My post about hard clears gained a lot of support and people thought I should put out a comprehensive list of some tips. I think instead I'm going to start a series of guides for understanding the metagame and hopefully to help people reach their highest level through strategic and deliberate play. Since my tips on clearing got the most support, and defensive play requires much more structure, I will start with understanding what momentum and pressure are, and how to change the tide of the game to your favor. A quick note that these are all tips for Standard and if someone more qualified than me wants to add corrections for the other modes, feel free. So on that note, let's get started.
The first thing to understand are exactly what momentum and pressure mean. The momentum of the game is the swing of the tempo, or who is currently in possession of the ball. While possession is a hard term with a game like Rocket League where ball control is not very common, the momentum determines who has the most control of where the ball is going to be. However, this implies momentum puts one team on top and the other at a disadvantage. The team with momentum now has the freedom to be creative with the ball and continue to pressure the opponents to change the tempo.
This leads into pressure, which like it sounds, is how much one team is forcing the other team to act. This almost always applies to offensive momentum forcing the defending team to clear the ball and structure their rotations much more rigidly. Pressure is the most powerful strategic tool for winning games, and it comes intuitively to most every team. The longer one team stays in their offensive third, the more likely they are to score and force a defensive mistake.
This brings us to the guide itself: How do you apply pressure? How do you swing momentum in your favor? How do you maintain momentum once you have it? Hopefully these guides can answer these questions and improve your explicit understanding of how to win.
Today's topic as the title shows is defensive tips, thus the main focus is: How do you swing momentum in your favor? When the offensive team is applying pressure to your team, you have to find some way to change the momentum of the game and get your own team on top. These are done through clearing the ball, which is a quick instant shift in momentum, or through dribbling up the field, which is a much slower shift. Now one thing to note particularly is that changing up how quickly the momentum shifts is quite a valuable tool in remaining unpredictable. Predictability with your clears and always doing the same thing allows teams to adjust easily during the game to your playstyle. By changing up the pace of your game, you are forcing your opponent to adjust differently each time, letting you decide their actions and ultimately applying more pressure.
The first situation and the most applicable to your mechanical skill is when you are the first one to the ball. Your teammates are behind you or in goal, and it is your responsibility to step to the ball. One important note from this that many people might miss, is that someone should always be applying pressure back onto the ball if another person has rotated back. Implying good defensive rotations (which will be discussed after this section), the front player should always be contesting the opponent to try and force a mistake.
So how do you contest the ball and step to the opponent? There are again a few situations, but assuming that your teammates have rotated correctly, you should always try and force the opponent to make a play. For example, if the opponent is dribbling, step early to both cut down the angles and force him to give up his possession by flipping the ball off his car or away from him. This will allow another teammate to use this opportunity for a clear, which is the second type of step.
The clear can be done in the form of a hard clear, which is a a hard hit over the offense that is not designed to necessarily keep possession for your team, but to force the swing momentum greatly in your favor. By hard clearing, you are putting the offense on their back foot by pressuring them to play toward their own goal while your team has complete vision of the field.
Another type of clear is to just possess the ball out of the backfield. This requires a lot more finesse and a lot more mechanical skill, but by passing it up the field to your teammates or dribbling out, you are adding to the previously-mentioned unpredictability advantage. Below, I will list a series of 'Dos and Don'ts of clearing the ball, which are focused entirely on shifting momentum to your favor.
Hit the ball with the corners of your car. By using this point on the body, you're hitting it as hard as possible to get the most distance and change up the tempo of the game
Wait for a bounce upward. This allows you to use the ball's upward momentum with your hit to clear it higher and faster
Use the corners of the arena. This isn't as good for hard clears as the other tips, but by using your defensive corners and even your back wall sometimes, you can change up the offensive momentum enough to allow teammates to rotate back into goal or to carry along the wall.
Use the ramps on the walls. These points are some of the most unpredictable bounces in the game, which is perfect for trying to stop an attack. They also make the ball bounce much higher and further than expected, so it's a great way to add momentum to a clear.
Look for your teammates. Following up a clear with a counterattack is the best way to turn a game around, so look at where your teammates are positioned. This does mean your teammate will recognize this however, so take this tip to be a more general advisory.
Don't use your side walls to hard clear. Unless you absolutely have no other choice, which you almost always have another, don't clear along your side walls if you're the last back. All you're doing is putting the ball center, and you must rely on your teammates to follow up quickly, otherwise you're allowing the offense to put it right back in your end.
Don't ball watch. Sitting in your defensive third watching your teammate go for the ball means you're letting the offense maintain their momentum. Anticipate their hit and go for a follow-up, or rotate back to allow your other teammate to have a better hit and take the support role on your team's counterattack. Always make sure one person on your team is contesting for the ball. This not only closes down the angle the offense has to attack, but places more pressure on them to do something and minimizes the touches they can take in your defensive third.
