fact, Rocket League is actually the driving game with the biggest esports scene. The car football (or ‘SocCar’) game is immensely popular and this year, its esports series boasts a $6M prize pool. While it is not technically a racing title, it’s undeniable that the impact that this game has on the driving game community.
Sim Racing Teams in Rocket League Esports
The Rocket League Championship Series has essentially become a bridge between both sides of the competitive gaming world. While the majority of teams competing in Rocket League compete in other major esports, a lot of teams from the sim racing world do as well.
For example, F1 team Williams joined the series in partnership with competitive gaming organisation Resolve. Team Vitality, who previously ran Renault’s esports team also compete. But as far as pure sim racing outfits, there have only been two: Veloce Esports and BS+COMPETITION.
One player has played for both, and that is Sandro Holzwarth, better known as FreaKii.
FreaKii competed for Veloce Esports between February 2019 and June 2020, and then from April 2021 to June 2022 was with BS+COMPETITION. Before he left BS+, we caught up with Holzwarth to find out what goes into playing Rocket League competitively. We also wanted to know what the difference is between playing for a contemporary esports org and one that originates from racing.
OverTake: How did you first discover Rocket League?
It was more casual as I was playing Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with some friends from real life. I wasn’t necessarily bad at the game but I wasn’t top tier, we basically would just play in lower rank leagues.
We were looking for a fun game to play to just calm down where it’s not all about winning and more about having fun. I had always loved football and I do love cars obviously so when Rocket League came out on Steam, someone told me there’s this new football game and we just tried it out, so that was basically the start.
OverTake: What was the process to becoming a professional player?
That’s actually a question that a lot of people ask me because most pros nowadays actually go into the game with the intention of becoming a pro. They actually try hard for it, and I’ve never really done that. I’ve played it with friends, and I’m someone who picks up a game relatively fast, can get relatively decent at a game without actively focusing on it.
I’ve just played it to basically just have fun and eventually noticed that I was rather decent. Over time, I just met more and more people in online matches and ranked, then after a year when RLCS was announced, I had a close real life friend who I’d play it casually with. We qualified for a tournament that he couldn’t compete in because he was competing in a tennis tournament, so I competed with some friends I had made online and we somehow made it relatively far in that tournament.
That’s how some orgs got to know us, and that was how I got involved in the pro scene. I never really tried to get any attention from these teams, we just played as good as we could and somehow made it further than most other players that were already relatively known.
OverTake: What has been your personal highlight during your time in Rocket League esports?
That’s a hard one to answer since so much has happened. I just loved going to events, it didn’t matter what it was, like DreamHack or World Championship, not even strictly going there to play but going as a spectator. It was just that you were basically doing things that you loved and there were thousands of people there with you, being fans of you, cheering for you.
The first few times, I did not recognise that as much as I do nowadays. It was basically just like being with friends at these events, being able to do what you love, doing what you do at home on your PC anyway but being able to make a living and on the world stage, there’s not one specific moment I have in mind, just all these major LAN events are some of the best experiences of my life.
OverTake: We’ve been told that you play the F1 game. What role has motorsport played in your eventual career in Rocket League and vice versa?
I don’t think it has played a role at all because when I started playing Rocket League, I had never watched Formula One or any kind of motorsport very closely. I’ve basically picked up watching it again in the middle of the 2021 season since there was a very hard fought title battle.
I liked watching it as a kid, I also liked playing with the little toy cars and racing games on the PlayStation. Basically, my mom would teach me about cars and I learned the colours of F1 teams, she would ask “What colour is this car?” and I’d get the hang of the colour of it.
But now I’ve picked up more of the car scene again, now I’m watching motorsport and looking at events. I am looking forward to the new F1 game, hopefully it’s a good one, I enjoy the racing basically.
OverTake: Whilst Rocket League isn’t a racing game, it still involves driving a car. How important of a role do you believe Rocket League is to an audience of driving game enthusiasts?
Well, Rocket League takes more the part of a casual game. When you compare to other games you drive cars in, it’s like comparing a sim racing game with Mario Kart, like yes it does follow the same idea. You drive cars, you’re still racing, doing laps of course but Mario Kart is so much more casual than any other racing game.
I think Rocket League, especially for most people has that same kind of feeling. It is a game that you just play casually on an evening because it’s easy to just turn on and play for a few minutes whilst any kind of racing game, you’re always having to focus 100% of the time.
Rocket League obviously can become a game you can put a lot of focus into as well the higher up you get, but it’s nice to still be able to work with cars that you know from real life like the BMW M240i and a couple of McLarens and Lamborghinis.
You still have some reference to real life and other games which feature these cars, but overall you’re just doing aerobatics and jumps rather than just trying to be the fastest around the pitch since that isn’t the aim of the game.
I think Rocket League perfectly combines the competitive aspect of wanting to win with the casual aspect of just having fun. Whilst most sim racing, sure it’s still fun to do racing but there’s a different skillset and thinking process behind it.
OverTake: You’ve been with two teams that have their roots in racing esports over more contemporary esports. What difference do you notice between teams of both backgrounds when it comes to how they approach Rocket League?
I would say both teams I’ve been in from sim racing, they’re way more family orientated. To them, it doesn’t matter how small you are in the big picture, you’re still a person while most really big esports organisations I’ve been with, they only really see your value as a player and not the person behind it.
I’ve always told BS+ that it’s the best org I’ve worked with because of how at home I felt with them, doesn’t matter if we win or not, I’ve always felt welcome with them. Whereas for example, if I’m with an organisation with like 500,000 followers, sometimes even second place wasn’t good enough and you had to be top of the top otherwise you’re not considered an option for the next season.
BS+ and Veloce never seemed to be of the mindset that results were worth more than the individual. They approached things in a very friendly way, that they were interested in you rather than just your name in the game.
Results obviously still play a big part, they’re always obviously trying to get bigger and get their name out there. But overall, they’re just happy to be there, it’s a phrase they both used when times weren’t as good. They just want to build up on what they already have, to become more known and get further into the scene but it’s not their complete focus.
Compared to the esports orgs who spend millions on one game, they obviously want to see results and get big very quickly. But a team with its background in sim racing and do other esports on the side, they have these little side projects that are nice to have. Although they don’t need them in order to explode within a shorter amount of time, it’s more a long term thing for them.
How to Follow Rocket League Esports
If you’re interested in following any Rocket League esports, there is an event coming up. The first LAN event in a very long time is taking place from 29 June-3 July, the Spring Split Major held in London.
To watch the action, follow the official Rocket League Twitch channel. Also for people playing the game, linking up their RL account with their Twitch will result in content drops in-game every two hours. Follow instructions on how to do so here.
Who do you support in Rocket League Championship Series? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!