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Roller Champions

Roller Champions - Alpha Impressions

We jumped into the closed alpha for a few rounds of Ubisoft's promising new esports title.

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Roller Champions is like a cross between rollerskating, basketball, and tag. Ultimately, that's all you need to know right there. We could leave it at that, but then again, where would the fun be in doing that?!

Ubisoft's new esports-focused title is yet another attempt at capturing the spirit of future sports, this time via an experience that blends a trio of distinct games together to create something new and, potentially, hugely entertaining. It's fast, it's slick, and it's more cerebral than it first appears, and we're definitely looking forward to playing more when the game is ready for the next stage of testing.

We spent a few hours playing on the final day of the recent closed alpha, and our time skating around the arena left us with a positive impression, even if our earliest thoughts weren't overly positive. After a short tutorial and some heavy defeats, we weren't entirely convinced, but we pushed through and kept on playing, and soon enough we started to find our rhythm.

Our main takeaway from playing the alpha is that a team of three players in communication with each other is at a massive advantage when compared to a motley crew assembled via matchmaking. Roller Champions is a team game in every sense and if you're not working for your team, you might as well not bother. This meant some frustrating moments while we learned the ropes, but eventually, as we started to string together more productive actions, we started to feel useful. At that point, we realised we were also having fun.

Roller Champions

Billy No Mates here played solo the whole time and after an hour or so we were already looking forward rejoining the action in the future with a couple of friends in tow. Each team of three has to skate around an arena, hitting checkpoints and, essentially, building up a multiplier for when they eventually score a goal. The goal itself is mounted on the wall, like a giant sideways basketball hoop, and you get one point if you score a goal after completing one lap with the ball in your control, three points for two laps, and five points if you get all the way around three times without getting stopped and can then slam the ball home.

It's a simple enough setup, and the three-lap five-pointer is the most efficient way of winning the first-to-five match, but getting around the arena even once is easier said than done. That's because opposing players can barge you out the way, and playing aggressively is absolutely essential if you're going to remain competitive during a match. Simply put: it pays to be a bully in Roller Champions, and the more ruthless you are when smashing your opponents out of the way, the better chance your team has of scoring.

Roller ChampionsRoller Champions

It's not as simple as grabbing the ball and skating for dear life (although that can work), often you'll need to think smart, changing direction quickly and pulling evasive moves at the last second if you're to escape a block. If your opponent does make good contact you'll be sent tumbling to the floor, and if you were carrying the ball, it's spilt onto the floor for someone else to grab. If that someone else happens to be on your team, no harm no foul, but if an opponent picks it up - even if you're on your third lap and about to win the game - the play resets and both teams start from scratch.

The risk/reward factor is strong in Roller Champions, as a competent team can win in one extended run of play, but that's only going to be possible if they use all the tricks at their disposal. Passing the ball is a huge part of that, and teams that pass to each other effectively are already well ahead of those that don't, further feeding into the need for teammates with voice comms. Sure, three lone wolves can score the odd goal, but a coordinated effort will nearly always win out, as we discovered firsthand.

Despite losing the majority of our matches, we still enjoyed our first taste of Roller Champions. It's got plenty of style, slick and intuitive controls, and the potential to be an aggressive and engaging esport in a similar vein to the likes of Rocket League. The rules are simple enough that anyone can start playing straight away, yet there's enough nuance to the gameplay to keep it interesting throughout. How it'll fare over an extended period of time remains to be seen, but these first steps represent an encouraging start to life for a game that can we can see hanging around for a while.

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