Rocket League Defender Guide by Moose
Why bother with defense?
If you often feel like the games you’re playing lack control and goals are constantly being scored, you’re probably a beginner and no one is properly defending. If you’re losing dramatically, odds are the other teams defense is significantly stronger than yours.
By having a strong defense, you lower the chance of runaway scoring, you demoralize the opponent, and you can capitalize on mistakes for your own scoring opportunities.
A good defense is the first step in forming some sort of coherent team that will be able to play effectively and win more often than lose.
Goalie vs Defender
So you want to be a goalie. Good for you. You envision yourself stopping shot after shot, and being the hero of your team. When you finally win 3-0, it will all be because of your efforts, and you will easily climb ranking into All-Star territory! Right?
No. There should never* be a full time, between the posts, camping goalie. You’re wasting so much time whenever the ball isn’t near your net. Any time there’s not a ball screaming towards your net, your team is effectively down a player. You will probably make more saves that way, but you won’t be helping your team.
So what do you do instead?
You get out of that net, and play a proper defense. That means clearing the ball and then immediately following it out. You want to almost always be the closest person to your net, but you want to be in position to receive passes and take shots at the opponents net. Typically positioning yourself in the center of the field when the ball is in the opponents half is a good start.
This means you need to have situational awareness. You need to notice when your teammates have proper control of the ball, and when they might lose possession. The only time a “between the post” camping goaltender has the advantage is when dealing with random flyballs that go straight at your net. You need to be able to recognize when one might be coming, and get yourself back into the net to deal with them.
When you master situational awareness, you will be a much better contributor to your team than someone who camps between the posts, and you will win more games to boot.
*The only time camping between the posts CAN be more useful is in a very even 4v4 game, and if you’re in a very defensive last minute “hold the lead” position.
General Defensive Strategy
Boost is your friend
You need to always be keeping your boost filled up. This applies to all positions, but playing defense especially. You will regularly be required to quickly boost forward to take shots, and then immediately and quickly boost all the way back to net if it’s turned over. If you clear the ball, take a moment to go to one of the side boost orbs and fill up. You’ll need it later.
First and foremost: if you’re the closest player to the ball, go for it. Never turn around and go to your net. I have seen this many times, and the majority of the time it ends in a goal scored. If there’s no competition for the ball on the kickoff, a competent player WILL shoot at your net, it WILL be in a hard corner to save, and you will NOT be ready to receive it.
If you’re not the closest person, feel free to head towards the net for the occasional ball that flies straight at your net at kickoff. Pick up a boost or two on your way, so you should be at around 50%, which is plenty to make a save. If it’s a standard kickoff and the ball goes anywhere other than your net, continue onto the general defending strategy.
Saves vs Clears
Let’s be honest for a second: saves are awesome. They’re a counted stat, and nothing feels better than denying 6, 8, even 10 shots on goal in a game. You’re the reason the 3-0 game wasn’t a 3-10 blowout. You’re awesome.
The problem is, saves are by their very nature harder to make than clears. Someone has lined up a perfect shot on net, you have exactly one place to be and you need to be there at a very specific time or everything’s going to go south. Instead of that, if at any point you get the opportunity to clear the ball from your entire half of the field, you’ve saved yourself a later shot on goal. Clearing the ball is saving shots on net before they even happen.
The game provides you with some conveniently colored areas that your job is to keep the ball out of at all costs.
Now that doesn’t mean you have to be in that area. There’s the whole field. Your job is to keep the ball pointed at their net, and you can do that from anywhere. Just be the first one back in that box when it does get past your team, and you’ll be fine.
Playing the Body
Playing the body means ramming an opponent. There are two forms: there are destructions which you need to boost in a straight line to achieve, and then there’s simply bumping an opponent.
Generally: Don’t go out of your way to make destructions.
Playing the body is a strategy that can work or can backfire horribly. I rarely recommend trying to destroy a player, but if the cost of you going out of your way to destroy someone as you rush back is small, then it can be worth bumping into someone and destroying them. Do not go flying around the field trying to destroy someone, because it can usually be avoided. If it’s avoided, you will be wildly out of position and nowhere near the net. Then the net is your teammates responsibility while you’re working on getting back to net. Destructions are occasionally helpful, but as a general rule you should avoid trying to make them.
Play the ball, then play the player.
What do I mean? If you can hit the ball, just hit the ball. It’s easier because the ball is gigantic, and if you miss you’re usually less out of position. Plus this gives your team the advantage; they have possession of the ball and it’s moving in the direction you want it to. There are, however, times when you don’t want to hit the ball, for example if you’re (unfortunately) on the other side of the ball heading back to your net, if a teammate has a better shot, or if the ball is already going towards the opponents net and you can’t reach it but an opponent can.
In these cases it can be useful to knock a player off the ball. In this case the risks are much lower, you don’t need to be going very fast to get them out of control. A gentle tap sends people flying way more than you would expect.
As a rule you need to be aware of why you’re trying to ram a player and be sure that it is the best option for you and your team.
Types of Clears
So we’ve established you want to clear the ball way more than anything else. How do you recognize an opportunity to clear, and when should you do them?
