Psyonix’ simple mixture of soccer and cars has become a massive bride between traditional sports and esports.
Rocket League is a unique esport from Psyonix that is best described as “soccer with cars.” It is the successor to Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars or SARPBC for short. The games are similar and Psyonix really just refined SARPBC, and drastically improved the name, to create Rocket League.
SARPBC was released in 2008 while Rocket League (RL) came out in 2015. During that time the gaming landscape changed dramatically. While SARPBC had a loyal section of players, it was established and not extremely popular. When Rocket League came out it quickly caught on as a unique title, unlike the popular games at the time. During the first month of release, it was free on PlayStation and around 6 million people downloaded it that month.
It was the most downloaded title from the Playstation store in 2016 and Psyonix had tracked over 40 million unique players as of January of 2018.
First of all, it is unique. It blends the line between esport and traditional sport like no other game besides a sports simulation. Unlike MOBAs it is immediately understandable to the casual player and viewer. It isn’t violent which means parents are more likely to support their kid playing RL than a game like Call of Duty or CS:GO.
In addition, it was one of the first esports that made a relatively seamless transition to console. The ability to play on PS4, Xbox or PC gave people options and the relatively cheap price ($19.99 at the most) allowed it to generate a massive following quickly. The games ascent was steady until Fortnite came around. Because Epic Games’ smash Battle Royale title worked well on consoles, Fortnite took away a lot of the steam from Rocket League.
That’s to be expected, no game continues its growth forever. Eventually, the fad dies down and only dedicated players are left. The idea that Rocket League is a “dead game” is floated pretty often but the Steam charts have been steady for a couple years. In reality, the massive original player base made it seem like more people were leaving the game instead of joining, but the data doesn’t support that.
First, the basics. Games in Rocket League are five minutes and begin like traditional soccer, with a kickoff. Instead of one team having possession, the teams start at an equal distance from the ball in the middle. The closest player on the team tries to get a favorable hit against their opponent’s car. When two players reach the ball at the same time it’s called a “50” for the perceived percentage chance of it going your way.
Once the ball is in play, players rotate around the map taking turns going for the ball. Ideally, teammates are coordinated and passing to each other but anyone who has played solo standard knows that just isn’t usually the case. In fact, despite the game seeming simple, just the act of hitting the ball can be difficult for a solid amount of hours. It’s a game with tons of mechanics and, again despite appearing simple, pros are still figuring out new ways to play that change the dynamics of the game.
The controls are relatively simple but everyone binds them differently. Basically, you jump, boost and flip to make saves and score goals. Boost pads on the ground allow you to fly into the air for “aerials.” As you progress in rank, more and more of the game is played above the ground.
Rocket League is one of few competitive esports that is played on PC, but with console controllers. While the game can be played with mouse and keyboard, the vast majority of the player base prefers controllers. Joysticks allow for more accurate positioning of the car, especially in air, than WASD controls do.
While there is still an active player base on both Xbox and PS4, almost every pro plays on PC. The reasons are the same as any other esport, when playing at the highest level, every little movement matters so the connection and display need to be perfect. Wireless controllers – the norm for consoles – come with input lag that can be infuriating. Still, the availability on consoles allowed many pros to try the game for the first time. Once they got good, those shortcomings became noticeable and they switched to PC.
The top level of competition in Rocket League is the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS). It is split into two main regions, North America and Europe. Oceania also competes but is a distant third behind the other two.
Much like League of Legends, NA and EU have separate league play with regional playoffs and champions. Teams from both regions compete for a chance in Worlds where the true RLCS champion is crowned. Europe is widely considered the best region for RL but America is quickly closing the gap. Oceania also sends two teams to Worlds every year but last year was the first time an Oceania team made waves in the tournament, to everyone’s excitement.
Rocket League Rival Series (RLRS) serves as a minor league for the RLCS with many young pros first shining on that stage. In addition, Rocket League is a popular inclusion at third-party tournaments like Dreamhack and the X Games. It’s also often a game offered by varsity programs in colleges because of the lack of violence and ease of understanding makes it an easier sell to administrators.
Just like in any other esport, identifying the best players is subjective. Here’s a quick rundown of some players who have proved themselves among the best of the best.
