The Story of Saju: How One Man’s Passion for Creating Digital Art Became an Explosive Career in Freelance Decal Design

Picture this:

So, on the fateful day Rocket League removed trading from the game, I was doom-scrolling Reddit – daydreaming that my interview with the RL Garage team would become a sweeping viral phenomenon.

(Spoiler alert: They never do.)

I cracked open an Esports announcement about G2 gobbling up V1. The social media manager fired this hilarious stray bullet at G2.

Meme says: Version-1 Days Since Last Loss to NRG: Infinity

Then, the craziest, most unexpected thing happened. I stumbled into Saju. He’s the guy who designed back-to-back in-game V1 decals for Octane, Fennec, and Dominus. I drizzled extra emphasis on that because V1’s OG motif topped my Octane Esports decal tier list back in the day.

But Saju’s resume doesn’t end there.

He drafted the official ‘22-23 Tundra, RLCS 2023 Spring Major, and Rix.GG decals. He placed the finishing touches on Beefy Ramen Boy’s ‘22-23 Team Singularity decal. He’s tackled promotional renders for Williams Resolve social media headers. He’s dispatched artwork for G2. 

Most recently, the 2024 NRG refresh sprouted from his hands.

I’d wager that since Saju’s professional freelancing career sparked in 2021, he’s made the biggest splash of any non-Psyonix artist in Rocket League. He’s far too humble to agree, but I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

Decal: RL 22-23 Spring Major (By Saju) Primary paint finish: Matte Secondary paint finish: Glossy Saju interview quote: "My inspiration for this decal was Boston Surfing. It was a pleasant surprise when Psyonix contacted me to develop their first-ever event-specific decal. It was an honor... but I also felt a lot of pressure!"

Look, I hate when blogs fire off ramblings about the writer’s morning yoga yodeling and breakfast routines. So I’m sorry I just shattered my golden rule… but like…

That’s an insane find, right? 

So, naturally, I hassled Saju for an interview. I wanted to hear his story as an artist. I wanted to inquire about his process and inspirations. Then, I nosedived into the modding community and spammed DM’s to the community founder, Hurricane, along the way.

Let’s take a breather from intensive guides. Let’s ditch the whirlwind of community doom and gloom. Today, we’ll give aspiring decal artists, modders, and Esport decal fanatics a good time. We’ll spread the gospel of our local talent.

Decal: RIG.GG (by Saju) Primary paint finish: Glossy Secondary paint finish: Anodized Interview quote: "Speaking with Kash was a thrill! Rix was the first org to reach out to me for an in-game design. I was proud of it, but I was also riding the high of watching my work become an official part of the game. Looking back, I wish I could've made the decal more uniform across all three chassis."

The Process: Understanding RL’s Esport Decal Underworld

Let’s open up with some background information.

After excavating the Esport art scene for a month, I learned tons about the craft. I learned that only the first Esport decal batch was done in-house by Psyonix staff. 

I learned that seasonal batches between ‘21-23 provided artists with three paint finish selections for primary and secondary colors: Glossy, anodized, and matte. I learned that in 2024, anodized paint finish options disintegrated – making the most recent V1 decals now impossible to replicate.

Decal: Version 1 '22-23 Home (by Saju). Primary: Anodized. Secondary: Matte. Clean Octane decal screenshot.

I learned that, in addition to standardized logo and sponsor blocks on vehicles, Psyonix rejects decal submissions based on file size. It’s pretty common, too. One week after the 2024 pack, I can already scope out two scrapped proposals:

I learned that many teams who whiffed a seasonal decal release simply missed a submission deadline or lost contact with Psyonix – and artists pin down gigs by showcasing their modded skins through tweets.

