How to play Rocket League (and actually get better)
Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (SARBC) was originally released on PlayStation 3 in 2008. One of the first games developed by Psyonix, Battle-Cars introduced two iconic game mechanics: 1) Flying cars (thanks to “Rocket Power”) and 2) A soccer ball for the cars to play with.
In 2015, an upgraded version of Battle-Cars was released: Rocket League. The game took off, garnering a large player base as well as an exciting eSports scene. That brings us to 2020, where for the first time ever, Rocket League has gone 100% free to play.
Now available in the Epic Games Store, the basic idea hasn’t changed since 2008: Flying cars, playing soccer. Unlike before, anyone with a PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox, or Switch can now enjoy free, cross-platform gameplay with Rocket League. What’s more, all in-game purchases are limited to cosmetic items, and there’s absolutely no way to “pay to win.”
That leaves winning all up to a player’s skill and strategy development. With a serious learning curve, Rocket League challenges even experienced gamers right out of the box.
Whether you’re new to video games in general, or just new to flying cars, read on for every helpful pointer you need to get started! A curated collection of online tutorials from the best Rocket League content creators, this article should serve as a resource that you can come back to again and again as you progress.
Mindset and Setup
Before getting into the nitty gritty details of mechanics, beginners will benefit from adjusting their mindset and setup. Rocket League can be infuriating to play. Gaining some perspective should help reduce tilt and keep the game fun, while literally changing your camera perspective will set you up for success on a technical level.
WATCH: Top 5 Tips for Rocket League Beginners by Lawler (12 min)
A long standing member of the Rocket League community, Lawler has casted professional matches and hosted tournaments. His YouTube channel provides ongoing coverage of news, replay analysis of pro matches, and a few quality tutorials like the video linked above.
“Many times people associate getting better with winning, rather than seeing actual progression in their play.”
With helpful timestamps for each tip, you can quickly skip to the sections that are most relevant to you. For help with mindset, focus on tips #1 and #5. For help with camera settings, skip to #2. For help with bindings skip to #3.
PLAY: Fix your camera settings and bindings. Then experiment with Free Play and 1v1s.
WATCH: The 5 stages every Rocket League player goes through by SunlessKahn (9 min)
SunlessKahn has reached over a million subscribers on his YouTube channel, with impressive audiences on Twitch and Twitter as well. A fan of practical jokes, SunlessKahn provides a mix of comedy and wisdom.
“The rules of Rocket League are powerful, and resistance is futile.”
His 5 stages of Rocket League video is actually timeless, and applies to players at all skill levels. Learning how to recognize these phases early on will help you maintain forward momentum when the game feels most challenging to you.
THINK: What phase are you in right now? What should you be focusing on to keep moving forward?
Physics and Controls
Rocket League is a physics-based game. Like an open-world game, it provides infinite turf for players to explore. But, unlike Zelda or Animal Crossing, Rocket League’s endless possibilities lie in mechanics rather than the spaciousness of a map or story.
Generally speaking, the best way to learn Rocket League physics is by simply playing the game and learning them over time. Like trying to learn a new language, immersion will be a more effective method than simply memorizing words and grammar rules. You have get a “feel” for it.
Just like learning a language, however, learning some basic rules will give beginners a huge head start, and make the immersion process more effective.
WATCH: Rocket League ball physics — Rocket Science #4 by Rocket Science (8 min)
Rocket Science delivers in-depth explanations of Rocket League physics. While understanding the math and equations behind the game is totally unnecessary, the videos include helpful diagrams and explanations of useful concepts. This video covers two key aspects of the game: ball trajectory, and hit boxes.
“All the cars have a separate hit box in the shape of a rectangular cuboid. The slope of the Octane is just for looks, and doesn’t do anything to the ball.”
Starting with ball physics helps explain why the game feels “floaty” or why it’s more powerful to hit the ball with the front of the car rather than the wheels. These concepts will instantly improve your game when applied. In order to apply these ideas, however, beginners must learn to control their cars.
Controlling your car starts with learning your controller. In Rocket League, players may customize their bindings. (Remember this?) Consequently, it can be difficult to explain exactly which buttons to press in order to achieve each mechanic. Regardless, watching how experienced players control their cars will help immensely.
