ZeniMax Media-owned id Software celebrated 20 years of QuakeCon in Dallas, TX last week. The original QuakeCon was held in 1996, when a number of gamers decided to get together in Mesquite, TX just down the street from id Software. Tim Willits, studio director at id Software, remembers getting an email from the group inviting anyone from the development studio over to the hotel for the first QuakeCon Convention.
“We came to visit and thought it was cool, and then as the years progressed it became bigger and bigger, and then eventually we started helping to manage it, and we started to take over—but it’s still volunteer-driven and volunteer-managed,” Willits said. “And that’s what makes this convention very unique from any other convention in the world.”
The convention remains focused on competition. The bring-your-own-PC LAN party has remained an important part of the convention with over 3,000 custom computers on display. And the eSports tournaments have grown with cash prizes of $50,000.
“The great thing about QuakeCon is it allows developers to talk directly to our fans,” Willits said. “One of the things for Quake Champions is that we held private playtests with the people that are competing in the Quake Live Duel Masters Tournament. They had a chance to beta test the next Quake game before anyone else in the world.”
Willits said that feedback will be important for the development team, as will having a long enough beta period.
“We want to start off small and start adding people to the closed beta because we’re going to have to change something along the way,” Willits said. “It always works like that. It’s in our DNA, and because we have QuakeCon—which is the competitive gaming Mecca—we’re in a good position.”
Willits said Quake Champions will have around a dozen champions in closed beta. “If the game is successful and people enjoy it, we’ll keep adding champions for as long as we can,” Willits said. Additionally, the team is focusing on balance with its characters. “Our philosophy with Champions is that we want to have this rock, paper, scissors concept where there’s always a counter to some ability.”
QuakeCon has always had a long history of being an eSports event even before the word eSports was invented.
“It was always about the competitions, and the sponsors, and getting on stage and being the best in front of the crowd, and winning real prize money from playing video games,” Willits said. “That’s really what eSports is, and Quake was the first, really. That will continue with Quake Champions, which we are steering directly into the eSports market. We want to be the best competitive multiplayer game out there, and we want to use QuakeCon as a launching pad for a bigger tournament. Next year, when we know more about our eSports plans and how we’re going to support tournaments and leagues, we’ll talk about that.”
Willits said id Software is looking at current eSports games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Call of Duty, but they’re not interested in following the paths of other companies.
“We are going to make the best darn Quake possible, but we are paying attention,” Willits said. “We’ve looked at the other games. There are lots of successes out there. There are lots of great things to look at, but we pioneer, and we’ve always done that. We’re going to continue that spirit, and we’re going to move forward.”
Willits said since they’re still working on publishing the eSports plan, he can’t talk specifics quite yet. But the company is exploring partnerships with established eSports leagues. One thing that bodes well for Quake Champions as an eSport is id’s focus on the PC gaming community, which honors the long tradition for the franchise.
“Quake Champions is PC-only now,” Willits said. “The speed at which we want to play and the precision level that we want to compete with the best Quake players in the world—that is the platform that we need to do. The PC platform is huge. Our focus is on making a tightly controlled and the best competitive multiplayer game we possibly can. We feel that that’s the platform to do it on, and then we’ll continue to grow and push the bounds until we need to do something else.”
It’s been 20 years since the original Quake launched, and while gamers will have to wait until 2017 for Quake Champions, the original first-person shooter has left its mark on the entire industry.
“Quake was probably one of the most influential games to what multiplayer gaming is today,” Willits said. “Most multiplayer games can trace their roots all the way back to Quake, and it’s always been that foundation of fair gameplay and fast responsive experiences. Even the client-server architecture was first developed with Quake in a multiplayer setting, so it’s those roots that run deep and it’s that spirit of the game that has really fueled the industry.”