Tutorial: Preparing Yourself to Recieve Passes in Rocket League

You’re in a match of competitive Rocket League. It’s your last game before crawling out of division four. It’s probably your twentieth time climbing out of this crappy rank where all the players noticeably swing from vines like monkeys. Tears of rage sit vacant in your eyes, muddling your vision just enough to continue adding fuel to your fire of Demon Fury.

The game is tied up. You notice the clock just ticked over twelve minutes into overtime. Your palms are sweaty, something something Mom’s spaghetti. You told your friends this was your last game of Rocket League. They’re getting antsy with you. You guys have been planning to go to this concert for six months, bro.

Wait. Was that an open net you just saw? You adjust your coordinates, set a new course for the ball, and bid farewell to that succulent corner boost pad you’d planned to visit.

Suddenly, all is lost! You’re beaten to the ball. All of your teammates charged forward with you. The open net was yours all along. The opponents begin to cackle. An obscene amount of quick chat populates the top left corner of your screen as though it were the inbox to your fake E-mail account you created exclusively to play some moronic mobile Facebook game several years back.

You ask yourself, “Why? Why do I suck at Rocket League?”

“I watched all the SunlessKhan videos!

Bro, those videos are five years old now. It’s not your controller. It’s not the car you use. It’s not your air-dribbling skills. It’s not your teammate. 

It’s time for you to improve your game sense. Let’s talk about receiving passes. No, not battle passes or Rocket Passes. The most important passes in the game. The ones that rank you up.

Identifying Good Passes vs. Bad Passes in Rocket League

In Rocket League, blindly charging for passes will keep you in lobbies where you are a mechanical powerhouse compared to everyone else. On paper, that sounds great. You get to look fantastic and practice your most stylish shots, right? 

Trust me, it sucks. You’ll grow more slowly than your friends, and you’ll end a ton of games feeling frustrated with your teammates’ shortcomings. If you truly want to improve at Rocket League, we’ll need to enhance your awareness.

I’m not telling you to play scared. There’s no on-field sin greater than flinching at the sight of the ball. The opponents need to be under constant pressure. I’m just recommending that you play smart. Sometimes it’s best to let a play develop before pretending you’re Miles Morales rushing in to save all of humanity. 

Outstanding players toss up the occasional bad pass. Maybe they thought you were somewhere different. Maybe they were pressured by the opponent. It doesn’t matter. Don’t blame them if you’re the player who bolted toward the ball and lost a point.

An ideal pass flies over the opponent or places the ball closer to you than the other players on the field. Simple stuff, right?

It is… until we factor in the intensity of the buzzing clock and all the extra Octanes flailing through the air uncontrollably. It can be difficult to tell which passes are worth pushing. If it weren’t, we would all be Grand Champs. Rocket League wouldn’t be fun. Luckily, that isn’t the case.

We’ll go over some good positioning techniques to help you win more Rocket League games. Above all, don’t psyche yourself out. While it may not be ideal: It’s better to make a bad decision fast than it is to hesitate on a good one. If you feel like you’ve missed out on an opportunity for a great pass, don’t suddenly change you mind and charge for it! You chose to go back, and that’s okay. As long as you stick to that decision. You feel me?

Relax. Enjoy the game. Think about how far you’ve come. Be patient. Think about how awesome your new wheels look on that new Octane preset you have equipped. Another sick goal will present itself.

Rocket League Situation #1 - Upfield Passes: The Almighty Redirect

redirect infographic. How to receive passes upfield. Uncontested teammate in back corner, receiver pushes forward for hookshot within line of sight of passer

Required Mechanics: Half-flip, Overhead Saves/Aerials Coming In From Behind You, Shadow Defense/Jockeying, Basic Back-Post Rotation

Where to be: Be ready to receive the pass from far-post. This allows for easier defensive rotation if the passing opportunity is intercepted or ignored. This also sets up a hook shot that is more difficult for defenders to prepare for.

Disclaimer: Never put your teammate in a risky 2v1 situation to receive a pass. I should also mention that most redirects I hit result from rotating back too slow, and a teammate spontaneously notices my position.

Nothing in the game feels better than landing a fatty redirect.

Despite what you hear in lower ranks, going upfield to receive a pass can create incredible plays. The problem in lower ranks is that players struggle to analyze a play in the heat of the moment, so it’s often best to default back toward the net.

If you’re that player, that’s no problem. Let’s talk about when it’s safe to ditch your teammate and prepare an offense.

