Quake Champions: Hot Takes From the Pros


By Andrew Hayward

The legendary shooter is back with a twist, but what do the world's best players think?

With Quake Champions, id Software's venerable first-person shooter is back in action with its first completely new entry in more than a decade. But while the heart of Quake remains tried and true, with incredibly fast, arena-style gunplay, it has been augmented with modern twists for a potentially new generation of fans.

It's a free-to-play game, for example — or will be next year, once the current paid early access period concludes. And it adds differentiated champion characters, as the title suggests, each with its own unique stats and special abilities. That's a pretty significant change to a game in which player models have always acted identically, even if they looked different.

With the game's launch has come a renewed interest in competitive Quake, and as we saw with the Quake World Championships at QuakeCon last month, there's a lot of money on the line as id Software tries to plant its flag in the modern esports scene. But what do the longtime, battle-hardened Quake pros really think of Quake Champions' tweaks? At QuakeCon, we asked several players what they truly liked about the game, and what they hope changes before long.

The champions add depth

Quake players are a traditionally hardcore sort, and over the course of a few entries and more than two decades, you might think that they'd resist the kind of significant change offered by these ability-toting champions. But it's mostly the opposite: nearly all the players we spoke with were pretty positive about the various playable characters.

"I really like the champions system—it's pretty fun. It's a new thing to the game, because in past Quakes, all players were equal and they had no abilities. It was a level playground for everyone," said Kryštof "Krysa" Černý, player for The Defendants. "But now with the champions, there's a new element to the game which makes it more fun and even more interesting to the spectators at well."

Kyle "SilenceP" Mooren of Team 2Z, who won the Sacrifice tournament at QuakeCon and netted $300,000 in the process, was even more positive about the variety of play styles offered by the champions. "I find it amazing. You have so many styles, and so many compositions you can think of," he asserted. "You can be a bit creative in Quake Champions."

His 2Z teammate, Nikita "Clawz" Marchinsky—who also won the Duel tournament soon after—affirmed that perspective, and said it opens up the game in a way that the very old-school Quake Live (an updated version of 1999's Quake III Arena) just can't match. "There are a lot more situations that you can generate than in Quake Live, and you basically have more styles to abuse," he said. "If you're smarter than your opponent, then you can get out of any situation."

Anton "Cooller" Singov, the Natus Vincere player who finished third in the Duel tournament, particularly enjoys how the active abilities (or "ultimates," as he calls them) really amplify the strategy in Quake Champions. "It makes the game pretty interesting and unpredictable," he said. "It's not that you just run and control the map—you always have to think about who you play against in games of Champions, and you have to analyze what kind of stats he has and what kind of ultimate, and how he's supposed to use it."

Champions empower players, too

The Defendants player James "2GD" Harding, who has been competing in one version of Quake or another for nearly two decades now, believes that Quake Champions smartly represents the history of the series via different character play styles. That ensures that any fan of the series from any past version should find a good fit.

"There's a lot of fun mechanics in all the different Quakes—and they've added those mechanics back in on different champions," 2GD suggested. "So no one's left out if you've had a favorite Quake and a play style. You'll find a champion for you." He said that the speedy Slash plays like a Quake 4 champion, while Nyx is more like a player from Quake III Arena, albeit with less health and armor, not to mention an incredibly powerful invisibility skill.

"It's the game that you can inject most of your personality into as a pro gamer," said 2GD about Quake. "You could remove all the names of the people playing onstage, the overlays, and hide them behind the stage, and I could probably sit there and go, 'OK, that's Cooller because he plays like this, that's Toxjq because he plays like this, that's Rapha because he plays like this.' There's not many games where you can identify somebody in-game so well from their personality outside the game, so it's amazing for that."

And in his view, Quake Champions takes that even further thanks to the individual champions. "For some of the players, it actually embellishes their style. Someone who plays very slow and sneaky, and railgun-heavy like Stermy loves a character like Nyx, because it has an ability that helps you do that better."

But balance is a concern

When we spoke with studio head Tim Willits during QuakeCon, he told us that he believed Quake Champions didn't have a pro meta that favored certain champions, and that he saw it as a sign of a job well done. "No, there has not been any meta, which has been pretty awesome," he said."[That] means we did it, we balanced it well."

