Spacing: The Underrated Key to Rotations
Tue 28th Jul 2020 - 7:33pm
Let's begin with a personal anecdote. Recently, I was in the 1550s for my MMR and I was comfortably in Grand Champion. I wasn't sleeping very well, though, and woke up at 3 AM and couldn't fall back asleep. So what better way to spend the extra time than grinding the ladder? Well, I don't recommend playing on that little sleep. I played poorly. I constantly felt out of position and decided that it wasn't because I was bad, but simply that I wasn't getting involved in the play often enough. That's when the losing streak began. I would cut off my teammates rotations, play too aggressive as second and third man, and it all put me in a poor position to positively impact the game.
After a few hours of playing in this selfish playstyle with no spatial awareness, I lost 130 MMR. In one day. Safe to say, I knew I had to change something. So I looked at my gameplay and realized that there were important positional mistakes I was making that cost me so many games. After applying some of this knowledge, I wasn't just able to get back all my MMR that I lost that one day but reached my career high within two days. So let's break down some of the key factors that go into spacing you can use to climb to your dream rank.
Distance Enables Reaction Time
There is a fine balance between playing too close and too far from your teammates, and as with all things in Rocket League, it is situational. This is something that will come with time as you can quickly identify how far your opponent will be able to hit the ball or if your teammate will be able to get off the pass before it is blocked. The most crucial part of the distance you are at is that the farther you are from the play, the more time you have to react to the ball if it comes your way. Understand that this does not mean you should be on your goal line when your teammate is in the opponent's box, but it does mean that you should rarely be within a few feet of your teammates.
We have all seen (and been in) that situation where both of our teammates are fighting over the same ball in the corner and it ends up putting your team in a terrible position when a single opponent can come in and quickly beat them both. Learning this balance of positioning where you can react to any play that occurs first but still play far enough back as third man to not be quickly countered can enable your team to frustrate the opposition by constantly keeping the pressure in their half. This reaction time that the extra distance gives you will be necessary, especially as you climb higher in the ranks, because players will get better at hitting the ball high and hard. If you are sitting right underneath your teammate as he goes for an aerial, you will have no chance at stopping a ball that goes over your head.
Spacing Enables Proper Rotations
The best rotations are smooth, quick, and fluid. This happens when you and your teammates are giving each other proper space. When your team is spread out properly on the field, you will be able to cover the most efficient portion of the field for the situation which gives you boost control and possession control. When you overstay your welcome on a challenge, or ball chase near a teammate, it leaves the rest of your team in an awkward position. They might be unsure if you are going to go for the ball again, or maybe they stay back because they see you and your teammate too far up even if they might be able to get a challenge in. This hesitation is what puts your team on the backfoot and causes your entire team to fall out of sync. When you know how to space around your teammates, everyone knows when it is their turn to challenge and lets your team maintain their momentum easily.
Pro's Adaptability in Spacing
As I mentioned earlier, spacing is situational. Although we might admire pros for their mechanical ability, their understanding of spacing is a less eye-popping, but equally important, skill that got them to where they are. They have seen every situation thousands of times, so they have learned over time how to handle this adaptability of spacing. Learning when you need to play more defensive versus playing in a poaching position comes over time, but can be greatly helped by watching the pros.
Why are they staying so far up when their teammate lost possession? Or did they rotate out? Critically thinking about why they do what they do can help build your own game sense. Maybe they knew they could push up because, although your team lost possession, they knew they could force a challenge because the opponents were out of boost. Maybe you notice them playing further behind the midfield line because they recognize that the opponent is going to be able to hit a booming clear. Your team's rotation can be kept fluid and effective by learning how much space to keep between you and your teammates, along with you and your opponents.
There are plenty of tutorials on the mechanics of Rocket League but developing your game sense is just as crucial. When you can put yourself into position to make an impact on the game without needing flashy mechanics, you will notice more consistent results in your climb through the ladder. As you develop your mechanics, you will realize how much more effective your dangerous plays can be when this spacing enables your team to dominate pitch control. Spend some time analyzing your own gameplay and ask yourself "Why was I there?" Don't simply play in autopilot mode, but think about what benefit your position gave you, or if maybe it took you or a teammate out of the play for too long. Learning is a constant process and it is important to critically think about how your spacing can influence the game. Keep grinding and you will hit your dream rank in no time!