The greatest compliment I can pay Roller Champions (opens in new tab) is that, after playing just a couple of rounds at a Ubisoft press event, I was annoyed at one of my teammates. After all, Rocket League is an engine that runs on spite. It's part and parcel of the genre, and one of the things that high-concept sports games share with real-life sporting events. There's got to be a bad guy.
Our team's heel was our self-styled captain. And look, I'm not about to check the recording of our match for his name, find which media outlet or YouTube channel he works for and start a public beef—that would be petty. But I am going to call him out anonymously. Because I'm a professional.
First, the rules. Roller Champions is a 3v3 sports game. You fight for control of a ball, and score points by skating around a track to charge up the goal. The more laps you complete, the more points you get. Your goal is to make it to five points, which you can do by completing three unbroken laps—in which the opposing team doesn't get possession—before scoring. I don't know anything about roller derby, but I assume it's not like this.
My nemesis proved particularly adept at scoring. In our first game, which we won, he scored both of our goals (we ran out of time long before we made it to five). This was in part because myself and our third teammate had identified him as being good at scoring and had built our entire strategy around that.
I took on the role of enforcer, checking—smashing into very fast and hard—enemy players to knock them down. The third guy carved out a niche as a solid hand up and down the lanes of the oblong track—speeding, dodging and making key passes. Traversal in Roller Champions is a technical skill. You build speed by weaving up and down the sides of the track, 'pumping' as you hit the apex. You need to do all of this while the opposing team are laser focused on tackling you. It takes skill to charge the goal.
I'd clear the field, the third man would speed through the track, and our captain would receive a pass near the goal to make the shot. It was efficient. It was synchronous. It felt good.
After the round, though, our captain was chatting with the devs, and boasted about how he was carrying the team. Maybe he didn't realise he was wearing a live headset. Maybe his ego had got the better of him. Maybe (let's be honest, most likely) it was some friendly, lighthearted banter.
Whatever the reason, now things were different. In the second round, our opponents had their shit together. They were moving as a pack, with blockers travelling slightly ahead of the ball carrier to protect him. It proved effective and they scored an early goal.
Our captain started to get frustrated. "Get the ball," he would shout, as we were skating towards a free ball. "Tackle him," he would plead as we were obviously trying to tackle him. "You just threw that away," he'd admonish after I made what I judged to be a sound pass that just didn't quite complete.
Despite this, we still managed to clinch an equaliser. At this point both teams had played enough of the game to be effective, if not particularly great. Despite the simplicity, it feels like there's plenty of scope for defining your role, which—as with Rocket League—will hopefully lead to some interesting tactics and on-the-fly improvisation. But still, the constant 'encouragement' from the captain was starting to grate. We even started taking our own shots.
I became less interested in following instructions, or, to be honest, in winning. I started chasing big, showy plays over team unity. Unsurprisingly, deep into overtime, the other team scored the winning goal. Reading this back, I'm starting to realise that maybe I was the asshole. Oh.