07 Mar 2019
It’s obvious what you need to do in order to get to Grand Champion at Rocket League 1v1s. Just master aerials, freestyles, ceiling shots, rebounds, plus twenty other skills, and you’ll be there in no time. But what do you need to do in order to get to Silver?
The best way to answer this question is through its opposite. What don’t you need to do in order to get to Silver? I claim that you don’t need to worry about half-flips, fast kickoffs, jumping off the wall, or aerials that take you more than 90cm off the ground. All of these skills would be nice, of course, but you presumably have only a limited amount of time in which to play and practice Rocket League. You want to focus on what will get you better, fastest.
So instead, I claim that at Bronze and Silver you should simply focus on consistently hitting the ball and on scoring open goals. There are a few other basic proficiencies that are worth your time as well, and I’ll go through them below. But when thinking about whether you should try to learn a new skill, first ask yourself whether that skill would really be more valuable than getting 5% better at hitting the ball or scoring open goals.
This guide is not theoretical or half-remembered. I got to Silver a week ago, and I’ll probably be there for a long time. I’m sure there are many other combination of skills and drills that will get you there too, but I’d suggest you start with these.
The 2 Golden Rules
- When you try to hit the ball, make sure that you actually hit it at least 95% of the time. It doesn’t matter much if you hit it at the exact right angle, or with absolute maximum power. Just make sure that you consistently hit the ball in the approximate direction that you intended to, and you’ll go a long way.
The most common reason for completely missing the ball is probably a combination of overboosting and understeering. This is especially likely when you have just started your boost, and get that jolt of extra speed. Give yourself permission to not always try to reach the ball as fast as you possibly can. Slow down a bit, and just focus on making sure that you hit it.
Practice this in freeplay. Hit the ball around the pitch. Don’t worry too much about where it goes.
- When you shoot on an open goal, make sure that you score at least 60% of the time. That 60% figure is made up and perhaps a little conservative. But Rocket League is an extremely difficult and frustrating game, and scoring open goals is not easy. I bet that you miss at least 1 open goal per game, if not many more. Imagine how much better your results would be if you scored even half of those chances.
Outplaying your opponent and creating your own chances is difficult. Instead, start by focusing on converting the chances that you already get thanks to your opponents’ mistakes and lucky bounces.
Practice scoring open goals in freeplay.
- Get competent at skid turns. Skid turns are very important at all levels. Watch this video and follow its practice tips. Let go of the skid button well before you think you need to.
- Use small, fast aerials to hit the ball before it bounces. Fast aerials are a great tool for sneaking in a touch ahead of your opponent. Jump, boost for about a quarter of second, then dodge into the ball, catching your hapless opponent off guard. Watch this video.
- Learn how to do big, fancy aerials, but never actually do them. Learning how to do majestic, soaring aerials is both fun and probably good for your overall fundamentals in some vague way. But until you can consistently make contact with the ball (which won't be for a long time), never attempt a big aerial in a match that you actually want to win. You'll almost always miss the ball, land on your head at the other end of the pitch, and give away an unnecessary goal.
- Get instinctive at reversing. Make sure that you can reliably reverse in the right direction in the heat of a goal-line scramble. If you ever push your stick the wrong way then open up freeplay and zoom backwards around the pitch to improve your muscle memory and instinct.
- Learn how to do "shunt dribbles". "Shunt dribbles" are my name for when you get behind the ball, start moving at the same speed as it, and then boost it all the way into your opponent's net. Can be surprisingly effective.
- Use air rotation to put yourself the right way up. If you get blasted into the air by a crazy kickoff, make sure you can use air rotation to orient yourself for your landing.
Know how the game works
- Once you have boosted or flipped fast enough, purple trails will start coming out of your wheels. This means that you are "Supersonic" and will keep going at this speed even if you stop boosting or flipping. Letting go of the boost button as soon as you go Supersonic will save you a lot of boost over the course of an end-to-end dash. Remember that if you make a wide turn then you will stop being Supersonic, and will need to start boosting again. I don't know how you are meant to discover this mechanic without someone telling you.
- You can skid turn on the wall, but only if you're holding accelerate. Sometimes you need to make a sharp turn on the wall so that you can get back onto the ground. You can skid on the wall as normal, but only if you're holding accelerate. Try this out in freeplay and see the difference between your wall-skids when you are and aren't holding accelerate.
- When you jump, you only have 1.5s in which to do your second dodge jump. If you wait longer than 1.5s then your car will make a pathetic "pfutt" sound when you press the jump button, instead of dodging. There are apparently some exceptions to this if you jump off the wall or the ceiling, but you will not be jumping off the wall or the ceiling, so don't worry about them. Once again, I don't know how you are meant to find any of this out without someone telling you.
- When you make kickoff contact with the ball, try to make sure your car is directly between the ball and your goal. Watch this video for a more detailed explanation and more tips.
- Don't worry about doing Fast Kickoffs. Higher ranked players will do Fast Kickoffs, where they do a flip instead of just holding boost. If you can already do these competently and consistently then more power to you, but if not then don't worry about learning. Just focus on getting your car directly between the ball and your goal.
