QuakeCon 2017 is on our doorsteps and with it, Quake Champions' inaugural big-stage duel event. Despite missing some of the recent years' staple names, the event features by far the most stacked lineup we've seen in recent years. As such, most of the matches are bound to be exciting on their own, but what makes them even better is often the storylines behind the action and smarts that take place on the server. Throughout the weekend we'll see many different narratives converge or give way to each other, but in this piece I'll examine several of the key ones, which I'll be paying the most attention to.
RETURN OF THE OLD GODS
The grand prize pool of $1,000,000, $340,000 of which dedicated to the duel tournament, and promises of funding an esports scene drew back a number of players who the Quake community had thought lost to other titles or retirement. Legendary IDs from the early 2000s and the Quake Live days alike started reappearing in the weekly online competitions alongside contemporaries like evil and agent. And while initially the latter came out on top, it was not long before the European side of the 'big four' -- a moniker cYpheR, rapha, Cooller and Av3k earned during the QL -- was back in form as if they hadn't skipped a beat, despite not competing for years. Even the legendary Painkiller player Vo0 was back in the mix, albeit not nearly as untouchable as he was in his heydays of 2005. From the North-American side, rapha, not unlike last year, announced that he's ditching Overwatch for the time being to come back and dedicate all of his gaming time to Quake.
But, other than a large sum of money, what do the American, the Russian and the Pole hope to add to their personal legacies?
With his five gold finishes at QuakeCon's annual duel tournament, the most out of anyone, and many other major tournament podium placements, rapha is one of the most accomplished player within the aFPS genre. What makes his achievements truly amazing is that he earned the bulk of them in, arguably, Quake's most competitive period. On top of that, while he's widely regarded as one of the best minds in the game's history, he brought to the table the worst raw ability to point-and-click from all the top players of the era. Dealing with skilled aimers was never a problem for him in, but the changes to QC may have changed that. Quake's latest iteration put even more emphasis on one's shooting ability in a genre already famous for it and this will undoubtedly test the American's limits to the maximum.
However, should rapha overcome the skills deficit once again and be victorious, he will be the first person in QuakeCon's twenty-one year history to win three times in a row. And even though the game doesn't favor his skill set, circumstances have seemingly conspired to make up for him and give him the best chances he has. evil, the player whom he had to overcome in the finals the last two times, and cYpheR, his long-standing rival and arguably best Quake player ever, are both out of the way for this one.
Yet, his road will be far from a cakewalk as the other two from the 'big four' are present: Cooller, the one player who could rival rapha's mind games, and Av3k, whose gameplay is the pure embodiment raw mechanics, aggression and the cojones to keep coming at his opponents no matter what. The latter was a fan-favorite due to his exciting playstyle, but never managed to claim the title of 'best in the world' for a prolonged periods of time. The biggest reason for that was rapha's ability to read and play around the Pole's offense. Whereas even other greats could fumble under Av3k's pressuring playstyle, the American mastermind always found the way to use it in his favor, despite the clear disadvantage in terms of mechanics. As QC shifted the balance between the impact brains and brawn have on the outcome in favor of the latter, Av3k is presented with a great opportunity to finally get revenge on rapha. Nothing makes up for the past losses, but stopping his nemesis from achieving a historical accomplishment on the biggest of stages the game has to offer would undoubtedly taste sweet, even if he doesn't end up lifting the trophy himself.
For Cooller on the other hand, the primary storyline is whether he can finally get a QuakeCon championship on his resume. Even though he is widely regarded as one of, if not the, greatest Quake player, a win at id's annual championship has eluded him throughout his long and storied career. He has gotten to the final two times, but unfortunately for him, both of them were him against an all-time great player within his element. The first was in 2006, against toxjq in the middle of his Quake 4 rampage and the second was against an unstoppable cYpheR in 2010. History could very well show the opposite, but right now, the scene lacks a dominant player who is the favorite to sweep the whole tournament. rapha is stuck in NA, playing against competition proven to be weak by history. Av3k, even if in good form, is not the unstoppable boulder that rolls over opponents. Even agent and cYpheR -- who have been winning a lot online, but aren't attending due to visa issues -- have not been infallible.
The Russian maestro himself has been one of the best performing players leading up to the event, but, similarly to the rest, has shown chinks in his armor. And when it takes only three frags to win or lose a round, performing at a consistently high level game in, game out, regardless of the opponent's ID is more important than ever. Whether he'll be able to do that is hard to say, but he has got the skill set to do it, more than any other player at the event. For if rapha and Av3k offer an unbalanced amounts of reliance on brains and brawn, then Cooller's game sits in the middle as he can give each of them a run for their money in their respective domain of mastery. While both have shown in the past that they are superior in their specific expertise, his well-rounded game more than makes up for it and we've seen him able to deal with both of them in QL. Given the change of pace in QC, it wouldn't be unreasonable to speculate that he'd have an edge over rapha, but the question is if he can solve Av3k's game by the time they meet in the bracket.
THE EVER-SPINNING WHEEL
The aforementioned players may be in all senses living legends when it comes to Quake, but, in any sort of competition, the only one to remain unbeaten is Father Time. The rest are all, as the famous quote goes, just spokes on a wheel. This one's on top, then that one's on top, and on, and on, it spins. If the 'big four' are to be the metaphorical wheel for the duration of Quake Live, then no one truly managed to turn it by a significant margin. evil pushed it just a notch, but many would argue that it was too little, too late. A multitude of other players had the requisite skills and game to do it, but when the final shot of a tournament was shot, one of the four was almost always the one lifting the trophy.
Three of those players, k1llsen, strenx and DaHanG, are returning now for one more attempt to take down the three-headed hydra that is rapha, Cooller and Av3k. Each of them has at different points gotten close, but none of them could manage to completely solve the puzzle. The soft reset button that is QC and the changed mechanics certainly favor their playstyles more than they hurt them, but the remaining question is whether their mental games are up to par.
They in turn will be the challengers for the new generation of players fans will see on the QuakeCon stage. None of RAISY, clawz and co. can be called an up-and-coming player as they've been playing quake for years at various levels. However, attending the biggest Quake tournament here is will be the next generation of players' opportunity to test their mettle and show the community that a change of the guard will come sooner rather than later.
Will rapha get his three-peat? Can Av3k get his revenge? Is third time the charm for Cooller? Who will rise up to the occasion and upset the favorites? Let us know what do you think on twitter at @InvenGlobal and @RadoNonfire!
Photo credits: id Software, ESL
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! I’ve been following different games within the esports industry ever since finding out about it in 2009. The titles that I follow closely for the time being are Overwatch, CS:GO and Quake, while occasionally dabbling in some other games as well. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports and gaming, you can find me on twitter at @RadoNonfire.