However, some of the pro players we spoke with disagreed with that assertion, and believe that there's still work to be done in the game. For example, Team 2Z told us they used the same champion lineup throughout the Sacrifice tournament with only a single exception.

"We play basically only one champion composition because we think it's the best right now. I'm switching the one hero on the specific map, Lockbox, but on all other maps, we are using the same heroes," explained 2Z's Dmytro "Xron" Sakharuk. "We were practicing this exact composition, but most teams were using this composition, so it wasn't mind games or something. Everyone knew who we would play as."

For player 2GD, champions are all well and good until an imbalance gives certain players a proper advantage in competition—or effectively forces everyone to make the same picks. "Sometimes when I watch these players play, I feel like, 'OK, this is the danger of the champions'" he said. He suggested that air control characters had an advantage in the game as of QuakeCon, and that players who were traditionally skilled with that ability in past games gained an edge in Quake Champions because of that.

"One of the players that's in the finals… is one of the best in the world at that. Those champions do happen to be the most powerful right now in Duel, and he's made it to the finals. And if they weren't as powerful, he might not have made it to the finals," said 2GD, without naming the player in question. "I prefer that the player make it to the finals, rather than sometimes the optimum champions. But if [id Software] can balance them perfectly, then sure—but that's a hell of a hard thing to do."

Since Quake Champions is out in early access, there's sure to be plenty of balancing ahead before the wider free-to-play release. But another option could be a ban/pick system like we see in hero-centric MOBAs. Multiple players suggested such a route, and Team 2Z's Xron said it would be a "really fun" addition to the competition.

Sacrifice is a great challenge

Quake Champions' new Sacrifice team mode had its big coming-out party at QuakeCon, as the four-man teams battled it out for a massive prize pool of $660,000 for that mode alone.

Sacrifice provides a new kind of challenge to Quake players. Each team must try to take control of the single soul on the map and then bring it back to an obelisk, at which point they'll need to frantically defend that spot until their meter fills to 100%. It's not team deathmatch, and it requires quite a bit of strategy and intense collaboration for success. And the teams seem eager to meet its challenge head-on.

"I personally enjoy Sacrifice. It's a very hard team mode, and we are having a lot of fun playing it," said Xron. "I think it's mostly because it's something new and we're still learning. And with new patches, the game will always become different, and we have a lot of stuff to learn and improve. That's why it's fun."

His teammate SilenceP chimed in, "Sacrifice is, for me, the hardest team mode I've ever played. It's always changing and it's so fast—there are so many things [happening], and that keeps it really interesting."

While the pros like playing Sacrifice, they concede that it can be difficult to track all of the chaos from the outside looking in. Even id's Willits admitted that it's tougher to follow, but suggested that the benefits of having a unique team mode were significant. Still, Krysa said that some improvements are needed: "It's great fun to play, but I know for spectators, it's a bit hard to follow because it's really fast. Even for the casters, it's quite difficult to catch up with what is happening in the game."

Quake is back

Other pro player requests ran the gamut, but most seem like things that can be resolved by the time the game exits early access. They want new maps and champions, both of which have been promised by id Software, as well as bug fixes and performance enhancements for Sacrifice, which can suffer with eight players frantically blasting away at each other.

But for the most part, players seem excited that there's a completely new Quake game, that it's coaxing the long-running competitive scene into the spotlight again, and that it has the potential to bring new players info the fold. For some of the old-timers who have competed in Quake since the late '90s, this has been a long time coming.

"We were happy that something released that's Quake, of course, and we started to train. We started to understand some things and how it needs to be played—it's a different style, with different metas, and so on and so on," said Team 2Z's Alexander "Latrommi" Dolgov, following teammate SilenceP's assertion that the game had a "rough start" at first. Latrommi added, "In more months, we [came to] really like this game, so we'll for sure never turn back to Quake Live or Quake III, because we got used to Quake Champions."

Meanwhile, 2GD suggests that while not all players love the addition of the champions, their benefits for the good of Quake and its competitive scene outweigh the drawbacks.

"People are still mixed about [champions], but if the new players enjoy champions, that's always something that we're quite happy for as old players of the Quake franchise," said 2GD. "Obviously, it's nice to see new players coming into the game and learning about what we've loved to play from years ago."


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