The young Scot is the best ones player in the world and has been for years. That is incredibly impressive when you consider that Scrub just turned 15 last May. The only reason he is an honorable mention is because in order to compete in RLCS, players must be at least 16 years old so Scrub hasn’t been able to compete on the biggest stage. He still has high level wins as the back-to-back champion of 12 Titans, a cutthroat ones competition attended by many of the best players in the world.
Squishy is best known for his incredible mechanics. He’s a master of air dribbles, ceiling shots and wave dashing. He is absolutely one of the flashiest players in Rocket League and one of the most entertaining to watch. Squishy also deserves praise for building one of the largest YouTube/Twitch followings for a pro player.
JSTN is nutty. It’s really the only way to put it. He’s the youngest player in the RLCS and also one of the most talented. He plays for NRG Esports and during the grand finals of Season 5 – the first season he was eligible to compete in after turning 16 – he came up with one of the best goals in Rocket League history. It was so good the main ESPN account tweeted it out. If NRG had won the game it would have been undoubtedly the best goal of all time.
If there’s a Batmobile flying through the air in RLCS, you’re likely watching Kux at his best. While some other pros play the car, Kux is by far the most famous in it. He also popularized a move to the point where it was named after him, the Kux pinch.
Like JSTN, Jknaps is also an incredibly talented striker who is known for fantastic placement and power on almost all of his shots. While G2 has had some rocky series over the years, the fault doesn’t lie with Jknaps and he is widely considered one of the best players in the game.
GarrettG is an all-around star. He does every aspect of the game near perfect and is the reason NRG has established itself as the best team in NA. It’s hard to say exactly what makes GarrettG the best but it really comes down to consistency. He is almost always in the correct position and has great field vision. Couple that with frame-perfect mechanics and recent success and that’s why he’s the best player from NA on this list.
Kaydop is the first of the Team Dignitas trio that is undoubtedly the best team in the world right now as the roster has won back-to-back titles. In season four they competed as Gale Force Esports but the roster moved over to Dignitas in season five. It didn’t change a thing and Kaydop helped lead his team to the title once again.
Panda is Kaydop’s teammate and I consider these two players to be 2a and 2b. Very little separates them as players and they have impeccable chemistry. Panda and Kaydop are the two highest earners in Rocket League history by prize pool and will look to continue their domination into season six.
The final part of Team Dignitas, Turbo gets the top spot because he has three RLCS championships compared to his teammates two. In addition to season four and season five, with Gale Force and Dignitas respectively, Turbo also won in season three playing for Northern Gaming. As the current defending back-to-back-to-back champion, Turbo is the top player in the world right now.
Author’s note: I just kept adding names to this list but had to stop at some point. Apologies to Torment, Gimmick, Deevo, Rizzo, Jacob, Fireburner, Mognus, Lethamyr, Paschy90, Fairy Peak, Remkoe and all the other pros who could have been on this list.
The roster first came onto the scene competing in Dreamhack as “The Muffin Men,” an unaffiliated team competing against the best organizations in the world. The Muffin Men won Dreamhack and Cloud 9 quickly swooped up the roster. While they haven’t broken through the finals, the roster of Squishy, Torment and Gimmick has been incredibly close. They have great chemistry and have only improved through the seasons.
They’ve been covered in the JSTN and GarrettG bios above but NRG has cemented itself as the NA favorite heading into season six. Last season they nearly broke through as the first team made of North American players to win RLCS since Kronovi and I BUY POWER did it in season one.
Speaking of Kronovi, the G2 captain broke barriers with many pros crediting him for opening their eyes to what was possible on the RL pitch. Since then he has taken a step back and isn’t considered a top ten player anymore. Still, he is a steady player for G2 and plays alongside Rizzo and Jknaps to form one of the top teams in NA.
I won’t waste too many words on Dignitas because the fact that their roster is the top three spots of the best players list should tell you all you need to know. They good.
EG is one of longest running esports organizations in the world after being founded in 1999. Their Rocket Legaue roster consists of CorruptedG, Klassux and now Chicago. Only Chicago hasn’t proved himself at the highest level but the 17-year-old will be stepping into the role vacated by Chrome after last season. EG could be the best bet to unseat Dignitas at the top of EU.
The roster made up of Deevo, Remkoe and EyeIgnite disbanded after season five after an upset loss to Oceania’s Chiefs EC. Now the players are unaffiliated but Deevo and Remkoe are two of the absolute best players in Europe and will very likely be picked up before the start of season six. The team that picks up either one will instantly improve its chances.