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While you might have fond memories of videogames like Mario Kart and Sonic the Hedgehog, children and young people today will probably be more familiar with games like Rocket League. This free online game can be played on almost any console – no wonder it has nearly 6 million players per day! However, as it is played primarily online, children and young people could be exposed to various risks while playing, such as contact with strangers and inappropriate language.
Our online safety experts have taken a general look at Rocket League to help you keep the young gamers in your care safe.
What is Rocket League?
Rocket League is a videogame that bridges the gap between car racing, sport matches, and gladiator fights. To put it simply, it’s rocket-powered cars playing an intense game of football. These customisable vehicles (ranging from souped-up racers to famous vehicles like the Batmobile) are called ‘battle-cars’. Players use their battle-cars to perform tricks, trigger explosions, and activate ‘boosts’ that help them hit the ball and score. This game has a PEGI rating of 3 (suitable for all age groups) and is popular with children, young people, and adults. Rocket League is playable on Windows, PlayStation, Xbox, and the Nintendo Switch. Cross-platform play is also available, which means gamers can play this game with friends who own different consoles. There is also a mobile version called ‘Rocket League Sideswipe’.
You may be wondering how your child or young person knows about Rocket League. Even if they have never played it or are restricted from playing games on their devices, there is another avenue that is becoming almost as popular as the platform itself – streamers. There are dozens of influencers on YouTube and streamers on Twitch who record themselves playing Rocket League. They rate and review new features, let viewers know tips and tricks, and promote popular players. Remember – even if your child does not play Rocket League or other games, they could still be accessing in-game content through another person’s videos. It may be worth talking to the young people in your care about which streamers they pay attention to.
How does it work?
Before gamers can start playing Rocket League, they must sign up for an Epic Games account (the same account used to play popular game Fortnite). Once they have a verified account, they are able to start playing.
Rocket League is a match-based game that runs in ‘seasons’ (similar to Fortnite and Call of Duty: Warzone). Each match is five minutes long, with two teams of up to four players per team. Sudden death is employed if the match is tied (first team to score wins). The standard game modes are duel (1v1), double (2v2), standard (3v3), and chaos (4v4). These can all be played either online (where multiple players from different devices play together) or locally (where multiple players using a single device play together). Gamers can play casually (for fun) or competitively (players are ranked on a tier and promoted or demoted depending on performance). There are also game modes called ‘Mutators’ that allow players to engage in other sporting events (like basketball and hockey), but these do not change the game’s basic goal.
The aim of the game
Players use their battle-cars to hit a ball into the other team’s net. These battle-cars are entirely customisable, with endless add-ons and enhancements available to collect, earn, or purchase. These are decorative and based on player preference. Some of these items can be found in the ‘Rocket Pass’ – a collection of rewards earned through completing in-game challenges. Players are given a Rocket Pass every season to earn new items and titles, with the option of purchasing a premium version. The list of rewards is endless. It even includes specific songs that play whenever a player scores a goal as well as different types of explosions.
To encourage team building, there is a ‘party-up’ system that is used alongside Rocket League game play. It allows people to play with the same group instead of being paired with random players after a match ends.
Players can communicate with others in-game. The main mode of communication is through ‘Quick Chat’ – selection of customisable pre-set messages. These can be used for Information (i.e. “Defending”), Compliments (i.e. “Nice Shot”), Reactions (i.e. “WOW!”), and Apologies (i.e. “Whoops”). Players can also Text Chat, but this is not cross-platform friendly (players on PlayStation won’t see a message from an Xbox player). Text Chat can be disabled in privacy settings. On-platform Voice Chat was removed in 2021 but is planned to be re-released in 2022.
Is it free?
Rocket League is currently ‘free to play’ – this means that initial access to the game and certain items are free, but premium options must be paid for. These premium purchases offer rarer items for customising a player’s experience. If a gamer wants to buy something in the Rocket League store, they need ‘Credits’, the in-game currency. These are available in bundles between 500 (£3.92) and 6500 (£39.30). Gamers can trade with other players, but there are stipulations on cross-platform trading that could be limiting.