Don't pass it right back to the opponent. Switching the field is extremely helpful for changing up the momentum of the game, as it forces the offense to accommodate to your hits, and they must reposition themselves accordingly.
Don't hard clear if you don't need to. Easily the hardest tip to judge, and one I still don't follow to this day 100%. If the opposing team is stacked up in their defensive third and the ball falls to your side, take the time to organize a counterattack. By hard clearing it over to their side, you're just giving up momentum as they are already positioned accordingly.
What do you do if you are not the first to the ball? While this can be rather intuitive, it is important to recognize the order of who should contest the ball. If you have just contested the ball, and the opponent still retains momentum, you must rotate back toward the goal. Go to the back post of the goal when rotating back. This is the most common mistake I see at lower levels of play, and players are so eager to try and contest again that they forget about the better angle and vision their teammates have. By rotating to the back post, you are letting your teammate have an easier time understanding your rotation, and you're improving the angle you can challenge the next ball.
So you've rotated to the back post and you have a teammate in front of you while another is challenging. Your responsibility is to challenge any ball that comes across the goal. Your teammate should be angling his car at the ball on the near side, so if a ball squeezes across, it is your responsibility to attack it, since you become the near post defender.
As the near post defender, it is your responsibility to stop any shot coming on goal, and even if it is at the back post, the defender there should be able to stop it if you miss. You also need to note when the contesting defender has failed, and begin to step accordingly. In addition, if the stepping player taps the ball for a possession-based clear, you must be ready to follow it up and continue it with a hard clear if the offense is contesting, or with another pass if they are dropping.
KILLING THE BALL
What do you do however if you are on your own and the offense is mounting a counterattack? If you're turned around and can't hard clear it back to their side, this is where 'killing the ball' comes into play. This is a technique of simply forcing the ball to be in an inconvenient spot for your opponent. You can do this by tapping the ball up the side wall just away for your opponent or by stopping it in your corner so that they have to make a difficult pass. Any way you can just slow down the offensive momentum is good though, but you must be careful not do pass it back to the opponent by slamming it a bit too hard against the corner or wall. Killing the ball requires a small touch which is just enough to throw off your opponent and give your teammates more time to rotate.
How do you make sure you have both enough boost to make the save, but you keep your positioning and rotation intact? Something of note is that it takes only 12 boost to be able to save a shot on goal. Obviously this is easier if you have full boost, but this fact means it is easy to quickly alter your course in your rotation to pick up a small boost and get to your spot quickly. In fact, the penny right in front of goal is almost perfectly designed to get while you are rotating to backpost. One of the biggest mistakes I often see at the high level is leaving your defensive position to pick up the 100 boost packet. At a skill level where anyone can score from anywhere, the only time you should get the 100 boost packet while on defense is while rotating to the backpost, and only if you have the time to do it. If someone is immediately contesting on offense, you do not have the luxury of taking a long route to your spot, and instead just pick up any on your way back.
Below are some examples of both good and bad defensive play that I have taken from games I played in against Moon Men in the RLC Pro Qualifiers. Hopefully through some examples of 'high level gameplay', you can see where the metagame and forcing errors really comes into play.
Example 1: In this play, I am initially the near post defender and my teammate has just missed the step. So, I challenge Amoney up the wall and make a good touch away from Kerupt such that he is now forced to hit a difficult touch up the wall. However, when I land on the wall, I get too confident that I can have a hard clear, and instead accidentally end up passing it to the middle straight to Amoney, also throwing off my teammates, who now both step to the ball. Not only does Amoney get a great pass to Kerupt, but since I went for the 100 boost, I am now late to the save and end up costing my team the goal there because I did not simply pick up the 2-3 pennies on the way back.
Example 2: In this play, it starts off with my teammate Duoma making a good touch across the field to delay the attack and take away the offensive momentum. I follow this up by rotating to the near post (since Duoma was behind me), allowing me to make a save and clear to the other side. Chaupt72 does well after this to recognize Duoma also jumped for the save, and he follows up my hit with a great hard clear downfield. Also since I switched the play, I now let Duoma go with Chaupt72 since he his now the near post defender, but I will talk about this more in a different part.
Example 3: This play starts off with Chaupt72 telling me he is back in goal and I can rotate to back post, so I don't have to kill the ball in the corner. He does well to stop the initial attack, but Duoma does not rotate to backpost, making me hestitate on my step and making it difficult for me to decide what I'm doing. Chaupt72 does well here to rotate immediately behind me after he contests, and we end up pushing the ball out with a dribble from Duoma. This shows how even if your rotation is not perfect, things can still work out fine, though it now affects our counterattack, as I am stuck in No Man's Land in the corner and provide no good position for our team.
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