Typically, when the enemy offense has dwindled their boost reservoirs, they begin to retreat for boost and break their rotation. In higher-ranked lobbies, they’ll stay in the play by picking up small pads but often take a roundabout path to mirror the ball. This still buys your teammate a bit of time.

and that's when my teammate threw the ball away and spammed "What A Save!"
Look, we've all been there. My general rule of thumb is to give each random one chance and see how it pans out.

If your teammate is playing well, he’ll gain possession of the ball in an instant. He may be dribbling the ball across an open field. He may have just popped the ball over an opponent who’s charging down the beaten path of poverty pads. It doesn’t matter. Something important happened. The ball is now completely, utterly uncontested. It’s safe for you to push forward.

After a little practice, you’ll be able to notice when the opponents throw the ball away toward your teammate. You’ll get a feel for where he’s most likely to send the ball afterward. You will be able to pick a location on the field where you’ll be closest to the ball but still have the option to retreat toward the net.

If you were that far along, you probably wouldn’t be reading my Rocket League tutorials.

If redirects are a new concept to you, stick with the safe plays. When your teammate clears the ball from a corner, and the opponents are all cowering in retreat, go wide and see if he passes. Cook some boost to get there. It’s a low-risk play with a pretty high offensive output.

Understanding the midline is a critical concept to master if an opponent begins to challenge the ball. In simplest terms: The midline is an imaginary line on the field with no definite location. Oof. That won’t do. Let’s dive a little deeper:

The midline is a vertical line that follows the center of the ball across the field. Awareness is essential because challenges crossing that midline are considered bad challenges. These challenges result in poor 50/50’s, lost possession, and getting taken out of the play.

You see these challenges pretty frequently while the ball is traveling along the bell curve of the wall. In his brain, he’s probably thinking, “Kuxir Pinch!!”

Who knows.

The opponent challenges the ball in a way that could only result in a loss or knocking the ball into the wall. He doesn’t have very many offensive plays to follow up with since the momentum of his car wants to continue pushing forward. He’s also putting his team at a disadvantage for plays occurring on the opposite end of the field. Your time to strike has arrived!

Still, we want to play smart. So here are your recommended defensive skills in case the play goes unfavorably:

Passing upfield is easily the most effective offensive play in the game: It’s quick, deadly, and difficult to anticipate. It’s also the riskiest offensive play in the game. If you aren’t lightning fast at recovering to defense, you’ll be giving up a thousand more goals than you’ll be earning.

Before attempting an upfield pass, you need to be comfortable with your half-flips and aerials coming in from behind your car. If your teammate loses a 50, the last thing you want to do is make the same mistake of crossing the midline. Solid shadow defense will keep your vehicle moving in the same direction as the ball – so your team can regain and maintain possession.

If a teammate doesn’t notice you within 2-3 seconds, it’s time to move on. Be ready to adapt. Go for demolitions on the goalie or start rotating back to midfield and prepare your defense. The worst thing you can do while going for upfield passes is attaching yourself to a pass that never arrives. Don’t blame your teammate for his lack of awareness if you lacked the awareness to see the pass was never coming.

RL Situation #2 - Teammate Is Rolling The Ball Up The Enemy Backboard

Worst rocket league pass. Tm8 rolls ball up the wall, receiver stays wide as play develops. Enemy corner pass.

Required Mechanics: Hook Shots, Favorable 50/50’s

Where to be: Slightly outside the defender’s box, curving your vehicle inward from far-post.

This is probably the worst pass in the game.

With one teammate in the opponent’s corner and the other expected to be sitting in the center of the box, your spacing isn’t favorable. The defense also has a pretty good chance of clearing the ball over your teammate. If you’re in Plat 2, odds are this pass doesn’t really work anymore.

To make matters worse, the lobby ranks who rely on these passes tend to double up in the corner with their teammates. Supporting a player in the corner may lead to a short-term increase in possession, but it comes at the cost of an open net.

Of course, a good Rocket League player can adapt to any situation. So let’s go over your options here.

Stay wide. The most your teammate can do is roll the ball higher than the defenders to prevent a clear. In most situations, the ball will land outside of the far post. Sometimes your teammate will succeed in dropping the ball behind a goalie who pushed up to the front post, and the ball will land in the center of the net. In these situations, it’s still better to sit wide.

A hook shot is infinitely more powerful than a direct shot, and an opponent who has just seen the ball fly overhead will struggle to beat you to the ball as long as you’re in the general area. Patience is key.

