World of Warcraft has a problem. Well, it has two problems that are linked: it has neither a clear Esports lane nor a healthy PvP scene anymore (or arguably never had one).
World of Warcraft Race for World First and Esports
I've been watching the Race for World First (RWF) of Amirdrassil, the Dream's Hope. I think Liquid currently "leads," but they along with Method and Echo are consistently stuck in phase three at time of this writing.
The casters are doing their best to keep this race entertaining, but it's just... not. They've been tasked with entertaining viewers during the esports equivalent of a baseball rain delay. (Or the baseball equivalent of play-by-play and color commentary for the Pittsburgh Pirates - which is arguably worse.)
RWF isn't interesting beyond getting to see a high level of gameplay that most folks playing World of Warcaft will never experience firsthand. I wish it were more interesting, truly.
I needed a break from watching the Twitch stream and from failing another +15 Murozond's Rise with a tank that doesn't understand positioning on the Time-Lost Battlefield boss, so I decided to get out and "touch grass," as the young folks say even though none of the grass around here is as nearly as green as the Emerald Dream.
I took a walk to grab some lunch at McDonald's. It's cold but sunny today. The McRib™️ is back. I always get it once. And I'm always just whelmed. Did anyone else's elementary school in the US serve the faux McRib? I can't imagine what they made those out of. We used to joke they were shaped like tank tracks (and hence roadkill).
Anyway, enough digression. RWF isn't truly esports.
I think my friend and guildie Bonuspoppa got it right when he said casting RWF is more like a news network on election night. Everyone is sitting there trying to fill dead air waiting for an outcome.
But what about Mythic Dungeon International (MDI) and its two iterations: Time Trials and The Great Push?
These are a lot like the RWF but on a smaller scale. TGP has teams of 5 players attempting to push keystones as high as possible in whatever dungeons have been chosen for a given competition. Time Trials are the same format, but the goal is to complete the keystone as fast as possible (usually with a set number of attempts).
These formats, like RWF, put players against the game rather than putting players directly against each other. WoW's only esport in which players compete directly against each other is its Arena World Championship (AWC).
I admittedly do not have much experience in Arena PvP in WoW. It's not a part of the game that I've ever been particularly good at. I find it less enjoyable than dying repeatedly in Overwatch, which I don't particularly enjoy either. Arena balance in WoW has never been good - players get excited when it is nearing acceptable levels.
The AWC is the right direction for competitive popular esports in WoW, but it's still not quite there.
According to the website Esports Charts, WoW ranks 19th in viewership with slightly over 305,000 viewers at its peak this year. Compare that to over 6.4 million viewers for League of Legends.
Of course it's worth noting that League of Legends has had 155 tournaments this year whereas WoW has had... 27. More tournaments across Blizzard's IP might indeed help its numbers even though the ending of the Overwatch League doesn't help.
For the company that is credited for inventing esports with StarCraft, it seems to have been ignoring the formula that works. (For what it's worth, Phil Spencer's excitement re: StarCraft is a good sign that we might see more resources put back into that storied franchise.)
Put players directly against each other with more parameters and context than arena. Competitive world PvP could be the answer to WoW's esports problem.
Competitive World of Warcraft World PvP
Many players hate PvP in WoW, which is why the game developers changed the game's design from server-designated PvP to an option the player can choose to turn on/off depending on whether they want to engage that aspect of the game. Many folks (see the forums) would claim this was the official death of world PvP in WoW, but others seem to mark earlier moments.
I want to offer my thoughts on the world PvP that has been good in WoW in my experience playing the game: Timeless Isle and Battle for Azeroth (BFA) Incursions (sometimes called faction assaults).
The Timeless Isle came at the end of Mists of Pandaria in 5.4. There was plenty of PvE content available for players, yes, but there was also the ability to flag yourself for World PvP that was faction agnostic in order to earn Bloody Coins. It often ended up being a sort of battle royale, and if you weren't at least partnered with a friend also engaging in the world PvP, you would find yourself spending most of your time flagged dead.
But it was fun with a partner/team. There was strategy involved in using the map, and there were the obstacles of the elites patrolling the island and rares spawning randomly, too.
To my mind, this idea was perfected in BFA with Incursions. Incursions would have one faction invading the other factions zone. e.g., The Horde would attack the Alliance zone, Drustvar, with certain quests and objectives.
World PvP during Incursions was great. There were objectives to complete in addition to slaying members of the opposing faction. This mix of fast-paced PvE and PvP was maybe some of the most fun to be had in BFA.
Why not use this model for competitive PvP WoW esports?
In some ways, this is like League of Legends (even though I would argue WoW battlegrounds are more that mode), but it's also more than that. And we should know by now that for a new sort of WoW esport to succeed, it will need to be more than a copycat of an already popular brand.
Yes, the faction war in WoW is on indefinite hold (a good thing, in my mind), but developers could easily take the Timeless Isle model and meld it with the Incursions model. Teams of players enter a zone to compete with each other for resources to complete objectives, killing each other all the while.
Such a mode should probably be on a timer - I would think no more than thirty minutes per map - and for tournaments, teams could compete in best of matches, likely best of three or best of five.
This sort of world PvP in a tournament would have all of the elements of esports that viewers want. Players would be competing directly with each other using strategies to kill or to be killed and the great elements of WoW's MDI and RWF formats where the players are competing against the game objectives would still be there.
I am not suggesting WoW end its existing esports, to be clear. RWF, MDI, and AWC attract viewers, but this new mode would be a good addition to the WoW esports portfolio that might appeal to the Twitch viewers who are already watching League of Legends, Counter-Strike, etc.
Please comment below with your thoughts.
As always, thanks for reading. For Azeroth!