I don’t think I’m going to play Rocket League anymore. That’s a sentence that hurts me to say, because when it first came out, I loved that game. It’s the perfect pick-up-and-play title. If you only have fifteen minutes to spare before pesky real world plans get in your way, then you have more than enough time for two whole matches of Rocket League. Bounce around the pitch for five minutes, try and score a couple of goals, and if you lose, so what? Try again, and hope you suck a little less next time.

Since launch, Rocket League has been a runaway (or should I say, drive-away) success. According to Forbes, with a budget of only $2 million dollars, the game has managed to shift over 5 million units across all platforms, generating more than $110 million in revenue. It’s also the PS4’s top platform for active players, with more and more people joining the game’s community every day.

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Unfortunately, this ever-expanding community has come at a price. With so many new players entering the fray, the competitive “ranked” mode has become a toxic place to play. The previously enjoyable gameplay has turned into a bunch of drivelling snot-turds doing whatever they can to avoid defeat. The moment your team falls behind, your teammates start quitting, rendering the entire match a complete waste of time. And that’s not to mention the players who swear and shout into their mics like hooligans. Sure, a certain level of trash-talking should be expected in this kind of game, but this kind of behaviour takes it too far. I don’t even use a microphone when I play games. If it involves interacting with these kinds of idiots, why would I want to?

The previously enjoyable gameplay has turned into a bunch of drivelling snot-turds doing whatever they can to avoid defeat.

This isn’t an article begging for “more safe spaces” in gaming. If you want to take part in the multiplayer experience, you have to interact with people you may not get along with. That’s a fact of life. You can’t try to dictate reality. You can’t shape the world into your own personal version of paradise.

I don’t like aspects of the multiplayer game, so I’m going to stop playing. But isn’t it sad that a game I loved for so long, has changed to the extent that I don’t want to play it anymore? And not changed in terms of the mechanics, but rather in terms of the community of players it attracts.

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Of course, I could just switch back to the non-competitive game modes. But I don’t want to. Imagine the game as a swimming pool. Sticking to the non-competitive gameplay modes is like splashing around in the shallow end of the pool. And I don’t want to stick to the shallow end. I’m a full-grown adult, damn it. I want to take off my armbands and swim in the deep end.

I’m aware that it sounds like I’m blaming the players for their petulance, but in reality, the issue is far more nuanced than that. Here’s the problem: Rocket League is set up to encourage this behaviour. In ranked mode, the game rewards you for victory by promoting through the “divisions”. Players who want to play in the elite divisions will do whatever it takes to keep winning. Losing too many games will see them booted back down into the lower divisions. It’s this pressure to win that harbours the toxic state of the competitive multiplayer modes.

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Rewarding victory in Rocket League causes an issue – the game does rely on a large dose of luck. It’s a team game, and you need your teammates to play well. This puts an insane amount of pressure on the more casual player – if you’re outmatched, you’re costing your teammates. There are frequently complaints about the unbalanced matchmaking, pitting relative newcomers against seasoned veterans. I’ve seen this issue numerous times – sometimes I get stuck with teammates who barely pick up a single point all match, and sometimes I’m the weak link, and I’m the only one on the pitch who doesn’t help the team in any way.

The game essentially tells players that if they get teamed up with less than stellar players, they’re screwed. And so, players act out. If they know they’re going to be punished for losing, they’ll do whatever they can to avoid it, and get frustrated and angry when they fall behind.

Of course, this in no way justifies people’s shitty behaviour. Video game fans have long had this reputation as an entitled bunch of dickbags for good reason. Just this week, we’ve heard stories of the No Man’s Sky developers receiving death threats after they announced a delay for the game’s release date. People who act in this way aren’t just letting themselves down – they’re letting the whole ‘team’ down.

It’s these kind of players that have ruined Rocket League’s community. Competitive play has literally taken the fun out of the game, and that’s really sad. The moment people started taking the game seriously, it was over. I just want to go back to the game’s early days again. Is that too much to ask?

  • Sheva

    Man, this actually speaks to a lot of concerns I have about Overwatch. I’ve been playing obsessively since it came out, and although the community started out as very easygoing and accepting, I’m seeing people get saltier and saltier as competition ramps up. The bad sportsmanship is on the rise, largely because of what you mention here: gamers are naturally competitive, which the game rewards, and there’s nothing in place to prevent us from being heinous barfbags to each other.

    I wonder if developers ought to take some of this on, because the fact of the matter is, this seems to be a problem that appears in most multi-player team based games. Heck, I remember it cropping up in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s multiplayer, so clearly it’s not a new problem, or one exclusive to Rocket League. Unfair match-ups are a problem that IS on the development side, since it’s a developer algorithm that determines how you get matched, and I wonder if bad team match-ups are something they could look at too. In most multi-players, you have a TON of metadata that travels around with you — who you play most often, how you play, how good you are relative to others of your same level, how good you are relative to people above and below your level, and even what levels you’re most successful in. That data could be used to make fairly informed decisions about who you should be playing against, and who you should be playing together with as teammates.

  • Hell is other people. Maybe not true; but in a sea of 7B it’s a game of attrition. When I was a kid we played lots of games like this, together, with each other, gathered in front of a screen. I think that television that Sony came out with that repurposed 3-D glasses technology so two kids could play together with one television without splitting the screen, is probably the single greatest invention video games have ever seen, and will ever see. But I don’t know if anyone bought one for their kids or not, or if they’ve caught on.

    I can’t imagine competitive online play. It seems to me like an idea that sounds good in theory, but is infeasible in practice, and just a waste of everyone’s time who’s ever tried it. I’ll take private drama any day. I’m all grown up now, no time to play at child’s play.