Anxiety is one of the biggest reasons why players are not able to perform up to their actual skill level. This is true not just for Rocket League but for all video games. Lots of players report that they play just fine in low-pressure situations like free play or casual games, but when it comes to playing ranked matches, they face the problem of being full of anxiety with their heart rates jumping through the ceiling.
The internet is full of tutorials on different mechanics but no one tells you how to relax when the ball is coming your way, when you are in possession, when you are at the receiving end of a pass or when you have to take a shot at the goal.
In this essay, we are going to talk about how irrespective of your general temperament, anyone can learn to relax and not be nervous in rocket league matches or video games in general. Additionally, I’ll be sharing two actionable tips that helped me get over my nervousness and become a more confident rocket league player.
The reason for your nervousness in rocket league is a lack of confidence. The reason you aren’t confident is that you don’t have enough practice. The two keys to calming your nerves in rocket league are putting in a ton of practice when you are off-field and focusing on being engaged objectively in what’s going on when you are on-field.
What does objective engagement mean? It means being fully aware of what is going on in the game instead of thinking about how you are playing or what your teammates are thinking of you.
Overthinking is one of the main causes of gamer anxiety. Most situations in rocket league don’t grant players the luxury of time to think about what to do. Because if you stop to think, the ball will pass you by and in a flash, the play will already be over. And so your performance is more or less dependent on your instincts and reactions.
When gamer anxiety becomes overwhelming and hard to take, players begin to develop disinterest or apathy in the objectives of the game while continuing to play it all the time, wrongly assuming that they are relaxing. This is a bad practice because it is detrimental to your game and it doesn’t help you relax.
In rocket league, relaxation equals clarity. When you clearly see what’s happening in the game and act instinctively from moment to moment without being twitchy or hesitant then you’re naturally playing with a calm state of mind. On the contrary, every time you are nervous, it is because of what’s going on in your head, specifically what you’re thinking.
“That’s an easy shot. What if I whiff again?”
“What if we lose the match because of me?”
“My teammates are going to hate me so much.”
When all we badly want is to not mess up and keep imagining the outcome of a given situation, it puts unneeded pressure on us. Paradoxically, that pressure is what contributes the most to us making those mistakes.
Focus on the game
The worst advice that you can get when you are panicking is being told not to panic and stay calm. So here’s something more actionable – practice cultivating being fully present and fully involved in what’s going on in the game.
Don’t think about yourself, keep your focus on the match. This brings us to my first actionable tip of this essay.
Actionable Tip #1: Each time you catch yourself becoming anxious or you think your nerves are coming in the way of your performance, bring your attention back to being fully engaged on where the ball is, where you think it will be in 2 seconds, and how the play will unfold, etc. The way I like to do this is by imagining I’m a video game live streamer and saying things loudly, like “ok, I just cleared that ball into the corner and my teammate should take it from there” or “I reckon my opponent is out of boost so I have a window here”. I know this might sound foolish but believe me it is very much therapeutic and brings your focus back to the game instantly.
If mistakes happen it’s fine, ignore not just your mistakes but also the mistakes of your teammates also. Obsession with mistakes is another important factor at play. so much so, that I suspect there is even a strong link between being a relaxed rocket league player and being a less hostile player in general.
Let me explain. Your brain is a pattern recognizer, the more mistakes of yours it focuses on in matches the better it becomes at identifying mistakes and passing judgments. Even with time and practice, if you stop making mistakes, your brain that is now trained to identify mistakes and judge all the time will not stop and therefore go on to hate teammates, opponents, etc. eventually making you shit on teammates and abandon matches for perfectly acceptable human errors.
Practice develops instincts
The higher you go up the ranks in rocket league, the more important it becomes to make better decisions in matches. But high-ranked gameplay is so fast that often there isn’t time to stop and think about what to do. If you find yourself making bad decisions all the time, then you need to train more and just play more games because good decision-making also comes naturally with time and practice.
