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Rocket League: winning and losing

Back in March I wrote a post about competitive gaming after an article entitled entitled Fun vs. Competition: Can you enjoy gaming if you suck? was published by Lyte Bytes. The author stated he felt as though there was a limit to how much enjoyment could be had with a video game due to the presence of competition in certain genres. I had to agree: I concluded that you can have fun even if you’re not the best player, but in a competitive environment your teammates may make it extremely difficult.

That’s one of the reasons why I was hesitant when my stepson Ethan asked if we’d take him shopping so he could buy Rocket League with his pocket-money. I didn’t want our nine-year old to have to deal with any of the abuse that seems commonplace in competitive gaming, regardless of the fact my other-half and I would be supervising. But as he wanted to play online with his school friends, and Psyonix’s release generally seemed like quite a ‘friendly’ game, I pushed my fears aside and we went to visit a local toy-shop one Saturday afternoon.

Once we’d got home, Pete and Ethan spent the rest of the day racing around the pitch, scoring goals when they could and decorating their car with mohawks. There was something about Rocket League that captured their attention and they stayed enraptured in front of the screen all afternoon. We didn’t come into contact with any of my stepson’s friends but didn’t experience any negativity either; perhaps I was wrong about the whole competitive gaming malarkey?

After Ethan had grown tired and we’d seen him up to bed, Pete literally ran back to the sofa and immediately picked up the controller. A few ranked 3v3 matches later and we realised something: as soon as the opposing team scored a goal or two, the rest of his teammates sent requests to forfeit or dropped out completely. There was barely a single game where this didn’t happen and we soon began to expect it – the only difference between the matches was just how quickly it would occur.

I’m not a competitive gamer myself: I don’t get much enjoyment from competition (although I do like a local multiplayer every once in a while) and Rocket League really isn’t my thing. Titles such as League of Legends and Overwatch have never held much appeal and I’d rather go for something with a strong narrative. Maybe that explains why I couldn’t understand the mentality behind these actions; why put forward a forfeit request when there was still several minutes of the game to go and every opportunity to turn it around?

It seemed pointless for a player to get involved in a competitive, team-based title when they appeared to want nothing of the sort. The word ‘competition’ implies that sometimes you’ll win and sometimes you’ll lose, and participating in it fully means accepting both sides of the coin gracefully when they happen. I can’t help but feel that choosing to drop out while your team are still fighting shows a certain amount of disrespect for them; it’s as if you’re saying they aren’t good enough to play on your side or worthy of your time.

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Due to my lack of knowledge about Rocket League and competitive gaming in general, I asked a couple of friends to help me understand this situation. They explained that some players would rather take a loss than a blow to their stats so they can appear more appealing to professional teams. But there’s something I don’t get about that either: why play for the sole purpose of reaching a certain rank? You’ll get the rank you deserve by playing well rather than by artificially maintaining it and, if you learn from your mistakes when you lose, you can only keep getting better and better.

Maybe I’ll never understand the way competitive gaming works and so these are the words of an outsider. But it seems to me that losing in a game is ultimately no big deal because there’ll always be another match. If you find yourself down a couple of goals just smile, take a wild shot in case it breaks through, and give the other team a high-five if they play well.

26 thoughts on “Rocket League: winning and losing

  1. Sometimes I play Rocket League with a friend. I exclusively play the hockey version. I absolutely hate the basketball and “soccer” versions and refuse to play them. If and when I do play the other versions I get completely beat down and its a bit disheartening, well because I play to win. Or to at least improve, but there is no learning in getting totally creamed every time. I play all sorts of other competitive multiplayer games, and if I’m honest, I only like the ones I excel at.

    Yeah people leave all the time and that’s a major complaint of my friend. What can you do though. Game developers have tried all sorts of different things (maybe not Psyonix) to solve this problem, like making people wait to join another match if they left one mid-game and such, but it’s obviously still an issue. The stats part of this game don’t feature as prominently as, say, Call of Duty, so I think it’s mainly that people don’t like losing or being stuck in a losing match and leave. There isn’t any punishment, so there’s no incentive to stay, especially if you’re playing with strangers you’ll never knew to begin with.

    To me this game is a lot more casual than other esports aiming games. It’s a game I guess I can’t take too seriously, but perhaps that’s only because I’m mediocre at best, at it.

