Roller Champions was the unexpected highlight of E3 2019 — here's why

For those who missed the surprise debut at E3 2019, Roller Champions is best framed as Rocket League on roller skates. Ubisoft's latest sports endeavor builds on a remarkably simple premise, which is critical to the reach and accessibility it strives to achieve.

Merging traits of common sports into a digestible ruleset, just one match provides an understanding of Roller Champions' mechanics and controls. Much of its long-term appeal resultingly lays with evolving teamplay, while crafting strategies around your roller team.

And surprisingly, despite an E3 packed with blockbusters, this snappy multiplayer sandbox already sits among my top games to watch for in 2020.

Keeping it rollin'

Drawing distinct influence from the cyclical chaos of roller derby, Roller Champions drops half a dozen wheeled contestants into an oval velodrome-style stage. Three-versus-three matches circle the track in a counter-clockwise direction while battling for ball control at blazing speeds. Completing laps with ball-in-hand grants an opening to score your goal, contributing to your team's final point tally.

Enduring a lap and scoring rewards a single point, while subsequent laps provide three and five to the total. However, well-coordinated teams can sour any rotation, with tackling and passing crucial to maintaining possession. And with three-lap goals gifting the five points to win, the game incentivizes high-risk plays with equally gratifying rewards.

Stepping away from early matches left me amped to jump back in, with its spin on roller derby settling among my show favorites. Its breakneck looping gameplay stays gripping throughout, concluding with an adrenaline-pumping finale unrivaled by other E3 demos. Ubisoft's own spotlight might lay with its NPC-brimming Watch Dogs: Legion and gritty world of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, but don't overlook Roller Champions once it drops in 2020.

Rocket League never hooked me despite its ongoing successes, and I'm still coming to grips with why Roller Champions was personally so captivating. Its banked oval-shaped lanes encourage unusual tactics and quick thinking, using the half pipe to build locomotion and stay one step ahead of foes. The result is a constant game of cat and mouse, accentuated by stimulating highs and crushing lows.

Roller Champions

Roller Champions (Image credit: Ubisoft Entertainment SA)

But unlike its rocket-powered rival, Roller Champions is targeting the free-to-play scene from launch. Ubisoft Montreal isn't talking monetization to cover that missing price tag, but with customizable champions and gear on the roadmap, alludes to in-game purchases for support. The studio has already seen success with Rainbow Six Siege's $1 billion in revenue bolstered by cosmetic items, which will ideally translate to its next free-to-play venture, too.

Roller Champions is built upon captivating but straightforward moment-to-moment gameplay, and it was hard to put down just after three matches around its circular runways. Its free-to-play launch and focus on accessibility make a formidable combination, provided Ubisoft delivers the content to retain players beyond that initial hook in 2020.



Matt Brown

Matt Brown was formerly a Windows Central's Senior Editor, Xbox & PC, at Future. Following over seven years of professional consumer technology and gaming coverage, he’s focused on the world of Microsoft's gaming efforts. You can follow him on Twitter @mattjbrown.