Everyone dreads that question from their parent or relative: “What’s that game you’re playing?” It’s almost impossible to answer, especially to our out-of-touch Baby Boomer parents whose last video game was Ms. Pac-Man. Some games have it easier. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players have an easy time saying “We’re counter-terrorists and we have to stop the terrorists from planting a bomb and blowing up the city.” But even then, sometimes there are crucial elements of the game lost in translation. Rocket League is a prime example of this.
When asked by a parent, the immediate response is “Rocket League is like soccer, except with cars.” It’s a quick answer that gets them off your back. But is Rocket League just car soccer? I turned to an expert on the scene: Jacob “ImHymel” Hymel. A member of the OU Esports Association and an avid Rocket League player, he offered some opinions on what separates Rocket League from simply “soccer, but cars.”
“It’s so much more than that,” he says, “The ability to boost turns it into something crazy… add the fact that you can drive on walls and the ceiling, and it makes for some sick aerial goals and freestyle shots.” Rocket League adds a whole new dimension of play, literally. With the ability to take to the air, Rocket Leaguers can catapult themselves into the air and chase the ball right into the goal. ImHymel also compared Rocket League’s outplay potential to that of regular soccer. “I would say it’s a lot more exciting and fun to watch when an RLCS player absolutely demolishes an opponent than a pro soccer player. Strategically they’re worlds apart. Soccer has formations and specific methods of play, where Rocket League is a little more free-form and ‘spur of the moment’.” The hectic, high-energy pace of Rocket League lends itself to a more outstanding performance and allows for an experience that you’d never get on the IRL soccer pitch. And unlike organized soccer, Rocket League has different play formats. The 2v2 and 3v3 formats may look close at first glance, but ImHymel knows better. The addition of two more people to the same sized pitch means that there’s 50% more action and chaos happening. ImHymel likes the 2v2 format, however. “More space, more freedom. But with 3v3’s, there is a lot more you can do. You look at teams like G2 and Cloud9, all those players are constantly aware of where their teammates are just out of intuition and can make dope plays because of it. The player plays the ball into a wall, bounces off the wall back into the player who has now rotated his car to redirect it to a teammate that’s waiting in the air to smash it down to their OTHER teammate who buries the shot. They’re 3 steps ahead of what the opponent is ready for, all because of the options they gain with having more players.” But that doesn’t happen in too many solo games. Playing Rocket League 3v3 with strangers is like trying to teach string theory to a family of orangutans. But once you have a coordinated team with a game plan and some practice under their belts, some amazing things can happen. And that’s where esports come in. A good camera angle and commentary can turn the game from an uncoordinated mess into a beautiful display of sportsmanship. But does Rocket League stand up as a spectator format? Many have criticized otherwise fun and enjoyable games for their failure to translate to the big screen; Overwatch and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds come to mind. Does Rocket League have the same problems? ImHymel disagrees.
“It’s an extremely easy sport to follow with your eyes after just a short period of time. Players often unlock their camera to flick it around and analyze the field, but once you know that you know how to keep up, and there are replays after every goal that help you see anything small you might have missed.” ImHymel has faith in Rocket League’s competitive future. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but there’s less variation and confusion than games like Overwatch and League of Legends. The hardest part is the speed of the game. ImHymel says, “There’s nothing really confusing about the sport either. No fouls, no offsides, nothing like those soccer rules. In fact, you’re encouraged to take out your opponents to provide a more open goal for your team.” This hands-on rough-and-tumble sport makes for an amazing viewer experience once you get into it. You quickly become accustomed to the fast spectator pace of the game, like adjusting to the difference in speed between basketball and golf. As for playing the game itself? I think ImHymel sums it up perfectly. “I love the game. I fell in love with it about six months after it launched when I finally got my hands on it, and I haven’t stopped playing it since then. I encourage all of the people I meet to give it a shot, and almost all of them play and say that even though they aren’t very good, they had a ton of fun. It’s a perfect example of what a game should be.”