Stev’s Guide on the Mental Aspect of Rocket League
**NOTE** This guide is solely from me and my experiences, take from it as you will, and best of luck! (You can message me if you need extra help.)
Hello everyone! For those of you who do not know me by more than a Twitter follow, my name is Stephen “Stev” Edinger and I have spent about a year at the upper end of the competitive North American Rocket League scene. I have previously subbed for Exodus consisting of GarretG, Turtle, Moses and Huskih, as well as myself. I currently play on a team with Sham and Smgschwind. I am 19 and have roughly 2,000 hours played on Rocket League since August of 2015. In this guide you will find a few tips on how to improve your mental skills as a rocket league player. These skills are crucial to becoming a better player, in my opinion, be it from Silver 1 to Gold 1 or Diamond to Champion.
Before I talk about the guide, I have a short opinion that I believe is worth reading. Furthermore, getting into the short guide, I will talk about 3 main components. The first of these is Decision Making. Sure, this is pretty obvious to many of you, but deciding when to go for a ball can determine the outcome of a game. Secondly, there is Positioning. Again, a seemingly obvious skill or tip that everyone hears all the time. But what does Positioning mean? I am on the pitch, and I can hit the ball, so I do, right? Finally, there is Practice. Sure, the age-old adage that practice makes perfect does stand true, but what in the world does that even mean? What am I supposed to practice? Does hours played equate to skill? Well, in this guide, I will do my best to cover all of these questions. At the end of the guide I will present the list of tips in a smaller format for quick reference.
PART 1: MY THOUGHTS
Before I bore you with this philosophical rant, you all probably want to know why I do not get right into the “tips” of this guide, and I promise you I will as soon as I say one thing. Whether you know it or not, you are on the internet. And on the internet, there is a level of anonymity that allows for people to say and do unnecessary things. No matter what rank you are in Rocket League, there will always be people who make fun of you, people who get frustrated and quit, people who down right try to make you feel like crap because it is a form of entertainment for them. I personally want to let you know, that at some point or another, I have been on both ends of these claims. It does not matter how you get to where you are going, it only matters that you survived the journey to get there. What I am trying to say is, at times, teammates are going to yell at you and you will be upset with your teammates. One of you will leave at some point. You see, none of this really matters in the grand scheme of things. In my opinion, Psyonix has set up one of the greatest game formats in videogames. On average, a Rocket League match will last somewhere around 10 minutes, based on queue time plus average game length. In what situation should you let one person ruin your day in 10 minutes? Your ultimate enjoyment of this game, even if you play just for the “banter”, should come from your experience in the game as you develop as a player. Sure, you missed that crucial ball that allowed the other team to get the game winning goal. But you know what? Maybe you just learned how to approach that situation differently the next time. “I should have done this. I should not have gone for that.” These situations will develop you as a player; a database of past experiences that learns from its mistakes. All I want from you, as the reader, is to make mistakes and TRY to learn from them.
PART 2: DECISION MAKING
So we made it through the deep rant and I hope you are ready to head into the 3-step guide, because I sure am. To start things off, we have Decision Making. So what is Decision Making? Decision Making in Rocket League consists of a few things. Should I challenge the ball? Where are my teammates? When do I shoot? These three questions will be the core focus of my guide and tips on decision making.
To start with Should I challenge the ball?, I’ll give you a little scenario. Disregard the amount of boost you have or need, you are facing towards the ball from your own net. The ball is center field, and you see that a member of the other team is racing towards it, as well as a member from your team. Both of them are equidistant from the ball, but far enough that you might be able to make it there before them. What do you do? For newer players in the game, many of you will have already turned on the afterburners racing towards that ball. Some of the more moderately-skilled players will have moved towards the ball, but show caution because they don’t know where the ball will go after both the enemy player and their teammate smack it. While it is acceptable to do what the more skilled players do, the right thing to do in this situation is to wait for your teammate to make contact, and immediately react to the ball. Sure, you can move around a little bit to better position yourself for the potential hit, but preemptively committing to something that hasn’t even happened yet is a dangerous game to be playing if you are new to the game. More experienced players, due to their experience, will be able to determine what sort of hit their teammates will be able to make based on the skill group they are in. That is, the higher skill level you are, the more you can preemptively commit to a hit because you know your teammate will win the challenge. That being said, when joining competitive matches solo, do not always preemptively commit to a hit unless you know who you are playing with.
