I’ve had a few games that I’ve put a decent amount of time into, most notably Spelunky, and many that I’ve scratched the surface of before bouncing off, DotA2 & EVE Online, but the only game I’ve really fallen into is Rocket League. For things like Spelunky I’ve come close to engaging with the top tier of players, I have all the achievements and started heading down the high score path, but ultimately never felt compelled to truly engage with the high level of the game.
Rocket League on the other hand has presented me with moments where it seemed like I would step away from the game for good, but I’ve never taken more than a week or two off despite multiple declarations that I was taking an extended break for one reason or the other.
Two moments really stand out for me in retrospect. One came relatively early in my time with the game, when I realized that I understood the game better than most but that while my skill was relatively high I wasn’t able to play well with random teammates. It felt like the only way to get better was to play with consistent friends, which wasn’t an option. That seemed like the moment I was going to be done, stymied by random players I was incapable of lifting to my level and unable to find a squad to make further leaps forward with, I thought I had exhausted my skill ceiling. This was roughly one month after release.
But I wasn’t done with the game. Even as the allure of playing the competitive team modes was gone for the moment the core appeal remained. I moved over to playing 1v1 ranked matches, which solved my problems with frustrating teammates but showed just how much more I had to learn about the game as well. Playing on my own highlighted so many weaknesses in my game and I kept playing that mode for a good long time. Grinding things out and improving.
Eventually I started playing more team focused modes and by that point I was good enough to not need to directly communicate with most players to win. The skill level I was at was populated with enough talented players who could read intent which meant that the team modes were fun again. Once more, I was back in.
Until, eventually, I hit another skill ceiling. This time though, it was very clearly my own problems that were stopping me. I’ve always been a strong positional player but my mechanics are lacking in comparison to other folks in my rank. I know where to be and how to maximize my chances of playing good offense and defense, but I hadn’t drilled the trickier specifics of play into my head. Now I was losing not because of a fault in my strategy, but simply because my aerial plays were slower than everyone else who was using their double jumps properly or because my clears weren’t forceful enough.
Again, I realized if I wanted to keep feeling like I was getting better I would have to take a step back and actively work on improving my game through training and drills. I surprised myself and actually decided to dig in on this side of things, to the point where I was spending 30-40 minutes at the start of every play session training and prepping. I shocked myself since I never usually commit in this style.
I love learning, and I love getting better, but this was something different. This was renewed and fervent commitment to a game that I already had played for more hours than any other game I’ve ever touched. I’m better at it than just about any rational person would want or hope to be, and I’m still unsatisfied with my skill level.
What it comes down to is that the game has the kind of nuance where small improvements to your technical skills can clearly and directly reflect in how often you win. When I improved my aerial game I noticed I was getting more clean shots on net, when I started double jumping properly I started being more effective on defense, and when I paid attention to my rotations I became a more effective teammate.
I’m a competitive person, so having a regular competitive game in rotation is a given, but Rocket League is the only one that has ever stuck long term, and it’s because I always feel like I’m improving. I’ve put close to 500 hours into the game at this point and it’s because every one has felt like it’s been building on the previous hour.