Effective Movement and Positioning: Rotation in Rocket League
Thu 7th Feb 2019 - 8:17pm
One concept at the core of high-level Rocket League play is rotation. However, it’s often seen as daunting to lower-level players. After all, if I can hit the ball and maybe score a goal, why wouldn’t I? If I can make the save by jumping off the ceiling, why wouldn’t I? This thought process may actually be hurting your team more than helping it. So, I’ve prepared some basic guidelines to rotational awareness for players of all skill levels to help improve your ladder-climbing, practice, or team competition. I even had my old friend help out - Professor M.S. Paint!
What is Rotation?
Rotation, to put it simply, is a system of strategic movement and positioning among a team where players continuously change positions to create opportunities on offense or defense. Its main idea is simple: one player challenges the ball, then rotates away to collect boost or fill empty space on the field, while another moves up to follow-up that challenge. This thought process can be applied to (nearly) every game mode and can improve a team’s power, speed, and coordination. By utilizing rotation in matches, you will start to notice that your overall speed will increase, as you’ll always be in motion. Thus, you’ll have more momentum going into every challenge. With this, you can be quicker to the ball, saving your team many awkward situations on defense and creating them for your opponents on offense. You’ll also notice fewer double commitments and open nets if your team is rotating correctly, as there should always be one person on the ball and one person back.
Rotation in Standard (3v3)
Standard is the most common game mode in competitive Rocket League, so every player should know how to rotate effectively in 3v3 matches. Each player has a role to play wherever their position on the field. For the purposes of this guide, I will refer to players on a team as Player 1, 2, or 3.
- Player 1 is the player currently challenging the ball. That player is actively trying to win the ball from the defender, advance the ball, clear the ball, etc.
- Player 2 is the player supporting Player 1. This can be interpreted in several ways, so it’s a very versatile position. Player 2 could be positioning themselves for a pass, clearing or demoing a defender, waiting on the wall, or be playing other supportive roles that actively rely on the results of Player 1’s decisions.
- Player 3 is the player behind the play. They are covering space behind the ball in the event of a potential long ball or surprise shot by the opposing team. You can usually tell if you are Player 3 if you have vision of both of your teammates in front of you on the field, although this may not always be the case.
Rotation on Offense
Say you’re in a completely offensive scenario. The ball has been hanging around your opponents’ net as you pound ball after ball into their defense, trying to get a goal off. Do you abandon rotation and push everything into slamming the ball down your opponents’ throats? No! This is how you end up with open nets, overcommitments, and counterattacks. In general, the formula you should be aware of is as follows:
- Player 1 will challenge the ball until he is no longer in a position to make helpful touches. Then, he will rotate across the opponents’ net (possibly attempting a demo or bump on the keeper on the way), steal their boost if available, and then rotate back to the midline to become Player 3. Player 3 should usually try to position themselves on the side of the ball-side wall to prepare themselves to both drive up the wall or on the ground.
- Player 2 will follow up Player 1’s challenges however they see fit. This position is more variable than the rest and is dependent on Player 1’s actions. For example, Player 2 could receive a pass, follow up a save from Player 1’s shot, or try to win the ball back if the opponents have controlled it. In any case (barring a long clear), Player 2 will become Player 1 and challenge the ball.
- While Player 2 is motioning toward the ball, Player 3 will move into Player 2’s position and support them. The way they position themselves depends on the movements and actions of Player 1. Reacting correctly will come with time and experience as you get more and more accustomed to reading players’ movement and tendencies in a match.
So, the general cycle should look like 1 -> 3 -> 2 -> 1. Not all situations will call for this exact mold, but good rotation will always resemble something like this. No matter how the situation presents itself, given a snapshot into an attacking scenario, you should be able to see a clear circle or rotation among the players, no matter the direction.
Rotating on Defense
Much like offense, the defensive side of the field has a rotational structure to it that can be defined using the same Player 1, 2, and 3 structure. Player 1 will still be actively challenging the ball and Player 2 will be supporting the challenge by being ready for the rebound. However, Player 3 will be playing in net, preferably on its back post in preparation for a shot. Rotation on defense should look similar to this:
- Player 1 will actively try and challenge to prevent the ball from advancing any further. This play should be aggressive and aimed at forcing a turnover from the other team. Should the ball remain in Player 1’s defensive half, they will rotate around to the net’s back post, collecting boost on the way, to assume Player 3’s position.
- Player 2 will carefully creep up in front of the net, reading the situation. Upon spotting a good opportunity to make a move, they will move into Player 1’s role and challenge the ball.
- Player 3 will begin on the net’s back post and be ready for a shot or backboard play to sneak through. Their responsibility is to be the last safety net; the last obstacle before a goal or cross can come in. Once Player 2 makes their move and Player 1 is on their way to your corner, Player 3 can creep up into Player 2’s position and role.
So, the rotation should look like a 1 -> 3 -> 2 -> 1 rotational pattern, just like on offense. On defense, the stakes are a bit higher, so breaking the structure to prevent a goal from being scored is not only acceptable but applauded. Make sure you read the situation as it occurs.
Transitions are a bit more versatile due to the amount of variations the situation could lead itself to. Usually, in the case of a transition from offense to defense, the offensive Player 3 will become the defensive Player 1 and respond to the ball, while the other two prepare for an attack. On a transition from defense to offense, the defensive Player 1 will simply keep following the ball while Player 2 and Player 3 get in position. Transitions are best taken on a case-by-case basis, so don’t feel like you must abide by the mold.