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    1. Part of me thinks that competitive gaming is something I’m just not ever going to get. Admittedly I don’t have much experience of it, and maybe if I gave it a go I’d enjoy it more than I expect, but I just can’t seem to get my head around it!

      The only thing I can compare it to – which isn’t entirely the same – is board games. I wouldn’t get up in the middle of a game if I was losing, so I can’t understand why people would do it in the middle of a video game.

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      1. I think of it this way. If I go to a casino and sit down at a table of strangers to win some money, I’m not gonna stay till my money is gone, I’m gonna get up and leave. Personally I see my matches to the end in Rocket League, but I think the Internet play sorta creates a scenario somewhat like my above scenario. Except maybe money, is time, or prestige (in stats). Yup, poor form regardless to leave teammates hanging just because you predict that the game won’t turn in your favor if you all make a revived effort to win. That’s why I only play with my friend.

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        1. The casino analogy does help make it a little understandable. I get that you wouldn’t want to prolong a situation which uses up all of your resource (be it time, money or anything else) but it’s as you say, it comes across as bad form.

          A few people have recommended I try a competitive game with a group of friends rather than being matched with strangers… I might give it a go one day a write a post about the experience, see if it changes my perspective.

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          1. Competitive gaming is much funner with people you know. They will most likely try to mentor you into getting better at whatever skills, in real time, so you can improve. I mentioned a video to you a while back where a guy talks about arcade fighting game culture… and this is where many of us formed our sort of competitive play morality… (and just from life, of course). It was all with people, with consequences, with drama and all that, with a quarter of a dollar, on the line. It’s a much different place to shape gaming culture since the rise of the internet and anonymous multiplayer experiences across wide spaces… you know, I bet someone’s written a book about it already. haha.

            Playing a competitive game with friends or friendly people in real life or jumping into an online match is kind of like the difference between a learning to fight in a martial arts school vs learning to fight by jumping into an underground bare knuckle match, …but less bloody. :/

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            1. Yeah, you’re completely right: walking away from teammates and a failing game in person is much harder than dropping a group of strangers online. Everything has become much less ‘personal’. This is a subject that we seem to keep picking up on recently! 😉

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                  1. I enjoy hearing your thoughts on this as they are from a much different background than my own.

                    I did a quick search on how the internet is affecting contemporary competitive gaming, but didn’t really find much specifically to this topic. It’s usually either the impersonal internet, or competitive gaming. I found a book on the sociology of competitive gaming (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/raising-stakes), buts focus is ultimately on people who participate high-stakes esports gaming. But being a sociology book, its bound to have good references and more of a relational aspects of it (impersonal/personal).

                    I’m more interested in, and you might agree, in how we can make competitive games/game culture, for all people, more approachable in the age of the internet. Something like that. What do you think?

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                    1. I’ve just looked at the overview for the book linked above – I think I’m going to have to track down a copy.

                      The world of gaming now is so different than from when I first started playing back in the late 80s. The internet has had a huge part to play in that change, for both better and for worse; we have access to thousands of games and players from all over the world, yet in certain aspects the hobby has become impersonal. Anything that can make it more accessible for anyone – especially the competitive side, speaking personally – can only be a good thing.

                      If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them. 🙂

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                    2. Yeah, I’m gonna have to track down a copy as well. Actually, this is a subject that I haven’t given too much thought to, solutions wise. It seems like it could be a pretty deep rabbit hole. At first blush, there are quite a few big issues. There is a short, silly, but influential cultural trend, with many a manifestation, that tends to only encourage males to play competitively. There’s the impersonal aspects of the internet, which sadly only seems to be increasing in momentum. Of course, I’d love to be proved wrong on this. There are also the overdone violent/war aspects to competitive games that turn a lot of people off. And there’s access to the rather pricey technology that not everybody can afford. On top of all that (gendering, access, impersonality, wanting psychological distance from violent themes), there’s issues of skill. It’s crazy for my head to get around, but I think there are cool things happening to buck these trends too.

