Beginner’s guide to Rocket League

Here's everything you need to know to get started playing Rocket League.

Image via Psyonix

Psyonix released Rocket League in 2015. The game saw immediate popularity and has managed to maintain an active player base since its launch.

But in 2019, Epic bought Psyonix and recently made Rocket League free-to-play for anyone with an Epic account. As a result, there’s an exciting influx of new players looking to learn the basics of one of the greatest sports games to ever be released.

For those who are new Rocket League, here are some tips and tricks to help get you started on scoring goals and landing epic saves.

Adjust your camera and controls

After downloading the game, it can be tempting to jump right into a match and get started immediately. But you’re going to want to make a few adjustments to your settings before jumping into your first match to ensure that you start learning good habits right away.

The default camera settings aren’t ideal. The camera by default is too close to the back of the car and has a rather claustrophobic field-of-view. Keeping the original camera settings will actively make it harder for you to play the game well. To remedy this, you can widen the field-of-view and move the camera back a bit to improve your overall visibility, which will have a significant positive impact on your gameplay.

Here are some good settings to start with:

  • FOV: 110
  • Distance: 270
  • Height: 100
  • Angle: -5.00
  • Stiffness: .45
  • Swivel: 4.50

There are also some controller bindings you’ll want to adjust early on as well. By default, the air roll button is bound to the X button on Xbox controllers or the Square button on PlayStation controllers. Air roll lets you adjust the angle and orientation of your car in the air and is a valuable tool. With the air roll bound to X or Square, it’ll be difficult to both air roll and boost at the same time since the default boost button is directly across from the air roll input. 

By moving the air roll button to L1 or R1, you’ll be able to air roll and boost at the same time while in the air, which will improve your control in the air. Although it may be some time before a beginner is ready to blast off and pull off glorious aerial shots on goal, setting this up early will help you build the best muscle memory as soon as possible.

It’s also a good idea to move your power slide option, which is mapped to the X button, to the same button as your air roll. The power slide lets you slide and thus take corners more sharply. By rebinding it, you’ll be able to boost and power slide at the same time while on the ground, which is a situationally useful option to have. 

Understanding basic movement

Rocket League features some of the most satisfying movement mechanics in any driving game. Throughout your first few dozen games, you’ll start mastering jumping, turning, boosting, and dodging. Although these things can feel hard to control at first, with time and practice you’ll find yourself zipping around the field, dribbling the ball, and pulling off insane wall shots and ridiculous saves without even breaking a sweat.

Dodging can be accomplished by jumping in the air and then jumping again while pushing in any direction. You can dodge forward, backward, diagonally, and sideways. There are many uses for the various dodges. You can use the dodge to build speed and momentum by dodging in the same direction multiple times. Dodging can be used to shoot the ball and to pull off defensive saves. When combined with the other movement elements in the game, dodging provides nuanced and calculated ways to control your car.

If you jump twice without pushing your movement analog stick in any direction, you’ll perform a double jump instead of a dodge. These are useful in the early game for hitting the ball while it’s off the ground or for defending your goal. As you start to master Rocket League’s mechanics, double jumps become a launchpad for big aerial plays. While in the air, you can hold your air roll key to control your car’s orientation. When you do eventually learn how to aerial, this control in the air will help you master aerial shots.

Learning how to use your power slide early on is also a great idea. Power slides can help you turn around more quickly or make slight adjustments to your position when trying to the hit the ball. To use the power slide, simple hold the power slide input while turning.

That covers the basics of movement. All movement in Rocket League is made up of the various combinations of these inputs.

Learning to manage boost

Boost management is an essential skill for new players to master. 

Boost pads exist throughout the map, with large full boost pads available in each corner and the midfield mark on both sides of the field, and smaller boost pads available throughout the center of the field. For many new players, it’s easy to overemphasize boost and use it as a crutch.

New players can often be found burning through all of their boost in a single dash down the field. A more advanced player will know when they need to use their boost and when they can save it. Overreliance on the boost mechanic is a classic beginner mistake.

