Does Rocket League Esports Scene Have a Future?
The RLCS Landscape
Rocket League’s competitive ecosystem seems to be in a constant state of flux. In the whirlwind of smaller, community-driven competitions, independent, third-party tournaments and the official league system controlled by the game’s developer Psyonix, an aspiring player or a team have a broad range of options to choose.
The official Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) Season 4 is already under way in North America and Europe. Both North American (NA) and European (EU) Play-in phases were packed full with 128 teams of 3 players (256 teams total!), all competing for the total of 12 available league spots (6 in NA, 6 in EU). The Rocket League Esports scene is making an impact!
The RLRS Landscape
After the top 6 Play-In teams, the next best 8 teams qualify for the Rocket League Rivalry Series (RLRS), the newest addition to Rocket League. It serves as a secondary, minor league, with the top 2 teams entering the promotion/relegation series against the bottom 2 RLCS teams at the end of the season.
The combined RLCS prize pool is $350,000, while RLRS offers $50,000. Compared to DOTA 2 The International 7, which reached almost $25 million this year, this is a miniscule amount. However, it has been slowly and steadily growing over the course of last 3 seasons. With sponsors, such as 7-Eleven, Brisk, Old Spice and Mobil 1 by their side, Psyonix seems to have everything under control. But do they really?
Rocket League was released more than 2 years ago. When you go over to Steam Charts, you will notice the average player count has been on an overall upward trend, but the top 2 peak concurrent player counts both happened in 2016.
Obviously, this is only a smaller part of the overall picture. Rocket League is available not only on Steam but both on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 (free for PS+ members). As a matter of fact, Rocket League has been the best selling PlayStation Store game in 2016. Psyonix’s VP Jeremy Dunham stated that the game has reached and passed the hallmark of 10 million copies sold.
Nevertheless, the Rocket League esports scene seems to be somewhat stuck. It’s live, it’s kicking, it’s growing, but the rate of growth seems to be rather slow. It seems almost like it’s an enclosed, self-feeding bubble, independent of most external influences. So, what does Rocket League need to make a more significant esports breakthrough?
There are several potential routes Psyonix can take to bring the game and its accompanying esports scene to the next level. If you’ve ever played the game, you already know that, besides the standard, “Soccar” mode (1v1 – 3v3), Rocket League offers a few other unique game modes that add flavor to the game:
- Rocket Labs: you can try new, experimental maps (3v3)
- Hoops: a hilarious basketball mode with cars (2v2)
- Snow Day: car hockey with a huge, slippery puck (3v3)
- Rumble: you get a random weapon every 10 seconds
- Dropshot: the newest one! There’s no goal, you score through the floor
Each of these modes offers a different type of competitive experience. Dropshot is probably the best example. It’s a mode with such radically different scoring mechanics that it requires an entirely different approach. Now, there are grassroots esports movements surrounding most of these. However, this community-driven competition will never get far without official support and exposure from the developers and the sponsors.
Another potential route for Psyonix to raise the level and exposure of Rocket League esports is to strategically partner up with major esports organizations, such as Cloud9, Team EnVyUs, G2 esports, NRG esports, Splyce, and so on. In fact, they already have their Rocket League teams, but they operate independently. These same organizations field teams across a multitude of different games, such as League of Legends, Overwatch, DOTA 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and others. In most cases, there’s a mutually beneficial partnership in place to ensure the developers, the hosts/organizers and the participating teams all get something out of the deal.
Structure, stability, and regulation are what draws potential big investors to sports, entertainment and tech industries. Overwatch, Blizzard’s brainchild within the esports scene still in its infancy stages, is banking hard on this trend. The whole concept surrounding the premier Overwatch League is based on deep-pocket franchises in charge of teams from major global cities, including San Francisco, London, and Shanghai.
Now, Psyonix is obviously nowhere near Blizzard. Before Rocket League, most of their bottom line came from contract work and assisting bigger companies and studios on their AAA titles. From that perspective, it’s understandable why an indie-level company like that is taking very careful and measured steps. However, when you have such a wildly successful game with a core competitive aspect to it, a little bit of “risk” is more than worth it.
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Lately, esports has been in the talks for inclusion into the 2024 Paris Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is well aware of the fact that young crowds are not as interested in Olympic Games’ televised broadcasts as the older age brackets.
In a recent interview with South China Morning Post, Thomas Bach, president of the IOC, stated: We want to promote non-discrimination, non-violence, and peace among people. This doesn’t match with video games, which are about violence, explosions, and killing. And there we have to draw a clear line. Furthermore, he added that esports is mirroring real life sports, including soccer or basketball, may be considered for the Olympics.
Rocket League fits the bill almost perfectly. It’s fun, interesting to watch, simple to understand and the only form of “violence” it features is the occasional vehicle demolition. Other esports games, such as League of Legends, DOTA 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, and Overwatch, feature killing as an integral part of their core competitive gameplay.
In terms of Olympic Games readiness, the challenge for Rocket League circles back to the lack of regulation and standardization. IOC puts a strong emphasis on equal opportunity, fair-play, anti-doping, clear rules of engagement and mutual respect. For Rocket League to be even considered, Psyonix needs to start addressing these issues first.
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The broader, mainstream interest definitely exists. Esports entered Asian sports markets a while ago. The 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia and 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China already have esports included in their schedule. Not long ago, Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, signed a long-term worldwide partnership with Olympic Games until 2028. Also, they announced plans to invest $150 million into esports over the next few years. See where is all this is going?
Now is THE time for Rocket League, or any esports for that matter, to break through. The window of opportunity is wide open. The future is waiting for the first willing candidate to step into the frame and take the leap of faith.
Psyonix, are you ready to fly?