Are you one of ten million adoring fans of Rocket League? Maybe you’re one of 2.7 billion adoring fans of video games who’s just started your budding Rocket League career. Either way, you’re in for a treat. I’ve prepared a guide to help you improve your Rocket League skills fast.
Today, we’ll be talking about where to contest the ball from. Let’s talk about the midline. We’ll finally leave those guessing games behind us and utilize the power of rocket science! Err… Rocket League science, that is.
The term “midline” was coined by the RL legend Mike Ellis, better known as Gregan. Over the years, he has sustained a role as one of the biggest professional coaches in the RLCS Esports scene. From April 2018 to December 2019, Gregan was the head coach of the French organization Renault Vitality. The team was largely regarded as the second best European team in the world. He helped them take home a trophy and a banner on Champion’s Field. The season afterward they took home second place.
Need more credibility than that? On July 23rd he was hired as head coach for Guild Esports.
The midline is an imaginary line on the field that determines which side of the pitch you currently reside on. It isn’t a stationary line. It moves with the ball.
When you are on the left-hand side of the ball, you are currently on the left-hand side of the pitch. While on the right side of the ball, you’re on the right-hand side of the pitch.
We can use this line to develop solid defensive techniques for challenging and maintaining pressure on the ball.
No matter what state the ball is in, the midline will always form a straight vertical line from blue goal to orange goal. This is because the midline will NOT affect the way you conduct your 50/50 challenges, only how you approach them.
The only axis that changes throughout the game is the horizontal axis. As the ball begins to soar across the field, your purpose on the field will shift. Let me give you an example:
After a single touch, you can suddenly find yourself on the right-hand side of the pitch, even if your vehicle was sitting still throughout the play. The midline shifted as the ball moved to the opposite post.
Usually, the correct side of the midline to challenge from is the side the ball is currently traveling away from. We often refer to this as shadow defense. Your car can easily match the trajectory of the ball, and it will result in better interceptions where you can maintain possession for multiple touches.
There is a major exception: If the midline moves up to front post like in the image below, you risk doubling up players on the same side of the pitch. Since challenging the ball would cause your team to give up an advantage in spacing, it’s best to stay back and allow the play to develop.
Notice how in both situations I mentioned the “correct” player to commit to the challenge was coming from the smaller section of the field? That’s a huge part of forward-facing challenges.
Challenging a ball head-on is something a team should communicate well. One player pushing forward is already pretty high risk, since losing that challenge will instantly knock him out of the play. This is why we have this imaginary midline set in place: It helps us decide who should challenge in otherwise difficult-to-read situations.
The context here is often relevant for the second man in the play. If you find yourself in a position where you need to cut across the midline pretty hard to make it to the ball, you’re better off postponing your challenge by making a back post rotation and applying passive pressure to the ball, if possible.
To make the most extreme example possible: Imagine your teammate is grabbing the mid boost pad from the right side of the field, and then charges at the ball while it’s located near the mid boost pad on the opposite end of the field. He’s charging the ball from a 90 degree angle from the midline and completely switching sides on the pitch. Somebody else probably should have challenged the ball, right?
Crossing the midline to challenge the ball typically yields bad results for your team. Most of these challenges are made out of desperation – where proper positioning on the field could have yielded favorable plays.
While crossing the midline, you are often breaking your team’s rotation to make less precise and less powerful touches on the ball. To make matters worse, you are often challenging the ball from nearly unwinnable angles. As Gregan puts it, your 50/50 challenges become 70/30’s.
Having too many players on the same side of the pitch also places a burden on a team’s boost management and makes it difficult for teammates to decipher your intentions. Body language is everything, even outside of Rocket League.
Let’s take a moment to think of on-field body language:
Situation #1: Let’s say you’ve fumbled on the proper side of the pitch but wanted to rotate back for boost. If you are hovering toward the ball and don’t intend to touch it, your teammate will hesitate instead of making a good challenge. Now you’re both too close to the ball, panicking, and are both threatened to be taken out of the play at once. Always rotate back post to pick up boost!
Situation #2: You’re sitting on the opposite end of the field, your teammate will assume you’re rotating back. His hesitation disappears. Imagine how awkward it’ll be for both of you if you up and decide to make a half-hearted challenge from across the field! Closest to the ball doesn’t quite equate to who’s turn it is to make a touch.
Seems pretty self-explanatory, right? That’s because I’ve highlighted two extreme scenarios. Situations that anyone who’s watched a few YouTube videos on rotation could understand. Deep down, you already knew about the midline. Our goal is to further refine that understanding into something definitive for tougher to analyze situations. We want to craft that understanding into an on-field science.
Still, I haven’t touched on the most important thing:
The biggest problem of crossing the midline is that you’re attacking the ball from angles where you’re unable to hold possession. Once you flip into that ball and make contact with it, you are already lunging off into outer space. You have taken yourself out of the play for ten seconds or more. That can be a heavy burden for your team to overcome.
Even in high-ranked lobbies. No, especially in high-ranked lobbies.
Let’s take a moment to analyze challenges from a back-post to center field midline. Those are the most ideal defensive challenges in the game.
Imagine yourself jumping up for a ball while your infield momentum matches the ball. You can make adjustments. You can challenge whenever you want. You and the ball are moving in perfect harmony. Like a scene of reuniting two best friends from a feel-good Hollywood flick.
You’re moving in toward one another in slow motion. You’re barefoot on the beach during the glistening moments of a tropical sunset. Nothing is getting in between you two.
You find the right time to challenge the ball and make a favorable touch.
Now, Imagine trying to stop an incoming ball flying straight toward your face:
You’re triangulating the precise location you’ll meet at speeds that would make Albert Einstein envious. Sure, it isn’t hard to do. You’ve got a graphing calculator tucked snugly in your back pocket. You’ve spent your entire life waiting for this moment.