Hurricane's concept vs. Final design for Complexity decal in 2024. Hurricane on his concept design: "Given the constraints of Unreal Engine 3 - especially with lighting - a design like this couldn't translate to RL. We had so many masterpieces in the works this year. Some made it. Others didn't... Still, this year's batch looks awesome!" Hurricane on his final design: "This decal spawned from my most detailed work yet. I'm more than ready to do another in the future. I've gained so much experience. If I find another opportunity to design an official decal, I'll try pushing the limits again!"

While Psyonix’s new approach leaves the heavy lifting to individual orgs, they provide a 30% profit cut in return. That percentage doesn’t trickle down to the artists, but they still take home a tidy rate up front.

Larger orgs with strong multi-game performances – like Vitality, TSM, and Karmine Corp – tend to boast in-house teams spread across multiple game fronts. Artists take on broader roles like Creative Lead, Apparel, Graphic Designer, and 3D artist.

But, as you’re about to hear from Saju’s road to success, that isn’t the industry standard. It’s more common that you’ll hear a story like this:

Question #1: Are you a freelance artist? Do you pitch decals to individual orgs or are they assigned to you?

Saju: “Yes, I’m mainly a freelancer. I found most of my opportunities through designs I published over the season. I’ve also gained connections to orgs and other artists. Once the offseason begins, orgs start reaching out for upcoming season designs.”

As far as Psyonix goes, Sheist (Murty Shah) and Jake Friedman ran the show for in-game Esport merchandising. Epic Games laid off Jake and a sizable portion of the Esport management team on September 23rd, 2023. Murty transferred to another department prior to the layoffs. 

The backend still looks sturdy enough for annual org decal refreshes; but, unfortunately, the contact avenue appears rocky.

Question #2: Are you exclusive to designing decals, or do you do other art jobs?

Saju: “I do some other stuff like poster designs and renders, but it’s usually related to my primary niche – car design.”

Saju's unofficial Esports panel: Pictured here are three samples of Saju's concept designs for Esport decals with matching event posters for the orgs G2, SK Gaming, and Moist. All three have been active players in the Rocket League Esports scene.

After some digging, I discovered that most freelance decal artists dabble in promotional posters or video overlays for related events. A handful have YouTube channels that I’ll shout out when the time arrives.

Anyway…

After major events, individual orgs broadcast results posters on Twitter. When orgs unveil new merch, they promote it with a poster. Roster changes and name org rebranding posts follow the same formula.

3D graphics are an effective attention grabber in the nimble terrain of social media. They convey quick information.

Question #3: What was your favorite official design job?

Saju: “Back-to-back, I’d have to say it was V1. Something about the Digital Camo they used for their branding spoke to me. I find myself creating unofficial decal mods for them all the time.”

“On the first project, a V1 representative outright purchased one of my mods. They only needed minor adjustments to align with Psyonix guidelines. The design remained largely unscathed.”

Decal: Version 1 '21-22 Home (by Saju). Primary: Matte. Secondary: Matte. Clean Octane decal screenshot. Interview quote: "My first commission was like the perfect storm. It ticked all the right boxes. It was a unicorn - the only purple decal in the batch. It fulfilled the weird placebo effect of feeling fast. Seeing everyone praise what I'd considered my best work at the time was super validating."

Question #4: What’s your favorite RL car to doodle across?

Saju: “I can tell you it’s not Octane!” 

The design-real-estate on Octane seems abysmal… Like trying to tattoo a caterpillar.

Saju: “On top of that, the Octane model has issues that don’t make sense. Things like the side panels being offset and separated from the roof. The left and right sides have different spacing. Not to mention mirroring fenders.”

An image depicting the UI decal modders see while handling the UV textures of a Rocket League octane. There are over 40 surfaces total.

Saju mentioned he’s constantly learning how to simplify processes through Blender. But later I uncovered the whole group groans at Octane markups. I even caught design mentors swatting newbies away from modding Octane skins unless it was an absolute necessity.

Saju: “I main the Dominus, but that’s not my favorite to design for, either! I like the Fennec. It has the simplest UV texture. (That’s basically the 3D model projected on a 2D image.)”

