On July 7 Rocket League turned 5 years old. Originally released on the PC and PlayStation 4, it was, of course, a sequel to one of the greatest names for a video game of all time: the 2008 PS3 release Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars. There should be a documentary made one day on why we even moved away from that epic name.
We are also at the doorstep of the tenth season of Rocket League competition, and it will look different for many reasons -- the pandemic, some restructuring, and only one world championship every calendar year (which I'm 100% in favor of, by the way).
In honor of Rocket League's anniversary, here are five things I hope to see from the game and the competitive scene going forward.
Rocket League as a Tier 1 esport
I'm very curious to see how Rocket League grows as an esports in the next several years. It's no secret that it's on the doorstep of breaking through -- viewership has been impressive and climbing. The discussion around the scene is that it's surprising we don't already consider RL a tier 1 esport. I think the hiring of Nate Nanzer, one of the masterminds of competitive gaming, to Epic Games will definitely help here. You just don't hire someone like that into your company and not have intentions to make your titles grow, or even explode in popularity.
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While Fortnite's success is a little more tied to the amount of zeroes found in the prize pools, Rocket League is more uniquely suited to have staying power as a top competition, not just for the passionate fanbase but for new audiences as well. This is not a new discussion, but we have reached the point where things can be put into place to execute this, and Nanzer will be at the helm for that. This is something I will be keeping an eye on the most in the coming months and years.
Tell us stories about the players
One thing I loved about the community tournaments, particularly The Brawl, was the opportunity to see a lot more from the players. Comms, for the most part, were fun to listen to and gave us a glimpse of the personalities. Why is this important? Because it gives audiences one more reason to care about and cheer for these players. Someone like Pierre "Turbopolsa" Silfver is easy to root for, given his career trajectory. NRG as a whole at one point were "the team that couldn't quite get there" and when they finally did, it was an iconic moment in Rocket League history.
But these stories are the exception, not the rule, so we need to learn about these players so we can get invested. Some of the players don't like to talk or aren't the most charismatic on camera; that's fine. There are other ways to tell stories. I would say storytelling is in some ways almost as important as the competition itself... "the anticipation is often sweeter" as they say. Just look at the lead up to a major prize fight.
Continued money and attention for the community
Things have changed for Season X, with more teams making the world championships, three splits a year, and The Grid, a weekly tournament format. I like the changes, especially around the parameters of the pandemic in the short term, but I hope that this doesn't mean that there will be no more community support. There is no evidence to support this, just the sheer volume of events. Community events, and the support Psyonix/Epic Games have shown community events as of late, is very important. You can never lose sight of your core audience in an effort to capture new audiences -- that's a recipe for failure. The secret sauce is in the balance of consistently feeding your passionate bunch, while throwing out delectable morsels to new people who will then come to your restaurant. Never, ever forget about the core base. More generally, I'm saying that I hope that doesn't happen with the changes that are being made.
Keep the collabs coming
One thing Fortnite does better than any other game is collaborations. In game events, concerts, skins ... there is seemingly no better medium for an athlete, brand or celebrity than Fortnite. Rocket League has also boasted some slick collabs over the last five years, including Stranger Things, WWE, Knight Rider, Monstercat and much more. Some harcore fans hate them, because they just want their Rocket League, and that's totally understandable -- but there is no better (and easier) way to get attention and attract new fans than this. The best part is you already have the best factory in the world pumping out collab home runs every time out to the plate, so more specifically what I wonder is if we will see joint collabs becoming commonplace in the future -- if Marvel is in Fortnite, it's also in Rocket League soon after/before/during. Travis Scott does a concert in Fortnite? Maybe he's also got a custom car in Rocket League.
Rocket League at the Olympics
This is a hill I'm willing to die on: of every esports that exists, I believe that Rocket League would be the absolute best to make an introduction to competitive gaming for the uninitiated at the Olympic Games. There are several reasons for this: the first is that the barrier to entry is extremely low. Cars hit ball into the net, score, yay! Fundamentally simple to pick up quickly, especially for a new viewer. But, as we all know, the game falls perfectly in that "easy to learn, difficult to master" category that once you dive into the intricacies and nuances, it becomes an incredibly complex game of chess (in car soccer form).
There is already a firmly established core of fans that support the scene, with casters and production teams that have been presenting the games for years. This combination of simplicity and complexity, existing fanbase and potential to capture new audiences quickly and easily, make it a no brainer to be the first title to be contested on a stage like the Olympics. Whether or not esports needs the Olympics (and vice versa) is a whole other discussion altogether. For me, it's necessary on both fronts -- the Olympics would benefit from a younger audience that competitive gaming would bring, it's not too heavy of a lift to have it part of the slate of events offered, and eventually esports will be normalized to the point that this won't seem out of place at all (if we aren't there already). The Intel World Open would have been a perfect gateway for this, where Rocket League and Street Fighter were set to take center stage in the month before the Japan games. Hopefully this still happens in 2021, because if it has a good showing there, I'd be prepared to say that esports have a chance of being seriously considered for the next games, no matter what previous decisions or discussions have already taken place about the subject.
BONUS: Rocket League VR
I will admit, I'm more on the VR hype train than many of you reading this. I have an Oculus Quest and since the pandemic, I've become a major convert. I want everything in VR -- I want Super Mario VR, Zelda VR, Fortnite VR, Grand Theft Auto VR ... everything. But only when it's at it's best. We aren't QUITE there yet, but we might be in the next few years... Rocket League VR would be such a fun way to play the game eventually. I hope this happens in the next few years.