- On the central kickoff, use your right stick to see if your opponent is doing a "fake kickoff". Some sneaky opponents stay in their goal instead of going for the ball. If you hurl your car into the ball, they can often save your shot right over your head and into your net. To counter this, while you are boosting towards the ball, use your right stick to peak over it and see what your opponent is up to. If they are going for a fake kickoff then the pro move is probably to control the ball, pick up some boost, and mount a careful attack. However, I recommend that you simply let go of the boost and accelerate buttons just as you're going over the final boost pad before the ball. This will make your car do a low chip shot that will probably go in about 50% of the time. If they do save your shot then their return effort won't have enough power to get all the way to your goal, and you can start playing the normal game of Rocket League that you signed up for.
- If you are ever able to take a remotely credible shot, then you probably should. Force your opponent to make as many saves as possible. They'll almost certainly mess up some of them.
- Don't always smash the ball clear if your opponent is retreating. If you gain possession of the ball in your corner and your opponent is retreating, it can be very tempting to simply safely smash the ball away. This is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. However, sometimes try collecting your corner boost and shepherding the ball up the pitch. See how your opponent responds, and experiment with ways to counter their response. There's every chance that you'll get tackled, either by your opponent or by yourself, but that's what that corner boost you picked up is for.
- Try to cross the ball to yourself by hitting the ball off the wall. In 2v2 and 3v3 many goals are scored by your friend centering the ball for you to nod in. In 1v1 you have no friends except the wall. Try and use the corner of the pitch to loop the ball into the center, then come steaming in to convert your own assist. The absolute ideal is if you can get the ball to roll up the wall and drop down over your opponent's crossbar. They'll be having a terrible time in ballcam hell, and you can calmly put them out of their misery.
- Try to get the ball bouncing. A bouncing ball is much harder to save than one rolling benignly along the ground. Try to make use of the third dimension by bouncing the ball off the wall, or cutting in to it from the side. Don't worry if you can't do this consistently though. I certainly can't. Watch this video for more tips.
- You don't need to be able to make your own chances. I imagine that as you get into higher ranks of play, it becomes essential to be able to make your own chances using techniques like those I just described. However, in the lower ranks, luck and your opponent will often make your chances for you. You can just focus on making solid and consistent contact with the ball (Golden Rule 1), and scoring open goals if they ever present themselves (Golden Rule 2). If you are able to make your own chances, for example by dribbling, crossing to yourself, or getting the ball bouncing, then major bonus points to you. But don't worry if you can't.
- You don't have to try to exploit every mistake that your opponent makes. If you've retreated back to your goal-line, but notice that your opponent is having an absolute nightmare tripping over their own feet in their own corner, you aren't obliged to boost the length of the pitch to try and punish them. Of course you should look for opportunities to take advantage of your opponent's mistakes, but if doing so looks too risky then there's nothing wrong with letting them get away with it sometimes.
- If in doubt, stay in goal. Just like you, your opponents won't be particularly skilled attackers, and so most shots that they take will be either off-target or easy to save. It's therefore usually OK to give them time and space, because they won't really know what to do with it. Err on the side of safety.
- If your opponent is dribbling towards you, beware of them stroking the ball past you when you lunge at them. This is the most common way in which my opponents score actively skillful goals against me. Even though bronze and silver players won't be attacking geniuses, they'll still have occasional moments of brilliance. Pay attention to where your opponent's car is in relation to the ball. When challenging them, try to also cover the direction that they could knock the ball in.
- Use dodges and flips instead of boost to get back for defense if you're sure it's safe to do so. You might as well conserve boost if you can. But if you're in any doubt, spend your boost to get back as quickly as possible so that you are best placed to block their attack. If you get scored on then any extra boost that you saved will be wasted. You can't take it with you.
Controlling your camera
- Turn off ballcam when you're ignoring the ball and collecting boost instead. You've decided that it's safe to ignore the ball for a second or two, so there's no need to let it dominate your camera angle.
- Turn off ballcam when you're aiming for a wall hit. Solid wall hits will usually loop the ball directly towards your opponent's goal, but they can also be very easy to miss. I personally find them much easier to make with ballcam turned off.
- Look behind you sometimes. Sometimes knowing where the location of your off-screen opponent can be a vital piece of information for deciding your next move. I don't use the rearview button all that often, but when I do it's extremely useful. Try to mix it into your game where possible, but don't worry if you can't or don't.
- Tweak your camera settings. Rocket League's default camera settings are probably not what you want. The camera angle is narrow and very close to your car, so you only get to see a small slice of the pitch. Experiment with alternatives. There are no "correct" camera settings - even the pros' configurations differ wildly from each other. Nonetheless, finding some camera settings that work for you will make a big difference to your play. Try out some of the pros' settings in freeplay, and find a setup that works for you.
- Tweak your controls. There is just as little agreement between pro players about the best controller setup as the best camera settings, and once again you should find some that suit your style. Unlike camera settings, there's every chance that the default controller settings are the right ones for you, but it's still worth experimenting.
