By Chris Blain
November 6, 2018
Mass Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games have been around for quite some time and at one point were very strong within the competitive scene, especially WoW esports. WoW esports competitions go as far back as EverQuest with their Test of Tactics and Best of the Best PvP tournaments.
The memory of these competitions lived on through their predecessors, and none better represented MMORPG esports in the competitive gaming scene then World of Warcraft. From the beginning, WoW emphasized the faction war in their game to put players on one side or the other of conflicts.
It started with pure world PvP where players could attack one another, evolved into “instanced battlegrounds,” and then finally the brilliant introduction of the arena came. The arena was what one would envision when thinking of a Player versus Player environment.
Designed like a gladiatorial Colosseum, players got divided into teams of 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 where they would then engage in glorious battle. Whichever teams still had players alive at the end would, of course, be the winner.
Although MMORPG’s typically appealed to gamers who wanted to band together to fight against great threats such as huge dragons or celestial beings, many embraced the PvP. Soon enough the Arenas became an essential part of the WoW environment, and tournaments arose for all modes.
For years, the best 2v2, 3v3, and 5v5 teams fought it out, and those who were the most successful got to compete on the big stage, BlizzCon. There were prize pools with over $100,000.00 in them, giving the top team a chance at taking home the lions share. At the time, this was big money.
There weren’t a lot of video game tournaments out there with cash prizes at that time aside occasional fighting game and FPS tournaments, until that is The International came around with a massive prize pool. Big money tournaments were now a factor and a big part of the growth of esports.
The introduction of substantial prize pools was a game changer in the esports environment, and when MOBAs were no longer just a custom game from the RTS Warcraft, they took a life of their own. A much bigger prize pool drew in much more attention, and as the years progressed, others needed to step up to the plate.
Instead of leading the way in the esports market, Blizzard found themselves attempting to play catch up with the MOBA competition. The Arenas were no longer the only show in town and watching 5v5 arena battles was less exciting to crowds than the appeal of watching it from 3 different lanes.
Eventually, Blizzard removed 2v2 and 5v5 from competition, making the focus solely on 3v3. They utilized the 3v3 ladder as their standard for “balancing” classes in PvP, which, did not always go very well with the community.
The system kept getting tweaked, taking away “gear” benefits, switching up PvP gear and PvE gear, ways to attain rewards, and so on. Their tweaks did not manage to grow the following of the WoW arena scene and even hurt the overall PvP community as a result.
Blizzard introduced multiple other esports titles to the scene, including Overwatch, Hearthstone, StarCraft 2, and Heroes of the Storm during this time. It has gotten speculated that Blizzard is not as concerned about the MMO esports scene, but introduced a new one, Dungeon Running.
Dungeon running is virtually just speed runs of “difficult” PvE content called “Mythic Keystones.” It is unique in the sense it isn’t out there, yet it doesn’t feel like anything extraordinary. Adding this mode is a good sign at least that shows Blizzard is at least willing to introduce new competitive esports to WoW.
Think of the top MMORPG games and think of the esports right now associated with them. What comes to mind? Anything aside WoW esports? Precisely. There is a reason it was hard for you to think of it. Most MMORPGs don’t focus on the competitive esports scene because it is more of the same.
Team-based arenas aren’t new in the MMO world, yet, they are becoming rare in the esports scene. Most MMORPGs have either reeled in their esports offerings or removed themselves from the competitive scene almost entirely. These titles can hardly get blamed since the demand wasn’t there.
There is a reason that esports has become so popular. People enjoy watching others compete and show off their game skills against others. The problem that MMORPG’s have seen in the esports scene is their lack of creativity in the team-based arena environment and have almost become, stale.
When I say they lack creativity, I mean they are not doing anything new with the modes to launch the potential esports into success. It is just recycled variations that we have seen before, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, except even the player base is not overwhelmingly excited about these modes.
Most of the MMO arena situations remain the same, where there are two DPS style characters and a healer. The entire game is a mixture of “pressure over time” and “counter-switches” with some minor bells and whistles. Explaining what is going on to an average fan is, difficult.
The reason being, there is no way to “measure” success until the end of the match, and the being on the “edge of your seat” isn’t there. There are great moments, but the overall competition itself has been the same for years, and somewhat boring for those who aren’t specifically “involved in that scene.”
Look at the growth that the Battle Royale genre has seen thanks to games like Fortnite and PUBG. They introduced the whole concept of survival modes where people were not forced to play any specific way to succeed. New MMORPG’s need to embrace something different then what has been offered before.
There are many possible solutions for MMORPG style games to take for embracing the esports scene. We utilize WoW esports as an example since it is the dominant MMO. At one point, wow esports had 5v5, 3v3, and 2v2 arenas in the competitive scene, which were the ranked arena modes in the game.
They removed 5v5 from the actual game and 2v2 from wow esports at BlizzCon, making 3v3 the only viable option to play for competition. Blizzard added keystone challenges aka timed dungeon running to their wow esports, which is showing they at least think outside the box.
When it comes to Blizzard and World of Warcraft, they don’t need to reinvent the wheel here but rather tweak their approach. Esports titles are primarily focused around teams of players, with multi-player strategies. What is lacking in the competitive esports scene is that of single player competitions.
1v1 arenas have been a discussion in World of Warcraft for years, but they have not implemented it for different reasons, from imbalance issues to a lack of interest. MMORPGs are primarily for the raid environment and as it stands, getting into the ranked PvP scene isn’t easy, or fun usually.
The thought behind 1v1 allows people to know what is going on throughout the match and to get excited. It is much easier to explain how 1v1 works as opposed to the intricacies of 3v3 arena play. Simply put, if one player dies, they lose. The magic is what they do to survive or win.
Giving a 1v1 ranked option will not only open up the potential involvement in PvP by the player base but, will also bring a whole new wave of entertainment to the MMO stream scene. The 1v1 “duels” that get streamed are quite popular and give power to those trying to grow their audience.
Streamers can make all the difference when it comes to bringing popularity to MMO based competition. By showcasing their skills, it can bring attention not only to the streamer but the competitions as well. Look at one the favorite Twitch performers, Ninja, and what he did with Fortnite just by showcasing it.
His gameplay in Battle Royales is often him rushing in to engage enemies and get in as many 1v1 situations as possible. He could play it safe for most of these matches, allowing the other players to pick each other off, but he doesn’t and instead gives his audience a show.
Whether a fan of Fortnite or not, no one can deny the most epic part of any match is watching a 1v1 clash at the very end involving two skilled players. Towers build into the sky, and only the wits and their quick reaction is what saves them. 1v1 is truly exciting and what MMORPGs like WoW need to have.
1v1 arena environments would be a great addition to the WoW esports scene, not just as a valuable mode for players, but for the viewers by giving them something thrilling to watch. Streamers can be the marketing tool that excites fans, and through 1v1, they can truly show off their individual skill.
Overall, there is a lot of potentials for MMORPGs to maintain a stable place in the competitive esports scene and I believe 1v1 Arena type environments are the route they should go. With the 1v1 ranked mode as a staple in MMORPGs, it is by far easier to convert esports fans into the MMO fold.
Team games are everywhere in the competitive esports scene, and if the MMORPG genre wants to be in that scene, they should try a new route. No one can deny MOBAs, and Battle Royale esports changed the esports environment. It is time for MMORPGs to step up and do the same.