That leads me to my next talking point: Saju confirmed that most of RL’s freelance artists gained traction through developing custom Bakkesmod skins. They carried their projects out solo. Passion fueled them through the extra tasks – like injecting their mods in-game and chasing the ever-evasive formula of tasteful self-promotion.

Blender scenes of Saju's mockup decals for real esport orgs lacking Rocket League teams. Pictured on top is the "Nines" design published March of 2021. In the middle is "Enherjar Esports" published September 2021. On bottom is "Systema Solaris" published June 2021.

Look, it’s a long road. But instead of focusing on that, maybe it’s best to introduce you to your new modding family.

A Closer Look into the RL Decal Modding Community:

Question #5: What motivated you to start drafting Rocket League decals?

Saju: “Before RL existed, I was already leaning toward creative work. I messed around a lot in Photoshop. I started by making simple edits, then tinkered around with logo designs. For a little bit, I made voluntary graphics for a few community leagues, etc.”

“Around 2016, I started earning money from creating event graphics, logos, headers, etc. It was a humble amount, but it felt awesome. I remember thinking, ‘Wow! I can actually pull some cash from doing what I love!’”

An early Rocket League photoshop commission Saju accepted where he drew a silhouette of a player's preset. It's the Slipstream decal paired with Kalos wheels.
Here's an early Photoshop request Saju fulfilled November 24th, 2017. He hadn't established his brand and signed with his Reddit handle.

Saju: I did that for a while until I found a Twitter post of Fnatic entering Rocket League. Their graphic had cars showcasing custom Fnatic-themed decals. Hurricane made them.”

“I thought it looked awesome. I wanted to try making my own designs.”

“So, I guess it was Hurricane’s Fnatic decals that sparked my interest. Around 2018, I started properly experimenting and developing custom RL decals.”

Once Saju found a community, he began to thrive. He unearthed a purpose and honed his skills.

Saju original concepts. "Estranged" published 9/29/2020 and Kaguya published 2/23/22

The History of RL The RL Modding Community (And Where They’re Found).

All my aspiring artists and mod collectors are probably itching to learn where their people congregate. And I’ll sprinkle in a little Rocket League history lesson for everyone else.

At surface level, you can find an RL modding community on Reddit and another sub for Bakkesmod support. VGM became the preferred site for sharing skin downloads since it features a tidy designated RL catalog. But that’s the kind of lazy journalism you’d expect to see from Kotaku. Let’s delve a little deeper.

To better grasp the origins of the Rocket League skin modding community, I slithered into Hurricane’s DM’s on Discord. While I can’t guarantee Hurricane was the first to tinker, I can verify he was the first to publish a texture mod in 2016.

But the story didn’t root from Esports – or even creating decals, for that matter.

Hurricane was a pioneer. He wanted his sci-fi car soccer game to look more robust. He coined and published a series of GlowEngine mods, starting with the Octane. He repeated the process with the Twin Mill, the Endo, and the Dodge Ice Charger.

That’s when his GlowEngine mod captivated the attention of freestylers. 

The biggest RL freestyling conglomerate came knocking on his door for a collab. And, to his surprise, Hurricane found himself working with Aimpunch – the Pulse Clan manager/videographer and future community manager for SunlessKhan’s Rule One Esports team – for 2017’s most successful montage.

Ignited by the fruit of his labor, Hurricane continued to spark new life into a myriad of chassis with his iconic aftermarket underglow. The Ripper. The Mantis. The Dominus GT. The Centio. The Animus. The Jager. 

He tampered with glowing decals. He ventured into crafting custom animated decals, like the notorious Gold Rush decal concept. He altered animated wheel patterns. He splashed color into alpha rewards. He concocted client-side ball skins.

Then everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked.

In October 2017, an unfamiliar Redditor flung a message toward our unsuspecting modding hero. Hurricane agreed to a conversation over Skype for a vague commission opportunity.

