The first match of Quake Champions I ever saw was played between the two best players in the world. Last weekend, I witnessed the bold and unyielding Clawz destroy the shrewd and calculating Vo0 to the tune of $100,000.
This experience has, it’s fair to say, unfairly coloured my expectations of what I could hope to achieve within the gothic walls of id’s throwback shooter. What’s become clear to me playing the game since attending the Quake World Championships is that, while I certainly observed, I did not understand. I am no closer to mimicking the movements of Quake’s stars than I am to perfectly copying the cooking of Jamie Oliver.
What I can do is name the ingredients, however. Here are three essential Quake Champions skills I’ve almost totally failed to master during the beta.
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Very fast running
Quake is famed for its speed. It comes from an era when shooters didn’t need sprint keys - in fact, they had walk toggles. Breakneck traversal was the default, and returning to it can be a discombobulating experience. Perhaps modern sensibilities have trained us to hang back and take cover, whereas Quake barrels ever onwards.
Yet, if I pick the transhuman punk Anarki as my character when starting up a game of Champions, I’ll have the highest possible default speed. So, if I hold W in a straight line, I can move as fast as anyone, no matter their skill. In a 200m sprint, I should match Clawz and Vo0 pace for pace. It’s just maths. Brillo.
The issue comes when I have to start turning corners or, worse, punctuating that running with jumps. The pros rarely touch the ground, treating the floor as if it’s lava. That approach might make you a harder target, but it also leaves you mostly at the mercy of whatever momentum you banked the last time you made contact with the map. This is the bad kind of maths. For me, it means hopping messily from point to point, as if manually cutting out an image in PhotoShop.
Often, I can dodge a railgun for a few seconds, but - since the camera is bobbing up and down, and forward and back in ways I can’t immediately influence - I, erm, can’t hit anything either. Sometimes I even go hurtling off the edge of the map.
As such, I can’t tell you how to navigate Quake Champions’ medieval ruins with grace, but I can tell you there’s some lovely modelling on the underside of the pirate ship that’s docked off the side of Tempest Shrine.
The rocket jump is perhaps the most famous Quake thing - so much so that Champions refers to its rocket launcher in-game as ‘Old Faithful’, like a reliable vacuum cleaner. It’s a technique that found players exploiting the rudimentary physics of the original Quake to propel themselves far further than the space bar alone could carry them - a trade-off between taking explosive damage and the chance to surprise an enemy on a distant ledge. Born out of accident, it’s now deliberately supported by id, who show off rocket-propelled jumps in their trailers.
I’ve done it, too. I should be more precise: I’ve had it done to me. In Burial Chamber, there’s a central atrium dominated by a huge, slab-like ramp. This one time, chased by a rocket-wielding opponent, I slipped sideways off said ramp - but before I could hit the floor, one of my pursuer’s rockets caught up with me. With fire up my behind, I flew. I tasted the air, way up there, where the skybox feels close enough to touch. And then I was picked out of the air like a sodding clay pigeon.
Current Quake world champion Clawz is 19 years old - of an age where his specialist skill could be shining laser pens into the eyes of teachers and aeroplane pilots. Instead, he’s harnessed his abilities to a more productive end - mastering Quake’s needly beam weapon, the Lightning Gun. In last week’s finals, he hunted Vo0 with Terminator-like doggedness, locking onto his target with the LG and never letting go.
‘Never letting go’ isn’t a fitting expression of what Clawz was really doing, of course. He was making hundreds of mouse adjustments, and every split-second was an opportunity to veer off target. But in conversation afterwards, he told me that the key to pulling off this feat was simply “full concentration” and “focus.”
There was a minute, between the hours of 12 and two on Friday afternoon, when that philosophy started to work for me. In that moment, wielding the LG, I seemed to bypass the thousands of hours the unenlightened consider necessary to mastering aim in Quake. Four enemies spilled pick-ups at my feet - the closest thing I’ve yet had to a kill streak.
But it’s now three days later and the lord LG is testing my faith. I have committed its location on the maps to memory. Like the pros, I only use the acronym - the full words ‘lightning’ and ‘gun’ cast off like dead weights. If I could have showered with the LG this morning, I would have. Focus and concentration have become my way of being. Pro Plus would only dampen my senses at this point.
But I can’t bloody hit anything. I am rubbish at Quake. brb: going to have to play it for a thousand hours like everybody else.