21 Years of Quake With Tim Willits

QuakeCon 2017 has officially come and gone, and CGM was there to catch all the action. In addition to demoing new games, checking out exhibits, and wandering through row upon row of “bring your own computer” tables, we also took in a tournament. While the event was absolutely massive, with thousands of attendees of all ages, it wasn’t always like this. CGM was lucky enough to catch Tim Willits, creative director and former co-owner of id Software, for a quick chat about how the event has grown and evolved over the years, where he sees it going, and the future of Quake and eSports in general.

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Tim Willits – 21 Years of Quake with Tim Willits

CGM: How has the event has evolved over the years?

Tim Willits: I brag about this, and it annoys people, but I’m the only person that’s been to every QuakeCon—the only person on the planet. I have been here since the beginning and it’s definitely one of the best conventions ever, and I’ve seen it go from 30 guys to 15,000. Every year has been great and I love it.

The event has always been about three things. The [first is]BYOC, bringing your own stuff, and [the second is] playing with your friends. The tournament…the reason those 30 guys originally got together was because they wanted to know who the best Quake player was. They wanted to play on LAN. They wrote their names on a piece of paper and crossed it out when they lost. [The third thing is] the exhibit area, which we kind of helped grow when we started to work with them, and … [those three things have always] really been the backbone [of the event]. The BYOC is really what people love the most; next year is going to be even bigger because we have more space at the convention centre here. And it’s the human aspect; I’ve seen people come to QuakeCon, meet their girlfriend, they get married, have kids, and every year they come back. It’s very family friendly, and has become much more family friendly the older we get. For a couple years there it wasn’t that family friendly, but it is now. Just the face that QuakeCon [presents] proves that gamers are social, that gamers need to play with other people. And coming here you can see that, whether it’s tabletop, cosplay, mini-games, it’s all about doing it together, that’s the spirit of QuakeCon.

CGM: It’s not just about Quake anymore. It’s expanded to so much more. What are your thoughts on that?

Tim Willits: I’ve joked that this year I’m bringing Quake back to QuakeCon. It has long since not been about Quake, but we never changed the name. Some years we hadn’t made a Quake game and DOOM was big for a couple years and Rage was big for a couple years and Wolfenstein, but it was never really about the games, it was about the people. If you stop any person in a teal shirt and ask them what the best part about QuakeCon is, they’re probably going to say the people. Whatever game we were doing at the time always took second seat to the event.

CGM: There was a period where people weren’t talking about Quake, or DOOM, or Wolfenstein, but these past few years have seen these games not just resurrected, but successfully resurrected. How did you guys pull that off?

Tim Willits: We pulled it off by maintaining the spirit and the DNA of the original games but adding something new. When you play DOOM (2016) you think “I’m playing DOOM,” but the glory kills, the graphics, and stuff made you think, “Oh that’s fresh and new and I like this”. The success of DOOM is making Quake Champions way easier. We always had a hardcore following, especially Quake. I always say that once you fall in love with Quake you’re in it for life, no one ever leaves Quake when they fall in love. We always had that base. With the pro-players that are downstairs playing right now, a lot of these guys have played Quake Live tournaments for years. Rapha, Captain of Team Liquid, he won the big championship last year against Evil which was the greatest final ever. U.S.A. vs. Russia, nine overtimes, we had people chanting U.S.A. in the crowds: it was ridiculous. So we’ve always had that core and it’s easier to build on top of that. The success of these games is keeping that spirit and building on it.

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QuakeCon 2017 (images via facebook.com/quakecon)

CGM: eSports in general are becoming a lot more widely accepted by the mainstream, what are your thoughts on this?

Tim Willits: It is much different. My kid texted me and asked if he could meet Team Liquid. I was like “I know some people”. eSports has exploded. When we were making Quake 22 years ago, if someone said that we would have a time when we would fill football stadiums with people watching League of Legends, or be giving $1 million away at QuakeCon…it’s competing with mainstream entertainment. What we have with Quake, at its core it’s always been about that competitive game. It helped drive eSports back in the day. That’s there for us, but what we’ve done is added the modern Meta around the game to make it more appealing to eSports. We have a much better spectator mode, we’ve changed our gametype to be more objective oriented. We partner with Twitch for the streaming, you can actually go watch Twitch steams in the game. Our Duel Mode is new with Champions, it gives the commentators a chance to say, “oh he’s playing this guy vs. that guy”. So the core is Quake, but we’ve added a lot more around it to make it more eSports friendly. [Aside from] this tournament we have Dreamhack with a $75,000 prize purse and Dreamhack in Sweden, a big event for Europe, in the first week of December, and that’s got a $350,000 prize pool. This is our thing, we’re in it to win it. That lets the team owners and the players know that they can continue to play: if they don’t win QuakeCon, they can keep playing and win Denver, or go to Sweden.

CGM: What do you guys have in the pipeline?

Tim Willits: We’ve entered Early Access and there are a lot of new features we’ve brought to the game. The biggest one is…we had the pro players and the hardcore people. Now we want to make the game more accessible to newer players, so we have our tutorial system, we have a “pick your own skills”, the right match-making pools, we’ve added the Rune Challenges, so you get the runes, add them to your book and work on your mastery, we have the Lore System where you can collect the scrolls—which has nothing to do with winning a million-dollar tournament but it keeps those people in the game. We’ll continue in Early Access (buy the Champion Pack, on sale now, all the Champions forever!) and we’ll add another Champion, we’re going to add the ranked play, we have some new maps coming on board. We’re going to do some tweaks to our game mode that the pros want us to do, and then we’ll work on our retention hooks. We want to make it one part premium eSports destination and one part successful … service free-to-play game. The more we can crossover with that, the more successful the product will be. That’s our immediate plan.

21 of Years of Quake With Tom Willits
QuakeCon 2017 (images via facebook.com/quakecon)

CGM: Are we going to see Quake on VR?

Tim Willits: Well, you’d throw up pretty fast playing Quake on VR. So we have no immediate plans. We’re not doing anything, but if we did, maybe spectating would be a thing. You could sit back by the obelisk and watch the players come in and protect it and fight for it. So you’re not actually playing but watching, and that could be cool. Front row to the hottest game in town.

CGM: Anything else you’d like to add?

Tim Willits: We’re really excited about the game, I feel we’re moving to the next step with it. We encourage everyone to try it out.