Quake is dead, long live Quake
RadoN’s thousand is a series of articles in which I share my take on an esports topic of my choosing in about a thousand words. This entry focuses on id Software’s latest title, Quake Champions.
This year's QuakeCon was the first not to feature Quake Live on stage since its introduction in 2008. Initially developed as a web-based game, despite the multitude of adjustments, was an obvious remake of id software's 1999 hit, Quake 3 Arena. In that way, QL is the perfect representation of what the series had been throughout its iterations, until recently. It utilized the free to play monetization model that had been growing in popularity and a web-based client. This made the game easy to access from anywhere across the globe. Yet, despite the considerable amount of fine-tuning from the developers' side, most casual fans viewed it as a slightly modernized rerelease of an older game. Excluding the additions of Railgun and crouch slide, the vast majority of gamers viewed Quake as a very similar game throughout its five prior iterations.
This legacy has come to an end with id's latest addition to the series. Quake Champions, despite very much belonging to the subgenre of arena shooters, took a turn to become something different. Rather than just remake Quake utilizing modern-day tools and technology, the Tim Willits-led id also introduced to the series contemporary design ideas. Taking a page out of the book of the popular DotA-style games and Blizzard's hit FPS, Overwatch, id introduced to their new title customized characters. The heroes, called Champions, have a number of custom features: hitboxes, starting and maximum health and armor stats, differentiating acceleration rate and maximum speed, as well as an ability on a cooldown of various lengths and features. Additionally, each of the champions features one of the movement mechanics seen in the previous Quake games, or in some cases completely new ones.
When this news was announced, the community interested in the game was largely split between three camps. The optimists expected the same old gameplay, enhanced by the addition of more options and decisions to make. The cynics thought id is simply riding the coattails of the latest fad in gaming, hoping to make a quick buck based on that and their IP's name value. And there were the pessimists, guessing the game will land somewhere between what new and old fans are looking for, but succeed in appealing to neither, only to fade away into the large pool of failed multiplayer-only titles that are being released these days.
In reality, each of the groups got it right to a varying degree. The addition of customized characters indeed added another layer of strategical and tactical depth to the game. However, the game has also been streamlined in other areas. One's ability to stack health and armor over the set limits has been halved and the speed at which the values degrade when over said cap has been increased. This has lead to a diminished importance for the big items, Megahealth and Heavy (formerly Red) Armor. Combined with the increased damage output and lower max stacks, even for the tankiest champions, it has also resulted in lower times to kill, but better ability to recover when out of control at low stack.
The simplification of items' respawn times and their lessened effectiveness has lowered the skill ceiling when it comes to map control and thus put more emphasis on execution during fights. The changes have made watching duels without a doubt more of an exciting experience, as strangling out an out of control opponent nigh on impossible. When a player has the post-fight stack advantage in Quake Champions, more often than not they need to press it further and chase for the kill. Otherwise, the wounded opponent is presented with a much easier opportunity to recuperate and challenge the player in control sooner rather than later, compared to previous Quake versions. And while viewing experience may have improved when it comes to action-packed gameplay, the game is less cerebral, and for some -- particularly for old-school players -- less attractive to play. Watching players run around for minutes, waiting for the proper moment to set up an ambush, challenge, or pull the trigger may not be as exciting to watch on stream, but it is definitely one of the most engaging moments, when it comes to playing duels in any arena shooter. In Quake Champions, the moments that make one's mind race are few and far between, especially compared to its predecessors.
However, if id's plan was to exchange some of those veterans for newcomers, it has been successful ... to a degree. As evident by the multitude a threads with questions from newbies on online various forums, Quake Champions putting a modern-day design twists and simplifying the core gameplay loop has succeeded in pulling new players. As far as number of players go, the game has also been a relative success, albeit not as big as the studio would like. With its peak of of daily concurrent players ranging between 1600 and 2000, it is by far the most active arena shooter on steam, which doesn't account for the number of users who've chosen to continue using the free-to-play option on bethesda's launcher. Without the limitation of comparing it to other games within the AFPS genre, the numbers are nowhere near as impressive. However, looking past last year's commercial successes of Overwatch and Paladins, Quake Champions tops the playerbase of a number of relatively new hero shooter releases. Some of the most recent examples being Cliffy B's Lawbreakers and the colorful Gigantic. On top of that, this year's QuakeCon viewership, peaking at just about 20,000 viewers, has been a considerable improvement on last year's.
The game is a big fish in the extremely small pond that is the arena shooters genre and there's no other way to think about it. The question is though, how much does this progress satisfy Bethesda and at what point does id's parent company pull the plug, if the growth doesn't justify the game's esports marketing budget?
Whether Quake Champions will build on its current accomplishments, or follow down Painkiller's esports path of an overpaid marketing exercise is hard to predict. If the game is to become a success story or even maintain an active playerbase of a similar size, id will have to do a lot of work as the game's current state has raised a lot of complaints, from casual and hardcore players alike. What is clear, however, is that, despite the graphical facelift and the multitude of gameplay changes that bring it in line with what the current generations of gamers favor, down in its core, Quake Champions is still very much a Quake game.
Photo credits: Bethesda Softworks, ESL.
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! I’ve been following different games within the esports industry ever since finding out about it in 2009. The titles that I follow closely for the time being are Overwatch, CS:GO and Quake, while occasionally dabbling in some other games as well. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports and gaming, you can find me on twitter at @RadoNonfire.