WoW has never translated well to the E-Sports stage. Despite having live Arena matches at Blizzcon and elsewhere, WoW has failed to take off the way SC2 and other games have. Primarily this is because, to understand exactly what’s going on in Arena, you need to have some understanding of the classes, and their mechanics, involved in the battle. Otherwise it’s just 6 characters running around throwing random crap at each other.
So, it’s often been said that as an e-sport platform, WoW is a non-starter.
However, the last month – and Blizzcon 2011 – has shown that there is one way that Blizzard could further embrace the e-sport scene and do so with their flagship product: live raids.
With Blood Legion v. Vodka at last year’s 2011 Blizzcon (where they raced to finish Firelands Heroic first), and this year’s 2 live raid competitions via Athene’s OPSharecraft.com benefit (Vodka v Method, and then Blood Legion v Paragon v STARS v Exorcus), live competitive raiding has proven to be a huge draw. The 100,000 viewers for the last four-team live raid should have proven as much.
So why is live raiding so compelling compared to Arenas?
First of all, you don’t need to understand the class system, or even necessarily the specific boss mechanics. What you see, instead, are groups of highly-skilled individuals working together as teams through game encounters that are, at the basic level, easy to understand. And, it’s a simple race: which team gets that boss down quicker; how far behind is that other team, and OMFG THEY’RE CATCHING UP HOLY SHIT.
However, having world-top guilds competing on a regular basis would be difficult to keep active (unless there were sizeable prize pots). What is needed is a way to encourage the ‘normal’ players to compete without having to devote 2-3 hours of gametime to do so. And Blizzard has precisely the platform coming with Mists of Pandaria.
Challenge Mode dungeons will be coming in with patch 5.0, with the new MoP dungeons open to ‘speed challenges’ whereby teams will be rewarded bronze, silver and gold rewards based on how quickly they can complete the dungeons. Their gear will be normalized, and as such it will take pure skill and team work to excel.
Put this in a situation where teams can race each other in some way, and we would have an exciting platform where skill will be matched against skill (rather than gear against gear). Then have a way for these match-ups to be watched on replay, throw access to that to YouTube and streaming casters, and voila: a WoW e-sport that many more players can relate to than arena does.
Add in semi-regular live competitive raids, with the support of the larger gaming sponsors and networks, and the WoW e-sport scene would, I’m sure, blossom.