Why Do Most Rocket League Pros Use The Same Car?
Top players and Psyonix explain why Octane rules the competitive scene.
Rocket League has more than 30 different car bodies available in total, between the standard models, the unlockable bodies in crates, and the premium add-on offerings. So why, then, do the vast majority of pro players today use Octane?
Just look at the grand finals of recent major tournaments. At the Rocket League Championship Series (RLCS) World Championship in June, all six players across Northern Gaming and Mock-it Esports used an Octane. Last month at the X Games, five of the six grand finalists picked Octane, and then at DreamHack Atlanta, it was all Octane in the final showdown yet again.
Car selection is critical to high-level Rocket League success, as the hitbox and turning radius can vary noticeably between bodies. Some cars are better at aerial hits or dribbling, while others smack the ball harder but can struggle with 50-50s when two rival cars go for the ball at the same time. For many pros, it's simply a matter of comfort and confidence, and knowing that a bounce will react the way they expect it to each and every time.
But aside from a handful of outliers who have stuck with an alternate car and built their game around it, most of the pack goes for Octane — and we have seen some pros make the switch to Octane just this summer, too. What makes Octane so dominant in the pro meta? We asked several pro players about why they've stuck with (or switched over to) Octane, and also got some details from developer Psyonix about what makes it distinctive.
It just feels right
There's more nuance to that, of course, but when we had a chance to chat with several teams at X Games last month about using Octane (or its ZSR variant), most of the responses came down to feel.
Many players say Octane is the best pick because it hits a sweet spot in terms of turning radius hitbox size, and shot impact — and that likewise manifests itself in how effective it is with dribbling and aerial ball control. Marius "gReazymeister" Ranheim, the former FlipSid3 Tactics world champion who recently signed with Team EnVyUs, called Octane "the best all-around car. It's up there on everything you do. Air dribbles, aerials, dribbles."
For some players, it simply feels spectacular to smash a shot in the net with Octane. Despite its relatively diminutive size, Octane packs a punch. Rogue player Emiliano "Sizz" Benny said his all-time most-played car is Dominus, with some 3,000 hours logged with that longer, stronger body — but he was quickly converted once he swapped to Octane.
"I kind of just switched over to the Octane for the first time and it's like, 'This car feels so much better,'" he recalled. "Everything about the car: the hitbox, it's like the perfect size, it's not overly big, and it hits really strong compared to other cars. You get these boomers that you don't expect from other cars, and it's really nice to hit one. You just feel so good after you hit it."
It's fascinating to hear the players describe these digital cars in extensive, loving detail, and they clearly have a powerful relationship with them. But it's not surprising: They spend potentially thousands of hours behind the rocket boosters of these roadsters. They know every nuance and rely on them and their consistency to win games, secure championships, obtain organizational support, and ultimately make money and build a career. Of course they're fixated on finding the best performance and the best fit for their playstyle.
Octane's aerial abilities are particularly critical in pro-level play, where drivers spend much of their time soaring to meet the ball in the air — whether it's to take a shot or block an incoming ball. "The Octane has great aerials — you can hit with so much power, especially if you practice with it," affirmed Isaac "Turtle" App, the ex-Rogue starter who is now G2 Esports' sub.
He adds that its dominance in the 1v1 mode, which requires more individual precision and is a little brainier in terms of needing to outsmart opponents, really showcases Octane's abilities. And those techniques can't hurt players on a 3v3 team, either. "It's a fantastic 1v1 car. Everybody in 1s uses Octane, so that's already a good sign," added Turtle. "Also, the turning radius is really good compared to most cars. It's average, if not better."
It's the consistency
The most elite Rocket League pros are incredibly precise with their play. They read the field, read the ball, and even read their competitors' actions and instinctively know how and when to react. And a lot of that has to do with car choice. Players want to know that their car is going to do exactly what they expect it to, and that if they do their own part, then the ball will almost always react in the expected way. For many pros, Octane is the best pick for that.
"There's less mistakes to be made with Octane than with some other cars," asserted Remco "Remkoe" den Boer, captain of Team EnVyUs and last season's RLCS champion under Northern Gaming. "With a lot of situations, it's just easy to get a good hit on the ball instead of missing with a different kind of car. I don't exactly know what it is — it's just that Octane gives you the feeling that you're going to mess up less than with other cars."
Outside of Octane, the next most prevalent car amongst top-tier players is probably the Batmobile (from last year's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice), and we've seen some incredible play with it. FlipSid3 Tactics' Francesco "kuxir97" Cinquemani is arguably the best-known Batmobile player, and he's a mechanical master, not to mention an RLCS champion. Likewise, now-retired season one champion Ted "0ver Zer0" Keil from iBUYPOWER Cosmic won with Batmobile. Other notable players who have used Batmobile of late include Jayson "Fireburner" Nunez" from NRG and Nicolai "Snaski" Andersen of The Leftovers.
