In less than two years since its release, Rocket League has blown up as an esport. That being said, there is untapped potential regarding the esport’s audience.
The audience that Rocket League can still, conceivably, reach is that of traditional sports fans. Not just traditional sports fans, but particularly those who haven’t latched on to esports in the past. Rocket League has a somewhat unique dynamic as an esport. This dynamic may pose disadvantages when it comes to attracting fans of other esports, but advantages to drawing fans of traditional sports.
The meta in Rocket League is unlike that of many other popular esports.
In games such as League of Legends and Overwatch, success relies heavily upon the characters players choose. Not just individually, but the team composition as a whole. Characters have specific stats and are effective at countering certain other characters. While Rocket League offers different vehicle body kits, the importance of the car you choose doesn’t compare to the character you choose in other games.
There are several minor attributes your body kit does affect, including hit box and turning ability. They don’t affect top speed, acceleration, jump height or power when hitting the ball, though. Hit box and turning speed are important, but the differences are minor enough that no car has any dominant advantage over others.
For example, let’s consider two of the most commonly chosen cars among the pros, Octane and the Batmobile. The Batmobile has low height but one of the larger lengths and widths. Octane, on the other hand, has one of the larger heights but is lower in length and width. These hit box differences may make it easier for players to execute certain mechanics, but it won’t guarantee a win or loss depending on your car and your opponent’s car.
Players may find it easier to perform a flick using the Batmobile. For those who don’t know, a flick is when you carry the ball on the hood or roof of your car, jump with the ball still there and then flip the car to launch the ball skyward in a certain direction. The Batmobile may make it easier to perform this mechanic because of its low, flat surface, but it’s by no means impossible to do with Octane.
Vice versa, players may have an easier time popping the ball into the air using Octane. You can pop the ball into the air by touching it just after the ball bounces off the ground and is on its way back up. Octane’s advantage in this maneuver is its height. The ball can be a bit higher up already, and players can still get the touch on it. Again, though, the Batmobile is just as capable – players just have to get to the ball a bit closer to the ground.
When it comes to play style, there is the rotation meta. This is less of a meta though, and more of a skill that needs to be mastered in order to truly compete at a high level.
In Rocket League, rotation is the idea that players attempt to make a play on the ball, then fall back allowing their teammates to make the next move. When teams don’t rotate, they often find themselves stuck in their opponent’s half of the pitch, watching as the other team breaks away and scores.
Aside from rotation, there are many different approaches and play styles that teams implement. Some players prefer to send the ball flying towards the opponent’s half and then attempt to set something up for their team once there. Others prefer to slow the pace down, passing the ball or setting something up as they move into the opponent’s half. That being said, one of the most important things players can learn is to adapt their style mid-game to counter that of their opponent’s.
The lack of a true meta around cars may be something other esports fans have a difficult time with. Metas revolving around certain characters in other games provides the audience with something to grab hold of. They can support professionals who main the same character as them, support a team who has a player that is considered to be the best at playing a particular character or they can simply enjoy a certain character’s abilities.
While there are a select few cars that seem to dominate the pro’s choices, such as the Batmobile, Octane and Dominus, any other car is still a viable option.
This same lack of a true character, or in this case car, meta is what makes Rocket League accessible to other viewers. Viewers do not have to worry about why players are choosing certain cars to fully understand what they are seeing.
Rotation is important, but it’s something that viewers can pick up on simply by watching matches. They’ll see teams succeed in rotating back, ready to go on the defensive, or they’ll see teams get scored on due to a mistake in rotation. Since adapting your play style mid-game is vital to success in esports and sports alike, this aspect is something both viewers can relate to.
Fast-paced Ball Sport
Despite the quirky addition of cars that can fly, jump, flip and drive on walls, Rocket League is soccer. This gives it the advantage of being a ball sport, while still being different enough from the actual sport it is mimicking.
It may be difficult to convince a soccer fan to watch FIFA as an esport. The argument can be made as to why you would want to watch someone play soccer on a video game when you can watch the actual sport. Rocket League, however, has the familiarity of soccer, with the added twist of using flying cars to play. This can be a huge draw for traditional sports fans. The same basic idea of soccer is there, making it easy to grasp the concept of what players are trying to do while adding a whole new aspect to how they are trying to do it.
I don’t really see a disadvantage here. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments, but this one seems like a win-win to me.
Rocket League has something for everyone. Esports fans get the fantasy aspect that only video games can offer them, through flying cars that perform acrobatic stunts to score soccer goals. Traditional sports fans have a fast-paced ball sport. Fans of both get a combination of the two.
NBC Sports Network
Flying car soccer will hit a television set near you this summer.
In an attempt to break into the expanding esports market, NBC Sports announced they will be hosting a two versus two Rocket League tournament this summer. Post-qualifying matches will be broadcast on the networks regional channels and the grand finals will be broadcast on the network’s national channel, as well as other networks in Europe. On top of this, viewers can stream matches on the NBC Sports app. This is the first time a Rocket League tournament will be broadcast on television.
Esports fans, more often than not, watch their favorite games through streaming. It may be difficult to get fans to move from watching streams to watching television broadcasts. While some major streams do contain commercial breaks now, they are often much shorter than commercial breaks on television.
There is also the question of whether two versus two, or doubles, is the right way to go for Rocket League’s first television broadcast. The Rocket League Championship Series pits teams against each other in a standard format, or three versus three. Standard allows players a greater rotation, as one person can push the ball up field to set up a play, the second teammate can position himself to score or make a second pass and the third player is in position to follow up on a pass or start playing defense, if the opposing team puts down their team’s attack. Meanwhile, the first player who made the initial push is already rotating back to a position to either defend or continue the attack.
This is not to say that rotation isn’t equally as important in doubles. It simply means one less player on the team to defend or continue attacking, forcing a team to potentially have to move back on the defensive quicker than they would if they had a third teammate.
By broadcasting this tournament on television, there is potential for new eyes to fall upon Psyonix’s glorious twist on soccer.
Streaming esports requires viewers to know when and where to find the broadcast. At the very least, they have to know where to check, so they can see what is live at the time. There will certainly be Rocket League fans tuning into NBC Sports this August to watch the tournament, but that goes along with knowing when and where to find the esport you want to see.
The advantage with televising this tournament comes in the form of unsuspecting viewers. Traditional sports fans flipping the channel to NBC Sports at the time will still be greeted with a ball sport, but one with a twist. It may catch viewers off guard at first, but that’s a good thing. The strange way of playing soccer has the potential to draw in traditional sports fans that happen across and keep them coming back for more.
Rocket League can potentially draw in traditional sports fans, ones that may not be interested in other esports. While there is a present meta, it’s not nearly as involved or complicated as other esport’s metas can be. At its core, the game is a ball sport. The general point of the game, to score goals on your opponents, will immediately be understood by traditional sports fans. The uniqueness of using flying cars to play soccer adds something new for sports fans. Finally, NBC Sports Network’s television broadcast of a Rocket League tournament will put the esport into the environment of traditional sports fans, providing them the chance to discover the esport and decide for themselves.