Knowing who you are playing with is a good point to transition into my next subject, Where are my teammates? Often at the top end of the Rocket League community, the professional players, you will find an experience of gameplay that is unlike most of the rest of the community. Every ball is a calculated pass or strike in order to set a teammate up or to keep the ball out of the other team’s hands. However, teamwork is something that evolves as you grow as a player, and being able to reliably pass back and forth between your teammates is not something I expect all of you to be able to do. For beginners, take a few seconds in-game to hang back and Read your teammate. Reading your teammate consists of watching them go for the ball, and formulating something in your head on whether they can or can not reliably hit the ball. If they can reliably hit the ball, you can start to preemptively commit, as I covered in the previous section. Now when I say read your teammate, do not sit back in your own net (unless your teammate is approaching the ball on your side of the field) as it does nothing for your team if they are able to complete a pass or center a ball. Watch how your teammate plays, and play around them. How does this work in with knowing where my teammates are? Well, since you now have an idea of what your teammate might be able to do, you can expect to go for certain hits or let them hit the ball. Generally, when playing Rocket League, you never want to be right next to your teammate. If you know your teammate is ready to hit the ball, but you decide to go for the same ball that they do, it creates a disruption in your defense/offense and ultimately gives the other team an opportunity to capitalize on. If you can work with and around your teammate, you will be more successful as a Rocket League player.
Lastly, Decision Making also encompasses the choices of shooting and where to put the ball. When deciding to go for a shot, there are many factors that come into play other than just smacking the ball at the opponent’s goal. Is there anyone in the net? At lower skill levels, generally you can hit a higher shot and score with ease. However, as you progress through the ranking systems, many players will be able to save a ball flying towards them because they have learned how to control their cars more properly. When you are going to shoot, you need to understand what a goalie can save. If you can take a hard shot from close range, please do it, because you will most likely score as long as you do not shoot it right into the opponent. On the flipside, if you are far away, decent players will be able to save the ball regardless of where it comes from. And throwing the ball at your opponent does you no good because you lose possession and ultimately the chance to score. More times than not, it is safer to move the ball to the side of the pitch and work it through the corners and set your team up for a shot, if you are the one advancing the ball. If you are the second or third person back, do not immediately charge the ball if your teammate has lost it in the corner. Many times there will be a scrum in the corner with everyone challenging the ball, and if you overextend yourself, you will be at a disadvantage when the ball pops out. Okay. So we’ve cleared up that needlessly charging the ball in the corner while your teammate is still right next to it is a bad thing. What happens now that your teammate is able to center it for you?
You may exclaim, Shooting, I want to shoot! Yes, it is always a great feeling to put the ball in the back of the net, but do not forget to “Great Pass!” your teammate if they set up that perfect shot for you to score. Here’s another scenario; your teammate hits the ball low into the corner and it bounces up into the center of the opposing team’s box. For you newer players, my advice is to take advantage of Rocket League’s double jump feature. Try and reach the ball at its highest point and hit it with the front of your car in the air. Generally, if you can carry some momentum with your two jumps and hit the ball towards the goal, you have a good chance of scoring. Intermediate players, try your hand at an aerial. Rocket League is so much more than just SocCar. I want you to know that thinking you can not do something because you have not done it before, does not make it impossible. I will cover more tips on how to make the seemingly impossible possible in the practice session of the guide. When shooting, trust yourself, believe in yourself, and make your very best attempt to put that ball in the back of the net. Right now, I do not care if it goes in, or if you even hit the ball at all, and neither should you. The fact that you believed in yourself to attempt something new is a huge accomplishment and unlocks another aspect of your game that you never even knew you had. When I started, I would watch someone flying through the sky with a good amount of control, and I was so in awe of what they could do. I aspired to be them, and I set goals for myself. I tried things out, and eventually, they started to become more natural, reflexes even. I progressed to a point where other players were now looking at me in awe, and all it took was some time and the BELIEF that I could do something cool if I TRIED. When shooting, do not hesitate, trust yourself, and you will have done all you can do.
