Blizzard, Warcraft, and the future of WoW eSports

It’s been one hell of a year for WoW eSports.

In the past 8 months we’ve seen more tournaments than in the past 7 years combined. Organizations like GCDTV, Gamers League, ESL, MLG and others have contributed to the growing community movement which is World of Warcraft eSports. For the first time this year, the Blizzcon qualifiers were streamed from NA, EU, and LAN; prize pools have been jacked up to $100k per region, and WoW has even drawn attention from the eSports news website — the Daily Dot:

We’ve come a long way in the past year, but we have a long way to go if we ever want to get onto the level of League of Legends. If the recent Blizzard stream reveal for legion says anything about the numbers WoW can still pull on Twitch, then Warcraft definitely still has potential as an eSport.

World of Warcraft tops all Twitch streams during the Legion Expansion Reveal

The question is, how do we get there? Well 5 critical things need to happen first.

1. Scene professionalization

This one is by far the easiest to do of the five, mainly because it just involves a change in tone. Team names are important, not just important — critical. If WoW is to be a professional eSport, then the spectators need a reason to keep coming back. Usually the reason being that they’re rooting for a specific team to win. When teams change their name every tournament, and when players shift from one team to the next, it becomes nearly impossible as a spectator to follow the eSports scene.

“If we want this scene to blow up, then take a look in the mirror and take some pride in picking a team name.”

On that note, as much as I was rooting for “Team Free Reckful” to win the EU qualifier cup #2, that team name is a big problem. In my opinion that team name is hilarious, but it’s also a liability to the players. Team Free Reckful will never be an eSports organization, it can never scale into something greater than a one off thing. The name just doesn’t work. Tempo Storm, Cloud Nine, and TSM do. If we want this scene to blow up, then take a look in the mirror and take some pride in picking a team name.

When we did the RBG tournament’s earlier this year, one thing that did go right were the team names (for the most part) and the team logos. Associating a logo and or brand with each team name is so important, because it gives spectators some kind of an object to identify with, while also giving the players a stronger connection to their team. Even to this day I still see people representing the USA PROXEE PKB SX6 ABN logo.

2. Production Ramp Up

Production quality is a big part of getting spectators attached to an eSports scene. (NOTE: Flashy graphics are cool, but they can only get you so far — make sure the content is good first.)

“Storytelling tools such as these bring people in, and keep them watching.”

But production quality goes beyond just flashy graphics — I’m talking video. Hype trailers, player interviews, and analysis help to tell the story of both the players, and the game. Storytelling tools such as these bring people in, and keep them watching. League of Legends does one hype trailer for each of their events, along with multiple player interviews, and a close out review. These tools enable the spectator to become more attached to the eSport, and keep coming back each and every week. Don’t be afraid to tell a story, it makes things all the more entertaining.

3. Trash Talk and LAN events

If last week’s decision over Team Balanced and Team Banana Boat says anything about the amount of trash talk that goes on in World of Warcraft competitive, then Houston we have a problem. In no other game are players so ridiculously competitive against themselves to the point of literally hating each other than in World of Warcraft. In nowhere else will you find a rivalry quite similar to that of Bailamos and Abn or the other multiples of RBG/Arena teams.

“In no other game are players so ridiculously competitive against themselves to the point of literally hating each other than in World of Warcraft.”

Team Dignitas at the Warcraft IEM

We’re in this together guys, so knock it off. Nobody in their right mind is going to host a LAN event if they know they’re probably going to have to call security because a fight broke out in the parking lot. You wanna fight? Then go train for the UFC because you’re in the wrong industry. A bit of smack talk here and there is fine, but telling other players that they’re awful at the game, posting derogatory pictures of them on Arena Junkies, and accusing others of ridiculous things crosses a very fine line between trash talk and shit talk.

“Respect is crucial. Remember that.”