Ideally, you want to learn how to manage your boost so you have some idea when you need it. The only time you need to full boost is when you’re accelerating quickly to make a play on the ball, performing an aerial maneuver, or rushing back to your goal to protect it. Most situations only call for a small amount of boost to be used to get you up to speed. You can also feather your boost by rapidly tapping the boost button instead of holding it down. This can be a much more efficient way to get up to speed without burning through copious amounts of boost. 

As a rule of thumb, don’t use boost unless you need to. Learn to rely on your other movement features like jumping and dodging to build momentum and save your boost. Remember to prioritize defending your net over getting boost. Even high-level players often make the mistake of getting a boost pad, only to leave their net open for the goal. Don’t make this mistake.

Learning how to hit the ball

In your first few dozen games, the hardest part of Rocket League will be actually hitting the ball. Don’t get discouraged, you’ll improve quickly. Once you start to get the hang of movement and momentum to the point where you can consistently hit the ball, there are a number of techniques to start thinking about when it comes to ball control.

One of the most simple distinctions when it comes to striking is whether you hit the ball while your car is in the air or on the ground. If you run into the ball while your wheels are all on the ground, the ball will pop up into the air due to the shape of your car’s hitbox. If you want the ball to stay on the ground during a shot on goal, for example, you want to jump into the air right before hitting the ball or dodging into the ball. By striking the ball in its middle or top portion, you’ll propel the ball forward but not upward. This minor maneuver is often the difference between hitting the ball in the goal or hitting it over the goal.

Obviously there are a lot more striking techniques to learn, but a lot of learning how to handle the ball is trial and error. If you want to quickly improve your ball handling skills, the best advice is to go into a free play practice match with just you and a ball. Hit the ball around for a while and get used to the physics. If you want to really step up your control, there are a ton of great training maps built into the game that will test your striking, aerial abilities, and goaltending abilities. Each training mode has different levels ranging from novice to advanced.

As you continue to get a feel for the physics of the game, eventually you’ll learn how to hit the ball in the air, dribble the ball on top of your car, and much more.

Learning how rotations work

Now that you’ve learned the basic movement mechanics, it’s time to start thinking about basic team strategy. Many players when they first start playing don’t have a game plan. New players will often engage in “ball chasing,” which is where they constantly go after the ball with little to no regard for their field position or what their teammate is doing. This behavior is bad for your team and your win/loss record.

The most popular playlist in Rocket League is two-vs-two. This mode demands that you work with a teammate to both defend and attack. In both three-vs-three and two-vs-two, the correct basic strategy is the same. One team member will go after the ball looking to make a play, while the other sets up a defensive zone behind them ready to either attack or retreat. Once the attacking member loses their momentum or sets up a solid pass, they should rotate back behind their teammate, allowing their teammate to go on the offensive.

This rotation system, when executed properly, allows players to exert consistent, reliable offensive pressure against an opponent while also ensuring that there’s a player ready to respond defensively if the push goes sour. Most goals are scored because one team was able to break down the rotation of the other team. Learning how to carry out this system is essential to climbing the ranks and being a good teammate.

Which car do I choose?

There are a number of available playable vehicles in Rocket League. Although each one has a slightly different hitbox, there’s technically no “best car.”

The most common and popular car among high-level players and professionals is actually the default Octane. It has a nice balanced hitbox that works for ground shots and aerial shots alike. But outside of a few obviously bad options, like the Scarab, any car can work.

My take on TW octane and a clean build: Black Painted Mainframe, Black  Painted Apex Wheel, TW Tachyon Boost, Black Tachyon III trail, Dueling  Dragons. : RLFashionAdvice
Image via Epic Games

Some cars have boxier shapes, while others like the Batmobile feature a long flat shape. These unique shapes are good for different techniques. Longer, flatter car bodies are good in the air, good at goal defense, and are pretty good at “flicking” the ball, which is where you position the ball on top of your car and then dodge forward to pop the ball up in the air. Boxier cars, on the other hand, offer a more predictable direct hit to the ball since they have a larger, flatter front. Something like the Octane falls between these two shapes and is generally good at everything but not great at anything.

Ultimately, which car you choose comes down to personal preference. So try out a few different cars and see what feels good to you.