The first finals for the Guild Wars 2 ESL Pro League are coming up this weekend, and we sat down with ArenaNet’s Competitive Brand Manager, Joshua Davis to chat about the league, the championships this weekend, and the future.
Tell us how things have been going with the ESL GW2 Pro League. The successes and challenges you’ve faced?
Elevating competitive play in an MMO to the level that we’ve taken it to is something that may seem crazy – it’s largely unprecedented and is unexplored territory for a game like ours. Thankfully we have a ton of data supporting (both from the industry and internally) the fact that this project isn’t crazy, but is rather a venture that has significant opportunity to evolve the eSports ecosystem. Over the past three months we’ve already seen record levels of engagement from our PvP community in Guild Wars 2, and since the release of Heart of Thorns, PvP continues to be the fastest growing area of our game. In short, we’re happy with our commitment to competitive play, and we’re excited to see where it takes us.
That said, there have been some growing pains, but no problem is insurmountable and we’re continuing to find ways to make the Pro League a better experience for both the players that are competing and as a better viewable experience for our fans. As many folks well know, balance as the most critical ingredient in building an environment conducive to competitive play, and while this is something ArenaNet has always been mindful of, the first season of Pro League reminded us just how vital it is to get that right.
The EU seems to have an advantage in previous competitive tournaments. Why do you think that is, and can NA challenge them?
Uh, oh – this seems like a trap! Truthfully, North America (namely the Abjured) has had the edge in international tournaments over the past year, taking two of three World Tournament Series Championships. I don’t know if I can pinpoint what it is exactly that has given them the edge, but I will say that it’s incredibly interesting to see how each region has historically had different takes on the meta game. There’s no clear defining characteristic behind the gameplay – it’s just different. Sometimes a region will settle into a defensive meta whilst the other goes full “HAM” and vice versa. It really creates for some exciting unexpected moments at LAN events.
I think that European Pro League is overall more competitive than North America, and that can be argued as true for most other competitive games (grab your pitchforks) in the market. Historically Guild Wars 2has seen some really top notch talent in North America, but it’s really focused on the top few teams. In Europe, there’s a number of teams that are playing at the highest level, clearly evidenced by the fact that long-time titans Orange Logo and the Civilized Gentlemen didn’t even make it into the Season Finals and were beat out by newer upstart teams. In fact, Orange Logo, a fan favorite, is actually up for relegation in the Challenger Cup later this month. If they don’t manage to manage to place top three they’ll lose their spot in the league. Orange Logo were the champions from our World Tournament Series in Boston last April, so to think that they might not be in the league speaks to how much the competitive scene has grown in Guild Wars 2.
Between Rank Fifty Five and the Abjured, the two undefeated teams, who do you think has the best shot at securing the crown?
I really do try not to play favorites…but given the choices, I’d have to opt for Rank Fifty Five. Competitive gaming is really about creating narrative and giving people a reason to be invested in the participants. A reigning dynasty is certainly one type of narrative, but I tend to favor the story of the underdog.
There is of course always room for upsets – any teams you think we should keep an eye on for NA or EU?
A few weeks ago I might not have believed that Team PZ would have a shot against Rank Fifty Five, but I know they’ve been training incredibly hard over the past few weeks, scrimmaging with the Abjured regularly. From what I hear through the grapevine they’re making incredible progress and have adapted to the newly imposed class stacking rule quite well.
The in-game PvP leagues are going strong, too. You’re sort of drafting challengers from the pool of the highest ranked teams on the in-game ladder. What made you decide to do this?
For a while now we’ve been working towards building a graduation path for our PvP players – the idea that they can start their journey by playing casual hot-join matches, and with enough hard work and determination (and maybe a little luck), they can become a pro. Before the Guild Challenger League, there wasn’t really a clear method for players to achieve that status, and we figured what better way to accomplish it than to tie it directly into our in-game PvP system - leagues.
When is the next ESL Season?
Regular season play for our Pro League should begin in late March. Our new season in the in-game PvP season for all Guild Wars 2 players starts up on Tuesday, February 23. Aside from the new balance changes, Season 2 will also feature a new rule that will require all participating teams to field five unique professions – stacking more than one of any class will be prohibited.
Any parting words or advice for the teams involved?Don’t let your dreams be dreams!