It isn’t hard for the opponent to do, either. Bad news: He’s got a graphing calculator tucked in his back pocket, too. He’s spent his entire life preparing for that exact moment. Uh oh. Maybe it’s time to go back to trading.
The opponent is also the one currently deciding where the ball goes. He’s got the thing wrapped up in his little finger like a pretty woman in a prison visitation room. That isn’t an advantage you want to be giving away.
Giving yourself one isolated location to meet the ball isn’t ideal. There’s no room for you to adapt. Any change in wind speed will throw you off course and leave you helplessly staring at a runaway ball – glistening in the afternoon sunlight as it wisps past the hood of your brand new white Dominus.
When they feel like they’re closest to the ball.
Ideally, you only want to challenge the ball when you can send it toward the enemy net or a teammate. Blasting from across the field at supersonic speed for a lateral touch straight into the wall might feel like the right idea – if you know you’ll arrive at the ball first. What you end up doing is telling your teammate who’s sitting on the proper side of the pitch that you can’t be trusted to rotate behind him.
You also just smacked the ball five inches to the left. Congratulations, you’re our 100th caller. You just won a free iPad.
Just kidding. You just gave up a free goal. Also, you might want to check your computer for viruses.
Crossing the midline is also where players tend to fail while practicing shadow defense (or jockeying). If you’re the last man to start rotating back, applying pressure on the enemy attacker is good for your team. Although, when it comes to challenging, your teammate typically has the “right-of-way,” so to speak.
The moment you and the man you’re shadowing drive more than 60% past a goal post, your front post and back post become inverted and he’s gained the opportunity to launch a hook shot. It may not seem like anything has changed, but the moment you challenge from here on out, you’re crossing the midline.
Side note: For shadow defense, in particular, it’s best to wait until the player in possession hits the ball away instead of initiating your own 50/50. You also have a better chance of picking up possession after a teammate challenges. Think of it this way: The teammate coming in from behind to blindly flip into the ball will be suspended in a flip animation, as will the challenging opponent. This gives you an opportunity to clean up the play!
A good, clean 50/50 is typically executed by hitting the ball head-on, directly in the center, with a ton of forward momentum. Sometimes we can chip a ball above the enemy by delaying our touch and positioning ourselves higher than the opponent, but we still want to make sure we’re approaching the ball head on, right?
Remember that when you’re challenging the ball in Rocket League, your opponent has a ton of control over the ball. He can make a variety of taps that can tip the ball outside of your reach and render you useless. You’ll charge in feeling like a bull whiffing past a matador’s cape.
I draw the line of a “permissable” challenge at an angle of 45 degrees. A smaller angle is more ideal, but 45 is the limit. The closer a player is to the midline, the better his angle of impact will be.
If you charge in toward the ball from an angle greater than forty-five degrees, you won’t make a meaningful touch. On the other hand, a retreating player on the proper side of the midline can use his super-awesome shadow defense superpowers to make things happen.
For reference, forty-five degrees is roughly the same angle you approach a diagonal kick-off from. I’m sure you’ve noticed the amount of control you’ve had over kick-off touches in the past.
If both players attack the center of the ball, it sits still. If one player attacks the ball from the side, it lunges toward the wall. If both players attack from the side, the ball pops up pretty high. Those are just a few examples, of course.
Now, if you were to increase that angle to 55 degrees, the ball potentially goes wailing sideways toward the wall – but it will have a high probability of falling deeper into your half of the field. This is because it is difficult to get a sizable chip onto the ball. There’s also a high risk of the ball jetting straight behind you if the opponent has a clean centered touch.
50/50’s need to be addressed with precision and awareness. Think about the consequences of where the ball will land if you lose the challenge. Not even Rizzo wins every 50/50.
We don’t want to clear across the net, but the man behind the ball is more likely to make a powerful challenge. This can feel a bit awkward.
Listen, there’s no harm in crossing the midline to touch the ball. We’re talking about vomiting challenges against Mr. Phillip Reset who seems to have 200 boost and can glue his car to the ball.
Having said that, there will be instances where the two ideas will seem to conflict.
You want to disrupt Phil’s possession before he generates a wicked pass play. That way your buddy sitting on back post can clean up the play without having to 50/50 in front of his net, if possible.
This is the reason a good defender will need a solid grasp on backboard defense. If he’s located on the side of the pitch that the ball is traveling, he can only make a favorable challenge by clearing the ball deep center field or high over the goal post. This is infinitely easier to achieve after challenging from the backboard. Rolling the ball in front of the net is still a serious no-no.
The good news is: If you’ve shadowed toward the net correctly, you’ll be prepared for a pass play. Once the opponent sends a pass to get the ball away from you, you’ll officially be on back post and ready to make a save.
That’s the thing about rotation. It happens fast, and it’s a matter of on-field fluidity. That’s why we hear the phrase “picking up on rotation” so often.
Remember, the midline is designed to help improve defensive 50/50’s. If you’re on offense, you likely have better possession over the ball than the defender. Ignore all the scientific stuff and hit the ball toward the net or a teammate.
There will be times where crossing the midline will be your only option. Maybe your team retreated all the way backfield for boost and someone needs to present some pressure on the attacking opponent. Maybe the opponent ran out of boost and you’ve found a window of opportunity to snag the ball.
Your challenge in these situations may not be ideal… but it’s better than doing nothing at all. I totally understand that.
Just try your best to get into the habit of placing yourself in positions where this happens less. That’s the golden rule to positioning in Rocket League. Nobody is perfect. Just do your best to improve and make better decisions with each passing day!