Commonly, a defender can intercept these passes and smash the ball center field for a goal. The earlier you recognize you’re beaten to the ball, the better. Having said that, if you’re following the far-post rotation technique, your vehicle will already be preparing for a downfield trajectory.

worst pass in rocket league, teammate rolls ball up the wall. Enemy intercepts pass and sends the ball flying center field. receiver prepares to rotate toward back post

Whatever you do, avoid going into the same corner as your teammate unless you notice they’re beginning to rotate back and have a reasonable boost reserve.

Little things like that are the reason the Rocket League community tends to poke fun at the Platinum ranks. Plats work incredibly hard trying to brute force their way through ranks with sheer mechanics. The reality is: Plats needlessly put themselves in difficult situations with poor positioning and reckless ball touches.

Rocket League Situation #3 - When to Expect A Back Pass

rocket league back pass DFH stadium overhead

Required Mechanics: Backboard Clears, Aerials Off The Wall, Back-Post Rotation

Where to be: Hovering near your back-post, car positioned to match the ball’s trajectory after impact.

If your team is under threat of losing possession or giving up a goal, sometimes it’s best for a teammate to gently tap the ball toward their own net or to a position that provides you with an easier clear opportunity.

Obviously, they only want to attempt the former if you’re in position and ready to pick up the ball.

If you see your teammate charging toward the ball, do not push that ball.
Let your teammate develop the play before committing. Trust me. If you don’t, you’ll both risk looking like idiots on the replay cam.

I prefer plays that send the ball toward your own corner. It’s easier to retain possession and typically baits your opponents forward in the process.

RL Situation #4 - When to Expect A Lateral Pass

RL Playbook: Opponent pressuring teammate from behind. Find the right angle and take the shot. Lateral pass

Required Mechanics: Basic Bounce Dribbling, Understanding the Half-Volley, Utilizing your cars corner hitbox, Pinpoint Accuracy, Open Net Awareness

Where to be: Slightly behind the passer – from an area where you can generate a ton of forward momentum.

Any time your teammate is driving behind a rolling ball, he has lost vertical momentum and has effectively killed the ball. His best move is to roll the ball directly toward you so that you can create a powerful shot.

Don’t take this pass if your only intent is to throw the ball away. If you can’t find the right angle, you’re better off attempting to bump an opponent so your teammate can regain footing. 

I repeat: The only time to make this attack is when you see an offensive opening and can send a quick shot toward the net. Otherwise, your teammate will generate a better pass from the wall.

You’ll need to know if your teammate intends to roll the ball across the field to prepare a pass off of the wall. Use your best judgment. If he’s rushing across the field and the opponents are closing in on him from behind, his best play is to pass from the wall. If he’s taking his time, he’s preparing a lateral pass.

what I see when I'm dribbling the ball. What my teammate sees: Golf ball on tee

Do not approach the ball if he is driving parallel or ahead of a rolling ball. He is likely preparing a dribble/flick combo or baiting the enemy forward. He may also be preparing a hook shot. 

Whether or not you are in a rank where players can effectively pull off these moves is irrelevant. If you commit to that ball, you risk surrendering most of the field to the enemy.

Rocket League Situation #5 - Receiving Backboard Rebound Passes

Receiving backboard rebound passes. Rocket League playbook DFH stadium. receiver box angled from pass.

Required Mechanics: Awkward Aerial Redirect Angles, Bounce Reads

Where to be: Hovering outside of enemy defender’s box, no further back than midfield.

If your teammate is hitting the ball head-on toward the backboard, you want to mirror his position on the opposite end of the field. Remember that the ball is going to deflect at a similar angle to the angle it arrived at the wall.

If he’s hitting the ball from center field, your best position to take is center field. Just be sure to stay further back than your teammate. After committing a backboard touch from center field, your teammate only has two options to stay relevant in the play. He can either bump the goalkeeper or attempt to shoot the ball.

In most cases, his presence will be enough to break apart the defense’s positioning, and you’ll walk away with an easy shot to clean up the play. Just be patient. Wait for your teammate to act. Once he’s lost possession, it’s time to charge in.

The angled bounces are your time to shine. Start predicting the ball’s bounce as soon as the pass is sent and push forward. Your teammate hit the ball at an angle, so he’s likely on a decent path to rotating backward. You want to be quick! 

These passes generate a TON of free points, but only when the offensive team isn’t hesitating. Remember that a bounce off of the enemy backboard is infinitely faster than rolling it from the corner. Defenders will often need to rush and pray. If you’ve read the play properly and positioned yourself well, you’re at an advantage.