The Batmobile, like other longer cars (including Dominus), hits balls with an incredibly hard punch — even stronger than the Octane. The extra length also offers a slight edge, and the Batmobile is a hair wider than other long cars, which helps explain its popularity outside of Octane. Also, according to Sizz, "The air dribbling with the Batmobile is definitely the best in the game, by far. That car is so easy to air dribble with. It's insane."
So why don't more people use the Batmobile? It comes down to 50-50s, in large part. Octane is a bit taller than the Batmobile and other long cars, and that means players have more surface area to win that head-to-head smash-up against the shorter, flatter Batmobile. That can result in near-misses when going for the ball, but Batmobile players can turn their cars slightly to try and compensate. Still, it's much easier to get a favorable result with Octane.
As Remkoe said, it's all about minimizing mistakes — and many players believe the Octane does the best job of that. Another aspect of that is how Octane looks in relation to how it reacts. This varies from car to car, but multiple players said that Octane offers the best match.
"You can see the hitbox as you're using the car. It's so defined," Sizz affirmed. "You don't have to worry about, say, maybe you hit some weird touch on a corner you didn't realize was there."
"Octane feels good. The way it looks matches what you expect to happen," said Cameron "Kronovi" Bills, captain of G2 Esports and season one RLCS champion. "People who play Batmobile — Batmobile plays exactly the way you would expect it to, it's just that [some] people don't like how it plays. But it plays to expectation. I think Octane plays the most to expectation, and it's just so common. People don't like to stray from the norm."
It's what they know
Octane is undoubtedly the norm in competitive play, so what Kronovi says rings true. And Corey Davis, Psyonix's design director, thinks that has helped keep Octane's star bright in the esports scene. Asked why he thinks that car is so prevalent, he responded, "Some combination of comfort level from hours of play, community consensus influence, and — a very distant third — actual mechanical differences."
In other words, he doesn't think that the slight dimensional variances are the biggest reason why Octane thrives in the pro scene. Of course, it's his job at Psyonix to ensure that the cars are balanced, and that one doesn't mechanically tower over the others. But that's not the same as players gravitating toward, mastering and ultimately sticking with certain cars over others.
Some players have pumped thousands of hours, and a couple years' worth of play, into Octane. A large part of that is that Octane is a Rocket League starter car. It's one of the few cars you find when you first fire up the game, and it was there for the pre-release alpha and beta tests, which many of the pro players — some coming over from Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle Cars (SARPBC) — participated in. Even SARPBC had Octane as a starter car. All told, that may have helped establish it as the competitive standard, and pro players' success with it only begets more and more Octane users.
"It's been the default car for a long time," Davis said. "Consider the amount of hours played on it even during our beta, and a lot of pros have a comfort level with it far [beyond] other options due to time invested."
"There's no point in switching at this point after like 3,000 hours on it. Personally, it has to do with it being the default car in the alpha and beta," said Garrett "GarrettG" Gordon of NRG. "When you watch a pro, you want to be like them and copy what they're doing, so I think everyone just follows in the pattern of following Octane and getting used to it."
His own attachment to Octane includes the look of the car — so much so that the marginally different Octane ZSR throws him for a loop, even if they're officially identical in mechanics. "I feel like a lot of it is mental: how the car looks changes how you feel about it. Even Octane ZSR — I feel like it's different, but it's probably not that much different," GarrettG explained. "Something looking different in my mind just makes me think that there's something different [about it]."
A couple of pros said that they still like to try other cars from time to time, but that they always come back to Octane in the end. "I play a pocket Breakout. I like playing Breakout," Kronovi conceded. "I might play for a week with Breakout in our scrims, and then switch to Octane last-second because I don't know how I feel. I get cold feet about it."
"Sometimes I like switching around," Remkoe said. "I get a honeymoon phase where I play a new car and perform well, and then after that it falls apart. You go back to Octane and it's like, 'Why did I ever switch off of Octane?' I do have these phases, but Octane is mostly the main car for pretty much every top player."
Making the switch
We've seen a couple of notable pro shifts to Octane this summer. NRG's Fireburner is a high-profile one in the competitive scene, as he had been one of the top Batmobile players for some time, guiding the team to three straight North American regional championships in the RLCS. However, a bug in a game update this summer caused the Batmobile to look taller for a short while. According to Psyonix, it didn't affect the actual physics of the car — but as Garrett suggested, a lot of car choice and usage is mental. Fireburner admitted that it significantly threw off his game, so he went with the community consensus choice of Octane.
