Today marked the opening of the Wargaming.net League World of Tanks Grand Finals, and boy, was it grand. It began with pounding techno music, flashing lights, a super-macho trailer showing competitive tough guys ready to tank it out, and a huge digital display that counted down the seconds until show time.
That kind of showmanship has become synonymous with Wargaming, and as CEO Victor Kislyi said during the press conference, Wargaming is in the entertainment business, and spectacle is just part of the package. It makes particular sense in the case of the Grand Finals, an event that has grown by leaps and bounds since last year—so much so, it needed to be moved to a new venue, Warsaw's Expo XXI.
This stadium-like place was big enough to accommodate Wargaming's massive stage set and lighting rig, not to mention a few “little” accessories like a huge military vehicle and a Red Bull stand. Still, this echoing hall proved to be still too small to house the teeming hordes of World of Tanks players who stood in long lines for hours waiting to get in.
Before any of the public was allowed entrance though, Wargaming held a press conference detailing its hopes for this year's Grand Finals with CEO Kislyi, Director of eSports, Mohamed Fadl, Russian Intel GM, Dmitri Konash, and Razer's Global Business Development Director, Jeff Royle.
The characteristically forceful Kislyi began by thanking the city of Warsaw for once again hosting the event, then went on to recap Wargaming's history as a once-humble start-up to the free-to-play juggernaut it's become. Kislyi mentioned the difficulty Wargaming initially had convincing Western gamers that “free” didn't mean “bad,” and reminded the press that Wargaming's “free-to-win” approach means triple-A quality.
He next went on to discuss the business of eSports, which is projected to reach $10-20 billion dollars by 2017, and Wargaming's strategy for making that happen. There's little question of their commitment; thus far, the company's invested $26 million in eSports. (Pretty significant, considering World of Tanks was first played as an eSport only three years ago.) Kislyi reconfirmed last year's message that Wargaming wants to facilitate the development of “cyber athletes,” and to that end, they've created Wargaming.net's Bronze, Silver and Gold Leagues.
Mohamed Fadl spoke next and further explained Wargaming's ideas for creating a “career path” to professional gaming. He too mentioned the motive for this, touting eSports' projected audience (145 million by 2017) which very soon, should put it on par with traditional sports like football and soccer. Augmenting Kislyi's comments, he described the “evolution of entertainment,” and Wargaming's plans for being in the vanguard of that growth.
As far as the career path concept, he described Wargaming.net's three progressive divisions: Bronze, Silver and Gold. The Bronze League is for the average World of Tanks player, playing alone at home. This is designed to encourage and entice solo players to become more competitive. The next step, the Silver League, is for players on semi-pro teams.
Wargaming helps the top teams in the Silver League by promoting them on its channels and hooking them up with potential sponsors. Finally, the Gold League boosts the best of the best World of Tanks players to pro status, with each region (there are multiple teams per region) earning a $750,000 salary ($3 million globally). That's serious food for thought if you think you're up to the challenge.
The press conference wrapped up with brief comments from Intel's Konash (who showed World of Tanks Blitz on a “thin shiny tablet” on which he said the game runs at 50 fps) and Royle mentioned Razer's competitive gaming platform, Razer Arena.
The press niceties over, the noise and light show resumed and the public came streaming in carrying glow sticks, goodie bags, and inflatable boom-boom sticks. Here, the dramatic became the downright hyperbolic with the entry of both this year's teams and last year's Grand Champions Natus Vincere, who arrived (on screen) by helicopter.
That's a pretty hard act to follow, but I'm sure two days of cut-throat tank rivalries should provide a good amount of drama.
For more info about the Grand Finals standings, or to watch the Grand Finals LiveStream, visit the official Grand Finals website.