PART 3: POSITIONING
Positioning is much more straightforward than decision making, as it can be presented as a whole, rather than to each individual skill level. With that being said, this section will be much shorter than the previous one. When I break down positioning, there are really only two major components: Working with and around your teammates and Putting yourself in the “proper” defensive position. Before I branch off into the two sections, I’ll add that Positioning is ALWAYS relative to the situation that is currently in front of you. For example, if you find yourself up 4-3 with thirty seconds left, you want to keep possession on the opponents’ side of the field without over-extending to give up a cheap goal. However, if you’re down 3-4 with thirty seconds left, you want to go all out and pressure your opponents into making a mistake so you can tie it up before you lose the game. This is how positioning becomes a relative and fluid thing.
So, when trying to Work with and around your teammates, there are a couple things you have to think about. Do I use ball cam or not? Right now I will tell you that either playing strictly with or strictly without ball-cam is not preferred. A good balance is useful to manage your boost when the ball is in the opponent’s zone and you’re driving away, so you turn ball-cam off for a quick second to line up that full boost pad, for example. Almost always when I am playing the ball, I have ball-cam on, because your car moves in relation to the ball when ball-cam is on, not freely like when the camera is toggled off. For controllers, I can not give you any tips on keybinds or whether toggle or hold is better for ball-cam, because I play with a keyboard and mouse. However, my settings for keyboard are default and ball-cam is toggled, not held, if you were wondering. Now how does this all filter in with my teammates?, you may be asking. When you have ball-cam on, it can be hard to know where your teammates are. Likewise, it can be hard for your teammates to know where you are, unless you both communicate. I advocate for you to communicate as much as possible, so you should familiarize yourself with the improved system that Psyonix has given since the Season 3 Patch. Using quick chats like “Need Boost!” or “Defending” can let your teammates know what type of situation you are in without much effort.
The next thing to consider is Who should go for the ball? There are multiple factors that determine who should go for the ball, as covered in Decision Making, but when it comes to working with and around your teammates, it boils down to Communication. In Rocket League, communication is everything. A major factor is which one of you has boost. If (both of) your teammate(s) just recovered to the net after going for an aerial and you have boost, its logical for you to be the one to go for the next ball. This is a two-way street, however, and you should make sure that your teammates know that you have the ability to hit the ball, because if you don’t, you need to let them know so they can continue pressuring or continue the rotation. Rotational play is something that will come as you learn to work with and around your teammates, and if you watch professional Rocket League, you will see that the team with better rotations and less holes in their rotation will come out on top.
The last thing I want to cover with Positioning is indeed, Rotational Play. The concept is simple, but can take a while to master, which is my favorite way of explaining Rocket League. When thinking about Rotational Play, you have to be aware of where your teammates are and know how to work with and around your teammates. Since 2v2 is the most preferred format of ranked play and probably the most unforgiving of rotational mistakes, I’ll use a 2v2 scenario to help you understand Rotational Play and how it involves Positioning. Your random teammate is moving the ball into their corner, you have full boost, and you’re behind your teammate. Scenario 1: You follow your teammate into the corner and take his ball and put it into the center of the field. Scenario 2: You wait at midfield to see if your teammate beats the first defender and gives you an opportunity to score. Scenario 3: You wait in your net with full boost waiting for the ball to come down to your end so you can make a play on it, because having two players from the same team on the offensive end is bad. Answer: Honestly, for a while, I played with my friends early on and thought that ever having two players pushed too far up was just asking for trouble. However, the correct solution to positioning is indeed Scenario 2. When you are at midfield, you have the ability to: capitalize on a successful pass, move to either the left side or right side of the field to pick up an errant/blocked pass, and ultimately retain control of the ball. If the ball is pinched over your head, make sure it is not going into the goal first, and then recover to the goal so you can play outward from there.