As tournament organizers, it’s a major turn off if the players hate each other to the point that they’re trying to start a fight IRL. Not only that, but the amount of cursing and player harassment towards tournament admins and organizers is also ridiculous. Respect is crucial. Remember that. LAN events are extremely costly and even more so, difficult to organize. Player security at these events shouldn’t have to be one of our top concerns. If we want more LAN events, then give the organizers a reason to host them.

4. Payment

Imagine a world where $500,000 is on the line, and the people working to produce those events aren’t seeing a single dime of that money. What? You didn’t actually think we get paid for what we do? Nooooooo! As Shoutcasters, Organizers, Stream Producers and Admins, a payment is a matter of grace and is next to nonexistent.

If you’re under the assumption I’m getting paid to cast and stream the EU qualifiers you’re also living in a dream world. We take a lot of heckling as casters and people don’t even realize we aren’t even getting paid a cent to be up there.

“As Shoutcasters, Organizers, Stream Producers and Admins, a payment is a matter of grace and is next to nonexistent.”

As casters, we volunteer our time to this because we believe in, and support the community. I have taken days off of work and have lost hundreds of dollars in potential money I could have been making just so that I could show up and cast these tournaments.

That’s the kind of dedication which is expected out of you as a caster. Now please, don’t get the wrong message here — volunteer work is a necessary evil in the eSports business. You wanna work for ESL or MLG? Get ready to put in a lot of hours, because they only take those willing to do so. However, after casting/organizing/producing/administrating for so many months straight, there comes a point where some form of payment is warranted for your time, as would be with any other job.

“Volunteer work is a necessary evil in the eSports business.”

Bottom line, we’re not getting paid to do this, and as of right now — as much as we would like to —WoW eSports doesn’t pay enough to make this our full time job. I think I speak for everyone on this, if we knew we were going to get a paycheck at the end of each week, you could expect to see even more out of WoW eSports than you do now.

5. Blizzard Support & Standard Rule Sets

This final point is perhaps the most important of all of them. If Blizzard wants World of Warcraft eSports to blossom into its full potential, then they need to support it. I’m not talking about twitter re-tweets and the occasional front page article, I’m talking about full out support. Player’s faces need to be on the launcher. Access needs to be given to the official World of Warcraft stream. Team resources need to be used to promote and hype up these events.

“I’m not talking about twitter re-tweets and the occasional front page article, I’m talking about full out support.”

The LCS makes the front page of the League of Legends launcher.

An in-game title, achievement, pet, and mount need to be given out for winning a community or professionally run tournament. Along with this a standard set of official rules need to be set out for all tournaments; RBG and Arena. These rules can’t just pertain to the tournament itself, but to the conduct of the players as well. There’s a lot of cheating that goes on in World of Warcraft. DDoSing, Flyhacking, Account Boosting, and Paid Carries. That needs to stop.

“Bottom line, you wanna break the ToS? You shouldn’t be able to play competitive.”

In League of Legends there are serious punishments for professional players if they are caught engaging in any of these behaviors. I could give you a laundry list of players who have competed in WoW tournaments who boost, carry, or cheat. Bottom line, you wanna break the ToS? You shouldn’t be able to play competitive. These rules make for a better player experience alongside a more active and engaged eSports community.

Are these changes going to happen over night? No, absolutely not. They shouldn’t for that matter. Growing an eSports scene organically takes time. WoW isn’t going to just get onto the level of League of Legends with the flick of a magic wand. However, over the course of the next 1–2 years, slowly introducing some, if not all of these things could go a long way into growing and curating the WoW eSports scene. Perhaps with Blizzard’s recent trademark filing of “Compete” we may see some of these changes announced in the coming weeks.

There is a lot more beyond these five critical points that needs to happen in order for WoW eSports to be a thing, however if by the end of next year we can check the box next to each and every one of these items, perhaps we’ll have a shot at making World of Warcraft the next big eSport.

AJ “Desecration”is a Shoutcaster, Tournament Organizer, YouTuber, and Community Member in the growing eSports arena. AJ has Shoutcasted & Organized the World of Warcraft RBG World Championship and has casted the EU qualifiers for the World of Warcraft World Championship.