Professional Rocket League is off to a rocky start, but that may soon change. We spoke with IBUYPOWER Cosmic Aftershock’s Kronovi for a little analysis and to dig deep into how Psyonix hopes to change the face of pro Car Soccer in the near future.
Professional Rocket League continues to exist in a state of flux, but that may be coming to an end soon. Developer Psyonix launched the Rocket League Championship Series this past weekend, the first officially sanctioned and run competitive Rocket League tournament.
The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for Rocket League in general. An unassuming title that was virtually unknown before release, the game’s inclusion as a free title for PlayStation Plus subscribers led to a massive audience and overnight exposure. Sales skyrocketed, and people everywhere had fallen in love with playing soccer with cars. Before we knew it, emerging high-level play drew an enormous amount of attention on sites like Twitch and a league/tournament scene quickly developed. The future seemed bright, and analysts forecasted Rocket League’s rise to a top-tier eSport.
Things have been somewhat bumpy since then, however. The audience has not completely disappeared, but it certainly isn’t growing as quickly as was once expected. Even tournaments with some of the best teams in the world often draw only a bit over a thousand viewers. Psyonix is working with many sites covering the game, such as Rocket League Central, but things just aren’t taking off as some believed they were destined to.
Psyonix hopes to change this with the Championship Series. Over the next two-and-a-half months the top teams in the world, as well as anyone else who entered, are set to face off in a series of qualifiers to win prizes and compete in a live final to be held at a yet-to-be-determined date this summer. The pool for finals will by far be the largest Rocket League has experienced yet, and the hype that such an event could draw might open all kinds of new doors.
Many top-tier Rocket League players are ready for everything this announcement might do to advance the game. We spoke with Kronovi, widely regarded as one of the best Rocket League players in the world, who knows how much of a turning point this can be for the game.
“The biggest impact is probably sponsorship opportunities,” he considers. “With the large prize pool, sponsors will be looking at this event and may even sponsor a team. It is the next step towards being able to compete full time.”
This is a hard truth for many involved in Pro Rocket League. Unlike eSports such as League of Legends and World of Tanks, most top-tier Rocket League players play part-time and aren’t able to make a living competing at a professional level. This means they have to divide their time between working a day job, spending time with friends and family, and still find time to compete in not only tournaments but also practice and stay competitive in a quickly developing scene. Over time, we’ve seen many teams slip while others easily surpass them.
The Championship Series certainly won’t be the exclusive domain of current top-level pros. They certainly gain an advantage having competed in high stakes games before, but an event of this size will bring out far more players than a weekly GFINITY tournament. Still, Kronovi believes the pros are in the right place.
“Rocket League is a special game in that any team can win on any given day. It’s why I practice consistent play the most. I feel like the qualifiers would be any teams game but it’s up to the lower teams to step up and punish a better team for not playing their best.”
One thing that separates Rocket League from some of its top eSports competitors is that high-level play is somewhat segregated thus far. Most of the top teams are either entirely European or wholly American. A few teams have tried to cross over, but the difference in time zones makes things difficult, especially since top-tier Rocket League has been entirely online thus far rather than in-person competition. It is hard to find a time that makes sense for players across an ocean to meet up and compete, and even when they do establish a time there are concerns over latency. Rocket League is an incredibly fast paced game, and even the slightest amount of lag can spell disaster for either attack or preventing a goal. Kronovi believes this is the best option going forward.
“Because of server advantages, I think it is best to separate the regions;” he concludes. “It allows for more hype at the international finals where lag won’t be an issue.”
The Championship Series grand finals will be the first major in-person Rocket League competition. While there will be separate European and North American qualifiers, there will be a live finale in which the two best teams from each continent will meet in-person. Traditionally, Europe has been the stronger region, but Kronovi cites recent events where North America is “finally showing up on the international online radar.” As one more reason why this could be an excellent way to go. When these teams meet, latency should not be a concern in determining our champions.
This could be the crucial turning point for professional Rocket League; will it finally take it’s once expected place as a top eSport, or will it stay niche for good?