Rotating in Doubles (2v2)
Doubles has a lot less of a set structure than standard does. You don’t have the luxury of the extra utility a third player provides. In general, rotating in doubles is quite like rotating in standard, but with no Player 3. To facilitate this, one player should be playing the role of both Player 2 and Player 3, keeping themselves in a position to support a promising attack while also being prepared for a potential counter.
Doubles does differ from standard though, so when playing doubles, ask yourself these questions:
- (On offense) If my opponents were to clear it over my head right now, are either of us in a position to respond? Open nets can plague you in doubles, so make sure someone on the team is prepared to dart back in case of a slammer coming the other way.
- What is the meaning of the touch I’m about to make? If the answer is anything close to “I don’t know” or just “to get a touch,” reconsider your approach. Wasteful touches can give the momentum right back to the other team as well as take you out of the play while you recover. In doubles, this can be a killer, as that leaves just your one teammate to defend the net.
- Where is my teammate? In doubles, you should know your teammate’s whereabouts at all times. There’s only one to keep track of after all. Knowing your teammate’s position can help you make smart, informed decisions about your commitment (or lack of) to the ball. If you don’t know where your teammate is you run the risk of double committing, cutting him off, or just flat out bumping into him.
- How does my current position benefit the team? If your position provides little to no benefit, relocate. Make sure you aren’t in no-mans-land; ensure that your current position will allow you to impact the game. However, when in doubt, defend. Missed goals don’t put points on your opponents’ side of the scoreboard, but failed defense does.
These are good questions to think about in all games but are more important in doubles; a single mistake can isolate your teammate and cause a fast 2v1 or even 2v0 situation. It’s important that your partner is in sync with you, so make sure your rotations and movements work alongside theirs.
Keys to Rotation
Now that you have the basic guidelines for rotation, here are some additional keys to coordinating good rotation among your team. These are all important parts of the game but are especially important when it comes to a team’s rotation.
- Communication: I’d argue the most important facet of rotation is communication. Since rotation involves all players on the field, you should constantly be talking to your teammates. State your position, ask for a pass, call a teammate off the ball, call a teammate to the ball, say where your touch is going – if it will help the team, say it! A simple “I got it!” or “Mine!” suffices well enough to inform your teammates to let you handle the ball, so they can instead focus on supporting you. Just 2-3 words can save you from double committing, use them! Following this up, make sure you team knows where you are in the rotation with audio cues, such as “dropping back,” “moving up,” or more specific callouts, like “I’m on the left wall,” or “I’m middle.” Not only do these callouts help your teammates locate you for plays on offense or defense, but they also clue your teammates in on where they can be to better help the situation. This is especially important if a situation causes you to break rotation; you want to let your teammates know what you’re doing as soon as possible so they can adjust. Of course, if you’re solo-queuing, you won’t be able to talk to your team, in which case you’ll have to read their movements and tendencies and react accordingly.
- Reading your team’s movements and positions: Speaking of reading movements, you’ll often have to determine the best course of action based on the way your teammates move alone. If you see two of your teammates both start to push up for a ball, you should probably drop back to fill in the large space left behind them. If a ball is high in the air, and your two teammates are both grabbing boost, you should probably challenge the ball to give them a favorable opportunity when they recover. Sometimes your teammates will neglect to communicate, so just make sure you’re paying attention to them.
- Effective Recovery: On the more technical side, you should learn how to effectively recover. Make sure your wheels land cleanly on the ground after an aerial and get going again as quickly as possible. Learn how to wavedash when coming off walls and learn how to half-flip when dropping back. Remember, any time spent rolling around is time you could spend moving to a beneficial position! Here's a couple tutorials by Youtuber Sir Timbers on Wavedashing and Half-Flipping:
- Ballchasing: Ballchasing is when you constantly follow the ball and make attempts to hit it, no matter where you, your teammates, or the ball are. Trust your teammates! Ballchasing can destroy a rotational structure, causing double commits, overextensions, and open nets on defense. Most of the time, ballchasing stems from distrust in other players’ abilities, or just a straight up ego. Have faith in them, even if it feels like you shouldn’t sometimes, and challenge the ball when the time is right. This doesn’t mean you should avoid the ball though. There are several comprehensive guides out there on ballchasing and its effects, and I could go on-and-on here, so I suggest you search up some guides on ballchasing if you have any questions about it.
The biggest thing I want to stress is that every game of Rocket League is unique. Different games may call for different actions. Rotation is a good thought process to have running in the back of your mind, but it isn’t the law. Be aware of and utilize it, but don’t feel like you must constantly follow this exact mold motion-for-motion.
Rotation is a skill that comes with experience. After all, there’s a reason the word gets tossed around so much in Champ+ lobbies while players in Platinum likely haven’t heard the term it all. Whatever your rank though, it’s a good mindset to get into. Personally, going into my first experiences playing with a team, I had the rotational skill of a clock with no batteries. Being conscious about these rotational guidelines helped me to stop ballchasing as much and play more as a team. Just playing in a rotational mindset will guide you to start instinctively making these movements in game. Plus, your teammates will thank you for it. Remember, you’re not the only player out there on the pitch! Good luck, score some goals, defend some shots, and win some games!