How to Challenge the Ball in Rocket League



Thu 3rd Jan 2019 - 8:14pm

Timing your Challenges

One of the big differences that separates the lower ranks from the higher ranks in Rocket League is a player’s ability to recognise when to challenge and, more importantly, when not to challenge a ball.

I have heard many people refer to professional Rocket League as “a sequence of 50/50 challenges”. This is because almost every single ball in a professional 3v3 match will, and rightly should, be contested. Learning how to time these challenges is the key to success. It’s important to note that not every challenge in a 3v3 game is a 50/50 challenge as that would result in chaos.

In my opinion, the best way to work on your timing for challenges and learning how to read your opponents is something that many, many players absolutely despise. The 1v1 playlist. Playing 1v1s means that you are open to be punished for every little mistake that you make and this is why it encourages you to improve your patience, challenges, and overall mechanics.


The trick with knowing when to time your challenges is to not get caught ball-watching. Observe your opponent just as much as, if not more than, you watch the ball. This will allow you to see exactly what your opponent is planning to do with the ball. Therefore, if your opponent is going to go for a powerful shot, you will know this and be able to adjust yourself to make the save, if they’re going to set up a dribble/flick, you can adjust yourself for this too.

It’s important not to think of challenges as something you do to win the ball back. As this technique is not only to be used for defensive challenges but also when you’re on the attack. Reading your opponent while you are on the ball is just as important as reading your opponent when you’re off the ball.

Reading your opponent’s next move will allow you to time your challenge to perfection. Below is one of the best tutorial videos I have seen on YouTube by the car-design wizard “Mozz” which covers this topic in great detail.

Shadow Defence

One of the key skills that is probably what I would consider to be the 100% most essential skill in 1v1 is shadow defence. Shadow defence is when you position yourself approximately the distance between two of the small boost pads away from your opponent and essentially mimic your opponent’s movement while driving towards your front post. This allows you to read your opponent and while watching their movement, you will know that they will be putting that ball somewhere in front of you at some point so this means you are now in the perfect position to make the save/challenge.

Good shadow defence will put you in somewhat of a power position as in a 1v1, your opponent should be watching you in order to know where to put the ball. If they aren’t able to pull this off, you are narrowing their window of opportunity. This can often lead to your opponent making a mistake and handing back possession to you.

Here is a fantastic shadow defence tutorial from popular Rocket League YouTuber and community figure SunlessKhan:

Winning 50/50s

Timing your 50/50 challenges is another essential skill to add to your game. A lot of people, particularly at the lower ranks, will call luck on a 50/50 when, realistically, this can often be far from the truth. It is entirely possible to be better at winning 50/50s than your opponents (there is a reason that “Fireburner” of NRG Esports is referred to as the King of 50/50s by his peers).

Winning 50/50s is all about timing and ball contact. You want to be hitting the ball slightly after your opponent hits the ball. You can force them into doing this by jumping but delaying your dodge into the ball so that they hit the ball into you as you dodge into it. Your contact on the ball should be hit with your nose dead-centre and you should drive your momentum straight through the middle of the ball. This means that if your opponent is hitting it at a slight angle or if they don’t use their momentum to drive through the middle of the ball, then the ball will ricochet off the two of you until it comes free and in your favour.

When performing a 50/50 challenge, you will need to make sure that you have a plan for where you would like the ball to go after the 50/50 and try to force the ball in that direction once you have timed your challenge correctly.

The below tutorial is a great help for your 50/50s and it explains the contests for the ball in great deal, showing how you can win different types of 50/50 challenges.

Aerial Challenges

Making an aerial challenge does not necessarily mean that you have to hit the ball and get a shot away. If you see an opponent setting up a ball for one of their teammate’s to aerial for it then one thing you can be doing is going up and challenging the ball forcing your opponent to rush into doing something other than what they had originally intended. You will see this at the highest level of the game, as I mentioned earlier, almost every aerial ball is contested immediately and it is not always necessarily to win the ball but sometimes to force your opponent into handing possession back to your teammate on the ground or to make them play the ball somewhere more awkward which buys valuable seconds for your team. It’s effectively faking your opponent with a whiff, I like to call these “tactical whiffs”.

Alternatively, and somewhat more common, you can go up for an aerial as if you were going to 50/50 mid-air and instead of diving straight at the ball and entering the 50/50, you can turn this into a block by pulling out of the challenge slightly and allowing your opponent to hit the ball into your car. If you get the angle right, you can then send this ball either down to a teammate or out wide etc.


And finally, we come onto one of, if not my favourite ways to challenge/outplay your opponent: Fakes. For anyone unaware of fakes, it is when you approach a ball as if you are going to hit it but either hit the brakes or slightly turn away from the ball, often sending your opponent hurtling through mid-air as they try to block a shot that never materialised.

Fakes are best produced when the opponent is in a phase of panic, i.e. if they are coming in from distance from the side of goal to make a save on your “shot”. However, it is still entirely possible to fake an opponent while they are in a good position in goal. The trick is to take the ball away from goal, if the ball is travelling towards the net, you’re not going to pull off a successful fake, and this is one of the reasons that people believe that faking isn’t possible at the lower ranks. It is entirely possible, you just need to know how to do it.

If the ball is rolling towards your opponent’s goal then it’s something that has to be dealt with because if not, it’s going to roll into the net, so in this case, your opponents will just go for the ball. However, if the ball is travelling to the side of your opponent’s net and you go around as if you are going to pull off a hook shot from an angle, your opponents are going to try to read this and react. This means you can either hit the brakes or pull out to the side, luring your opponent into a save that would never come.

Fake challenges can also be used while utilising shadow defence. This is achieved by slightly turning your car towards your opponent, tricking them into thinking you are challenging the ball, and returning to your shadow defence. This forces their hand and can make them react with a heavy touch, a rushed shot, or a number of other things that they didn’t want to do. You can then often follow this up with a real challenge to win the ball.

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