Rocket League games are all about finding yourself in a variety of situations and acting the right way. As you invest more time into playing the game, you will find yourself getting accustomed to a ton of different situations and then simply knowing how to act – you won’t have to stop and think – that is instinct.
For example, when I started playing I would defend shots at my net by making weak touches that wouldn’t clear the ball but rather center it so the opponents always came back with a harder shot on our goal. But as I kept playing and doing simple analyses of my games, I naturally learned that a save is not very effective if the ball rebounds in the front of the net. And therefore a save is effective only if it also clears the ball to the sides or to corners from where shots at my goal are harder for the opponents.
No one taught me that, it just came with experience. With time, I failed in a variety of situations, then went back and analyzed those situations, and then worked on specific aspects in practice over and over again for hours so that the right response for a situation became second nature to me. Likewise in your games, you want to get to a point where you are acting solely on instinct from moment to moment.
Getting better Reads
Before I get accused of asking players not to think in games, I want to clarify that I’m not asking you to not plan or do analysis during matches. I’m just pointing out that doing it all the time is wrong. There are those moments in games when you rotate away from play to collect the big boost and get a chance to quickly reflect on what’s going on, what you plan to do etc. It’s fine to do it then, but not when you are attempting a shot at the net.
It’s not wrong to say that to play better, you must let your instincts do most of the heavy lifting in a game. Even a plan is just a broad set of instructions for what order you’d like to execute a series of instinctive moves in. But the instincts themselves are just actions and reactions that you are habitualized to because of the time you spent honing them in practice.
When a pro rocket league player like JSTN was going for a zero-second goal in the grand finale of the RLCS Season 5 World Championship, he didn’t stop to think “I’m probably going to do this then probably going to do that”. No. He was reacting, actually scratch that, he was predicting where the ball will be so he can meet it in time for a shot on the opponents’ goal – in the air, inverted.
Down one. No time left. Can’t let the ball touch the ground.
Game 7 of the Rocket League Championship Series final was unreal. pic.twitter.com/9Ng1qjHKiu
— ESPN (@espn) June 12, 2018
So yes. To be clear, I’m not saying there is zero in-game analysis in Rocket League games. Rather what I’m saying is that when you cross a particular threshold of practice and experience, even your analysis becomes lightning fast to match the speed of your instincts from moment to moment. That’s how pros have cat-like reflexes, solid game sense, and always perform unbelievable reads in games like game 7 of RLCS Season 5.
And so here is my second actionable tip for this essay.
Actionable Tip #2: When I find myself panicking in games, I make sure to keep a pen and paper handy to quickly write down the approximate timestamps of when you I was panicking. I like to do this during ball resets. Later, I sit down to analyze my replays to see what was going on around the times I wrote down. This way it is very simple to see what was going on, what was expected of me, and what I did or didn’t you do. Usually, it always comes down to something very specific, like shooting accuracy or saves. Then I go practice that specific thing for as long as it takes to become second nature to me.
Now I’m not one of those people that only share half a story because it suits their narrative and ignores the rest of it because it doesn’t. So here’s the rest of what happened after JSTN scored that world-famous goal.
Around 19 seconds into overtime, owing to bad rotations, JSTN’s NRG teammates GarrettG and Fireburner bumped into each other head-on costing them a goal and the championship. Does that mean that they should be shat upon and hated? No. I’m simply sharing this to make you understand that despite thousands of hours of practice, even the pros still make mistakes. So cut yourself some slack.
If there are three things you can take away from this essay, let them be these
- Nervousness is a direct result of a lack of experience which comes with time and practice.
- When playing matches, try to keep your focus objectively on the game and not on how you are doing.
- It is completely fine to screw up from time to time. That’s the only way to learn.
Practice removing identities like me, you, us, and them and look at the play objectively. Not only will this will make you better at rocket league and also a nicer player to be around but it will help you relax and come back to the idea that after all its a just a game.