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WoW Wednesday: How Warcraft Monetizes PvE eSports

Sunday is not usually a day for earth-shattering Warcraft news but interestingly over the past few years, some real nuggets of valuable information have been released over weekends or traditionally quiet periods. As I recall, it was New Year’s Eve when the news broke that Activision-Blizzard had bought MLG and it became apparent that aspirations of eSports dominance were more than simply a possibility. This company enjoys doing all things BIG, after all. Therefore, when I read an article from PCGamesN at the weekend that states the company is eyeing Warcraft PvE with competitive potential? Time to sit up and take notice:

“We definitely see it as an opportunity,” says Kim Phan, director of eSports at Blizzard. “Whether someone calls it an eSport or not is another thing, but there is a competitive element to it and my team is very interested in it.”

PvE eSports

Could Warcraft Support Major Competition?

This is big news in my part of the Warcraft universe. After the revelations that a portion of the hardcore PvE raid guilds that cracked World First on Gul’dan have called it a day, there was talk of there being no point to being up in the competitive end of a race with no real reward except kudos amongst your peers.

The grind that Legion now demands, providing the power required to dispatch content in a week that will take ‘normal’ players months, has left many players questioning their place in the World of Warcraft. I’ve said for some time that the only real reason a portion of players takes part in the process is because it is as close as many of them will get to being in an eSports environment… without the monetary rewards or associated glory.

If that were to change, it could radically and completely redefine how all of Azeroth operates, not just at the hardcore end of the scale but across the entirety of the demographic. It all depends on whether Blizzard decide to monetize the process or not. If they did and the ‘concept’ developed along the traditional lines of current eSports endeavors, it would probably suffer behind ongoing plans to develop a competitive league for Overwatch. With the current franchise purchase price for anyone in the LA ‘area’ being pitched at the $15 million mark (and many considering that overpriced), I’m not sure asking other organizations to stump up the cash is the way forward. I think the first step should be Blizzard establishing their own in-house ‘academy.’

PvE eSports

The ‘Warcraft’ Academy as a Foundation

In fact, the more I think about it the less this would be about getting other organizations involved when the entire venture could become a part of the expansion/patch landscape for Blizzard. They already have a yearly convention in which the World of Warcraft style of team raiding has proven popular, and has extended that format to other venues, notably Gamescom in Germany last year, as a means to trail what was then upcoming Legion content.

What would be useful to now possess would be a number of teams of players who, for the want of a better phrase, could be paid as play testers by the company for all upcoming content. It wouldn’t just be raiding either, you could put people into 5-man teams to test dungeons too, gathered from the best players across US, Europe, and Asia.

Ideally, I’d say you’d look for six teams (two from each region, obviously) and all effectively sponsored on an expansion-by-expansion basis. In the times when they’re not involved in friendly tournaments against each other they would be testing all forms of content, helping create ‘How To’ guides to kill bosses, and contributing to coaching videos to help new players learn how to tackle PvE well. Then at Blizzcon the six Academy teams would compete against each other to be acknowledged as the best team that year before taking part in a free for all contest which could be entered by any current raiding Guild. Sure you’d have eliminator rounds, and probably a prize that would allow a couple of non-Academy Guilds to help with testing for a year as part of their prize. This would make the climax of Blizzcon for Warcraft fans PvE on one stage, and PvP on another.

Building True Diversity From the Ground Up

There’s a very good reason why PvE content shouldn’t be like any other eSport currently. I’m really not sure it is physically possible to sustain a 20 person team at current eSports levels, even if you break management down into five man teams. It is a format that isn’t going to be easy to sell to advertisers either, which is why taking everything in-house at the point of inception is probably a better move at the start than trying to juggle commercial concerns as a priority.

What is very apparent too is that there would be benefits to doing this, quite apart from Blizzard holding all the creative and management cards to their own chest. The infrastructure for creating online leagues/players of Guilds competing for World First, for instance, could be managed using similar software that’s already used in other online games.

However, there is one massively compelling reason why World of Warcraft could be a winner in terms of securing a loyal and committed audience for this form of entertainment, and that’s the fact that Azeroth’s guilds are mixed sex. If Blizzard really want to play and win with the diversity card, then promoting women as eSports players would be fairly easy if your Academy teams take the best of players regardless of their gender.

This could be one of the first places to also actively promote the inclusion of deaf players and those with disabilities… because all these people are already a part of Warcraft, right now. There’s a lot of potential groundbreaking firsts that could be achieved here, if the people involved have enough imagination to look past the ‘competitive’ edge. In fact, if the future is simply the best players, regardless of gender or physical disability, starting with the biggest pool of potential players is more important than ever before.

Everybody Could be a Professional Raider

There’s one other important factor to consider in all of this and it was beautifully demonstrated by the response on Twitter when I asked people if, given the chance, they’d want to ‘try as a Pro raider’ if the opportunity arose. An amazing number of people said yes but, most importantly for me, a significant and vocal group were well over the 30+ age range that normally marks the end of an interest in playing computer games as a ‘professional.’ I’ve also said this before, and it bears repeating in a wider setting:

I’ve also said this before, and it bears repeating in a wider setting: the player base in Azeroth is not getting any younger. If you think more women in eSports is a requirement, how about a Seniors Raiding League? What if there were an entire scene based around all those people who got “too old” to play all the other games and might have a chance at later glory with an MMO? That might be one that sponsors and advertisers would want a piece of in time, and for completely different reasons to the youth market.

That’s the great thing about Warcraft, after all: your mom can play it, so can your grandpa, and babies become kids become adults inside its protective embrace. There’s something for everybody in Azeroth: dungeon races, pet battles, Ironman challenges… who is to say all of this couldn’t be part of an Academy’s remit?

Plus with the Company now owning its own television production company, the whole thing could be streamed straight to an internet portal that you sub to for a monthly fee. Hey, if you got Twitch involved, Amazon could stick the stuff straight on to your tablet. There’s a whole world of possibility out there if the team in charge are prepared to make the big decisions, with people who understand the possibilities already working towards a commercial goal.


What is apparent from the article that prompted all this imaginative speculation is that the people doing the thinking are well aware that they can’t treat PvE as an eSport in the ‘traditional’ sense. That should theoretically mean that if we’re starting from scratch, everything is on the table as a potential means not simply for promotion, but entertainment. With millions of players already spending thousands of hours per week trying to kill bosses in Normal, Heroic and Mythic, there is a massive potential pool of players (and lots of difficulty settings) to encourage and involve.

Blizzard could do a lot worse than survey the top 500 Guilds worldwide, asking them how they’d like to proceed with the process of World First going forward and use that as a basis for a consultative document that could be shared with the community for reactions and input.

I think the best way PvE could be promoted as entertainment is with the full and heartfelt support of everyone involved, regardless of skill and ability. If they’re smart, Blizzard can make many of the hardcore crowd’s claims of excessive grinds and pointless rewards effectively vanish overnight.

This might be one of the shrewdest and smartest moves they have ever made, and if it all plays out well? Even me, Mrs ‘I’m Not Really Interested in All This’ is going to be sitting up and taking serious notice of how PvP’s poor relation finally became the competitive push to glory it always had the potential to fulfill.

I’ll be watching potential developments very closely indeed.

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