Now let’s flip the scenario, as the final thing I cover in the Positioning section of my guide. Again, the same scenario, except this time you are the one moving the ball through the corner. Assume, for the sake of the scenario, that your teammate is properly placed somewhere at midfield, awaiting your pass. Scenario 1: You move the ball into the corner and you are met by a brick-wall of a defender. The defender stuffs you and puts the ball a little bit behind you. Answer: Here, you should be moving out and back towards your net while collecting boost along the way, the defender obviously won possession of the ball, so recover and become the “help” for your teammate if they fail to re secure the ball. Scenario 2: You successfully pass the ball around the first defender and set your teammate up for a shot. What now? Answer: You again, rotate out. But this time, it’s to midfield where you collect boost and reposition yourself because your teammate may have missed but you can recollect yourself and score. This is where ball-cam becomes useful as you toggle between searching for boost and being focused on the ball. Scenario 3: You repeat Scenario 2, but this time, your teammate scores. You tell them “Nice shot!”, and your teammate says, “Great pass!” and you move on to the next kickoff. That’s it for Positioning, but, if there is one thing that I will leave you with when discussing the topic, it is to be patient.
PART 4: PRACTICE
Practice makes perfect. We have all heard it, and it sure rings true in Rocket League. Yes, I want to keep this section short, for the sake of your interest, but I can’t just tell you to go get out there and play (even though that is a really good way to learn how to read and communicate with teammates). Ever since I started playing Rocket League, the game has come at me in bits and pieces. From watching someone aerial, to learning how to aerial, to going out and translating practice into play (mind you, very poorly at first), there are steps to practicing that will help you develop you into the player you want to be. I’ll list the steps here, but I won’t go into much detail because there’s so many things that anyone could want to learn, that telling you how to get better at any specific skill would require me to be a master of them all (which by no stretch I am), and isn’t the reason for this guide.
Step 1: Find out what you want to get better at. We’ve all wanted to do something in Rocket League, but we just couldn’t wrap our heads around how that was possible. For me, seeing is believing. I’ve watched people do things that at one point, I didn’t even know was possible. However, I thought to myself, “If they can do that, why can’t I?” Singling out what you want to get better at can elevate your game, especially if you find yourself to be struggling overall.
Step 2: Make use of Free Play and Training Modes. After you figure out what you need to work on, take it to the free play and training modes. Psyonix already has built-in options for these to help you practice on your abilities. For example, if I never knew how to aerial outside of jumping, pointing my car up and holding down boost, I would go into the Rookie Aerial Training and keep attempting it until I felt comfortable with the mechanics of an aerial. Generally speaking, before going up in training difficulty level, I would consistently earn a score of 80% or higher on my current level. Yes, sitting in a lobby without other players can be boring, but you can also queue up for games while doing training. “How does using the training modes and free play translate into actual gameplay experience?” is something you may ask.
Step 3: Go try out your newly acquired skill in an unranked setting. Naturally, the expectations for ranked play are higher than an unranked setting, and taking advantage of the unranked setting is a key factor in developing as a player. There are no penalties for giving up a stupid goal, and as I previously covered, you now should be able to shrug that off without feeling bad. Playing by yourself in an unranked game is “you-time”. Sure, ultimately you want to have your team’s score higher than the others, but unranked is a great place for personal development. The biggest thing you can do wrong in an unranked match is be afraid of making mistakes. If you don’t get outside of your normal playstyle, how can you expect to get better? If you go into a match with the mindset of someone trying to improve, I assure that you will get better.
PART 5: CLOSING THOUGHTS
Finally, I will say that time played does equate to skill level. This is true if and only if the player with a certain number of hours has played the game with the mindset of getting better. For example, I’ve played League of Legends for the past 3 years and I’m still stuck in silver. However, I don’t take that game as seriously as Rocket League, and there’s a correlation with what you put in and what you get out. Practicing and making mistakes will get frustrating at times, which is perfectly fine. Taking a break is okay, too. I didn’t expect to get better overnight, and neither should you. I thank you all for reading my guide and I hope you believe in the me that believes in you. I know you all can get better, all you have to do is try.