The cryptic message turned out to be a representative from Fnatic. The random commission became their announcement to sign their first Rocket League roster.

Hurricane: “And there it was, out of the blue… My first commission. At that point, I never imagined it possible! But it happened. The truth? I felt super underprepared. I feared I’d disappoint them. But working with Fnatic was great. Their hype and excitement to join Rocket League was real. They made the process super smooth. Looking back, their professionalism really helped me meet their standards and create something truly special.”

Saju wasn’t the only artist inspired by Fnatic’s surprise tweet. Modders flocked into the Rocket League Modding Discord group. Eventually, they flooded the modest ‘skin’ channel. They needed to blossom into their own community.

As interest spiked, Hurricane teamed up with his four closest friends to birth the Rocket League Skins Wiki – a place for artists to share feedback and ideas on concept designs. Together with shiny waffles, famiy, butthead, and leon, Hurricane soon found himself hosting the central hub for: 

  • Educating new texture modders
  • Sharing feedback between artists
  • And orgs scouting talent for Esport commissions.

Hurricane: “The Discord channel was also where I first met Saju! When Saju came on the Discord it didn’t take long for him to create some awesome decals. Over time, he showed us he’s exceptionally talented – probably the best one when it comes to creating a gorgeous design. It was only a matter of time until he found the success he deserved (and strived for). He is, without a doubt, one of the pillars of Rocket League’s creative community. I’m honored to know him. I’m excited to see where his path leads!”

Hurricane's fan-made Rule One concept art ideas with a quote, "Looking back, I'm definitely proud to say I helped build a platform for people to share, connect, and talk about decals and texture mods. We created a place for a lot of great artists from the community to meet and create."

Of course, the landscape has changed since 2018. The Umod software that attracted the earliest modders became incompatible; and, with that, much of the early capabilities of texture modding vanished overnight. Map alterations became impossible. Psyonix Devin forbids players from fiddling with the Psyonix ads along the stadium walls – even in freeplay.

But the boys who work on AlphaConsole (Shoutout to Martinn and glhglh!) kept the torch burning for adjustable client-side mods like vehicle skins, ball textures, and player banners. And, while Hurricane may be the only founding partisan who remains active, the community itself still carries a jubilant pulse.

To help readers grasp the innards of the scene, I asked Saju about his favorite peer designers. Here’s who he listed:

Accolades – A pillar to the growth of RL texture modding, actively offering technical guidance to all who ask. Created decals for Ground Zero. 3D artist for SSG Fall Major marketing campaign with custom decal package. Helped promote Fnatic with a similar poster/decal package. He’s done freelance banner advertisements elsewhere, too.

Accolades – Back-to-back decals for Moist and Team Singularity. Created the 2024 SSG decal. Sports the most downloaded custom skin suite of any other single modder. His work has been featured by countless YouTubers, including the modding monolith, Lethamyr.

Accolades – Worked with Dignitas two years straight.  GenG ‘22-23 and Shopify Rebellion ‘21-22 decals. Fashioned PWR ‘21-22 posters. Developed overlays for JamesBot’s SoloQ tourneys. Established YouTuber with introductory skin modding tutorials.

Accolades – Created official NRG ‘21-22, Karmine Corp ‘21-22, Sempr decals. Official Williams Resolve design lead (including decals). Laid groundwork concepts for early org rebranding adaptations, such as Rogue and Dignitas.

Twitter

Accolades – Team Vitality lead 3D artist who designed ‘21-22 and 2024 Vitality decals. Unleashed CS:GO skins and promotional Vitality posters for Valorant. Videographer. Worked officially for Ubisoft Nadeo creating Trackmania content.

Accolades – Brewed decals for Soniqs, Knights, and Guild. Fashioned attire for Shopify Rebellion. Developed overlays for First Touch Podcast and ShiftRLE. Works for the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team.

Accolades – Worked with Quadrant. Creates decal mods for repping your nationality. Crafted 2024 KCorp, Gentlemates, Solary.

