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Why Rocket League Might Be the Perfect Mainstream Esport

Why Rocket League Might Be the Perfect Mainstream Esport
From IGN - August 22, 2017
By Joab Gilroy

If you have ever seen children play soccer you can easily understand why the sport is known as the World Game. The barrier for entry to play football is nearly non-existentmany of the smallest children do not even kick the ball, instead simply colliding with it as they run around the pitch. It's the first experience with team sports that many people worldwide will have, and it sticks. At some level everyone understands soccer, because reduced to its simplest level soccer is just a series of collisions between legs and a big ball.

Rocket League taps into this elementary concept from its outset, and it's one of the keys to its massive successeven if it actually better resembles Ice Hockey.

The superficial similarities to soccer are deliberate. The giant ball, the grassy fields and the giant goals all lend to the game's basic principleto play Rocket League, all you need to do is smash your car into the ball to make it move. The skill floor is spectacularly low. Once a player understands how to make the car move, they can make the ball move as well. Games with new players always remind me of those children's soccer games, as players careen into the giant ball, happy enough to make it move without really caring exactly where the ball goes.

As the skill level increases, however, the game shifts away from its similarities to football and closer to Ice Hockey. With few players available on the field in Rocket Leaguemost professional games feature teams of threehigh level play focuses nearly as much on attacking opposing players as it does on the ball. Pros use the walls to their advantage, they take out defensive players to create a path to the goal and it's often shots that will just barely amiss' the goal that are more dangerous than those on target, as the best players one-time a ball mid-flight after defenders have already committed to a save.

It speaks to the high skill ceiling the game hasthe idea that a game should be easy to learn and difficult to master is a familiar idea, but with Rocket League it's demonstrably true. Where the skill floor has players just colliding with a ball, at the ceiling pros spend as much time in the air as they do on the ground. Anyone can make their car jump by engaging the rocket boosters that power their car. But the ability to make fine adjustments to your course while in the air acts as a massive skill differentiator, because while your rocket car might be simple to control on the ground, in the air it's another beast entirely.

The best players are able to exhibit as much control over their cars in the air as they do on the ground, and they can use that to create opportunities for goals that their less skilled opponents ca not deal with.

For an esport it's a veritable slam dunkalmost anyone can understand the fundamentals of playing the game, and as a result they can recognise the finesse and skill involved in playing at a pro level. It's aspirational, because there's the sense that with time and effort you too could play at that level. It's the sort of thing other esports can lack sometimes. I watched all of The International 7 (as I do every year), beat all of my friends in the embedded Fantasy League, nailed just shy of half of my predictions (I thought Sand King would be picked more than Earth Shaker) and was heavily engaged in the tournament as a spectator. But I do not watch The International and think "I could do that". I would need to have played hundreds of hours of Dota to get to a point where I could even entertain such a notion.

And bear in mind, this does not rule out Dota 2 as a 'good' esport. Far from itI will similarly never be able to dunk a basketball, but I buy an NBA League Pass every year. Dota 2 draws in spectators because it is constructed in a way that makes it utterly compelling, but even Valve recognises there is an inherent barrier to entry, implementing its Newcomer Stream to try to soften the transition.

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