It’s no secret that Quake Champions had a rough start. The original Early Access release was rife with netcode woes and community complaints of imbalanced titular champions. A lot has changed in the past year to bring Quake Champions closer to the satisfying tremors of its namesake.
“We have the unique position where we open the gate on the first day, people can play the very latest version of the game, which was really in its infant state,” recalls community manager Joshua Boyle in a QuakeCon 2018 roundtable discussion.
“We already have a core player base that demands a lot of things because they want every single game of Quake they’ve ever played, no matter which iteration they came in on to be perfect in this one. Of course, that took some time to get to a place where we felt comfortable and everybody felt happy through all the feedback we got. Through that whole time, we were already starting to build the esports scene back up from nothing.
“We had to get the game right for them [competitive players]. A year ago, netcode started out to be a word that wasn’t great for us because we’d just opened the gate and turned the switches on and went, ‘Oh, okay, that’s a lot of data. How do we fix all this?’ We’ve finally got a year later where that’s not even a word that’s mentioned anymore.”
For id Software, though, it’s not just about balancing from the top, as competitive shooters like Counter-Strike and Rainbow Six Siege do. It’s a kind of aspirational balancing move designed to incentivise greener players to lift to the changes necessitated at the highest skill level. Instead, Quake Champions tries to strike a middle ground between balancing for the competitive scene and new players.
“You’ve got all the balance and things that make the pro players and the semi-pro players happy,” says Boyle. “But then there’s the other half – the more important half – with the free-to-play being open which was, ‘How do we introduce new players to this game? How do we have enough in the tutorial, where they have a safe space with bots, enough where they can understand what an arena first-person shooter game is in 2018 when that doesn’t exist anymore?’
“It was really those two halves of making both of those parties happy and making us happy and comfortable enough where we can say, ‘Everybody come in.’ We’re still in Early Access because it’s like, crawl to walk before we sprint, we’ll do that phase: the walk to sprint. That’s where we are now.”
Despite the presence of new blood in general and on the competitive scene, it seems the old-school Quake players have the loudest voices when it comes to requests. “The most popular [request], both from competitive and even from the mid-tier people that have played previous Quakes, is capture the flag,” says Boyle. “CTF has always been a staple of competitive teamplay. Even though it’s always been in our plans and our pipeline, it was a little bit further down than basically right now.
“Honestly, since we’ve added 2v2 as an esport, as a competitive ranked mode, I think they’re starting to realise, ‘Oh, man, if only we just had two more [players] and then the objective wasn’t single flag based, really back to the traditional two flags, two different bases, you have to have your flag to score off the other team’s flag.’
“We just moved it super up [in the pipeline] and were just agile enough to say, ‘We’ve got the public test server (PTS), we spin something up that’s not polished, that’s not got all of the things that a new player needs like the UI and the points of interest and where the flags are, and we respect our community enough that we want to do all the things you want to do.’
“We’ll just push that through to development enough where we can put it in PTS, let people play with it, let them break it, give us our feedback. No-one’s ever played a Quake game with champions that have different stats, different abilities, different speeds, adding two objectives, and in an objective-mode CTF. We’re going to do it early in PTS and see what people think.”
In other instances, it’s trickier to tell whether the loudest community requests are serious or whether they’re trolling.
“Orb – the eyeball character who is basically running on his hands, he’s got a rocket on the top of his eyeball – people are like, ‘Orb, when?’” explains Boyle. “I don’t even know if it’s serious. It’s been happening for so long, but part of that, too, is the sound that Orb had and the sound that Bones had was so triggering for some people in Quake Live that sometimes people just picked them to trigger other people so it’s another game. Nothing is off the map.”
And id is serious about Quake Champions‘ viability as an esport, recently toying around with the notion of leaning into the MOBA-like composition of its asymmetrical champions, which promises to bring an element of pre-match strategy to the competitive scene.
“We’re actually introducing pick/bans,” says Boyle. “Of course, we had the internal discussion on, ‘Should we do this?’ Ultimately, it’s really just been a great thing because that’s another meta, too. Whether you’re denying a certain player their favourite champion or the one they’re best at, or whether you’re just saying I really think that there’s something about this one champion that, ‘Okay, my personal opinion is that I wanted it balanced this way, but right now it’s this way,’ you can just cancel that completely.
“Or you can even pick someone that you know they’re not going to pick to say, it doesn’t matter who you play. That’s another mind game and another layer you can add on in the competitive part of it.”
The pick/ban phase should help to smooth out the more predictable uses of overpowered champions on the competitive scene. But, ultimately, if Quake Champions is to find greater success, it has to find appeal among modern shooter fans if it doesn’t want to run the risk of going the way of Lawbreakers and other recent attempts at rebirthing the arena shooter.