By his own count, Cloud9′s Mariano “Squishy Muffinz” Arruda has logged around 10,500 hours in Rocket League, with almost half that time in training, trying out new moves.

“Rocket League is probably one of the hardest games in the world to master," Arruda, 18, told The Washington Post. “I still have so much to learn in this game, and that’s what I love about it."

While he may still consider himself a student, Arruda — better known by the abbreviated handle “Squishy” — has pulled off some of the most amazing maneuvers the game’s esports scene has witnessed. His team regularly finishes near the top of tournament brackets, winning the Rocket League Championship Series season six finals last year. Arruda has made a career from the game and gained more than 530,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel, where he uploads instructional gameplay montages.

A week before the start of RLCS season eight, The Post tapped into Squishy’s rock-solid understanding of the game’s mechanics to help aspiring players emulate his moves.

Practice with training packs. A lot.

Arruda said any serious Rocket League player should spend 30 minutes to an hour training in free-play mode before starting their first match.

“A lot of pros would say the same,” he added. “A lot of their time is in free play.”

When he was starting out, Arruda said he only practiced in free play because he didn’t have an Internet connection to compete against others. Now, players can utilize all the training packs from Rocket League — and countless more from the community — to hone specific skills or run set plays.

Arruda’s recommendation: Make the most of it.

Use time in training to focus on controlling the ball in the air and winning it off nearby walls, Arruda said. Fancier moves, such as the “musty flip,” are fun to master and well-received on the community hubs such as the Rocket League subreddit, but remember there are no style points in competitive matches.

“You can’t be going for unnecessarily flashy stuff if it’s not going to be useful," Arruda said.

Work on different skills in different modes

Once you’re ready for a match, take a moment to mull over what mode to pick — whether it’s 1v1, 2v2 or a traditional 3v3 match.

One-on-one games allow for more opportunities to practice dribbling and ball control. By nature, the matches are a series of 50-50 matchups, and those situations prepare players for the rare occasions when you find yourself with just one defender to beat in a traditional match.

Meanwhile, 2v2 matches help players mitigate risk, Arruda said. One fewer player on the field forces you to play more conservatively on the ball, helping you build up a better instinct for when to challenge the ball and when to drop back.

And finally, in a 3v3 match, you’ll want to practice rotating off the ball with teammates. Arruda said two of the most important details to team play are spacing and anticipating the next touch on the ball.

“It all comes down to being able to read the game,” he added.

On defense, control the ball; don’t clear it

When you’re on defense, always dribble or pass the ball out of your half of the pitch.

Players can develop bad habits by simply clearing the ball for their opponents to control and bring back. In short, you’ll create a “ping-pong” effect where you have few opportunities for a clear shot on goal. As in many sports, possession is key.

Once you get possession, there are a few ways to put the opposing team on its heels, Arruda said. Take their boost from the back corners and, after that, get the ball in the air to force players to challenge the ball on their heels.

“You’re pretty much just trying to put them in a position where they’re going to second-guess their decisions every time,” Arruda explained.

Watch the tape

Excelling at Rocket League starts with incremental improvements. Arruda does not recommend using your recent match record as an indication that you’re getting “better.” Ranked matches will always place you against progressively better players if you’re winning, or worse players if you’re losing, so using your record can be a bit flawed.

Save a match on your console and watch the tape a month or so later. That way, you’ll be able to see how much you have improved over time. Replays also help show the flow of the game. Use the perspective to your advantage, Arruda said. Watch when you’ve been scored on and why. Try to find trends or gaps in your defense. Often, teams are exposing the same mistake for most of their goals.

“The thing about pro-level gameplay is you have maybe one to two seconds max with the ball," Arruda said. "So you have to do something within that time period.”

Professional play in RLCS matches has become a series of “mind games on mind games,” Arruda said, with players feinting off the ball to expose the defense. As soon as you hesitate, it becomes an opportunity for a goal. The best advice Arruda has is to be decisive and fully commit when you’re challenging a ball.

“You just got to trust your instinct,” Arruda said. “There is no time to hesitate in this game. You have to be going, like, full speed almost the entire time.”

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