The original Quake wasn’t designed for esports when it took the PC gaming world by storm in the ’90s. In fact, the term didn’t even exist yet, and id Software’s studio director Tim Willits, who has been around since the dawn of Quake, is still surprised by how it grew into a model for esports today.

Tim Willits, studio director at id Software

“I’ve worked on every Quake and I can tell you honestly we never thought that competitive gaming would be like it is today,” Willits told AListDaily. “It’s unbelievable. From the early days of Quake 1, clan play and tournaments naturally happened as people wanted to see who the best players were. Even QuakeCon wasn’t our idea. I’ve watched as Quake tournaments grew from 32 people in a hotel to filling up stadiums and with multi-million dollar prize pools. Gaming has evolved from friends seeing who’s the best player to mass market entertainment.”

Bethesda partnered with ESL to catapult Quake Champions into the esports space with the ongoing Quake World Championships in full swing across Europe and North America, featuring the new 1-vs-1 Duel and 4-vs-4 Sacrifice modes. The battle for the $1 million prize pool reaches the next stage at the Regional Finals, August 5 and 6, followed by the Finals to be held on the main stage at QuakeCon in Dallas, TX, August 24-26. Thirty-two Duelers and eight teams will compete for a share of the $1 million prize pool.

“Of the 32 Duelers, 12 will come from BYOC,” Willits explained. “You can come to QuakeCon and take part in Open Qualifier to compete for part of $1 million prize pool. One-versus-one is unique to Quake and a lot of fun to watch.”

Willits said his biggest worry with unleashing Quake Champions to pro gamers was that everyone would play as the same champion, but that hasn’t happened. Pros are using different champions and strategies.

“We’ve seen a good uptick in Twitch viewers with the championship,” Willits said. “We’re still in beta, but we’re adjusting the game and getting the network code as solid as we can. We’ve learned a lot and taken a lot of guidance from pro gamers.”

At QuakeCon last year and at IEM Katowice this year, id Software introduced 50 to 60 Counter-Strike and Overwatch pro gamers to Quake Champions to gather their feedback. That feedback led to the new Sacrifice game mode that was designed specifically for competitive play. It’s a mode that Willits said id tweaked three separate times to get it just right for the pro gaming scene. The first iterations of this 4-vs-4 team-based mode were fast and fun to play, but they lacked the central objective for spectators to follow. That’s been fine-tuned now, just in time for this massive tournament.

“We had an ESL event with Team Liquid and Team Rogue at E3 this year and the crowds were amazing,” Willits said. “A lot of these pro guys played Quake originally and a number of Overwatch teams have Quake players on them. We hired John ‘Zero Four’ Hill as our esports manager and he’s been working with these teams to get them on board. They’re excited about Quake Champions.”

While ESL is running the tournament for id Software, the game developer signed AMD on as its signature partner for QuakeCon. Other sponsors include AT&T, Twitch and Amazon.

“Our focus has always been around gaming, but we’re trying to do more this year,” Willits said.

Quake Champions is very uniquely positioned to not only take QuakeCon by storm, but also to find a place among the top esports. “Quake is the original arena-based shooter,” Willits said. “It’s very fast, movement is used as both offense and defense, and the dexterity and skill of the world’s best Quake players is amazing. It has a long legacy as the first 3D game and the first game to offer client server architecture. Most people have had their first PC experience playing a Quake game over the years.”

Willits believes the Duel mode in first-person shooters is a big hole missing in esports today—one that Quake Champions can immediately fill. “Pro gamers love it because it’s all about their skills and they stand on the stage alone as champion,” Willits said. “The fact that a lot of these guys love Quake, and a lot of the companies that run tournaments and events also love Quake, allows Duel mode to fill that spot.”

Allowing 15,000 members of the public into E3 this year gave Willits a preview of what QuakeCon and Quake Champions esports might look like. “The ESL space was next to the Bethesda booth and it looked like we had half of the show floor,” Willits said. “It was a well-trafficked area and the online traffic was good for us.”

With id Software designing Quake Champions from the ground up for esports and seeking pro gamers’ input during the development process, the stage has been set for something old, yet new, to rise up.

“We’re excited about the future,” Willits said. “The challenge for us now is to focus on QuakeCon, get through the beta, and get this game out in final release. Then we’ll build out that player base to accomplish what we set out to do with Quake esports.”