Accolades – A highly decorated concept designer with decal renders spanning nearly every Esport org. In 2024, he landed two official decal commissions: Limitless and Elevate.

Accolades – 3D artist and motion designer. Helped design TSM’s 2024 decal (their main hype-building method for re-entry into Rocket League.) Produced ‘21-22 Ghost, Team Liquid, and FaZe Clan decals. Jersey designer. Dispatched PSG results posters. Creates Blender assets. Collaborated with Porsche and Riot Games.

Accolades – Pulse Clan Montage modding collab. Freelance decal designer for Kru and Complexity. Texture Modder. Founder of RL Skins Wiki Discord Channel. Digital/3D/concept artist. Pioneered freelance art gigs with Fnatic. Outlined the blueprints for the original Ghost decal. 

The Inspiration Driving Saju:

Saju wallpaper design: Rocket League x Need for Speed

Question #6: What do design guidelines look like? (Ex. brand kits, color use, area usage, expectations)

Saju: “I wouldn’t say there are set rules, per se. Decals should translate to the org well. I tend to mirror the themes seen on jerseys or logos.”

“A lot of the same stuff would work between Tundra and V1. They’re similarly branded. Both lean into pointy edges. Both have their own patterns and often use gradients.”

"Saju mentions a short turnaround time on his commission with Tundra. To save time, he checked his hobby mods for inspirational overlap. He chose this Fenrir design." "Since the design assignment was open-ended, Saju tinkered with a form-fitting creation tailored to the team logo. Here you can see some prototypes with varying hood, roof, spoiler, and back quarter-panel designs." "He tinkered with various other away team colors (especially red) before landing on the iconic blue, white, and gold design released in-game." "Then he repeated the process with the Fennec and Dominus until all three sustained a uniform look."

Saju: “But if you take a team like Moist, those principles wouldn’t work anymore. You’re looking for a design with smoother lines because liquids aren’t sharp, you know?”

“With every decal, you try to convey a specific feeling. Playful. Angry. Majestic.”

Question #7: Do you have any tricks for honing in on an ‘angry’ decal theme, for example?

Saju: “To be honest, I’ll blast Eurobeat or other high-tempo playlists on occasion. Especially when it’s crunch time. My unofficial G2 poster is a good example of an angry design.”

Saju's creative process for creating the Rix.gg decal: "Saju began with the dominus. In his earliest prototype photo, he's planting the Rix branding within the natural inlay of the Dominus door panel. On both his earliest designs, the sides appear similar to their final stage. Saju's clarified that this area was where his design highlights resided throughout the full process. Saju also mentioned pitching the early design idea of "lightning damage" and made designs more fragmented. I mentioned the original octane spoiler appearing sporty. He said the original design stuck around until the final stages of development. Here you can see him thinning the early design elements on the wheel wells and shaping the sleek pinstripes along the roof. The spoiler remains unscathed. Saju said he wanted to experiment with submitting a proper livery design with Rix, but they disbanded too soon. One thing that remains consistent in Saju's process: He's always investing heavy stock into matching team logos.

Question #8: What would you consider important for successful decal designs?

Saju: “Many of the rules to creating digital art still apply here.”

“I’d say a successful design is creative, but not overly complicated. It should be recognizable and do a good job of reflecting the org. Decals stand out especially well when they provide a refreshing twist without overhauling an org’s vision. Bonus points if it feels fast. The sensation is placebo, but it still affects RLCS pros and trickles down to you and me.”

“In the 22-23 batch, I loved the G2 away and Dignitas home multichrome gradients. They felt brave without veering too far from their overall vibe.”

Saju's creative process for the official 22-23 V1 decal: "Saju picked up two back-to-back contracts with V1, so he hopped into this project fully prepared. He built a design based on the concept of refracted light, starting on the Dominus. He found his stride while fiddling with pink geometric shapes like the concepts shown above. With each step, he continued adding complecity. Saju's final hurdle to overcome was shaping the decal around the hood logo. Here's a few of his initial ideas." Below is a compilation of photos where Saju toyed with the color palette. He experimented with blues and lighter shades of purple most.

