I was doing so much wrong
Professional esports, while much more widely accepted than it was only years ago, is still coming into its own. There’s a lot about competitive gaming that a mainstream audience doesn’t even consider — like, coaching. The highest level of competition within esports doesn’t have players relying solely on instincts and practice hours. Like any sport, they all have coaches helping them with strategy and refinements to optimize everything. There’s always something you can do better.
I’m okay at Rocket League. I’ve sunk approximately 1,300 hours into it between PC and Xbox. I’m currently ranked at Champ 2 in the 3s playlist, and Champ 1 in the 2s playlist. Rocket League is funny like that, though. No matter how good you are, you always feel like you’re a long ways from where you want to be. Remember: There’s always something you can do better.
I’ve been kind of sleepwalking through Rocket League lately. I’m playing based on muscle memory and learned habits from past games. There’s not really any thinking involved. I’m just going through the motions and it works out more often than not. It feels like things need to be livened up.
That’s why I went to GamersRdy, which is a service that offers Rocket League coaching from top-level talent. (They also specialize in CS:GO.) I got set up with Vince Viani, who has one of the more impressive resumes on GamersRdy. Vince played in RLCS Seasons 2 and 3, which is the highest tier of competitive Rocket League. In Season 5 and 6, he played in RLRS, which is one division below RLCS. He’s experienced, he’s qualified, he’s a hell of a lot better than me. Vince charges $45/hour for coaching, which is somewhere right around the middle as far as GamersRdy’s hourly rates go.
The bulk of a coaching session is done via replay analysis. I sent Vince four in-game replays to dissect. However, I also captured the gameplay so that you can see exactly what Vince looked at. Here’s 30 minutes of me playing Rocket League poorly:
It didn’t take long for Vince to identify key weaknesses in my game. Seriously, we spent a half-hour going over just the first game. Most everything we focused on pertained to positioning and reading the flow of play. I’m no mechanical god, trust me; there’s still a lot to improve on that front. But understanding the game is the guidance the average person needs the most.
I thought I understood Rocket League. As it turns out, I have a lot to think about. Remember that bit up top about sleepwalking through the games? I internalized a lot of bad habits that had become a part of how I routinely play. I wasn’t being punished for them. It’s not like I’m freefalling through the ranks. But they’re definitely holding me back. I had plateaued because I never stopped to ask if I’m even doing this right.
For instance — and this is a really simple one — it had become second nature to challenge every ball that’s in the corner of the offensive zone. That’s fine if you’re clearly going to beat your opponent. But what’s the risk/reward on a 50/50 challenge there? Occasionally it’ll ricochet out in front of the net for your teammate to shoot. (Although, there’s probably another defender in position to deal with that threat.) More often than not, it’ll result in a situation where your team can’t keep up offensive pressure; plenty of times, it’ll leave you scrambling back on defense, probably conceding a fast break goal.
Instead, what if you just find some space and let your opponent hit that ball? Sometimes they’ll boom it and you have to rotate back. That’s fine, that’s why you have teammates. But, a startling amount of the time, they’ll give the ball up — usually because they’re too low on boost to get an effective clear. Then they’re the ones who have to rotate back to net while you maintain offensive pressure. It’s obvious, but I just hadn’t considered it before.
Another problem — and Vince assured me it’s a problem with literally everyone he coaches — is how efficiently I use boost. Rather, how inefficiently I use it. I waste a ton of boost just trying to regain or maintain momentum. He even pointed out situations where I’d challenge and end up far away from my team, use the 50 boost I have left to take my opponents’ full boost pad, and then scurry back across the field by using another 50 or so. I literally ended up in the same position with the same amount of boost, but having left my team to fend for themselves for an extra five seconds or so. It’s actually idiotic.
I had always felt like my boost usage was one of the most suspect parts of my game, and Vince confirmed that. The easy solution is to get comfortable flipping in the midfield to gain speed. But, long-term, I need to start avoiding boost when I’m off-ball. There are other ways to get where I need to be. Boost is best used when you have a direct play on the ball.
If it seems like a lot of minutiae, that’s because it kind of is. That’s Rocket League once you get toward those high ranks. The tiniest missteps can spell tragedy. However, Vince took ample time to explain broader strategy. While playing 3s, each person has their own defined role and it changes constantly. The first position is responsible for advancing the ball upfield or being the first to challenge the ball. The second position has to immediately react to whatever the first person does — whether that’s being ready for a pass, getting to a loose ball to maintain pressure, or sliding up to become the first defender. The third position is the defensive rock; they’re the last person back and it’s up to them to figure out how much they can help on offense without getting beat on defense.
Grasping the responsibilities of the individual roles isn’t tough. That’s mostly learned at the lower levels. But, knowing when to move in and out of each position — and especially trusting your teammates to switch synchronous to you — is something that requires such elite game sense and chemistry. My fatal flaw? Probably that I play second position from too far back which causes me to get beat on challenges. Getting a good feeling for spacing is a crucial aspect to a team operating like a well-oiled machine.
The session wrapped up with Vince showing me some training packs and free play exercises that will help improve my mechanical skills. Of course, it’s on me to put in the time. Practice makes perfect and whatnot.
Actually, it’s incumbent on me to implement everything he told me. That sounds obvious but it’s easier said than done. In the week since the coaching session, I’ve put extra emphasis on smartly using boost, getting into better defensive position, and finding space to capitalize on the opponent’s next touch. Old habits die hard, though. After an hour or so, I’ll find myself gradually shifting to autopilot and forgetting the things I need to work on. I have to snap myself out of it and refocus. It’ll get easier with time.
So, was it worth it? I really didn’t think I’d come out of this experiment evangelizing esports coaching. I figured I’d learn a few things to add some oomph to how I play. Instead, my entire perspective has shifted. I was taught things about Rocket League that I never picked up in all the YouTube tutorials I’ve watched over the years. Maybe that’s because this was specifically tailored to me, maybe it’s because I needed an experienced player directly telling me what I’m doing wrong. It’s probably both to be honest.
Regardless of the reasoning, yeah, it was worth it. This sounds corny as hell, but I feel as if getting a coach has revitalized my passion for Rocket League. It’s like the ceiling has been lifted and I see what I have to do to become a better player. And, once I internalize and apply the things Vince taught me, I’ll schedule another session to take the next step.
[Disclaimer: GamersRdy provided a free one-hour coupon for the purposes of this feature.]