The Rise and Fall of Rocket League


I know, I know, how is a game that has 75k to 100,000 concurrent players a fallen game. What if I told you that in the last year, millions who used to play, and even main the game suddenly quit never to return. This is the story of one of the greatest games ever made, and how greed ruined the experience for many. Is this a hit piece? Absolutely not, I intend to explain how things can always get better. That being said, let’s get into it……

In 2008 a relatively small company named Psyonix developed and released a game called Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars (SARPBC), its reception was mixed. Selling around 2 million copies and having a small but dedicated player base. The game was honestly cutting edge, featuring a form of soccer played using cars that had rocket boosters to go above the playing field and strike the ball in the air. Gameplay is reported to be clunky, and servers were a major issue.

Psyonix, felt they had something special and continued to develop the game, and after years of tweaks and additions, they released Rocket League in July of 2015. Featuring customizable cars, brand new textures, and gameplay that was second to none, minus the still looming server issues. The game was such a hit that not even 3 months later in September of 2015 the competitive season 1 was launched, followed in April of 2016 by the first World Championship tournament held in Los Angeles. Known as Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS), A brand new Esport was born. I have linked my favorite Series to the left, granted it is from 2018, but if you want to watch some serious high-level play, give this a look.

For years the game was a hit, selling over 20 million copies on steam and having 29 million registered users, and this is where things begin to fall. Notice that there is a 9 million user gap to copies, many high-level players began creating new accounts either for content creation, or to simply terrorize lower-ranked players (Smurfing). While smurfing is not a new thing, many new players simply quit due to lack of rank advancement, not to mention, that the ranking system began to show terrible cracks in how it worked.

For example, a player that has been around for a year collects game history for that time span, their rank will in part be determined by the same game history. This lead to many including myself, being trapped in a rank for what seemed an eternity, whereas a brand new player has no history, and the same number of wins during ranking would result in the new player being ranked higher than a loyal player. Hence, a new player that should be in bronze rank, would qualify in silver and would hurt the established silver players due to inexperience, leading to silvers not being able to level up to gold due to losing matches. Again, an exodus happened.

In May of 2019, Epic Games, owners of many titles including Fortnite purchased Psyonix, leading to many mixed reactions. Epic promised that they were not going to interfere with the Psyonix development team, but after just a few months, they introduced a store, much like Fortnite features, where you can buy many different items to customize your cars and is updated daily.

Something we really haven’t touched on yet is the trading community, before the epic buyout, there was a thriving community of people that collected items, and traded with others to complete collections, or to just get the right skin, etc. The introduction of the store absolutely devalued every item in the game, since it put an actual price on items, and even tho store items are not tradable players could now wait for the items to appear, hence destroying the trade market. Yet again, an exodus occurred.

In September of 2020, Rocket League went free to play, and this is where the final nail for many was hammered home. After alienating traders, doing nothing to fix the ranking system, except adding a rank above the current highest rank catering to near pro-level players, the game was F2P, and an influx of new players flooded the ranks of the game. Remember above when I told you about the new players outranking the established players? Well, it happened again, with no game history, many new players were jumping directly to gold or higher, making it even harder to get out of the lower ranks. Heck, I gave the new account thing a go, and qualified in champ, a full 2 tiers above my current highest rank. The system was broken, and for myself, and countless others, this was the last straw. It seems obvious that player loyalty was a low priority, and that as long as people continued to buy items, and/or the rocket pass, F2P would provide the income stream needed to fuel Epic.

So… How can this all be fixed? Let’s dive in. Firstly, fix the ranking system. In no universe should a player with 0 hours in the game ever come into competitive and rank higher than someone established. Are some players deserving, absolutely, but not in the number of numbers that are currently happening. Playing ranked with a teammate that hasn’t earned a rank is both frustrating and horrible, and basically leaves you spinning your wheels (pun intended). It seems to me to be a fairly easy fix, a win is a win, and a loss is a loss, stop giving someone more MMR points because they are new.

Second, stop trade locking items bought from the shop. If I paid for something, it should be mine to trade or do with as I please. Even as far as moving an item to a new account. This is the only situation in my 47 years that I do not actually have rights on something I bought with actual money. This action will probably bring many alienated traders back into the fold, and most likely revitalize the trade market.

Third, CONTENT! So many have left due to the game being stale. New modes, new maps, new anything would inject adrenaline back into many players. Currently, the “new” stuff is basically just reskinned items that have been out for some time or events based on Fortnite that no one playing Rocket League cares about. With Epic Games money and the great team at Psyonix, this is a no-brainer.

Here is where I confuse you all, should you play the game….. YES. Despite the issues, Rocket League is never the same game twice in a row, and that can be a ton of fun, not to mention, being in a lobby with pals is still a blast. I still play occasionally, for short stints at a time before things (usually me) start getting salty. The concept of the game is so good, that I never foresee a Rocket League 2 title ever becoming a reality. The game mechanics are truly an amazing feat considering this title is cross-platform and the sheer idea of getting the collision mechanics right over 4 platforms is mind-boggling. But be warned, my take isn’t that far off the mark and is shared by many.

Photo Credit : Psyonix / Epic Games

You can find me on twitch at the link below, who knows, I might even be playing a little Rocket League sometimes…