Few players understand that key binds are an important factor in Rocket League. Even fewer realize that the binds you get used to early on will affect your performance in the long run.
New players often want to know what the best binds for controller, keyboard, or mouse are. Many even try to blindly use a pro player’s key bindings as if that will instantly improve their game.
The best binds for you are those that you find 1. Efficient (maximum utilization of as many fingers as possible) 2. Versatile (learn new mechanics at any stage) and 3. Comfortable (minimum or no hand pain at all). This applies to controller & keyboard plus mouse.
If you want to get good at Rocket League, then you must start with the foundation. What is the right foundation? It is an aggregate of Right Settings, Right Practice & Right Mindset.
Make mistakes early
Like all players, I started playing Rocket League excited but confused. Needless to say, the first thing I did after a few hours of gameplay was to change the default settings for camera.
Now at around the 50 hours mark, I am more comfortable with the game. I understand basic rotations, I am predicting the ball movement better, I am able to hit some shots with power and accuracy while scoring/defending goals for my team. Most importantly, I’m having a lot of fun.
I play casual a lot more than I play competitive. But that’s mainly because I enjoy the chaos 4v4 mode a lot. I also have a basic warm-up and practice routine which I follow religiously.
As you can tell, even though I only have 50 hours in the game, I’m already obsessed with trying to get better. This is why I also watch many YouTube videos on Rocket League. While doing so, I discovered mechanics. Now, there are lots of mechanics, but for beginners like me, the 3 that matter most are half-flip, speed flip, and wave dash.
If you don’t know what these are, I’ll cover them in a different post.
Incorrect Key Bindings
The realization about incorrect binds hit me last week while I was trying to learn how to speed flip. Despite grinding in free play for over 12 hours (over 4 days), the flip continued to progressively feel a lot harder than it should have. And I also started developing pain at the base of my right thumb (No it is not gamer’s thumb).
At this point, I have two choices.
1. The easy and obvious choice is to keep grinding with the default binds because I am already used to them and they feel more comfortable than starting from scratch.
2. The harder, stupider, non-obvious choice is to start from scratch and learn to get comfortable with new binds.
No prizes for guessing that I’m choosing option no. 2. This means I will suck at the game for the next 50-100 hours. And I’ll obviously have lots more frustrating hours to grind in free play.
But once I’m past that, muscle memory kicks in. I’ll have the power of versatility. I’ll be able to learn more mechanics than I can now. I’ll be utilizing all of my fingers and hopefully with a lot less pain or none at all.
How am I so certain? Well, let me tell you a story.
History doesn’t repeat but rhymes
Back in 2003, I and a friend used to spend most of our time playing an online racing sim. Version 1 (beta) of this sim had no controller, mouse, or wheel support. Players had to race online using only a keyboard. Despite these drawbacks, the sim gained a lot of popularity because of its good physics, tire degradation model, and realistic track-like feel.
Anyways, in the beginning, both me and my friend developed a peculiar playstyle – we used two hands to drive. Three fingers of the right hand for throttle, brake, and right turn and the index finger of the left hand for left turn.
With that weird style of play, we had well over a thousand hours on this sim. Then the devs introduced more options which quickly gained popularity. Space bar for Handbrake and A and Z for Manual Gear Shifts (Up/Down).
With these new settings, players could manually downshift and brake much later into a corner, and thus shave many seconds off their lap time. Needless to say, our obscure technique of two-hand driving was getting in the way of us adapting to these new options.
At that point, trying to change how we played the game meant pretty much starting from scratch. Which meant missing out on all the fun and action of online racing for a few months to grind offline practice. Obviously, this seemed like a hard choice to make.
It felt stupid to have invested over a thousand hours in a game only to start from scratch. We didn’t what to do, so we agreed to take a weekend off to think about it and not race for 2 days.
On the following Monday, I decided to stop racing online and start with offline practice to begin playing the right way. And my friend decided he was going to continue without changing the way he plays because fun was the biggest motivator for him.
Was fun not a motivator for me? Of course, it was. But I knew that if I kept playing the way I did, the fun would soon stop. Because as the game continued to evolve, I’d be left so far behind that I wasn’t going to be competitive at all. The foundation had to be right.
At that juncture, I and my friend parted ways in our careers in that online racing sim. Ten years later in 2016, I had over 15,000 hours on that game and my name was on various online leaderboards and charts. And my friend? He stopped playing the game in 2007.
During the course of playing that game, I started over 2 more times. Once when I switched to mouse and eventually when I bought a wheel.
The Right Foundation
In Rocket League, many players want to get better. Most beginners (under a thousand hours) have the right ideas when it comes to basic game sense i.e. when and where to hit the ball, how to hit it etc. But they find that they are unable to translate how they wish to play into how they actually end up playing – practice bridges that gap.
But the right practice is essential to empower you to do the right things. For example – Would you want to practice playing soccer wearing ice skates? No, right? Similarly, if you mindlessly keep playing Rocket League the wrong way hoping to someday get really good at the game, then that’s a lot of dependence on luck.
So what’s wrong with the default key binds on a controller? Objectively speaking, nothing. It might work well for some people. But for me specifically, pressing jump and boost together is problematic. That’s the cause of the pain in my thumb.
On the Xbox-one controller (which I use) some people press the jump & boost buttons together orthogonally like this.
But I don’t have a thumb that broad, so I have to press it tangentially like this – which gets really painful with time.
Besides, I use four fingers to play the game. With practice, I think I can learn to use six. So after doing some research on Reddit, YouTube, etc. I’ve zeroed in the following binds keeping in mind the things I want to focus on in the near future such as flip cancels for speed flips, basic ground air roll shots etc.
My new key binds
RT – Drive Forward
RB – Boost
LT – Reverse
LB – Powerslide
A – Remains Jump
Y – Remains Cam Flip
X – Air Roll Left
B – Air Roll Right
Having two fingers behind the controller on either side sure does feel weird at first – both to hold the damn thing and use it properly, but I trust it should start getting better within a week.
There’s only one way to find out 🙂