Rocket League and root cause misattribution

2 minutes to read

Last Thursday, I was playing a video game I like called Rocket League.

Now I’m terrible at Rocket League. When I first started playing, I was automatically placed into the competitive tier somewhere between “toddler” and “arthritic senior”.

However, I do somewhat diligently try to get better. Recently, I’ve found that my biggest problem is that I just can’t make the sort of finesse plays that my opponents can. The shots that I needed to make were just a little bit harder than what I was capable of making reliably. I’d miss often, get scored on, and lose about as many games as I won.

I did some of the drills that the game offers in order to improve these skills, but the learning curve is steep and I found progress to be glacial.

Before cozying into my recliner on Thursday to start playing, I happened across a video called The Rotation Mistakes of Every Rank in Rocket League. My main takeaway from the video was that many people at my skill level (gold) just try to chase the ball around like a bunch of overzealous schoolkids rather than giving their teammates some space. This puts them too close to the ball to play well and removes their ability to defend their goal

In the next few games, I tried to stay further away from the ball and noticed an immediate improvement in what I was able to contribute. Instead of having to make finesse plays in tight spaces crowded with teammates and opponents, I had plenty of time and space to make easy shots because no one was near me.

What I had initially read as “get better at making tricky plays” was actually “position yourself better so that you don’t have to make tricky plays”.

A Rocket League fable

My main point here is that root cause misattribution is really easy. What can feel like dead obvious problems - being tight on money, or dinner taking too long to make at home, or having too much of your time occupied by code reviews - can all be second order effects of more distant problems.

Often, it’s tempting to think that the only way to address a problem is by fixing its most proximal manifestation - in the Rocket League case, I figured that I needed to just get better at making tough shots.

However, it’s often easier to make a small amount of progress on a more distant problem than significant progress on a proximal one. The reason that an effective coach can be great is that someone with more distance and experience than you can watch you work and look for these deeper problems.

It can definitely be worth the time to put yourself in reverse, get some distance, and see if you’re missing something important on the field.

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