Fortnite’s Creators Are Now in Control of Rocket League
Epic Games has been making waves ever since they announced their plans to dethrone Valve as the premier online games store.
Tons of anticipated titles like Borderlands 3 and The Outer Worlds will be released exclusively on the Epic Games Store thanks to some “sponsorship” by Epic.
Lots of developers and studios have been chewed up and spit out on social media for working with Fortnite’s creators.
The latest title to convert to the Epic Games Store is one you’ve likely seen on your favorite esport betting sites.
Rocket League, the sleeper hit of 2015, has had its developers bought out by Epic Games. Psyonix created Rocket League, but control of the game and its esports scene is now firmly under Epic’s jurisdiction.
Psyonix and Epic Games may work in the same industry, but that’s where the similarities end.
Psyonix is a small development studio that struck gold with Rocket League. Since then, they’ve heavily focused on growing the game for both casual and competitive players.
Epic Games is a mighty juggernaut that started as a video game engine developer before they moved to make actual games. If Epic has a problem, they throw money at it until it goes away.
But they might be buying problems with their purchase of Psyonix.
Fans of Rocket League have already cried out against anything Epic Games could change about their beloved game. Rocket League’s first-party esports circuit, the Rocket League Championship Series, is also on the line. Let’s think about what Epic will do to esports’ Cinderella game.
Fortnite Sets a Precedent
When Fortnite’s Battle Royale mode began picking up steam in early 2018, Epic did what every big game developer was doing at the time.
They tried to turn Fortnite into an esport.
It was a logical move considering the player base of the game was absolutely massive. The streaming wave that helped popularize their battle royale also proved that it made for a good spectator experience.
You’ve no doubt seen Fortnite tournaments in sportsbooks, and Epic’s push is responsible for that.
In May of 2018, Epic Games announced that they would be dedicating $100,000,000 to help grow their esports scene.
Fortnite already had a large pool of competitive players, but several logistical problems stood in their way. There was no way to make custom lobbies, so dedicated practice with other pros was right out. Competitive formats were also not established, so players weren’t even sure what they were practicing for. The injection of nine digits of cash changed everything.
2018 saw the appearance of Summer Skirmishes, a unique take on competitive battle royales. It was a rotating format where each week had a different ruleset and sometimes different prizes. This was an innovative take on the generic formula and helped spread the money out, as opposed to just one player or team hoarding the cash for themselves.
As these skirmishes went on, players began losing interest in the innovative format.
Viewership declined due to fatigue as well. How exciting can online tournaments really be if they’re held on a weekly basis? Epic Games saw the writing on the wall for Fortnite esports but decided to push through with their esport plans.
The Summer Skirmishes concluded at a finale tournament at PAX West, where Epic’s complete disconnect really started to impede the scene.
The event saw every player forced to use Logitech keyboards and mice thanks to a sponsorship, diminishing many players’ skills. Graphical options were also locked, so players couldn’t change their display settings to what they used at home.
The trend of ruining their own competitive scene has continued into 2019.
Stretched resolutions have been completely removed from the game, tournaments are scheduled as soon as new updates drop, and players are still forced to play on peripherals they don’t practice with. This level of disconnect between Epic and its fans ultimately led to the decline of Fortnite esports.
So if Epic Games is looking for a new esport to support, they’ve found one in Rocket League.
However, Rocket League was doing just fine as a competitive game without the insane amounts of money that Epic tends to inject into their games. Now that Epic is in full control, what could possibly go wrong?
Rocket League’s Peaceful Isolation
One of the major factors that contributed to the success of Rocket League is its niche.
Copycat games have sprung up since its release, but no other game really fills the void that Rocket League nestles in.
It’s kind of a sports game, but it’s also kind of a racing game. It takes brains to plan out your moves and those of your opponents, but it also takes fast fingers to master its complex movement systems. It can be understood in a minute but takes a lifetime to master.
Rocket League certainly doesn’t appeal to everyone.
My first and only time playing the game was at a preview booth at DreamHack Austin 2015. I bounced around like a moron for 45 seconds and handed the controller to the guy behind me. It never crossed my mind that the game would become an esport.
Yet now, I love watching the game. There’s something incredible about seeing the ancient rules of soccer apply to a trio of gravity-defying automobiles.
The game is my go-to example for spectator experiences in esports. Ever wanted to get a player’s point of view in a soccer match? Now you have it, except the player can fly.
The opposite exists, too.
I have friends that play Rocket League religiously and have never watched a pro game in their life. It just doesn’t interest them. It might sound counterintuitive, but that’s exactly what an esport should be: appealing to some, but not all, regardless of whether or not a spectator actually plays the game.
Simply put, Psyonix’s success with Rocket League boils down to three things.
- Keep competitive and casual separate
- Be perfect for some people and forgettable for others
- Have simple rules and complicated mechanics
Now let us look at what Epic Games did to run Fortnite into the ground.
- Combine casual and competitive for players and spectators
- Appeal to as many people as possible
- Constantly change the rules to keep things fresh
If you tried to draw a Venn diagram of Epic’s and Psyonix’ approach to esports, you’d wind up with two separate circles.
I’m no insider, so I can only take a guess at what Epic Games will do to Rocket League.
My first and most expected change will be for the game’s prize pools. The Rocket League Championship Series Season 7 Finals gave out $529,500 in prize money. That’s very respectable by most esports’ standards, especially so considering that the RLCS runs twice yearly.
Epic Games will likely round up that pot to an even million by the end of 2019. Seven digits look a lot more impressive than six, after all. They’ll likely boost up other first-party tournaments, too, such as qualifiers and regional circuits.
Epic Games didn’t bother much with third-party tournaments for Fortnite, but they’re a big part of Rocket League’s scene.
For reference on how Epic handles third-party tournaments, they ruined the first major third-party tournament for Fortnite by releasing an experimental meta-breaking item early just to disrupt the event.
That’s why my second prediction is that third-party events are going to dry up by mid-2020.
Certain circuits with momentum, like ESL’s Premier League, might hang on for a few more months than the little guys, but their days are numbered. Epic does not play nice with other companies making money off their game.
My third and final prediction hinges on one key question that neither Epic nor Psyonix has clarified: does Epic get a say in game balance?
Rocket League’s patch notes are pretty similar to Counter-Strike’s — lots of bug fixes, adjustments to the user interface, some new cosmetics, and that’s it. The announcements for Season 9 and Season 10 of Rocket League both featured no changes whatsoever to the core gameplay.
Fortnite, meanwhile, had entire sections of the map explode and transform to mark the beginning of their new seasons. Along with it comes new weapons, tons of tuning, unprecedented mechanics, and metric boatloads of cosmetics.
Rocket League’s unchanging core mechanics are the roots of its success. Epic Games might just pull it out of the ground if they get the chance.
Here’s a bonus prediction: the cosmetics are gonna get weird.
Rocket League is somewhat famous for their collaborations with Hot Wheels, Rick and Morty, and even World Wrestling Entertainment, but Epic’s track record for cosmetics shows they prefer quantity over quality.
Cosmetics are only cosmetics, but God help us all if they make the cars dance.
A New Era for Rocket League
As someone who writes for a website with “gambling” in the title, I take my predictions very seriously.
With that in mind, I hope I’m wrong.
Nothing would make me happier than Epic just catching some of Rocket League’s revenue, inflating the prize pools, and letting Psyonix do their thing.
However, you don’t buy a company if you plan on letting it run as-is. Epic will definitely get involved, and Rocket League’s competitive circuit might suffer as a result.
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