I’m still on the fence about Quake Champions, and after several hours of playtime, I couldn’t tell you if I like it as a shooter or not.
I adore the game’s duel mode, however. It’s a one on one contest, with two players cut loose in an arena , fighting to the death. It’s simple in execution, but one of the more exciting competitive concepts I’ve seen recently. It could herald an exciting new direction for competitive FPS games, an alternate path for games that don’t fit into the same niche as semi-realistic team shooters like Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six Siege.
iD have tested their Arena mode with professional gamers throughout development, so they’re clearly putting the work in. Arena is different to the Arena mode you might have seen from earlier Quake games, and benefits from the MOBA influence that can be felt in the game’s introduction of a hero system.
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Here’s the breakdown:
The game starts with a draft phase where players pick three characters. The pick order sees one player pick a hero, before the opponent picks two heroes. Then, the first player will pick two more heroes to round out their three, and then the opponent finishes up with their final choice.
At the start of the first round, players will both pick a hero. It’s a blind pick, with both players fielding their choice without knowing what the enemy has chosen. Then, they’ll fight to the death.
Then, players will return to the selection screen, with the loser now having just two champions to pick from instead of three. Again, there’s a fight to the death, and this continues until all three of one players champions have been defeated. Depending on the rules of the tournament or match you’re playing in, the game will then end or roll into another set of duels, with players redrafting their champions.
It’s engaging to watch, although the different champions don’t have vastly different capabilities in Quake Champions. It’s still in beta, so it’s easier to forgive the omission of a few features, although a personal hope is that the Arena mode’s drafting phase adds the ability to toss out a couple of bans, denying your enemy access to champions that would counter your lineup, or in a competitive setting, to deny your opponent access to a Champion you know they have an affinity for.
Unlike the rest of Quake Champions, which feels like it’s aiming straight at a nostalgia seeking crowd, Quake Champion’s arena mode feels fresh and different. iD will be hoping that it could be a trailblazer for the idea of 1 v 1 FPS duels in esports.
The draft system adds a lot of excitement to the pregame, and switching between champions, the champions functioning as lives, means that players can’t massively snowball, afforded only the weapons and gear they can gather during each pitched battle, shut down with an errant rocket.
Quake’s battles lend themselves well to this format, too. The champions controlled by players here are hulking tanks with huge health pools, easily able to take a burst of assault rifle fire, or endure the splash from a nearby rocket hit. This means that the duels are exciting to watch, with players inflicting wounds and taking chunks out of each other’s health bars as they build to a natural crescendo.
Watch this match here, and see how the breakneck pace of Quake is tempered by the duel, and players are poking and jabbing at each other, a lethal dance that sees them plough into the enemy, inflict some damage and then escape to lick their wounds and gather supplies.
Crucially, I don’t think this is better than watching a team-based FPS, but I think it scratches a different itch and it’s an itch that isn’t being scratched by any competitive games at the moment. Personally, I’ll be hoping that the recent $1m tournament announced for Quake Champions could lead to more games embracing the concept of competitive duels, and in a couple of years we could see several other options for face offs available.