After playing a match, a player has the chance to gain a ‘blueprint’ – a free collectible that shows them an item they can ‘build’ (unlock) for a certain amount of credits. Players can build the item, trade the blueprint with other players, or keep the blueprint for later. These blueprints are an attempt to replace loot boxes (in-game treasure chests that contain items of unknown value) after their use became controversial.
What are the main risks?
Our online safety experts discovered that parents and carers generally believe Rocket League is a fun, harmless game for their children and young people to engage in. However, there are a few factors that could lead to potential risks.
Games like Rocket League are designed to keep your child hooked. Everything about Rocket League is designed to look fun in an explosive, attention-grabbing way. It uses bright colours, cool music, pop culture icons, and a simple directive to appeal to a wide age range and gaming capability. Games move quickly and involve lots of tricks to keep players engaged. It also implies that longer game play will earn players more rewards and better chances of climbing tiers. This could mean that leaving the platform or taking breaks would be difficult for a child or young person.
Rocket League has a reputation for being a ‘toxic environment’ for gamers. There are multiple reports of rude players filling text chats with inappropriate and offensive language, and some have even begun to use the Quick Chat feature to spam other players with sarcastic messages (i.e. sending “Nice shot!” when a player misses). This is a form of online bullying called trolling (sending rude or annoying messages to someone on social networks, chat rooms, or online games, typically on a publicly visible forum).
The game’s developer, Psyonix, encourages players to report others for this behaviour. There are multiple bans inflicted on reported players, ranging from 24 hours to permanent bans.
Rocket League has a “voice chat” which is available across all platforms. This can potentially expose children and young people to toxic behaviour and language. Voice chat is enabled by default and will need to be manually switched off in settings.
As with any competitive game, especially one that involves teamwork, there is a chance that a bad match could frustrate and upset a child or young person playing the game. They may feel that others are ‘not trying hard enough’ or that someone else is ‘playing unfairly’. They may also experience an inward frustration if they aren’t ‘good enough’ at the game. This may be harder for younger players to release, and could impact their offline mood or behaviour through outbursts, sulking, or fixation.
Players must be aged 13 or up to register for an Epic Games account without parental permission. Epic Games requires a guardian to complete registration by agreeing to privacy settings and submitting either photo ID or credit card information to confirm they are an adult. However, if a child signs up for an account with a fake date of birth, no further age verification measures are taken.
Rocket League does not currently have any parental controls, though they have announced future plans to integrate them into the game. Parental controls can instead be added through the platform the game is played on. This makes it trickier to access an individual game, but does ensure the settings are in place for other games.
Epic Games is known for advertising lucrative ‘package deals’ that include special items avid gamers will want to have. For gamers playing Rocket League, the temptation to purchase is always present, especially if they play alongside other gamers who have bought premium items.
Top Tips for keeping the young gamer in your home safe
Get involved! Don’t be afraid to make your own account and play Rocket League to see how it works and understand what the child in your care is playing. You could even ask to play with your child. For an easy playing experience without the multiplayer pressure, try playing 1v1 or get involved in a casual game!
When communicating with your child during gameplay, try using phrases like “When will your match be done?” or giving them a time frame for when you need them to be finished (i.e. 10 minutes, 5 minutes, etc.) to avoid tantrums or ignorance.
Explain good sportsmanship to your child and why they should never speak rudely to another player in a game. If necessary, remind them that the main point of videogames like Rocket League is to have fun. Encourage resilience by using phrases like ‘Good Game!’ or actions like high fives, regardless of the game’s outcome.
There is live, unmoderated text chat that happens between players. Show children in your care how to mute their chat settings and report problematic players. This will help make the environment safer for your child, as well as prevent strangers from contacting them.
Advise children to never share any personal information with other players, even friends, like their phone number, real name, address, school, or any club names they attend.
Epic Games earned $840 million USD (just over £637 million) through in-game stores during 2021, up 20% from the previous year. Make sure children in your care know to ask for your permission before purchasing anything while gaming. Suggest using pocket money as a way for them to learn the value of money.