If someone told me ten years ago that people playing video games would generate a bigger audience than the NBA, NHL, and MLB, I…
With the World of Warcraft Arena World Championship Asia-Pacific Regional Finals about to take place this weekend, we had the opportunity to chat to Jeramy McIntyre, product manager for World of Warcraft esports.
The competition will see Aussies facing off against Korea and Taiwan teams in Sydney to compete for a share of a $50,000 USD prize and a spot in the Global Finals to be held at BlizzCon 2018. This is the first esports event under the current Battle for Azeroth version of WoW and, as such, marks how much the game has grown as an esport over the years.
The Roar: The first time I actually saw WoW being played as an esport was at an esports bar here in Melbourne (GGEZ) with a bunch of friends who play casually. We were all a bit shocked that it was being played competitively in ways other than the typical PvP.
How did WoW transition into its current esports form and what support was required to help make this happen?
McIntyre: Well, first of all, that’s awesome. I love that you’re watching World of Warcraft esports in a very mainstream kind of way. I think that’s kind of the journey that we’ve been on over the course of the last 11 years, which is how long World of Warcraft has been developing esports programs.
If you look over the history of World of Warcraft esports in that time, we’ve gone from several different formats, many of them that reflect the game. We started with doing 5v5, then we moved down to 3v3 over the course of the next couple of years.
Within the last few years, we’ve definitely been investing more. I think one of the unique things that World of Warcraft as an esport has to offer is the actual diversity of gameplay.
Arena is kind of the core of the World of Warcraft esports portfolio and we’ve noticed that that has been expanding globally quite significantly over the last couple of years.
Laterally to that evolution, we’ve also been investing in different game types, specifically the Mythic Dungeon Invitational, which started out as a small, unique format and now is a global program that’s played in every country that World of Warcraft operates.
That diversity of the game itself I think is what’s really, really important and it’s what has led us to create these differing programs.
As we continue to make that transition, we see the return on that diversity of having multiple different programs that represent World of Warcraft esports. It’s definitely something that we are very interested in – trying to find new ways to highlight the actual gameplay itself.
The Roar: Would you say changes to the game itself or the current culture have had the biggest impact in making World of Warcraft a successful esport?
McIntyre: When I think about World of Warcraft culture and the community, it is something that is so large, so massive and so magnanimous that it would be very difficult for me to assume that anything other than that awesome community the huge driving force for us to create esports content.
That need, that want to be competitive and to play World of Warcraft on that competitive global stage has been a huge motivator for us as we begin piloting certain elements of our program, like MDI, which started out as a collegiate event only in North America.
Watching the appetite of the community grow beyond the program was what really helped provide meaning and reason for us to actually expand and continue to grow things like the MDI program. That being said, although we have that huge hunger from the community itself, we still definitely need to make sure that we can make those elements of the game competitive and fair.
It requires both the hunger from the community, from that audience, and the drive to want to do it and also from Blizzard, us recognizing that and being able to create the appropriate ‘obstacle course’ for a competitive esport.
The Roar: Are there any plans for more support or future events focusing specifically on ANZ competitions given our impressive record?
McIntyre: ANZ events have actually increased year over year for the last three years. This year, ANZ saw more online tournaments with a very, very community feel, which led to more competition and better gameplay that we’re seeing across the board in the region.
Very similar things are also happening in some of the other smaller regions like Korea. We see the appetite. We see the amazing gameplay and the passion of the players. It’s definitely on our radar for further expansion.
The Roar: How accessible do you think watching competitive WoW is for people who haven’t played the game? What has been done, or, are there any plans to help with this for people who aren’t hardcore players?
McIntyre: I think that’s one of the most difficult problems that esports as an industry has. How do we distil very, very complex and oftentimes subtle information and make it palatable for an average viewer to consume?
There’s many ways that we work on this to try to improve and streamline this to help grow our audience or make the cool element of competitive World of Warcraft esports more easily understandable to the audience.
One of the most recent things we did was creating a Twitch extension which moved a lot of that deep information away from the actual general broadcast. What that does is, for that hardcore audience that does want to go in there and understand those very subtle intricacies, it is now user-initiated.
They can hover over it with their mouse and they can dive as deep as they want. On our level from a broadcast perspective, we try to keep the audience as wide as possible, but also trying to provide avenues for our dedicated hardcore fans to gain the information that they want, whether that be for education or just trying to understand how certain teams are able to pull off different strategies.
The Roar: Do you have anything else you’d like to add?
McIntyre: I think just one of the big reasons why we’re bringing the APAC Regionals to Sydney, is that we can see the level of competition that the region brings. We’re super excited for it.
We’re very, very proud that ANZ won the first Mythic Dungeon Invitational at the global level. We’re super excited to see how competitive ANZ was this time around as well. I think that as long as this community keeps on growing and is as hungry as it has been the last couple of years, you’re going to see more World of Warcraft esports coming across the water as well.