With the most recent WoW 3v3 tournament experiencing a plethora of technical problems with little assistance from Blizzard, players are wondering whether or not this MMO giant really wants to encourage WoW as a
It was only a few short weeks ago that we talked about the past six months of Competitive World of Warcraft PvP, and it was here that we noted how enjoyable it was to watch some of the edge-of-your-seat matches that went on during these past few months. Unfortunately, we may have spoken too soon in our expressed optimism for WoW's growth as an e-sport, because it appears that Blizzard may be giving up the fight.
You see, just last weekend, teams from around North America gathered in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for the American ESL Championships for WoW 3v3 Arena. Not only were these particular competitors playing for the $15,000 prize available, but the top four teams would also be eligible to compete in the ESL Global Finals, held in Hannover, Germany, against (amongst others) the current top team in the world: Korea's famous Rogue / Mage / Priest team, HON. Unfortunately, ESL Edmonton was plagued with a huge number of technical problems from the tournament host, as well as a perceived lack of support from Blizzard. Is this a sign of things to come?
One of the biggest problems with the tournament was that Blizzard had released their latest patch (3.3) just a few days prior to the start of the competition. Notwithstanding the fact that players would need to get used to the new changes with only days to prepare, the new 3.3 update also brought a new problem that the organizers could not get around: Blizzard had not updated the spectator UI!
A spectator UI, by the way, refers to the user interface employed by tournament broadcasters so that they can properly watch the matches while streaming them on the internet. Typically broadcasted through streams with ads and commercials, these online streams attract hundreds of thousands of live viewers, and it is this viewership that translates into profits to keep these tournaments going.
Think of it like the digital scoreboards that are superimposed onto Ice Hockey games and the multiple cameras that are used to keep a careful eye on the puck at all times. In this way, the spectator UI displays the health, buffs and debuffs of the arena participants at all times, and by using this spectator UI, commentators are able to zoom around the arena while the match is going on, toggling between different players and keeping a close focus on the action throughout the match. Without a working spectator UI, the ESL tournament organizers were unable to properly stream the tournament matches on the internet (imagine if an NHL game could not be broadcasted on Cable TV!).
Unfortunately, when the ESL team contacted Blizzard to request technical assistance, Blizzard told them (according to one player at the tournament), 'not to broadcast,' because they would need to release a new client just to fix it. The tournament organizers would be able to find a workaround for a few of the matches and, while they did manage to stream the tournament finals online, a significant portion of the tournament could not be aired as a result of the broken spectator UI.
There were further problems with the tournament realms themselves, as players discovered that the new 3.3 glyphs were not available on the tournament realms (despite the 3.3 changes going in), map rotations were constantly stuck on a single map (and these maps usually gave huge advantages to specific team compositions, like Blade's Edge Arena and Ring of Valour), and players constantly experienced lag throughout the tournament. All of this added up to what most players agree to be "the worst World of Warcraft tournament to date."
Is this treatment a sign of things to come for competitive World of Warcraft? Many players are distressed that, even though ESL Edmonton was one of the very few ''official' World of Warcraft tournaments held during this year, Blizzard did not send an official representative, nor did they offer specialized technical assistance. Some could argue that Blizzard only cares about their massive Blizzcon tournaments, but any competitive gamer will tell you that having only one properly supported tournament a year will kill any hopes that Blizzard has for making World of Warcraft a properly recognized e-sport. Counter-Strike, Quake, Warcraft III and Starcraft have all survived numerous years as profitable e-sports because there are regularly held tournaments scheduled constantly so that players can have a reason to play year round.
One should ask if Blizzard even wants to continue encouraging World of Warcraft as a legitimate e-sport. While Tom "Kalgan" Chilton constantly talks about encouraging the World of Warcraft e-sport community, Blizzard's Vice President of Game Design, Rob Pardo, noted in a recent interview that they "never designed WoW to be a competitive e-sports game," and that he's "not sure if that was the right thing to do with the game." While Pardo would go on to say that "It's tricky, now that we've gone down that road, because we have a passionate, large audience that enjoys it - the Arena, the e-sport - so we can't just chop off that head," any reader can tell that there are definitely some conflicting views within the Blizzard development offices.
All in all, Blizzard needs to decide whether or not it wants to properly support its e-sports community, and if it chooses to develop World of Warcraft as a competitive game, it definitely needs to commit more time and resources to ensuring that the few tournaments that exist are able to run as smoothly as possible. Should ESL Edmonton be a sign of Blizzard beginning to withdraw support for tournaments hosted outside of Blizzcon, it certainly seems unfair that it would encourage third party tournaments in the first place. Either way, something needs to be done before the ESL Global Finals in Hannover, or else the e-sport that is competitive World of Warcraft Arena may very well turn into the e-sport that never could be.