Last week, I first proved that ultimate frisbee was a sport, then moved on to argue that it was also the ultimate (heh heh) sport, superior to all others. This week, I plan to take a similar path with regards to the popular car-soccer video game Rocket League, with one key exception: I’m not going to bother arguing that Rocket League (and esports in general) counts as a real sport.
For one, last week I used the Google definition of “sport” to prove my point, and said definition includes the words “physical exertion.” As much as I want to argue that twitching your thumbs over joysticks is physical exertion, I worry it would be stretching your credulity just a bit too much. For another, my goal of arguing that Rocket League is the perfect esport does not actually depend on whether you think esports are sports (they are), as it is just a relative comparison to all other esports.
As it would perhaps be naive of me to assume you have even heard of Rocket League, let alone ever played or watched it, I will explain what it is: Rocket League is car soccer. That’s it. And that’s the first, and one of the most important reasons Rocket League makes for a perfect esport: accessibility. Most other popular esports, like League of Legends and Overwatch, are incomprehensible to a first-time viewer, with countless colorful indicators and details to keep track of.
Rocket League, on on the other hand, has a unique simplicity and recognizability (again, it literally is just soccer with cars) that makes it instantly understandable. There’s one ball, three players for team (at least in most professional play) and a goal on each end of the field. Anyone who has ever watched soccer (or hockey, or handball, or lacrosse for that matter), which is probably everyone with the internet access required to watch a Rocket League match, can understand what’s going on.
This is not to say that Rocket League lacks the depth of other esports. On the contrary, Rocket League’s skill ceiling seems infinite: Every week a professional player finds a new way to bend the game’s physics to their will, adding a new move to their ever-growing arsenal. And unlike other popular games where randomness can often make the skill of the player irrelevant to a game’s outcome (looking at you Hearthstone), in Rocket League, skill gaps are very evident and almost always determine the results.
While new players often struggle to even hit the ball, pros quite literally fly their cars through the air, using the game’s one limited resource, boost, to turn the theoretically ground-based game into an aerial dance of flips and dunks. The game played at the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS, the game’s equivalent of a Super Bowl), hardly resembles the game played by my dad, who is an avid player despite lacking much of the coordinated car control that the game usually involves. This is not to disparage his efforts—while I could easily dispatch a team of three of my father, three of my barely diamond-ranked self would likely lose handily to a grand-champion level player, who in turn would stand no chance against a Rocket League pro. The unlimited potential for innovation and growth at the highest level, while still remaining an entertaining and exciting game at the “50-yearold father of three” level, is another of Rocket League’s key strengths as an esport.
But the most important part of Rocket League, like any esport, is the gameplay. Unlike other esports that often stretch indeterminate lengths of time, often failing to maintain intensity throughout the whole contest, Rocket League matches are five minutes of wall-to-wall action (occasionally followed by sudden-death overtime, which makes for a ridiculously tense atmosphere as every touch could be the last). At the highest level of play, a single slip-up usually results in a goal, so every input has to be calculated and technically perfect.
Even still, as the saying goes, great offense beats great defense, and the greatest moments come when a player or team pulls out a brilliant move that ends with one of Rocket League’s trademark colorful goal explosions. Whether it’s a solo run of slick fakes and jukes, a team passing play that ends in a wide-open finish or a double flip-reset ceiling shot with a demo on the goalie (I know you don’t know what that means but trust me, it’s awesome), Rocket League goals are the most impressive and thrilling moments I’ve ever seen in an esport. Add on to this already intense action the added drama of Game 7 of the RLCS finals, with team rivalries, player legacies and tons of prize money at stake, and you have the recipe for a perfect esport.
So while you may not normally consider yourself the kind of person who watches esports (or esports the kind of thing people should watch), I encourage you to tune in to the next season of RLCS. If all the words I’ve said so far haven’t quite convinced you, just hear this: It’s soccer with flying cars, where you can explode your opponents by running into them at full speed, being played for a million-dollar prize pool. What’s not to like?