World of Warcraft: The Future of Fan Engagement

Galen Perry
Feb 7, 2019 · 5 min read


Since its release in November 2004, World of Warcraft has dominated the MMORPG category and defined a generation of gamers. Seven expansions later, it continues to innovate new ways of playing and watching. While there is much to debate regarding the current state of WoW and the challenges that Battle for Azeroth has faced from a player stand point, this article focuses on how fans are able to interact with the game beyond logging in.

For those unfamiliar with World of Warcraft (WoW), WoW is a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). This means that the game is set in a virtual world where millions of players are able to interact with each other at any given time – essentially making it a virtual second life. The game builds a world based in the rich lore created by the development teams at Blizzard, giving the players endless quests and opportunities to explore. WoW differs from more traditional esports titles such as Counter Strike or League of Legends because it is not match based or ranked. While it is possible to measure the skill of a player by the content they’ve completed and rank them by the gear they wear, the focus of the game is less on the comparison of players and more on completing content with your friends.

World of Warcraft Arena World Championships 2017 — Credit: Blizzard

Development of Competitive scene

World of Warcraft first implemented a ranking system with Arena PvP matches during The Burning Crusade expansion in 2007. This allowed players to compete in smaller groups of 2, 3, or 5 and achieve server wide ratings based on their wins and losses. With a clear competitive system established, arena tournaments were organized and Blizzard has grown the competitions into the Arena World Championships we see today. However, beyond these arena matches, WoW has little in the way of organized competition. The only major addition to the ranked PvP system was the introduction of Rated Battlegrounds in 2010 and that never resulted in any professional tournaments.

Nonetheless, the lack of organized competition has not stopped WoW from being one of the most popular games on Twitch, accruing roughly 260M hours of view time in 2018. Millions of people around the world love WoW and, more specifically, they love WoW’s content and community. Just look at BlizzCon: How many gaming studios can host their own convention with over 40,000 people in attendance and millions of online viewers?

Figure 1: WoW Event CCV Comparison on Twitch — Both World First races exceeded the Arena World Championship in terms of average CCV

Blizzard began to experiment with the games PvE content as a source of competition with the Mythic Dungeon Invitational (MDI) in 2017, which is essentially a head to head speed run of a dungeon, pitting two teams of 5 against each other. Fans of the game enjoy the competitive aspect of these events, but more importantly, the diverse and complicated strategies each team develops in order to win. Since the majority of WoW fans actually play the game, they want to learn from the best and apply that knowledge to their own experience. While the MDI provides fans another opportunity to engage with the game and achieved better than average viewership on Twitch as we can see from Figure 1, the real golden egg has been the World First races.

The Future of WoW esports

Total WoW CCV on Twitch — The Mythic Battle of Dazar’alor Race to World First tripled overall viewership of WoW on Twitch

The concept of a World First race is simple, but not new. In every expansion and major update, players have always pushed to be the first individual or guild to complete difficult content, but in the past 6 months, what was once simply a bragging right has turned into an organized and sponsored race. In September 2018, Red Bull hosted Method, currently the best WoW guild in the world, at their Gaming Sphere in London to stream the guild’s progress towards the world first clear of the Mythic Uldir raid. Event viewership was more than 300% the average CCV for WoW in 2018 at 94.2K viewers and it was even 38% larger than the 2018 Arena World Championships. This was a stunning success and proved that traditional tournament/head to head style competitions were not necessary to engage WoW fans. This success was recreated, though at a lesser level[1], with the Mythic Battle of Dazar’alor Race to World First just this past week. Method was once again invited to the Red Bull Gaming Sphere to stream their progress, but this time, coverage was expanded to include other top guilds around the world and their grind to achieve the coveted world first.

While game developers have been scrambling to convert their franchises into esports titles and foster competitive communities due to lucrative sponsorship deals and publicity, they often overlook the fact that the gaming community is a massive and diverse population. World of Warcraft has had millions of players for over a decade who love the game despite its seeming lack of organized competition. Even Fortnite[2] has taken a creative approach to community engagement with their live, virtual concert headlining Marshmello on Feb 2. Ten million players logged in for the event, further proving that gamers don’t need a tournament to engage with their favorite games. Developers must look beyond forcing the creation of a competitive scene and instead try to tap into the desires of their existing communities of passionate gamers to maximize engagement.

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[1] This reduced success is most likely due to the frustration of the current expansion, Battle for Azeroth, resulting in a diminishing player count

[2] What esports article these days would be complete without a mention of Fortnite somewhere?

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