Esports often miss out on the feats of physical grace that make for great SportsCenter clips, or, at least, giffable moments. With great punt returns or rim-shaking slam dunks, there’s no need for a nuanced understanding of football or basketball to gawp. Only on rare occasions are esports so immediately and viscerally astounding; something like Dota 2 demands a lot of knowledge from the viewer in order for its highlights to become, well, highlights.
But if there’s an esport that’s immediately legible to the average viewer, it’s Rocket League.
It really is just cars playing soccer. The cars and the ball dart around in believable ways; yes they can fly and boost, but their movement is consistent and feels weighted. If you’ve ever played or watched soccer, it’s quickly obvious how goal-scoring works, and that positioning is paramount. You don’t have to have an understanding in advance of boost, but it quickly becomes obvious that certain points on the pitch let the players build up a turbo meter. The rules are simple; remember, just cars playing soccer.
It really is just cars playing soccer.
This weekend saw the finals of the first Rocket League Championship Series, where the American team iBUYPOWER emerged as the inaugural champions after defeating Flipsid3 Tactics, who muscled their way through the lower bracket after losing to iBP in the first round.
In many ways, although they didn’t win, Flipsid3 Tactics’ run is emblematic of the best of competitive Rocket League. Flipsid3 Tactics blew past five teams en route to the finals, starting with a 3-1 set against Kings of Urban and a 3-0 set against Exodus. When Flipsid3 Tactics went up against The Flying Dutchmen, a team formed just before the qualifier, they finished off a second 3-0 set with a particularly impressive individual game where they just racked up the goals, ending it 8-2. Their teamwork was on display in all of these games, and any viewer would have been impressed by shots like this backwards off-the-wall assist. I know from experience that this is hard to pull off, but, even without the explosion of smoke and the blaring horns, it looks very clean and very pretty.
Flipsid3 continued to roll through the lower bracket, decisively taking a best of seven against Northern Gaming (one-time leaders of RLCS formerly known as We Dem Girlz). While each game saw the two teams trading goals back and forth, Flipsid3 kept coming out on top.
Going into the best of seven grand finals against iBUYPOWER, Flipsid3 seemed both excited and optimistic. Amidst blinking lasers and fog machines, players gave a few short interviews on stage. M1k3rules, named MVP in several sets, pointed out that Flipsid3 had been through the lower bracket and won before. At the Gfinity Invitation back in January, they fell into the lower bracket right away, beat four teams, and won the finals 5-0. Asked if he had any words for their opponents, his teammate Markydooda simply said, “have fun.”
The bright esports shell doesn’t feel necessary to promote the game.
The grand finals were even closer than the set before. Flipsid3 won the first game with a single goal, while the second game went to iBP in sudden death overtime. Game three was a back-and-forth affair, but Flipside3 eventually took it in overtime. The fourth game was also close, but a last-second goal by iBP’s Kronovi claimed the round. At no point in these four games was either team more than a goal ahead. Then iBP went on a run in the final two games, winning game five 5-3 and quickly going ahead 3-0 in the sixth. Despite a late rally from Flipsid3, iBUYPOWER held them off long enough to seize the title for themselves.
Several commentators in suits shouted excitedly about their favorite plays and best predictions. As the feed cut to a commercial following iBUYPOWER’s victory, someone bellowed into a mic, announcing that “Rocket League esports has arrived.” That may very well be true, but the bright esports shell doesn’t feel necessary to promote the game. Rocket League is small and it’s simple, but it doesn’t need to pretend to be something else: the careful plays are so plainly visible and the matches so tense that the best teams present plenty of drama with minimal explanation.