RL Situation #6 - Passes From The Side-Wall

Tm8 hits ball off of wall in DFH stadium. Receiver takes a rounded path to maintain defensive relevance in the play while preparing to receive pass.

Required Mechanics: Basic Aerial Redirects, Understanding the Half-Volley,
Basic Bounce Dribbling Skills, Proper Spacing

Where to be: Center Field

A common mistake I see from teammates receiving wall passes is that they hover too close to the passer. In no circumstance does the player on the wall need backup. Even if he misses the ball completely, by the time you arrive at the ball you will not be able to make a meaningful touch. 

You either get beat by the opponent or roll the ball back to their corner and throw possession away. Stay center. No matter what happens.

Good mid-fielding relies on cutting the ball center rather than rolling it along the wall.

If you aren’t in position, when the opponent beats your teammate on the wall you will be staring at your open net twirling your thumbs. Stay center. No matter what happens. I mean it.

Give your teammate space. You need to be midfield and ready to receive the pass. Even if your teammate ignores the opportunity to cut the ball midfield… and rolls the ball toward the enemy’s corner, his only option is to stay on the ball from there until the ball is either centered or lost.

Feel free to rage about him (to yourself) if he does this, though. Anyone above high-bronze should have enough mechanical skill to be able to cut a ball mid-field. They know better. Keep it to yourself. No sense in tearing your team apart over an isolated mistake.

Who knows, maybe he’ll have a good wall-play off of the enemy backboard. Just don’t inch too far forward for it.

Rocket League Situation #7 - Ricochet Passes

RL ricochet pass. DFH stadium overhead view. Rocket League playbook

Required Skills: Pristine Awareness

Where to be: In a location that protects the net from the incoming attacker, close enough to regain possession before the opposing 2nd man.

Sometimes a teammate may launch a ball toward the wall if they’re expecting an opponent to challenge them head-on. This maneuver almost guarantees they’ll be giving up possession, and many times you’ll be expected to receive the pass. I won’t rate this pass quite as low as the “roll it up the wall” plan because it’s at least brisk in pacing and has a pretty high success rate for avoiding incoming 50/50’s.

The problem here is that the only “Trick” I can give you is to polish your bounce reads and have a thorough understanding of when you’re beaten to a ball early on. Anticipation is key.

There are many times that these passes will center the ball for the opponent. Sure, whoever gets to it first has a clean shot on the net. 

Unfortunately, your teammate took themselves out of the play, and the opponent who challenged is likely halfway back to their net by the time you can get a solid touch on the ball. You’re at a disadvantage.

If you know you can hit the ball uncontested, go for it! Just don’t make the mistake of waiting for a bounce or setting yourself up for a dribble unless you notice the opponents aren’t attacking. Remember that your team is currently down a man, and your only goal here is to regain possession.

Final Thoughts - When to Receive Passes in the “Box”

I’ve been talking a lot about “going wide” or giving your teammate “plenty of space” and experience tells us that there are times you want to be nearby to capitalize on an opponents mistake. So… when is the right time to be there for back-up?

Generally, when the opponent is guarding their net from the back post and all other vehicles on the field have lost their momentum. You know, when all the cars on the field are moving in a way that feels like you’re watching paint dry. The ball has no momentum and everyone just sort of… drove past the ball.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s time to adapt after the initial play has failed. Sometimes it means closing in on the ball. You need to make sure your teammate is getting ready to rotate back, though.

These moments are most common after an opponent saves a shot and you’re looking to clean up a play. Bad saves and bad clears occur less and less as you rank up, so the best practice is to prepare for the worst. Be ready at any point to shift gears to shadow defense to buy your teammate time. Don’t instantly challenge if you notice an incoming opponent. Use your head.

There’s also the occasional roll-it-up-the-wall pass where your teammate and his opponent made a dead-even 50/50, and the ball is sitting still. If it’s across the midline, don’t bother shooting it. Otherwise, you know what to do.

Instead of camping close and praying for a good outcome, you should work on learning how to powerslide faster and clean up your recoveries. With good mechanics, you can capitalize on your opponents’ carelessness without making your own mistakes.

Most importantly: Don’t beat yourself up over mechanical mistakes. You’re learning. They’re forgivable. Focus on improving your positioning. Improper positioning signals to your teammates that you aren’t thinking. That will drive them crazy.

Best of luck out there!