Question #9: Do you have favorites from the new 2024 batch?

Saju: “That’s a tough one. I like the new Team Secret design. It’s like they took last year’s design and Supercharged it. APAC cooked hard. Otter helped Elevate shine for their debut.”

Looking Ahead: Where Can We Expect to See RL Esport Designs and Saju Next?

Saju’s future looks brighter than ever. The Esport decal ring appears vibrant, too.

When I asked Saju about his future, he mentioned delving into sports posters. He’s undergoing an initiative to expand his work into the realm of Trackmania.

Saju designs his most recent decal with V1 on a Trackmania chassis.

Question #10: Is there anyone you wanted to credit for sending you toward Trackmania?

Saju: “I’d say Dark_rle and Peiks. I’ve played Trackmania since the United Forever days, but Dark was the one to suggest I make skins recently.”

Saju also expressed genuine interest in creating real vinyl wraps for a body shop somewhere down the line, even fantasizing about making liveries for a professional racing team at one point. 

But, in the meantime, RLCS gigs still bring home a consistent cash flow.

Saju has trekked far beyond his first photo drawn in Corel. I can tell you right now that he’s got the adaptability and creative fortitude to weather the fiercest storms.

Saju's first creation in greaphic design. It's a bus on fire etched in the program Corel.
Light mode AND unsubbed from r/rocketleague? Guess I'm busted for being too lazy to sign in again.

Hurricane is still thriving, too:

Hurricane quote with his official 2024 KRU esport decal overlay: "Over the last couple years I continued pushing myself. I learned how to bring ideas to life by tackling new programs and diving into the world of 3D. I'm extremely thankful for all the support from the community, especially from the creatives in our scene. Without them, I wouldn't be where I am today. thank you!"

And, as far as the scene goes, it evolves with each repetition. Psyonix gives artists more creative liberty than ever before. Orgs like TSM are doubling down to hire multiple decal artists for more elaborate brainstorming and feedback sessions.

The APAC (Asia-Pacific) and SSA (Sub-Saharan Africa) regions are gaining representation. That’s a huge step for the growth of RLCS.

That isn’t to say we aren’t seeing hiccups. Psyonix never relayed their last-second decision to dice anodized paint from decal submissions to many:

Kevpert and LG Ryan point out that Psyonix screwed up on their decal submission. The paint finishes were wrong, and the colors mismatch. They even go on to clarify that nobody at the company informed them that Anodized paint finish was being torn from the design space.

I know, I know. I said no drama today. But I’d look like a spineless shill if I ignored the consequences of the post-metaverse, post-blast, post-Disney sellout, post-layoff era of Epic Games.

Last of all, I want readers to walk away feeling comfortable contacting RL modders. 

These artists are all happy to oblige commission requests or listen to your feedback. There’s a reason I was so liberal about dropping links for these guys. They’re genuine. They’re driven by fierce, immovable passion. They’re guided by the intense, enigmatic flame of expertise and empathy.

In the process of writing this piece, I got a taste of friendly artistic critique on these photo edits. It went through infographic bootcamp. I wanted to get a feel for how these experts interacted with one another – so I could relay that experience to anyone contemplating a voyage down texture modding themselves.

I flourished from it.

Most surprising of all, these artists gauged the limits of my abilities and never pushed me beyond reason. We took long, meaningful strides without any negative discourse. For that, I’m forever grateful.

As a whole, I’ve grown to respect RL’s underground art scene more than RL’s chief resident data miner or our top YouTubers… And, trust me, I suffered colossal geek outs writing both those posts.

Anyway, that’s a wrap, folks. As always, thanks for reading! If you made it this far, we’ll probably vibe again in the future. Consider checking out my social links below. Much love!