WATCH: Basic Dribbling & Flicks | Rocket League Tutorial by Kevpert (Start at 1:32)
This video demonstrates some basic dribbling techniques (which will be useful later on). More importantly, however, the video includes a controller inlay during some slow-paced Free Play.
Watch it to get a feel for high-level ball control before heading into training. This should help you build a mental connection between your inputs and the resulting outcomes.
PLAY: Head into Free Play, and slow things way down. Isolate each button on your controller and see what happens when you press and release, press and hold, feather (rapidly press and release), or press it twice. How much time between clicks results in the maximum height of your double jump? Do you know what both of your joy sticks do, or just one?
Now that you’ve got a feel for the game, it’s time to learn some mechanics. Of course, learning how to fly seems like the first step! Right? Wrong.
Disclaimer: Rocket League is a game after all. Players should obviously play. Have fun! Fly!
But — when you’re ready to rank up, it will make your life way easier to stick to low-level mechanics. (At least for now.) Your older, wiser self will thank you later for mastering the basics.
WATCH: How to rank up! Rocket League Progression Guide: Bronze by Hoodyhooo
Hoodyhooo has painstakingly created progression guides for each rank of Rocket League. This really helps players buckle down and focus on appropriate skills and strategy to take their game to the next level.
“A Bronze level player should not be focusing on trying to air dribble or flip reset. You need to learn mechanics in a properly prioritized order.”
By following these progression guides, you will see your improvements building on each other over time. This way, when you finally reach the upper limits, you won’t have any glaring issues holding you back. The bad habits section calls out some glaring issues that many players carry with them all the way up the ranks, but which inevitably catch up with you.
PLAY: This tutorial helpfully connects specific low-level mechanics (such as switching between ball cam and car cam) with training exercises (Rookie and Pro Training). Try them out!
WATCH: Dribbling — Low Level Rocket League Mechanics by Snap10a
Learning to dribble is the single most effective way to increase your scoring potential in Rocket League. This applies to all players at all ranks, and better yet, you can start using it in game right away.
“When players think about dribbling, they immediately think about breaking ankles and juking their opponents without thinking about what it takes to actually get to that much car control and that much raw ability.”
In this tutorial, Snap10a breaks this essential mechanic down into catching, ground dribbling, bounce dribbling, and flicks. With this one video, you can improve your game by miles and quickly start ranking up.
PLAY: From now on, before you head into Competitive or even Casual play, warm up in Free Play. There, you can practice dribbling into an open net until you can do it without thinking.
WATCH: The BEST KICKOFF TUTORIAL in Rocket League by Virge
Like dribbling, learning how to approach kickoffs will instantly improve your likelihood of winning games in Rocket League.
While the title of this tutorial sounds like hyperbole, it might just be truth. Virge coaches Dignitas, one of the top teams in the Rocket League eSports scene. This kickoff tutorial is a treat, as he offers up his expertise for everyone to learn from.
“In a standard kickoff, your goal is to get behind the ball at around the same time as your opponent, mainly covering the goal side of the ball.”
Explaining detailed approaches to kickoffs from each spawn point, this tutorial will help you avoid those soul crushing kickoff goals from your opponents. Moreover, you’ll start scoring them yourself!
PLAY: As a part of your warm up, practice kickoffs in Free Play. Don’t forget to practice dribbling as well!
Congratulations! You made it through the Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Rocket League!
If you just can’t get enough, check out this video on bad habits:
WATCH: 10 Bad Rocket League Habits You (Probably) Have! by SubParButInHD
We’ve come a long way, but with a game as multidimensional as Rocket League there is always more to learn.
Each one of these tutorials is packed with golden advice, and there’s no way to internalize it all in one watch. Take the time to return to these videos occasionally as you progress. You’ll be surprised how much you missed the first time through.
Consider this the end of an article, but the beginning of your Rocket League journey. Finally, remember to savor the early days. Save some replays. Play with your friends, even if they’re way better than you. You’ll want to remember this moment, and so will they.
“I wish I could turn back time in that Delorean…”