Not long after Rocket League launched in 2015, we started cataloging the best plays of the week, such as this YouTube video (opens in new tab) and the gif above. In the video, a player hits the ball into the air, and then rockets a few feet off the ground to knock it into the goal. It got 10,000 views. The gif is slightly more impressive, but neither of these highlights would make it anywhere near the front page of the Rocket League subreddit (opens in new tab) today.
If you haven't been following Rocket League for the past year or so, here's the present day equivalent (opens in new tab) of both of those shots:
I can barely hit an airborne ball, never mind dribble it in the air. Of course, my 200 hours is puny compared to the thousands of hours the best players have put in. And though I know that not everyone I'm likely to meet in-game (especially unranked) is posting Reddit highlights like this, it's still a bit daunting. See exhibit B (opens in new tab) below:
Instead of the sloppy deflection goals we were awed by in 2015, we're getting the best of Alexander Ovechkin's highlight reel (opens in new tab). Or Sidney Crosby, if you're going to be like that.
(I compare Rocket League to hockey because it's more like hockey than soccer, even though there's a ball. Also, I know more about hockey. That said, Messi and company deserve a shout too when talking about plays like the one below (opens in new tab).)
I mostly just wanted to share these gifs with you—I look at the subreddit every morning to envy other people's skills—but if I haven't already praised Rocket League enough, I'll add that it remains cool because of its proximity to physical sports. Players express things like finesse and agility, and anyone can see it even without needing deep knowledge of the game's systems (those systems being 'gravity,' 'bouncing,' and 'goals'). And the remarkable increase in the overall skill has made it even more fun to watch. That's also part of physical sports, though new maneuvers and tactics in the meat world are usually adopted more slowly, and can also involve rule and equipment changes. In a couple more years of Rocket League, I imagine players will be passing between each other in the air, only bothering to touch down to refill their boost meters.
Given how great such a simple (though certainly well-refined) premise remains a couple years after release, I'm surprised that there aren't more Rocket League knockoffs. Tweak the rules, the physics, and the movement just a little and you have a whole new sport. Hell, you could probably do rocket boats, and everyone would groan about it being a rip-off for a minute before deciding that they'd like to play the rocket boats game too.
There are some. Supraball (opens in new tab) is close in nature, though it hasn't picked up any huge following at this time. Hockey? (opens in new tab) has been around longer and has a small, but dedicated set of fans. #IDARB, (opens in new tab) Videoball (opens in new tab), and Lethal League (opens in new tab) are adjacent, if in the 2D world. And then there's Ball 3D: Soccer Online (opens in new tab), which is like Rocket League but slower. And you're a Roomba. I'm pretty sure at least a few of Ball 3D: Soccer Online's positive reviews are facetious, though I did play it and found it charming, if not exciting. It's also got a very truthful title, which I appreciate: there is a 3D ball, and you do play something like soccer online.
Whatever does end up rivaling Rocket League, though, it'll have to compete with highlights like the one below. (opens in new tab) I'm not sure 2 mph vacuum cleaners are going to cut it.