Reliq

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World of Warcraft, and Competitive E-Sports

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.

4 Comments

  1. Wow as an esport would work great, especially with challenge modes. I think that the important factor in any esport is the integration of matchmaking, streaming, recording, commentating, and publication all from one platform.
    A particularly good example is the Battlecast system that Command and Conquer produced for CnC3, which was completely integrated into the game and had a supporting webcast featuring the best matches each month (Battlecast Primetime was my favourite webshow).

    Blizzard already has BattleNet, already has crossrealm functionality, already has recording and casting software for Starcraft. For WoW to be a real esport, it all needs to be combined.

    Easier said than done, I’m sure.

  2. I don’t feel that PvD content is viable as an e-sport on a long term basis. Part of the excitement of all competitive e-sports today is the direct pitting of one team against another in a PvP environment – I can’t think of any e-sport that doesn’t do this. WoW’s problem is that it has both PvE and PvP concerns – when the developers tried to balance around PvE, people didn’t take the development of arenas as an e-sport seriously, and they couldn’t balance around PvP since the overwhelming majority of the playerbase were PvE players. Given this, if you try to make an e-sport out of dungeons, you’re necessarily forced to balance around those dungeons. It would require essentially a redesign of the game in order to make this happen – you’d have to have separate talent trees for PvP and PvE, separately balanced to ensure that teams had the ability to compete effectively while not being cookie-cutter (would decrease enthusiasm for spectators) and still not affect the rest of the game. Heck, I’m not convinced that raiding wouldn’t be affected as well – some things that balance on a small scale don’t necessarily balance on a larger scale in the same way. With all of these balance concerns in other aspects of the game, they’d need a much larger dev team – and ActiBlizz has been trimming back the dev team on WoW.

    To make dungeons viable as an e-sport, not even looking at the above paragraph, Blizzard would also have to jack the requisite difficulty through the roof for a legitimate proscene to develop. Gold medals would have to be something that only the best of the best in the WORLD could achieve – and given Blizzard’s penchant for making WoW, even its most difficult content, accessible to entry-level players, I doubt this will actually happen.

    TLDR: I think it’s possible but very unlikely.

  3. Gah, forgot something. Was in the back of my head but I spaced it.

    The one other problem here is that what a WoW boss typically boils down to is a very discrete set of mechanics. To watch two teams perform the same mechanics on the same bosses doesn’t translate well into an e-sport, from my POV – once the fights are figured out, there’s no room for innovation by the pros. In other words, there’s a cap on the tactics any one team can employ. Compare this to SC:BW, where there were any number of opening moves, any number of midgame strategies, and the other player had a chance to counter those strategies.

  4. Good post Reliq! Nice to see some expanse on the WoW-Esports debate and taking the new perspective.

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