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Rocket League's best mode is its least played

It's common to see over 150,000 concurrent players in Rocket League with fewer than 1,000 of them searching for Snow Day, a mode that replaces Soccar's ball with a hockey puck. It's the least-played mode in Rocket League's entire roster of game types, just behind the newer Dropshot and Hoops modes. And that's a shame, because Snow Day is the best mode in Rocket League, at least if you ask the players who saved it from deletion back in 2015.

So why aren't more people playing my favorite mode? It's possible Snow Day is seen as a gimmick, which is how it was presented at first, reinforced by the lack of ranked play. But those who've tried it know that it's just as challenging as Soccar, if in different ways.

Playing on the wall is almost always the best way to get the puck to the front of the goal, a disorienting maneuver every time. Predicting the travel of the puck is also a challenge, with the ability to perform a "super shot" (aka ground pinch) by flipping onto the puck at just the right angle. These powerful shots can reach 200 kilometers per hour and the puck can easily travel around the entire arena without anyone touching it. It's fast, it's relentless, it's incredible.

The same aerial that would result in a 'nice little tip' in Soccar could painfully slide off the side of your car.

Rocket League's skill ceiling already seems limitless. Mastering the control of the ball in Soccar takes hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of practice, and most of those skills don't translate to Snow Day. The puck has a habit of flipping and bouncing around. But with enough experience, you can see a puck tumbling through the air and determine if it will land flat against the wall, making for an easy clear, or hit the wall on its edge and have a number of possible outcomes. Taking control and “settling down the puck” like real hockey players dealing with choppy ice is immensely satisfying and takes practice. Knowing how the ball bounces is one thing, but when the object you're playing with can also skip, flip and knuckle around from almost any contact, the amount of patience and observational acuity required increases. 

Because of this, matches often come down to good wall play. A majority of the goals are scored by edging out your opponent on the wall to knock the puck in front of the goal for your teammate to tap in. That's not to say aerials aren't common in Snow Day, but because the puck is flat on two sides and often twirling about, the same aerial that would result in a 'nice little tip' in Soccar could painfully slide off the side of your car.

All of this makes Snow Day great, which is why its champions persist in their quest to make it just as popular as whacking a ball around.

The birth of the Rocket Hockey League 

If you've given Snow Day a chance, you may have seen the 'RHL' tag in some player's names. They're part of a group called the Rocket Hockey League, the group that saved car hockey. 

Snow Day was never intended to be a permanent mode for Rocket League, introduced instead as a sideshow in a holiday themed update in 2015. When Psyonix removed it, the community protested. Players, now members of the RHL, went to the Psyonix forums and Reddit to start a petition to demand its return. "We had no inkling that there would be this weirdly devoted sub-set of players that only play Snow Day," says game director Corey Davis in Noclip's Rocket League documentary. "It's a very hardcore couple thousand people. That's all they do."

I spoke to DankeyKyle, creator and head commissioner of the RHL, about how everything came together. “January 5th will forever be known as Hockey League Day, the day the people came together to save the hockey mode," he said. "In less than 24 hours after the uproar, Psyonix responded.” Snow Day was returned to Rocket League, but only in the form of private matches. One month later, Psyonix announced in a tweet that the mode was returning to playlists across all platforms. DankeyKyle pointed out at the time that the game mode read 'Hockey is Life.'

"Hockey is Life" - @psyonixstudios #RHL #RocketHockeyLeague #WeLoveHockey Rocket Hockey League

A photo posted by @rockethockeyleague on Apr 16, 2016 at 5:51am PDT

I think the competitive, ranked mode might be the key factor.

THE MUFFINMAN

In the time between the return of Snow Day as a private match mode and its return to the playlist, fans needed a way to get people together for matches, and so the Rocket Hockey League was born. The group started with a pre-season that eventually lead into a regular season of games. Other community members stepped in to help with the setup and figure out the rules. “The pre-season was a giant round robin”, says Petey B, another original member and commissioner. “Season two is a bit more free-form, where teams are more able to create their own schedules. We've been progressing our formats to create less headaches for the people who are sticking around and are willing to play.”

With a Discord server of over 1,000 members and Steam group of over 4,000, dedicated Twitch channels broadcasting tournaments and games with commentary, the RHL is still making a strong case for rocket hockey. Yet it still hasn't achieved its primary goal: ranked Snow Day. 

I asked RHL commissioner THE MUFFINMAN why he thinks so few people play Snow Day to begin with, and the lack of ranked play is his main concern. “I think it’s similar to the other non-standard modes," he said. "I think the competitive, ranked mode might be the key factor.” 

Adding competitive play to Snow Day could incentivize hardcore Rocket League players to give the mode a try, as well as up the stakes for its current fans. Though as THE MUFFINMAN suggests, if Snow Day gets a ranked mode, it's likely players of all the secondary modes will demand ranked play, too. But would that be so bad?

DankeyKyle is hopeful for a future even beyond ranked hockey. “Our final goal is to have the greater [Rocket League] community get as invested in Snow Day as they are in Soccar, with Psyonix backed RLCS Winter Games!”

I'm on board with DankeyKyle's dream—it's just up to Psyonix to decide how much time to put into its smaller Rocket League sub-communities, and whether they're worth growing. In the meantime, season two of the RHL is underway, and if you're interested in taking your ice skills to the next level, this is where you’ll find the dedicated players.