In general, boot the ball towards the enemy net, ask questions later.
If you have time to line up a shot, by all means do so. [See: Offensive Opportunities] More often than not however, you’ll be alone behind the half line with an opponent beelining for the ball, one setting up to receive a rebound, and all in all you’re just in a bad position. This is a great time to clear it to their end, let your teammates spin around, and get ready to knock in a rebound yourself. A few notable exceptions to my “kick the ball in the general direction of the enemy net are:
If the ball is coming in parallel to the front of net (from the corner)
Clear it back the way it came. It will roll along the wall, and rarely are opponents set up for them. In addition to that, balls that come in from that direction are some of the most dangerous if they get in front of the net, as they’re moving slow and have a very short distance to close before they get in. In addition, a small amount will come in from the corner at such an angle that they’ll just roll right in.
If you’re ever behind the opponent while they rush your net with the ball.
In these cases it’s best to just get the ball out of your opponents possession. Knock the ball into your corner, or if you are COMPLETELY out of options knock the ball above the net, and then get into net and ready to make a save if your teammates can’t follow up.
Making the Save
You couldn’t clear it in time, a shot is about to be made. Now what?
Well get between the ball and the net. Obviously.
If the ball is coming straight at the net: you want to be slightly inside the net to give yourself more time to react. Remember: the goal isn’t scored unless it’s all the way in. Don’t camp at the back of the net, but give yourself an extra few feet so you can push OUT rather than in. The most important thing is to not panic, and having that extra few milliseconds of space can often mean the difference between a goal and a save.
Sidenote: be aware that if you do this you are vulnerable to “tip ins” by opponents coming in from the sides. Always be aware of where your opponents are, and if you need to get out of the net to keep another opponent from interacting with the ball, do so.
If the ball is coming in from a steep angle to either side: orient your car in that direction and stay OUT of the net. The main reason for this is you want it to bounce off your car outward, and it’s easy to have the ball bounce in your net if you’re not careful. Better to eliminate that possibility. This also helps deal with cross passes, where you can intercept passes and knock them towards the enemy net.
How to hit the ball
Most ground based saves should be done just boosting at the ball and hitting it away. Unless there’s an opponent directly on the other side of the ball, they can go very far into the opponents side of the field.
When you need to get in the air, your best options is always front flips. (That is when you jump and then jump again while holding forward.) They have a good amount of power behind them, especially if you just boosted. They also give you a lot of control, and you will often clear it well past half field from net. These are also great opportunities on easier saves to aim straight for the enemy net and hope for the best.
In order to cover last stretch of the top of the net you should know how to do basic aerials. They don’t need to be anything fancy and you CAN get by without them, but if the ball is coming in high, it’s helpful to stop the ball before it’s too late.
As a defender you are presented with offensive opportunities all the time if you position yourself appropriately. Any time the ball is rolling on the ground towards your net is a fantastic opportunity to take a shot at the net instead of just clearing the ball.
As mentioned earlier, you should always have boost because you’ll regularly notice the ball going towards an empty net with no one to capitalize on it and you’re way back at the halfway point. You need to see this coming and be ready to boost into action.
Keep your eyes open for holes in the opponents defense, and you’ll be given ample opportunities to get the ball in the net. One thing to remember is if your opportunity gets blocked to quickly get back into a defensive position, between the ball and your net, and be ready to try again later.
Playing to Improve
So you’re starting out as a defender and doing pretty well. What can you improve on?
First of all learning how to aerial successfully is the difference between a defender who can stop most shots on goal, and one who could theoretically stop all shots on goal unless they make a mistake. I definitely recommend grinding through the trainings for aerials, and eventually you’ll be able to make saves you didn’t think were possible.
Aerials also help making successful offensive plays, but be warned: if you miss an aerial (either by missing the ball, or missing the shot on net) you will be very out of position. Plan for that accordingly.
Beyond that, learning situational awareness is a skill that never stops being developed upon. Realize when you made a mistake, realize what you could have done better, and you will be a stronger player.
Always come out of a game whether you win or lose with the attitude that it could have been better.
Summation and Extras
Using this guide should get you on the road to playing effectively as a defender. If you have any questions about anything not specifically mentioned in this guide, feel free to drop a comment. I’ll get back to them. As a disclaimer, I’m not a “world pro” or anything, I’m just giving some advice based on my experiences thus far playing defense.Other Rocket League Articles
Rocket League Ground Dribbling and Flicks Guide
Rocket League Climbing Solo Standard Guide
Rocket League Air Dribble Guide
Rocket League Freeplay Training Guide
Rocket League Tips
Rocket League Watching Replays Guide
Rocket League Who to Go for the Ball Guide
Rocket League Awards and Points Guide
Rocket League 3v3 Beginner’s Guide
Rocket League Defender Guide
Rocket League Boost Management Guide
Rocket League Trusting Teammates and Patience Guide
Rocket League Vehicle Hit Boxes Guide
Rocket League Basic Aerial In-Depth Guide
Rocket League Backwards and Freestyle Aerial Guide