A crowd erupts in rapturous applause and hectic cheers as a goal is scored at London’s Copper Box Arena. The energy is electric, with no sign of easing up, seamlessly channeled into a spontaneous performance of DJ Otzi’s Hey Baby emerging from thundering hands and rumbling feet – the victorious player’s name and team subbed in for key lyrics. Even as the game continues, Mexican waves and synchronized clapping takes hold of both domestic and international attendees. Once the match is won post-game interviews are short and hesitant – forced to a stop in the wake of colossal cheers, chants, and the occasional boo.
Each goal is a shockwave, each victory a lightning storm. This isn’t a Premier League football game, nor a local kickabout celebrated by impassioned diehards. This isn’t even football, really. This is Rocket League, and the source of this football-style crowd work can only come from one place: Section 104.
But before we dive into what Section 104 does, we need to start with who they are. When diving into the history of Rocket League’s rowdiest fans, there are two people you have to start with: Alex Knight and Emile Cole. Two halves of the SubParButinHD Rocket League YouTube / Twitch channel who have gone on to land official roles in the Rocket League Championship Series as both casters and analysts.Alex Knight - better known by the Rocket League community as Stumpy Goblin - is a 27 year old UK resident who has followed Rocket League since it first launched in 2015. They first started streaming at University, at one point streaming part time as half of SubParButinHD, before eventually being invited to cast Rocket League's Season X series. His streaming counterpart Emile Cole, 28 and from Cambridgeshire, has a similar background. They now both work on Ginx.TV's Gaming Show.
I managed to sit down briefly with the pair separately at the RLCS Spring Major at the Copper Box last weekend before the first match between Team Falcons and Version1.
“Back in RLCS season 5 in 2018 we were just a group of myself, Cole, and a community from SubParButinHD.” says Knight in the press room in the Copper Box backrooms. “We were streaming, and a lot of people wanted to know where to buy tickets for the season 5 LAN” (Referring to the RLCS (Rocket League Championship Series) Season 5 World Championship at the Copper Box).
“We had Googled the floor plan and went ‘right, we know that the stage was going to be in the middle [of the arena]. So, let's find a section that is right in the middle too, so then we can cheer, we can bring that British UK football stadium vibe.’ Because it was the first time we had a full-round bowl around the stage, we thought let's make it exciting and loud. We ended up picking 104. We told everybody – go for 104.” Both Knight and Cole have a history in football - with the former supporting Peterborough United as a teenager while the other remains a loyal Ipswich fan.
“After that, it grew, it was all over Twitter. There was like, section wars. There was a tournament called Section Wars where a lot of people do 1v1s to see who the best section would be. When we got here on Friday we had a lot of energy, and wanted to get out, get loud, and give every team a chance."
While Section 104 made its big debut at 2018’s RLCS LAN event, the roots of the scene lie further back in the past with the SubParButinHD communities’ original travelling members to primordial Rocket League events prior to the Epic Games acquisition in 2019 and the game’s ascent into esports popularity. I talked to Adam – more commonly known as Craftman in the community – another UK native who was there in the early days, travelling Europe with other members of the SubParButinHD community.
He tells me via Discord: “I've been part of the SubPar community since the early days of Rocket League, so I was there from the very beginning back in Amsterdam Season 2 finals. After some other events around the UK, Cole and [Knight] knew I and the rest of the community had a knack for the whole chanting thing so we wanted to all sit in the same section in London the first time around. We coordinated and collectively decided on 104 be where we invade. Cole and [Knight] were the main spearheads for coming up with songs and coordinating the crowd”.
But why does this matter? Sure, a bunch of Rocket League players turned up in force to a major in-person event, but what was so special about it? Whereas the other fans who showed up were prepared for a typical event, Section 104 had planned to bring the spirit of football with them.
Cole explains: “So esports events have a chant that follows them around everywhere, which is, “let's go. Team name let's go” or “let's go Team name". Me and my community, we thought that esports fans could be a bit more creative and a bit better than that. So obviously with English football chants, we like to put players' names in songs or poke fun at whatever footballers have been in the news for.
“We basically took it upon ourselves to look at all the players that are going to these LANs, think of song puns for hopefully each and every one of them, and then chant at them when they came down.”
This all required some prep work, both in terms of planning and turnout, which Knight elaborates on. “So yeah, we ended up making a [chant] document and sending it out to people. Getting whiteboards and pens. In the end just having so many enthusiastic British people around us, knowing the songs from football stadiums, adapting the words and chanting things like “squishy muffins – they sell you at Greggs”. That’s one of my favourite ones – sort of ribbing players and making them feel a bit silly. But then also the joke's on everyone. It is just a lovely environment.”
