One of the surprise hits of this year’s E3 was Ubisoft’s team-based sports title Roller Champions. Obvious comparisons were drawn to the popular Rocket League series, which seems to be the target model.
Ubisoft is hoping Roller Champions will be their esports swansong, with branding and licensing deals. Esports is a major business in modern game development and this won’t be the first game designed with that in mind.
So does Roller Champions have what it takes to enjoy the kind of longevity of Rocket League? From the looks of things, yes it does.
Rocket League and Esports
Esports is a rapidly growing market, becoming recognised alongside traditional sports for younger generations. Some real-world sports clubs have even developed esports teams with the club’s branding.
Particularly within football where European powerhouses like PSG have established professional esports teams. Plenty of other clubs are expected to follow suit. With esports Junkie reporting that Real Madrid will be the next major club to make the leap to esports.
Games that simulate real-world sports and team-based games are the two most prominent models of esports. There are exceptions to the rule like Dota and League of Legends, but that is a general rule of success.
Fighting games, sporting titles and team-based shooters dominate the market. Rocket League set a new standard in the field by hitting multiple categories, with an action twist. Being both team-based and taking cues from real-world football.
Injected with the excitement of powered-up vehicles instead of traditional players made Rocket League a runaway hit. Ubisoft enjoys a similar model with Roller Champions, being a powered up, team-based version of roller derby.
Roller derby is also an emerging sport mostly played in the United States. Whilst the sport enjoys origins from over 80 years ago, it was only following a revamp at the turn of the millennium that it started to take hold in America.
The game consists of two teams of five active players and 10 rolling substitutes. Played on roller skates and banked tracks, similar to a velodrome. One player is the designated ‘jammer’ and they score points by lapping opposition ‘blockers’.
It’s a full-contact sport with all blockers aiming to take out the opposition jammer. The original incarnation of the sport devolved in sports entertainment similar to WWE. Matches were scripted with theatrical displays of dodges for maximum enjoyment.
But the sport was revived in the early 00s’, keeping the outlandish costumes and player monikers but restoring it as a sport. Today roller derby is largely a female-only sport played by over 4700 clubs, mostly in the States.
It became recognised as a global sport in 2017 when rules were cemented and the first-ever World Roller Games were held. Organisers are currently in talks with the Olympic committee that may result in roller derby being represented at the 2020 games.
Capitalising on a niche and emerging sport, Ubisoft intends to ride the coattails with an official 2020 launch date announced. The design is very reminiscent of Rocket League down to the blue and orange team colours and the Roller League logo.
It’s treading a fine line of plagiarism in the aesthetic but that’s where the comparisons end. Adapting the roller derby model players now score points by flinging a ball into a goal at the side of the arena.
Before a point can be scored though, a team must complete a full lap of the arena whilst in possession of the ball. Which is significantly harder than it sounds. Games are broken into 3v3 co-op, with options to pass, jump or dodge whilst opposition players try to take you out.
Once possession changes hands the team must begin their lap again in an addictive concept with a very high skill ceiling. Early reports from E3 have already dubbed Roller Champions the successor to Rocket League. With the game being widely praised for its gameplay.
A free-to-play demo is available now on PC with a full release currently slated for early 2020.