Last year saw the biggest surge in esports at the scholastic level, with many American schools joining academic leagues like PlayVS, HSEL, and their own state leagues. Esports were, in some cases like Virginia’s, the only competitive playoffs schools were able to host in the living nightmare that was 2020.
Some of the transition to esports mid-pandemic came as a spur of the moment response to try and maintain student engagement, like Georgia’s decision to host a statewide Fortnite tournament, but much of it was intentional, a deliberate step to establish esports programs that will launch the next generation of star players.
Though some High School principals might be on the fence about gaming in general, as more colleges offer scholarships for esports, and the industry continues to expand exponentially, it will be hard to ignore. They won’t be as on the fence when the University of Akron offers one of their students an attractive opportunity to join a national championship level team.
In this sort of environment Rocket League is primed to overtake the scene. With absolutely no implied violence in the game, it is one of the most intuitive and skill-based sports games ever made (bold claim, I know, but stay with me).
Even when a beginner is first put on the field the objectives are clear: you have to figure out how to best move your car to hit the ball into the goal across from you. Compared to other sport games, there is no element of programmed randomness. Randomness is when the game programs the outcome of a situation based on the in-game character’s statistics and other game conditions. There is no “pass” or “shoot” button in Rocket League, you have to figure out how to masterfully maneuver your vehicle.
Rocket League is a deterministic, physics-based game that, in the words of professional coach Dave,
“...is unlike other [sports] games like Madden, Fifa or 2K, because there are no preset statistics. In real life, if you are 5’6, you aren’t going to play linebacker in the NFL; in Rocket League everyone gets the same cars and same stats.“
If the skill argument doesn’t resonate, these top reasons will be a driving force behind the game’s success:
One of the biggest issues for schools during the pandemic has been ensuring equity of technology for their students and internet access. It’s no secret that gaming has been dominated by those privileged enough to afford top-line setups, and in some cases the games themselves. With Rocket League being a free game to download on Epic Games, some of those pressures are alleviated.
The biggest factor for schools is working with the tech they have. Being crossplay accessible, students on their laptops can play with other classmates using PlayStations, Xboxes or Switches.
Because many schools have issued their students Chromebooks, this can be challenging, however, the latest versions of Chromebooks have the specs needed to be able to run Rocket League thanks to GeForce Now.
The most popular games in the world are often First Person Shooter (FPS) games like Fortnite, Overwatch, Rainbow Six Siege, CS Go, Valorant, ect. Even other school sanctioned games like League of Legends or Super Smash Brothers contain some level of violence albeit cartoonish.
As a school, choosing a violent game might be too much of a risk to take when factoring in the opinions of parents and administrators. Rocket League is a much safer bet.
Because the in-game characters are rocket cars, much of the issue of playing as a particular gendered character as in Fifa or NBA2K, is also non-existent and there’s no reason why a team can’t be co-ed. We are talking about a combination of cars and soccer, so naturally a fair few males are represented in the game, but female gamers have been encouraged to join in through incentives like PlayVS offering a generous discount on their services for all-female teams over the pandemic.
There’s a clearer path for a high schooler to break into the now ever-growing collegiate Rocket League picture with over 175 colleges or universities in the National Association of College Esports offering partial or full scholarships. Most schools with a top ranked varsity program field a Rocket League team.
These factors put Rocket League in the unique position of becoming the most popular game at the scholastic level in the US. Only time will tell!