Wednesday, February 27, 2008

World of Warcraft e-sports

You guessed it, it's "WoW PvP day" here on Tobold's MMORPG blog. And that wouldn't be complete without mentioning Blizzard's recent announcement of "e-sports" tournaments. You pay $20 and get a brand new level 70 character in full epic gear on a special tournament server, where you compete against others in the arena to win a part of a prize pool of $250,000. As there will be probably more than 12,500 players trying this, Blizzard will make loads of money from that.

Syncaine from Hardcore Casual and me often disagree, because he isn't casual at all. But for once I totally agree with him, when he calls this e-sports server a form of legalized RMT: If there is a new class you'd like to try out, but are too lazy to level up and equip it, you can pay $20 and get a fully equipped level 70 power-leveled by Blizzard themselves. It's both cheaper and more safe than a Chinese power-leveling service! And completely legit! And nobody forces you to actually play in the arena on that server. Bring your whole guild and finally see whether you could beat the Black Temple in your $20 epic gear!

Or of course you could enter the arena and compete for money prizes. Wait a minute! How do you call an online service where you pay a fixed sum to be allowed to participate, in the hope of winning a huge money prize pot financed by all the other participants, by winning online games? Yes, illegal gambling, that was the term! Well, the legality of it of course depends on the country where you live, but how exactly is Blizzard e-sports different from lets say an online poker tournament?

And as if that all wasn't enough insanity, Rob Pardo hopes to turn this e-sports thing into a spectator sport, by "retrofiting" spectator mode into the arenas. Note to Rob: in a spectator sport the audience needs to be able to follow what is actually happening on the field. Right now, even if you could watch an arena game, you wouldn't understand anything of what was going on, as you don't see who uses what abilities and spells most of the time. And sometimes you don't see anything at all, because all the rogues and druids are invisible. And when something happens, it all goes so fast, that you can't follow the action. So WoW arenas as a spectator sport would need slow-motion replay, with the invisible people made visible to the spectators, and with all the spells and abilities being used shown. That will be very, very hard to implement.

I think trying to turn World of Warcraft into an "e-sport" is a very bad idea. You are reducing a huge virtual world with many different options and modes of gameplay and character development into a tiny arena with arrested development and only one type of gameplay, which isn't even the best balanced one of the game. And as the rules of the e-sport change with the rules of WoW in general, players don't even get certaintly about how their class will play. There is already a big outcry on the upcoming warlock nerf, now imagine you just paid $20 for a tournament warlock when the patch hits and nerfs you!

I have a far better proposal for Blizzard: Instead of having one game that does everything, split WoW into two different games. Leave just the battlegrounds in WoW, take out the arenas, and make a new game which is all about arena combat, e-sports, and tournaments. The new game would have no grind, no character development, and thus no way that the less skilled player could beat the more skilled player by having the better gear. Then you could balance WoW perfectly for PvE, and the new game perfectly for PvP, and wouldn't have all those problems at the interface of the two.

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