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World of Warcraft Column: Competitive WoW

By Reza Lackey on July 01, 2013

Welcome back to the WoW Factor. This past weekend MLG held its spring championship in Anaheim, California where professional StarCraft 2, Black Ops 2 and League of Legends players gathered in a grand spectacle of competition. Thousands of caffeinated fans of these games gathered to watch their favorite players and teams battle on one of the largest stages of video game competition in the world. Being a fan of eSports myself, I thought it might be a good time to take a look at World of Warcraft and how it pertains to competitive play.

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The Fields of Battle

In World of Warcraft the main form of competitive player vs. player (PvP) competition comes is in the form of Arenas. Here teams of two, three or five players fight in a deathmatch style competition to be the last team standing. These matches take place in a variety of Arena maps with different environmental obstacles most of which are designed to block line of sight that prevents the casting of spells.

Battlegrounds are where most players get their PvP fix where teams of 10 to 40 play on large, objective based maps such as the capture the flag Warsong Gulch map. These Battleground maps can feature siege weapons and other mechanics not available in Arenas that can make combat a bit more interesting and dynamic. Battlegrounds don’t end when one team is killed off like in Arenas but when certain objectives have been met.

The other form for competitive WoW play comes in the form of PvE challenges. An example of this was during the Mists of Pandaria launch party in which two teams of players attempted to complete a Challenge Mode dungeon with the fastest time. Similar to this are the live raids at BlizzCon where two guilds run a raid simultaneously trying to complete it before the other guild does.


Blades' Edge Arena

eSports and Presentation

People love video games and people love watching video games. This trend is continuing to spike in popularity for both casual play and professional. Some watch for the competition, some watch to learn and some may even watch to see if a game is worth picking up. This growth is a direct correlation to the increasing popularity of eSports tournaments. Despite what some say, eSports is real and I don’t think it’s going anywhere.

When watching eSports, whether it’s a strategy game or shooter, it can be difficult to follow the action on the screen and make sense of it all unless you have a fairly good understanding of the game. For example, if you don’t know the layout of a map in a first person shooter, you have less insight into the various ways a situation can play out. In an RTS or MOBA, if you don’t know the details of a race or hero you won’t be able to anticipate plays or strategies. Needless to say, even with little understanding of a game it can still be very fun to watch.

Let’s bring it back to WoW. Blizzard has recently opened registration for the 2013 Arena tournament which is essentially a server dedicated to Arena play. Players who register are able to create 11 max-level characters and have immediate access to the best gear in the game. They will form teams and participate in the a nine week tournament, the first five of which are for practice and do not count. The last four weeks function just as they do on the existing live realms where points will be acquired. Unfortunately, there is no way to spectate in these matches but at past BlizzCons there have typically been live Arena battles complete with commentators. When these matches played out for the roaring BlizzCon crowed, they are delivered with a plethora of on screen information to help viewers understand what the players are doing and the status of their characters.


BlizzCon 2012 World of Warcraft Arena Upper Bracket Finals

If we look at the larger Battlegrounds, which to my knowledge have never been broadcasted in a tournament setting, it would be much harder to convey the information of all the players in the game since there are so many more than in Arenas. But this may not be an issue because there is, in most cases, less emphasis on what a specific player is doing against another but rather what the team is doing as a whole - which players are going for which node, which players are hanging back on defense and so on. Check out MLG’s War Reports for PlanetSide 2 to get an idea of what this might look like.

In the case of live raids or dungeons, it could be much easier for existing WoW players to follow even if they don’t have extreme insight into all of the different classes. In these PvE scenarios, knowing the dangers of a boss or particularly tough set of trash mobs can create tension and excitement even if you don’t know the abilities of Warlocks and Rogues, for example. Couple this with informative on screen overlays and you could have some very exciting events for spectators. 


BlizzCon 2011 Live Raid

What do you think of World of Warcraft as a competitive game in the eSports world? Could it stand up with more than just Arena play? For those of you on the fence about WoW as a competitive game, what changes would you want to see implemented to make it a viable eSports contender? Let me know in the comments below!

Reza Lackey / Reza is a giant nerd who loves video games, board games, film and way too many other things. Works in the film industry, on some startups and thinks science is cool. Also launches rockets.


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