Football (or, soccer) is the biggest sport on Earth. Everyone plays it, everyone gets it, everyone loves it. Everyone, that is, except for Americans.
That’s a gross generalisation, of course. I know plenty of Americans who love football, and plenty of Europeans or Latin Americans who don’t. But if we’re being general, then my opening statement holds: a sport that dominates the rest of the world is a second- or even third-tier form of entertainment in the US.
And that’s cool! I’m not here to tell you you’re wrong. Basketball, (American) Football, Baseball and Hockey all offer their own thing, and are all tied into the fabric of American culture. Football, with its slower pace, low scores, ambiguous play and *gasp* ties, is seen by many as something foreign, the antithesis to the big hits, bright lights and loud noises of the NFL or NBA.
Unsurprisingly, the same goes for video games! EA Sports’ FIFA series is regularly one of the biggest-selling games on the planet, moving over 10 million copies a year, yet its popularity is strongest in places like Europe; in the US, it barely registers interest over the hype for competitors like Madden and NBA2K.
And that’s assuming you even play sports video games at all. While they sell millions, sports titles are often derided by other “gamers”, sometimes for the fact they’re perceived as lazy cash-ins, sometimes for the fact those doing the deriding don’t have any interest in actual sports.
Yet over the past few weeks, I’ve seen something weird happening. I’ve seen a little video game come out of nowhere to become the hottest thing on both PC and PlayStation 4. And that video game is secretly preparing Americans to not just love football, but understand it.
You might think, um, that’s obvious. The whole point of Rocket League is that it’s football, with cars. But digging a little deeper, the way I continually see Rocket League being played mirrors the way actual football players develop, and the the way players are adapting and learning in Rocket League is teaching them to be better football players.
I covered this briefly in my beginner’s tips for Rocket League, but you should know that a lot of those tips—making space, crossing, getting back and defending, anticipating the movement of the ball—are taken straight from a coach’s handbook (literally, I used to coach kid’s football). And a lot of the mistakes rookie players make—bunching up, shambling after the ball, not being aware of the space around them—are the same ones kids make as they’re learning the actual sport.
Maybe you know this already, and that’s awesome. But I suspect a lot of people don’t. That they’re out there every day/night, honing their skills, developing strategies that will help them get an edge on their opponents, all the while oblivious to the fact that a sport which might once have seemed foreign to them suddenly makes a lot more sense.
Rocket League’s design helps with this. It incentivizes players to play football the way it’s meant to be played. That’s why you get points for clearing a ball away from the goal when it’s in danger, or crossing it in from the flanks to the centre. Those kind of moves might not make sense if your first instinct is to just get the ball and move, but trust the sport and trust the developers: that’s how this works, and it’s the best way.
So the next time you’re cycling through channels and see an MLS or Premier League game on TV, instead of flicking right past it, maybe give it a second. After playing some Rocket League, and learning some of the underlying tactics and strategies behind football, you might actually have a better understanding of what’s going on with a sport that once may have seemed completely alien to you. And who knows, hell, you might even start to enjoy it.
Just don’t go expecting someone to run up a wall and jet boost into the air.