- (Maybe) tweak the way your boost looks. I personally find it much harder to tell that my opponent is boosting when their boost is rendered as the "blue rays", rather than the default "explosive smoke". I'm not a car customizer and have stuck with the defaults in every other way, but I've changed my boost to be the blue rays in the hope that it might occasionally bamboozle my opponents. I have no idea if this is remotely effective.
Don’t worry too much about
- Don't worry about diagonal (or "torque") flips. The fastest way to flip in Rocket League is by using the diagonal flip. You jump, and then instead of jumping again to do a flip, you first turn your car slightly to the side, then flip diagonally. Of course, this is much harder than doing a standard flip. By all means practice diagonal flips if you want to, but I don't think they are a very necessary or high leverage way for you to improve at this point in your nascent career. If you must then you can learn more here.
- Don't ever jump off the wall. Jumping off the wall can lead to some truly spectacular, awe-inspiring goals. However, it will much more often lead to you missing the ball completely, flying through the air for several seconds, landing on your face, and giving up an extremely easy goal. Don't do it, and don't bother practicing it.
- Don't worry about keeping possession when you retreat. Sometimes you'll end up in a position where you have possession of the ball in your opponent's half, but are facing towards your own goal. If you were a more skilled player then you would bring the ball back with you as you retreated to pick up some boost, then turn and launch a devastating new attack. In practice, if you attempt this then you will probably lose control of the ball and set your opponent up for a free scoring chance. Unless you are sure you know what you're doing, just either leave the ball where it is, or else try to hit it away from your opponent before you run back into your half.
- Don't worry about half-flipping. Half-flipping is a technique that allows you to do a fast 180 turn. It's not all that hard - I can do a half-flip without too much trouble in freeplay. However, it is also quite easy to mess up, and if you do mess it up then you've probably given away a goal. So even though I can consistently hit it in practice, I don't worry about trying to do it in competitive matches. I actually do think that this technique is worth learning if you can, but it's not compulsory or necessary for reaching silver.
If the situation is perfect
- Look for easy opportunities for bumping or demolishing your opponent. But be careful. Your opponent's car is much smaller than the ball and moves even faster, so it is easy to miss demolition attempts. If you do miss then you will likely find yourself a long way out of position. So look for opportunities for demolitions and bumps, especially when your opponent is standing still, but be cautious.
- Starve your opponent of boost if you can. If you can steal all of the 100 boost orbs then there won't be any left for your opponent. This will make their life quite difficult. However, I don't think it's worth going too far out of your way to boost-starve like this at lower ranks. The pace of play is much slower than at higher ranks, so your opponent will probably have a chance to scurry off to collect some boost while you are recovering from accidentally smashing the ball into the ceiling. If you do try to boost-starve your opponent, make sure that you use a little bit of boost before trying to pick up another pad or orb. If you run over a boost orb or pad with your boost meter already full, you won't pick it up.
- If you're ahead going into the last minute, play it safe. Don't attempt risky plays, and err on the side of running back to defend your net. Don't play it too safe, however, since playing too passively will give your opponent unnecessary freedom and opportunities. Experiment and try to find a balance.
- If you're ahead, think about running the clock down. When your opponent has retreated, and the ball is in your half rolling at a millimeter or so per second, take your time before starting your next play. You've got all day. However, be careful. Stay close to the ball, and keep your eyes on your opponent. Make sure that you're ready when they make their death-or-glory charge towards your time-wasting shenanigans. Giving up a goal whilst trying to run down the clock feels extremely stupid.
The mental game
- Always rush back to your goal to defend as though your life depended on it, even if your opponent is about to take a shot on an open goal from 10cm away. There are two reasons for this. First, there is every chance that your opponent will miss. You miss open goals all the time, so why can't they? Second, it takes time and cognition to decide whether you should rush back to defend, or whether you should saunter back like you don't care because the ball's going to go in anyway. This will be time and cognition that you might sorely need on the occasions where you do rush back and miss a glorious save by a millimeter. Reduce your mental load, and always rush back without a seconds thought.
- Always follow your shots into the net, no matter how far away your opponent is. See above.
- Never give up! Unless you're 3 or 4 goals down, in which case it's fine to forfeit and forego the 1% of matches you might have rescued.
- Turn off chat. It will only make you feel even sadder when you accidentally gift goals to your opponent.
- Don't worry about getting promoted. Arbitrary targets are what sell video games and make for a happy, fulfilled life. But they're not what keep you focussed on playing your best.
- Read "Playing to Win" by David Sirlin. I've written more about why here.
- If you have X hours per week to play Rocket League, spend 1/3 of them practicing instead of playing matches. Playing matches is more fun, but practice is what makes you get better. You will still improve a bit by playing matches, but not as fast as if you practice on your own.
- Do most of your practice in freeplay. The two most important skills in Bronze Rank Rocket League are 1. being able to consistently hit the ball, and 2. being able to score open goals. I've got into a habit of practicing these skills in freeplay while listening to Robert Caro's biographies of LBJ on audiobook with my wife. It's made for some pretty strange visualizations (LBJ's office is in the far goal of Beckwith Park). I imagine that a biography of any US president would serve the same purpose.
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