"They said [the visible height] was the only change, but for me playing Batmobile so much, the turning felt heavier and the hits weren't as good anymore," claimed Fireburner during the X Games. "I was playing really bad with it for a few days, so I decided to change cars. I decided, 'Well, I'd better switch to Octane. Everyone else uses it, so it must be good.'"
"Batmobile can get those really powerful hits that no other car can get, but Octane is more consistent with hard hits," he continued. "I feel like that's been the big benefit so far for me using it, because I'm way more consistent with harder hits on defense and even with shooting."
Later that weekend, NRG won the X Games championship with Fireburner using Octane. Prior to the win, he suggested that he would consider returning to Batmobile once he had a chance to play around with the fixed version at home — but after hoisting the X Games trophy, he affirmed that he was sticking with Octane.
Another intriguing change toward Octane has come out of Oceania after Alpha Sydney and JAM Gaming returned from the RLCS World Championship. Both teams played as atypical full Dominus squads at finals, because, as OCE analyst David "yumi_cheeseman" Lane explained, "they highly valued aerial striking and big flicks over anything else." But when both teams returned home to their region, they all started using Octane.
Did Oceania shed its unique meta because of the RLCS? No, not exactly. According to yumi_cheeseman, the full Dominus trio wasn't the norm in OCE before the RLCS, and that a mix of Octane and long cars like Dominus and Batmobile was common. Also, some of those players had previously used Octane or were starting to shift over before the RLCS LAN. However, it is true that most of these players went through with the switch after finals, although one player changed his mind. "It was the international players that convinced those two teams to make the switches to Octane permanently," said yumi_cheeseman, "with only Torsos sticking with the Dominus."
"I switched back to the Dominus because I'm much more confident with knowing its hitbox, because it's just a rectangle," said Daniel "Torsos" Parsons, whose team recently signed with Chiefs Esports Club after leaving Alpha Sydney in July. And as seen in the dazzling highlight above (around 0:40), Torsos has incredible control of the Dominus.
"I find mechanics like hard clears, shots, dribbles and solo plays while using the Dominus much better than when using the Octane. I think my teammates changed because — other than being peer pressured by EU — it is a lot more consistent in just hitting the ball due to a taller hitbox, which the Dominus lacks."
Preference or consensus
Torsos added that his choice to stick with Dominus came down largely to preference and playstyle. Likewise, we heard the same thing from many pros at X Games about using Octane. But when you see so many top talents making the same decision to use a single car amidst a large pack of options, there must be more to it than just personal preference, right?
And yet there are outliers who prove that an immensely skilled player can find great success with something other than Octane, given the time and determination. For example, NRG's Jacob "Jacob" McDowell — known for nutty plays on a regular basis — seems to swap cars at will. While using Dominus during X Games weekend, he told us, "I just change the car I use every tournament. I was using Venom last week."
Meanwhile, as mentioned before, FlipSid3 Tactics' Kuxir97 is synonymous with the Batmobile. And as Davis pointed out, Kuxir97 won this summer's Gold Rush community 1v1 tournament with Batmobile, "despite the consensus saying that you have to play Octane in 1s."
"Kuxir is playing against a lobby full of Octanes and he's the best one in there with a Batmobile. And it's because of his playstyle," suggested G2' Kronovi. "Plenty of people can pull off something. It's kind of like in Smash, where you might have top-tier characters like Fox or something. But people can easily beat these characters with a low-tier character, because of the way they play or the strengths they play to."
And despite those notable breaks from the norm, Octane still commands the most attention. Psyonix keeps pumping out new cars all the while, and you'll see a wider array of them used in casual playlists or the lower levels of ranked play. Every so often, a new car will pop up in high-level competition for a brief spell — but pro players aren't going to whip out a Proteus or Esper when money, reputation and championships are on the line.
"We would certainly love to see more variety," Davis conceded. "But we're not a MOBA where you do a balance update to shift away from specific heroes dominating a meta. Changing Octane just to force variety would be a huge disruption to not only our pros, but the millions of players who also love that car. It's not something we're open to doing at the moment."
That said, Psyonix made some changes last month with the two-year anniversary update, employing a new standardization model for cars. It sorts all cars into five categories, and the bodies in each now have similar hitboxes and handling. Only some cars (including both Octane models) were standardized last month, but Psyonix said that more will be standardized in a future update. We'll have to see if any further tweaks raise the popularity of cars in the pro scene — as well as if any new cars start to take away from Octane's rule.
"At the end of the day, it's not so bad for the default 'free' car to be the consensus choice of pros. You don't need DLC or special skins to win a tournament. That's a good thing in my book," Davis said. "We'll certainly keep trying to create new content that could hopefully mix things up."