Psyonix’s Josh Watson Talks Rocket League Esports and the Community
Rocket League has been a breakout success for developer Psyonix, becoming an official esport in its two years of existence. NBC Sports, FACEIT, and Psyonix teamed up for the first 2-vs-2 tournament back in August. We caught up to Josh Watson from Psyonix in between some heated matches to get his take on the event, and maybe learn a thing or two about the game’s future. You can read our full interview below.
PlayStation LifeStyle: How would you describe this event to someone who has never seen it before?
Josh Watson, Esports Operation Manager at Psyonix: This event is called the Universal Open Rocket League. It is a partnership between NBC Sports Network, and FACEIT with Psyonix. But the basic idea here is that it’s the first-ever regional to national, international competition for Rocket League. This is the first time that NBC and FACEIT have done this property together. The basic idea is that, you start in these regional competitions, these qualifiers that culminate to this national or international events here, the finals, where we’re at in Santa Ana.
PSLS: Can you describe the partnerships you’ve acquired for this?
Josh: The Universal Open property is an NBC and FACEIT property. So they came together and they created the property. We, as Rocket League, being the game, they came to us, with an interest of having a competition.
PSLS: Rocket League has been out for just over two years now. What were some adaptations that you had to make to fit the esports mentality, or would you say it was just there from the outset?
Josh: I would say that, as we were developing the game, we certainly saw potential. But our focus has always been to make the very best game that we can. Now, after we released the game, we saw there was a lot of interest from our community to do this kind of competitive esports element of the game. What that meant is that we had to look at some of the things that come with that, like improving spectator mode, adding options to private matches, where gamers can customize their team names, colors…We added esports-specific features, like the esports Live Now button, which shows streams of esports events within the game client. So if you’re just hopping into the game, you can think “oh, I didn’t know that was going on.” Surfaces that to the players. We continue to look at ways that we can make this a better experience to the both players and viewers.
PSLS: Speaking of ways to improve it, how would you say, midway through this contest, how has the community reaction been?
Josh: We’ve received tons of feedback about it. I think this is our first major 2-vs-2 tournament, so this is a little bit of a different angle of the competitive scene, we normally stick to the 3-vs-3 standard. So I think the community had some early concerns, and then over time have seen that this was a really interesting way to watch Rocket League esports. So I think people are really excited about it. I think we’re seeing a lot of engagement online, and I think it’s been really great overall!
PSLS: Have you taken in some games? What have been your key takeaways, or some surprising strategies you didn’t expect to see?
Josh: Yeah, you know, I think the biggest change for this particular tournament is that, because it’s 2-vs-2, it’s two less players on the field, which opens up a lot more space for these plays to develop. So we’ve seen a strategy that I haven’t really seen used much in competitive, which is basically using the ceiling to make shots, from the ceiling, kind of dropping off the ceiling and taking shots. It’s an incredibly advanced technique that you don’t see typically in 3-vs-3, just because there are more players that can interrupt that kind of play. So I think that’s been really interesting! I know the guy sizzleurcob had done it, as well as Cloud 9. So we’ve seen some interesting strategies develop. A lot of big kind of crossing plays, from one side of the field to the other, that are resulting in goals. So there’s just some really interesting strats that you typically don’t see.
PSLS: What about the competitors themselves? Have we seen comradery or rivalry develop?
Josh: Yeah, what’s interesting about this is, because teams are typically made up of threes, you’re having teams made up of players from two different teams now. Some teams, you’ll have your kind of org team, and then you’ll have these mixed teams where these guys have never ever played together at this level, and I think you’re starting to see some really interesting personalities develop. Some new friendships, really being put out in the forefront. Sizzleurcob, that I just mentioned, those guys are hilarious to watch. They’re having so much fun, and every time they’re taking the stage, they’re giggling and messing around with each other. So I think, it’s been really fun. In terms of rivalries, I think, our kind of age-old rivalry of North America versus Europe is still here, it’s still really strong. We had FlipSid3 Tactics, our former world champions, taking on Cloud 9, heavy favorites to win this thing. FlipSid3 looked very determined to take it, and they managed to take the win. So I think that rivalry, the international rivalries are still there. So we’ve seen a lot of interesting storylines.
PSLS: I know you’re mentioning players by name, and it might seem intimidating to new players, but would you say it’s still accessible to new players? How do you maintain that balance between allowing certain strategies to develop with pro players, but still let newbies come on and maybe have a chance?
Josh: Oh, sure! I think for us, our focus from the start was making sure that the game was fun and accessible to every skill level. That hasn’t changed at all since we were developing the game. We constantly tried to make sure that this is still fun at all levels. We’re constantly examining the competitive landscape within the game, to make sure it’s still fun. That we’re not seeing a drop off or anything of newcomers into the game. We’ve seen tons of growth over the last two years. We’re pretty confident that it’s still really fun for the newcomers, all the way up to these guys here, who are playing on international TV.
PSLS: I heard that a least a couple of them were playing the original.
Josh: Yeah, Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars! Yeah, we have some long-time veterans, who have stuck with our series since the beginning. Those guys are extremely valuable to us, we really appreciate that they’ve stuck around to give us incredible feedback about the game. When we were developing Rocket League, they were delivering feedback, they were on the forums, they were the ones telling us what they liked, what they didn’t like…Like in everything that we do, the community shapes the game. They’ve been invaluable to us.
PSLS: So what’s next (for Rocket League)?
Josh: Oh man! Well, in the immediate future, we have season 4 coming with our partners at Twitch. This is the first time we’re expanding that tournament, to now, two divisions of players in North America and Europe. Globally, across those divisions, we now have 40 teams as a part of this RLCS (Rocket League Championship Series) system. So this is going to be the biggest season for us. That’s kicking off right after this. So that’s our immediate focus. We want to make sure that we continue to move towards sustainability for these players. Security for the players and the organizations, and making sure that fans also have that security. That they know that their favorite players are going to be a part of that system.
PSLS: How about personally? What’s your play style?
Josh: Honestly, I wish I was better! I sit right around Champion I. So I get to watch these guys, and I get to take all my favorite strategies, still trying to perfect that ceiling shot, but it’s very difficult! I still love the game, been playing it for years. I play all the time, my son is over there playing right now. Huge, huge fans of the game.
Many thanks to Josh Watson for taking time out of his busy day to discuss all things Rocket League.