Rocket League: Some Thoughts 2

In November I got Rocket League and I played it a lot until I got Zelda. After playing Zelda for near 100 hours and enjoying every second of it, Connie got me Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which is hard as nails but brilliant. And once I got stuck, I went back to Rocket League.

The break was needed. As I said in the first post, I left it because it was causing me stress. It's a brutally difficult game, with other players playing better than you and worse than you on every match up, and slight discrepancies in ability can derail an entire play session.

When I came back to it, I found that all my hard work to get rankings had been wiped out, and I had to "place" again. This is the method in which Rocket League gives you a few players worse than you, and then better than you, over ten matches and ranks you based on how well you play in those matches, and then you're placed based on that. In Standard more (that's team based 3vs3) I was ranked Silver. That felt about right.

The ranking is a black box and necessarily so, to prevent folk "gaming" the system. It does meant that results are pretty important and a streak of wins or loses will affect your rank deeply, which can be frustrating if you're on a bad run.

When I came back I found that a few of my skills had been wiped out - jumping was something I had to relearn, as was some of physics of the game. But what had also changed was my mindset, and I found that I was enjoying playing really strongly right up to the point where I wasn't.

One night, I managed to crack Silver III, Division 4. This is the "highest" division in the Silver tier before Gold, a level I'd never reached. The run I had been on was incredible, and I felt good. I went to sleep, excited to take the streak further. The next day however, I got a bad run of matches and lost a lot. That one night, I think I lost fourteen games in a row, some through terrible play, others through folk quitting out on me, and it felt distinctly unfair. I dropped all the way to Bronze. That's a big drop.

It was infuriating. I was angry I'd lost all that hard work, and reasoned the game had failed me, and I was losing not because of my own ability, but the lack of the other players. They were holding me back.

And then, after a long conversation with Connie about how I sound when I play the game, I realised that I'd gone full circle without realising it. I'd gone back to the place where I'd ended up the first time I'd got obsessed with the game, and found it detrimental to my mood. I wasn't having any fun anymore, again! What an idiot.

So I decided to change. I read online best new tactics that "Pros" use, and decided to start using them. These include

  • Defending. I went and read a lot about skills needed to be a good goalie. One of my main frustrations was that any time I'd go up front to take a play, and fail, the other team mates would have invariably followed me up too, in an aggressive play, leaving us wide open. I decided that if the two other players are doing that, then maybe I shouldn't. We started winning a lot more games when I learned to do that.
  • Goalie Skills. In tandem with the above I needed to actually be good at saving goals. This is a skill the game doesn't lend it's self to, and it takes  a lot of failure to get it "right". So I went into the training and did a lot of aerial and goalie work, and now feel comfortable to sit back and save shots from a lot of random angles.
  • Reading the Play. Positioning in all sports is key, and in Rocket League it is a very interesting aspect that many players just don't care about. They will steam about the arena ball chasing, but if you anticipate you can be where the ball will likely end up and get a quick shot off, while everyone else is not ready.
  • Bumping other players. This is a skill I hated before I realised how powerful it is. When defending, it's neat to be able to jump up and knock the ball out of the air, but instead what confuses other players more is if you just budge their car away from the possession, because they won't even know what hit them quite literally.
  • Slowing Down. Early on, one fo the key skills I learned that confused a lot of players is if you slow down. Stop boosting everywhere and getting ahead of the play, and instead just sitting nearby, in high pressure situations, and let the rest of the team mates or opponents "whiff" the ball - that is to miss it. Then you can be there to pass or dink it in.
  • Aerials. This is the holy grail of Rocket League skills, and I'm just getting the confidence to do it. Jumping is easy, but there are all manners of tricks that Pros do to get air on the ball, jumping off the roof and off the walls to score goals and play passes. I'm working on it, and getting there.

All of this would be for nought if it wasn't making the game fun, but it is. I am getting better, and results are getting better in turn, and so is my rank. After being down at Silver I Div 2 for weeks, bouncing around, I've slowly dragged myself back to Silver 2 Div IV and maybe higher. But now even if I lose I feel like I've made progress.

This also adds to my mental state when playing; I've entered a new zen-like state. I'll still mutter "oh, for fucks sake" when someone does something wrong sure, but I don't get angry and try to avoid frustration. Any game I'm losing - it's a learning experience.

That's why I love Rocket League again, after hating it again.