Rocket League Is Esports’ Best Chance To Compete In The Major Leagues

by Glenn Maxwell

It seems absurd to claim that esports does not have a broad appeal in the mainstream. The League of Legends World Championship, which took place in April, drew more than 100 million viewers. Numerous thousands of people tune in on a regular basis to watch professional gamers compete in shooters such as Call of Duty, Rainbow Six Siege, Overwatch, CS:GO, and the recently released Valorant. The availability of college esports scholarships has been in existence for several years.

Although esports are becoming increasingly popular among the gaming community at large, they have not yet achieved the status of cultural touchstones that more traditional sports have achieved. The majority of people are familiar with the sport of basketball, but if  start talking about League of Legends or Overwatch League with the average non-gamer, they will most likely have no idea what you’re talking about. There’s a good reason why ESPN shuttered its dedicated esports division in November, and why future broadcasts will focus primarily on games based on traditional leagues such as the NBA and Formula One.

The reasons for esports’ inability to gain traction in the mainstream are self-evident. I make my living by playing and writing about video games, so when I turn on the television to watch a League of Legends match, I have no idea what I’m watching. First-person shooters are much simpler to comprehend, but the full impact of the split-second decisions and precision aiming required to compete at the highest levels simply does not translate well unless you know what you’re looking for in the first place. Not to mention the fact that violence can be a total turnoff for some people.

After that, there’s Rocket League to consider. There is no esport that is simpler to comprehend, even at the most fundamental conceptual level, than Psyonix’s mega-hit. It’s soccer, but with cars propelled by rockets. There are no characters with varying abilities among them.”Map knowledge” does not exist in the traditional sense. There are only three things on the field: two cars, two nets, and a ball. For the average sports viewer, I’d recommend showing them Rocket League, if only to demonstrate to them why esports can be entertaining to watch.

The RLCS (Rocket League Championship Series), now in its tenth season, has refined and expanded its formula while maintaining its core values. Instead of having a single round of league play, regional playoffs, and world championships, RLCS X (the current season) has expanded to become a year-long event that takes place across multiple regions. It has been customary for each season to have a “split” that culminates in a regional major in either North America or Europe. The format, while slightly more complicated than the standard regular season to playoffs structure found in most American sports, follows a similar path to that of most other sports in the world. Over the course of the year, each three-player team earns points based on their performance in tournaments. At the end of the year, the teams with the most overall points compete in a world championship competition against one another.

The first European regional event of the RLCS X Spring Split will take place on March 11th, and now is the best time to start following the competition. As much fun as the League of Legends Championship Series has always been, the Winter Split was when Rocket League Items really hit its stride, especially in the North American region. Team BDS has dominated Europe for the better part of the season, placing first in all but one of the regional events this year, including winning both majors in the process. Even when facing Vitality, a team comprised of some of the most successful players in RLCS history, BDS made their Winter Major victory look effortless. As a result, Rogue was able to complete one of the most historic runs in RLCS history, sweeping the entire loser’s bracket (which included two of the region’s best teams) and winning the right to a bracket reset against favorites NRG before ultimately falling in the final series 4-2. In contrast, fan-favorite G2 were forced to withdraw from the competition early, jeopardizing their chances of even qualifying for the World Championships—something that had seemed all but certain at the start of the season.

RLCS, aside from the nail-biting games and compelling storylines that emerged from the Winter Split, is distinguished by its presentation, which elevates Rocket League credits to the status of a mainstream sport. Part of this can be attributed to the amusing Ford-sponsored graphics that came as a result of the partnership between the automotive company and Psyonix, but it is also due to the large number of broadcasters that the RLCS has on its roster. Following a brief period of awkward adjustment as a result of COVID-19, the casting duos have really solidified into top-tier play-by-play and color commentator teams for the game. Occasionally, due to the fast-paced nature of the game, a commentator’s analysis of an ongoing match will bleed into the play-by-play and vice versa; however, the on-air talent is so well-versed and experienced that they can usually handle these brief role-swaps without batting an eye. But it’s really the obvious passion and excitement that the broadcasters have for the game that makes the broadcasts so entertaining. Additionally, incorporating the players’ face cams into the RLCS matches allows fans to become more emotionally attached to them as individuals rather than simply associating them with the cars they are controlling.

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