It turns out the members of Section 104 couldn’t have picked a better event to show up to in force. The Season 5 Grand Finals just so happened to be the birthplace of arguably Rocket League’s most iconic competitive moment - JSTN’s 0 second goal in the 7th round of Team Dignitas vs NRG Esports. This moment brought the eyes of the world to Rocket League, cementing it as a legitimate and exciting venture – and shining a light on the numerous moments of Section 104 crowd work as collateral.
“Some of the best clips we've got from the entire LAN aren’t of the gameplay” Knight explains. “Obviously the Justin clip is the one, but then you've got the Metsanuaris chant, and CorruptedG’s Pirate hat being met with Pirate chants and songs. Players can go through and they can look back and say that was a moment for me.”
“They can show friends and show family. They can look back on that when they retire or, you know, they're just not playing anymore, and they won't get to this level. So, I think it's something that if I was a player, I would be honoured if that happened.”
From there, Section 104 was embraced not only by the fans, but by Psyonix. “It was interesting because we never we never intended for it to be like the start of anything. We genuinely just wanted to go make it exciting for everybody and to make it a spectacle. So when it kind of got picked up, we were friends of the casters and have known them for years and we were friends with people at Psyonix as well. We spoke to them, and they loved what we were doing. They thought the crowd was incredible.”
“Psyonix very, very kindly flew us out to Las Vegas for season 6. They thought what happened there could be extended to a North American crowd, who are incredibly loud. People do not give North America enough credit for their volume, It's unreal. They said: “look, just bring that British culture over, get the lyrics going.”
It’s that unmistakable British vibe given off by Section 104 that differentiates this group from the usual gaggle of screamers and yelpers that populate the stands of esports events.
According to Cole: “It's connected to football but It's also very simple. So the people who were dragged there by a friend, or their parents. Even if they didn't know anything about Rocket League going into it, they can root for the team in Orange to get the ball in the back of the net. That hopefully means they can latch themselves onto certain players or teams and then they're more likely to root for them.”
Creativity is central to everything Section 104 does, and everything must be fun. We didn't want any of the pro players to be upset – there is never anything personal or mean. Obviously compared to football things can get personal and mean, right? I'm sure we can both think of examples of cruel chants. So nothing that anybody would be offended or hurt by”.
It’s this line drawn in the sand that separates Section 104 from the spectre of football hooliganism, with the deafening boos aimed at NA teamVersion1, who fulfilled the role of heel at the event thanks to a mix of love for EU teams as well as the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) newcomers in Team Falcons, as well as healthy trash talk from Version1’s Comm. It seems the mantle of the football ultra, with all its negative connotations, is worn better by the hyper aggressive online minority.
Sitting in the Copper Box during the 2022 Spring Major Section 104, which once was bound inside their own lone portion of the stadium, spilled out onto the pathways and into neighbouring seats and stands. This once sole community of dedicated Rocket League fans infected the crowd with their distinct brand of football-style enthusiasm.
However, like any proper bunch of football fans – traditional, vehicular, or otherwise – any event isn’t complete without a trip to the pub. This time around, Wetherspoons, a UK staple. “So Spoons is a big thing in the UK. As everybody knows.” Knight explains, grinning. “You come here - you go for spoons. Everyone has a nice pint of non-alcoholic water, and we get to hang out. It's just about finding a place where you can go and meet up with everyone that you will have seen at these events.”
For me, Section 104's real impact is felt most at in-person events, live. The sense of the community, the fun, the occasional bit of banter and hype you just can’t feel through a Twitch.tv stream. It’s what makes all sports – esports included – special. Sudden choruses of “If you're moist and you know it clap your hands” in response to Moist Esports winning a round that elicits a smile and a long-held memory long after you’ve caught the train home. Adam, as a years-long member of Rocket League’s answer to the football crowd, sums up the importance of Section 104 from their own perspective.
“One of the things I love about the Rocket League scene right now is that I feel everyone is on the same level. Players, talent, staff, crowd, no one is above or below anyone and what happened during the grand final last night is a prime example of that.
“It's important in the larger sense that it brings everyone together and shows that there are no barriers between anyone in this community. For the events themselves and the experience of being there, it's important to have that one-of-a-kind atmosphere and make memories for people that will last a lifetime.”