With high-octaned racers outfitted for one of the most popular international sports, Rocket League is changing the face of eSports.
Rocket League came out of nowhere. Effectively a sports game where you ram your car into giant soccer balls, Rocket League doesn’t seem to have the surface potential to become an eSport. While there are competitive communities in some sports games and some racing games, they pale in comparison to the eSports communities that gather year round to watch people play MOBA’s, for example.
So what makes Rocket League stand out? Barely in the public eye for six months, Rocket League has already managed to have their own competitive tournament and to be recognized by organizations like Red Bull (who holds the Red Bull Battlegrounds series of eSports).
Easy to Play, Hard to Master
The key to a lot of good competitive games is that they are easy to play, but difficult to master. That low barrier of entry lays the groundwork for a larger group of people to gain entrance into the elite community of players.
While there is a layer of complexity to say, the meta for League of Legends, early players can simply get away with auto-attacking and staying away from tower bases. Or think of that friend of yours that button mashes their way to victory in Street Fighter. Or for an IRL example, almost anyone can kick a ball — but few people can win a spot on the team for Real Madrid.
The point of this exercise in mechanics is this: because the games are easy to play they’re easy to understand. While you may not be able to do every action you see on screen, you understand the base play behind it. There isn’t a lot of complication that makes you lose interest.
Rocket League’s basic controls are simple — anyone who has played any form of driving game in the last ten years would be able to pick the game up in a few rounds. But you may never be able to juggle the ball as effortlessly as the folks in the MLG final round for Rocket League, who kept the ball airborne for seconds after the clock ran out:
— MLG (@MLG) August 21, 2015
Knowing the difficulty to that move makes it that much more impressive, and it’s a knowledge you can gain because you have the ability to play Rocket League (even if you keep getting stuck on the walls because of ball cam).
Team Sports for eSports
There are obvious exceptions to this rule (StarCraft 2 comes to mind) but it team sports are exceptionally common in eSports. To be fair, this is also true in real life sports. People like to watch collaborative groups learn to hate each other through the power of teamwork and friendship.
While there is the more chaotic 4 person mode of Rocket League, a lot of people play the game competitively on either two or three player mode.
Showboaters aside, Rocket League is really a team sport and audiences love watching those in-game interactions.
But How is it ReDefining eSports
In part, it’s probably because the game is indie. There have been some independent games that have done well in the past in terms of eSports, but not at the speed that Rocket League has developed.
Another big reason is that Rocket League doesn’t look like most of the other games that we’ve come to expect as eSports. It’s not a war game in almost any stretch of the imagination. I mean, there is the idea that sports are basically civilized warfare, but that philosophical debate aside the game is about cars running into giant soccer balls like the sped up cousins of a U4 soccer meet.
And it’s fun.
Sauce: War Games
Almost every eSport I can name off-hand thrives off its own violence, and while the game certainly allows for demolitions you’re not going to mow down an army of zerglings or harpoon someone through the chest.
Rocket League is a different take on the eSports “genre” as a whole, and we look forward to seeing how they continue to grow and change.