Can Quake Champions be Quake's Champion?
Quake is primarily a 1v1, duel-based, game. Dueling games have been dying out, however, as esports has become more streamlined. Games like League of Legends and Overwatch are the new ways to have fun in the current climate. As Quake is a hardcore esports game with a loyal and hardcore fanbase, Bethesda and id Software must walk a fine line to keep Quake Champions a Quake game as well as do something new and innovative for today’s gaming market. In this article, I examine, through my experience in the beta, my--admittedly limited--Quakebackground, and my background as an esports journalist in the modern-day, whether Quake Champions has a shot at being one of the next big esports games based on its concept.
What is QUAKE?
Like I said before, Duel is essential to Quake. However, Duel, in its classic form, presents a problem to the modern fan. In the Duel that we saw in previous Quake games, two players would be placed with exactly equal characters with just a machine gun. They have the same model, the same health pool, the same movement speed, etc. The only difference is the spawn. Players attempt to get an edge on each other by picking up items scattered throughout the map, such as guns and power-ups. Important power-ups to keep in mind are Mega Health and Red Armor.
Once a player amasses a certain array of guns and has good stats, they look for a fight. In Quake, positioning and timing are absolutely critical. You don’t want to be fighting at a time and in a position that gives your opponent access to the Mega while you are open to taking damage. If you die, then your stats and guns are reset. You then return to the game, potentially within reach of your opponent, with almost nothing while your opponent could have everything he could ever need. This unpleasant scenario leads to the opponent picking up frag after frag, dominating not only on the scoreboard but also in terms of control.
The utter domination of players in Quake is both a blessing and a curse in that the best players are rewarded and it is an amazing feeling to be in control, but on the other side, it feels like there is no way back into the game. When it does happen — which it does — comebacks show just how insane that player must have been in that one moment when they turned the tables. It is important that Quake Champions holds true to the model where the best players are rewarded for how they play and not leave it up to poorly balanced champions and RNG. One of the greatest things about Quake is that it is most apparently a skill-based game. It is incredibly mechanically intensive. There are multiple aiming styles and a variety of movement tricks. Quake not only offers a way for players with the best aim to win, but more cerebral players, such as rapha, a recognizable name in Overwatch now, have been able to find success as well.
What is new in Quake Champions?
The most obvious change to Quake are the champions; it’s in the name. The thing that scared some Quake fans when the teaser trailer was released at QuakeCon was that the equal playing field would be taken away. Quake has not and cannot be a MOBA, the Quakers said. People started to throw around an analogy for how Bethesda decided to make Quake a champions game. A bunch of middle-aged men in a board room ask “What do kids like these days?” A young and in-touch game developer mentions League of Legends, Overwatch, and champions. The older men remember how Quake was a big success “or-something” and decide to reboot that but with a twist: Quake Champions.
Obviously, people who have been hoping for a true successor to Quake Live were not hoping for two buzzwords stuck together, but if done right, Quake Champions could draw in both new fans and be a game worthy of the Quake name. Optimistic Quakers may even be able to consider the special abilities for characters as a way to further promote diversity in playstyles, adding depth to the game.
Another huge change to Quake coming with Quake Champions are the rounds in Duel. There are three rounds per map, and the one to take two rounds wins the game. I cringe while saying this, but for lack of a better comparison, it’s like Overwatch. A round is won by killing the three champions that the player has selected. Champions are chosen like they are in Overwatch; there are too few champions to have a ban process like League or DOTA. A player picks one champion, and the other player picks two. The first player gets to pick his last two, and then, the second player gets to pick his final champion. There is also a map picking process, but that is not very clear because there has only been one map available in Duel.
Upon preliminary analysis, rounds would remove the skill and brutality of Quake. When thinking about how crucial and how beautiful control and domination is in Quake, I always think of Fatal1ty’s comeback v.s. AIM at QuakeCon 2002. He was down 0-8 but brought it back and finished the game 20-7. With rounds, we lose comebacks like this and skill is not rewarded as heavily. After further analysis, a Quaker might find this round system better because a truly good player has to prove their skill round to round.
Again, I must mention how Quakers will often have to sit down for a while to get over their initial reaction, as is the case with the Nail Gun. The Nail Gun is a mix of hit-scan and projectile aiming. By that, I mean that the projectiles take time to reach their target, like the Rocket Launcher, but it can be sprayed, like the Machine Gun. After seeing the first clips of gameplay, fans were disappointed that a cheap machine gun that shoots nails would be replacing the Plasma Gun, but after playing the game, some old-school players recognized that it wasn’t all too dissimilar from the Plasma Gun. Interestingly, the Rocket Jump Ninja has suggested that the nails be made red hot to make them easier to see in flight as well as making the gun more like the Plasma Gun. One thing that cannot be reconciled with any visual changes and is truly missing from Quake Champions is the Grenade Launcher, a critical weapon that has existed since the first Quake. By excluding this gun, we are missing out on a useful tool for controlling the map. The game isn’t going to be completely ruined without it, but we are missing out on something big if it isn’t included.
