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Hrothmund's random ramblings.

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Author: Hrothmund

Can MMO's be successful eSport titles?

Posted by Hrothmund Thursday May 8 2008 at 11:53AM
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Electronic sports, ten years ago people found the phrase more of a joke than a reality. Things sure have changed since then! Today, even mainstream television sports broadcasters are including eSports in their programming and the competitions have transformed from darkly lit lan parties to major entertainment events. Gaming is chique now, which means there is more money out there for online tournaments and live gaming events.

Since I've brought this issue up, the World of Warcraft arena tournament must obviously be mentioned. I think this is a novel idea. Now people who really take the game seriously have a chance at covering their gaming costs just by being good at the game, and possibly even turning their beloved hobby into a profession. When WoW was released, a circumstance such as this seemed more or less impossible.  Even if the arena system had been implemented into the game upon release, the class imbalance was far too great to warrant a cash prize tournament. Now though, it looks like professional gaming is finally hitting the MMO scene.

On the other side of the board ther are the big PvE players, like Nihilum and SK Gaming(Which admittedly do have PvP teams as well.) who are trying to establish themselves as the first ever professional PvE guilds in the world. Yesterday, Nihilum offered a live raid broadcast from their Sunwell Plateau raid, making it possible for people to peep into how a dedicated raid team completes PvE content. The event was sponsored by two companies, so most probably some sort of compensation arrangement was in place. Nihilum and SK Gaming both have commercial sponsors,  so in a sense they are already being paid to play WoW. It will be interesting to see how this 'professional PvE guild' phenomenon takes shape in the future. I can only imagine the top guilds in the world becoming more and more professional as the time passes. It is hard to tell whether there are sponsors out there who are willing to take their money and sponsor a fully professional PvE team.

My post is extremely WoW-centric, but let's face it, in terms of PvE WoW is 'the game' right now, and the popularity of the title ensures that the largest PvP events in the world will take place in WoW as well. This brings up an interesting point. Let's pretend the MMO player-base was more equally divided between the currently released titles. Would guilds suchs as Nihilum and SK Gaming be able to get sponsorship deals for their PvE teams? Would there be a world-wide pay-to-play arena tournament? I doubt it. Sure, maybe the big PvE guilds could go multi-platform and compete in many titles at once, but I think the public would not be as interested in following up guilds that play 4-5 games with 800,000 subscribers each as they are now in following the top dogs of WoW that has amassed over ten million subscribers world-wide.  You can debate about the merits of WoW as a game, this is a matter of opinion, but there is no arguing that WoW is the only game in the world that gives guilds the opportunity to turn professional.

What needs to happen then, for MMOs to take the final step into the esports domain? My opinion is that a few minors changes to the policies of developers and publishers will do the trick. I think Blizzard is only now realising there is a huge potential to increase their customer base by turning their game into an eSports title. WoW has gradually been building up to an official ranking system. First of all, the arena and honor systems allowed PvP contestants to finally prove just how good they are. There is no arguing against the official rankings. Now, with the advent of the offical WoW armory, the gear of every player is visible making unofficial ranking sites able to rate guilds by their gear level. I don't think we are far away from Blizzard launching their own World of warcraft PvE progress site. When world first kills will be officially recorded and published by the game developer, as subtle as the change sounds, the PvE 'game' will finally be solified as a competative event giving PvE guilds a new sense of credibility.

I am not sure whether we will see WoW breaking the mold as the first true eSports MMO, but Blizzard surely does have the know-how to do the job. Looking at Warcraft 3 and Starcraft, if not Blizzard then who? We will just have to wait and see.

One thing is for certain. There are already several fully professional raiding teams in the world, earning a pretty comfortable living. These are of course the in-house game testers.(Yes, I acknowledge testers have tasks beyond just playing the game and that many of the play tests bring in employees from all branches of the developer.) Even though Kil'Jaeden hasn't been killed on the test realms or in the public realms, he most probably has been downed by the Blizzard test team. This leads me to wonder if in the future PvE eSports teams will get access to raid content before the 'regular' gaming public, just like professional athletes get their hands on new equipment before the masses. In my opinion 'league realms' could be quite a feasible system to cement MMO gaming as professional gaming medium. The casual gamers, or the amateurs would then have to wait their turn and see whether they can live up to the pros after seeing  the pros in action on ESPN. Most probably we are still years away from anything like this being possible.

Please let me know your thoughts regarding this issue, I'm quite interested to see what others have to say about this. As a little postscript I'd like to add that I knowingly ignored the subject whether PvE esports competition will have a negative impact on the lore/RP aspect of MMORPGs. If you want to discuss this, please do so in the forums or write your own blog entry regarding the matter.