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                    3. When you list the issues like that, there seems so many that they’re almost impossible to overcome. But there’s definitely hope – in fact, I’ve scheduled a post for next week about some of the things I’m hopeful for. 😉

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                    4. I watched a GDC lecture video on youtube today by the game designer Raph Koster. This guy is amazing. I read his blog. I own and read a book of his and I watch his videos. Anyway, I thought of our discussion when watching Raph’s laying out of moral obligations designers need to consider when they are creating social worlds. It’s a bit of a long video, but it’s worth the watch if you ever get the time. If anything though, you will definitely define virtual worlds in a different way than you had previously, at least that’s what happened with me. If virtual worlds are anything like facebook though, I don’t want a part of it… darn it! Here’s a link if you’re interested 🙂 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgw8RLHv1j4&index=49&list=PLN7HjyTmNLBKnv0hQvm-jCAABetOQx1Va&t=3287s

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  2. I love RL in competitive, but usually play with friends. Sometimes it’s ok solo. A lot of people drop out because they see it as a waste of time for both sides if there’s no way back. I don’t get when people want to quit after a goal or two though. Especially in RL when you can score a couple in a matter of seconds.

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    1. I’ve watched my other-half play matches where his teammates have requested to forfeit after a goal, but then go on to win. Dropping out before the time is over just seems a bit like giving up!

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      1. I played Rocket League a fair bit when it first came on PSN. I recall one game when I was put with two guys who were miles better than me. Try as I did I couldn’t get much of the ball. I was feeling like the kid picked last for PE and being humoured because the teacher would go crazy otherwise.

        It was 2-2 with three seconds to go and, by sheer dumb luck, I managed to nod home my team’s winner. That feeling was amazing and made far more valuable because I’d been struggling beforehand. It’s all contrasts.

        Regarding competitive gaming though. Winning is addictive and, for many, what they practice for hours to achieve. It’s a very hard thing for some to take on board that there’s somebody here better than you. I had a stage in my life when this would bother me (around about 16-18) but now it doesn’t. I play for laughs and giggles now so anybody up against me has to deal with that.

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        1. My hand-eye coordination is so poor that I’ve always been at a stage where losing doesn’t bother me! Ha ha ha

          It would be interesting to find out who the people most likely to forfeit are, whether it’s those in that 16-18 age range…

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            1. Several of my stepsons friends have already started to play Call of Duty and the like at 10-years old, and it’s definitely having an impact on his language. The forfeiting may be an annoyance but we’ve never encountered any kind of hostility in Rocket League, so it seems to be a good one for showing him that not all games or players need to be aggressive.

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  3. I notice this alot on rocket leauge, there is never and foul words thrown around when i’m on compared to other online games, but yes people drop out ALOT

    if it were to pad their stats and only take a loss, I think that’s stupid. They way rocket league stats are setup is it mostly counts totals. The only stats I see for averages per game are things like assists, goals and saves. So basically, if people are worried about getting bad stats, this actually makes it worse, because these players don’t give themselves a chance to get more goals in that game to even out their averages, or add to their totals. All they do is add a loss. and rocket league doesn’t even count losses, it counts total games played and tells you how many you’ve won and your win percentage. This is the only negative stat. I haven’t seen any stats in rocket league that reflect how good the other team does or how many goals you do let in. And really, getting goals in rocket league can come pretty quick. And the ball can have some dumb luck bounces unexpectedly, it’s very easy to reverse into the ball and score on your own net. You never know what can happen.

    I stick to each game i play, even if i’m on a 5 game losing streak. It happens, but it’s all practice in the end and I use it as an opportunity to learn by playing against better players.

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    1. That’s the one thing I do like about Rocket League: in all the times I’ve watched my other-half and stepson play, we’ve never witnessed any kind of bad language or aggression. Other than the forfeit requests and dropping out, teammates seem pretty supportive of each other.

      The way I see is is that every game is a chance to improve as a player. If it goes well, you can think about what went right and use the same tactics again in the future; and if you lose, you can focus on areas for improvement to become better. Dropping out of a match doesn’t give you either of those options.

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  4. I’m very similar in that multiplayer and competitive games typically aren’t my thing. I don’t play it all the time, but I do really enjoy Rocket League. It’s absurd and just straight-up fun. Usually online matches frustrate me, but Rocket League’s silly nature makes it fun to win or lose.

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    1. I’m not really into racing or football games, so I was never going to be the target audience for Rocket League unfortunately! But I do like the fact it’s more lighthearted than a lot of competitive games and, other than the forfeit requests, everyone playing seems to be pretty friendly towards each other.

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    1. It’s been really nice to ‘meet’ so many people who enjoy Rocket League regardless of the way matches turn out. It shows you that the fun of playing a video game isn’t necessarily in the winning. 😉

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