One thing every player entering Quake Champions will say soon after loading into a map is “Boy, this map is big.” The maps are way bigger in Quake Champions when compared to older Quake games, especially the original Quake. As a result, players who players who play to control items will not see much of the other player — or that’s how it has been in my experience at least. Myself and other players prefer the smaller maps in Quake Live to the big maps in Quake Champions, which is a knock on this new game in terms of Duel, but is preferable, in my eyes, to the clusterf*ck of a game on highly populated Deathmatch servers in Quake Live. Perhaps, this change is indicative of Bethesda’s direction for Quake Champions, an emphasis on team modes over Duel.
Quake aficionados have said that Quake is part aim, part movement, and part timing/positioning. Since the changes to timings are of little consequence, the only change left to cover is to movement. Strafe jumping and bunny hopping, two high velocity modes of travel, are still in the game. The Rocket Jump Ninja and I are in agreement in that we believe they are not only ways for the masters of movement to show off their skill and get an edge in-game, but also, they spice up the movement from what would normally be a rather boring walk from one point to another. One thing that has not been added from past Quake games is the circle jump, a difficult maneuver used to travel large distances without much of a start. A circle jump fairly similar to the Olympic standing long jump in that you don’t use a long track in order to build momentum. Personally, it doesn’t impact my game, but I don’t think it would be too much trouble for Bethesda to add. Moving on from what Bethesda neglected to add, Quakers will be happy with the retention of rocket jumping, the fastest form of travel. Despite that, rocket jumping has been a bit problematic due to delay with the rockets, but I fully expect that to be fixed well before launch.
One important thing to consider in terms of movement and stats when playing Quake Champions is that they are different for different champions. Many have already complained about how they needed to play a champion with a low health pool in order to gain the speed that they were accustomed to in Quake Live. The issue being that Quake is supposed to be a fast paced game and that they are sacrificing something in order to get that. If Bethesda were to increase every champion’s movement speed, that would make champions like Anarki much too fast. As you can see, Bethesda is in a bit of a pickle and has been doomed in this respect since the beginning.
Can Quake Champions be an esports game?
Short answer: I don’t know. It is way too early to tell. The NDA has only just recently been lifted. Only one map has been available for Duel and only three maps for Deathmatch. The game has many bugs, which make it hard to analyze a game that should have them fixed come launch. Besides all of that, I do think that it has the potential to be an esports game. Can’t say that it will be the biggest, but it has the potential to be a big esports game. What Bethesda needs to do in order to make this an esports game are three main things: fix the bugs, make sure it is balanced, and foster esports. In years past, it was enough to make a game and let it go, but that won’t cut it in gaming today. Developers need to regularly update the game with new skins, maps, and fixes. Plus, developers need to put on tournaments and be a leading force within their esport. Even though people criticize Valve for not listening or doing anything, in reality, Valve ban hackers, update the game (including porting the game to a new engine for free), and financially support esports. Given the amount of backlash to Valve and how Quake is pretty much coming into the esports scene as a new entity, Bethesda will need to do better than Valve in terms of supporting the game and esports in order for Quake to be a big esports game. And by choosing to make a new Quake with the financial model they have chosen, I would wager that it is their intention right now to foster their game and esports in one way or another. If they don’t do anything and launch the game pretty much as is, I don’t need to tell you how big of a failure that’s going to be.
Is it Quake?
The million dollar question seems to be “Is it Quake?” And my answer to that would be yes — well, probably yes. I haven’t seen very much of pro players playing the game, so I can’t make a determination on whether or not they will break the game. However, pros should be streaming their gameplay once the NDA is lifted*, so that should provide an early determination on the balance of Quake and its champions. In my experience, it does seem to be a Quake game. The only problem with it conceptually is the idea of champions, but competitive esports, like League of Legends, are completely dependent on champions. Just because it isn’t exactly the same as Quake Live doesn’t mean it isn’t a Quake game. It’s important to give this game a shot and not dismiss it out of concept alone.
Photo Credit: Gamespot
Editor’s Note: The NDA has since been lifted and old Quake pros have, in fact, been streaming the game.
Follow the author for more on Twitter at @Bleda412.