Could the Future of WoW Esports Lie in PvE?



Wed 2nd Oct 2019 - 7:00pm

For decades, Blizzard Entertainment has been the titan of esports across countless circles of games. Whether it be RTS titles like Starcraft, card games like Hearthstone, or first person shooters like Overwatch, it’s clear that Blizzard has held a massive amount of influence over esports across an incredibly wide variety of titles, scenes, and genres. 

However, perhaps the company’s most recognizable game over the course of its near-30 year history, World of Warcraft, has been starved for a consistent, structured, and profitable esports scene. While Blizzard realizes that WoW is one of its most prolific and historic titles, it might not be the one that’s best suited for further investment in regards to esports. 

While WoW certainly has aspects of its gameplay that promotes a competitive scene, those features have never truly resulted in an esports league that could rival other major titles in gaming such as League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Perhaps WoW’s failure to remain afloat in an incredibly competitive industry is what led Blizzard to invest an incredible amount of resources into Overwatch, a game which the company could certainly bank on. 

For years, the driving force behind WoW in a competitive sense has been PvP gameplay. Most notably, Arenas have been at the forefront of the game’s esports scene as the 2v2 and 3v3 modes have played a major part in what made WoW PvP so successful as an esport, most notably between the years of 2008 and 2013.

But as time went on and WoW got older, the game started to lose a massive chunk of its playerbase, and in turn, Blizzard lost a significant amount of its esports viewership. 

However, with Classic WoW breathing new life into the franchise, bringing in a whole new (and old) batch of potential viewers, perhaps it’s time for Blizzard to rethink its strategy when it comes to WoW esports. Maybe, just maybe, the future of WoW esports doesn’t lie in PvP anymore, but instead, the prospects of World of Warcraft on a competitive level could be found in a PvE setting. 

If anything, PvE has been on quite the upswing as of late, and Blizzard is starting to realize that the true competition of World of Warcraft lies within racing to finish the game’s most difficult content. The intrigue of WoW as an esport in 2019 doesn’t come from players competing head to head against each other, but rather head to head against what the game has to offer. 

Beating the game’s signature core mechanics in the fastest, most efficient ways possible seem to be appealing to the WoW playerbase and viewerbase. These past few weeks have exemplified exactly that. WoW Classic never had the intention of becoming a seriously competitive game, but instead focused on rekindling the magic and sense of wonder that the original World of Warcraft sparked in so many players 15 years ago. Alongside those ideals, plenty of power-levelers and hardcore raiders took to Twitch to showcase the game’s storied speedrunning potential, all while inducing multiple races within the game’s community. 

Whether it was the worldwide race to level 60, or the competition to see which guild would be the first to down Ragnaros, it was clear that the first few days of WoW Classic inspired some serious competition - and some serious interest. 

Perhaps the most historic esports organization to double as a WoW guild, Method, poured an ungodly amount of resources into these races, as the organization hosted players from all over the esports and World of Warcraft communities, as talent from Cloud9, 100 Thieves, Method, and countless other organizations all congregated in a Las Vegas studio for an entire week with the sole purpose of becoming the first group of players to reach level 60 and eventually down Ragnaros. 

It’s events like these that truly bring the World of Warcraft community together and if Blizzard is seriously committed to developing an environment in which Classic WoW (and potentially even Retail WoW) can succeed and flourish as an esport, then it would behoove the company to start hosting events like this under the Blizzard banner. And events such as the Mythic Dungeon International and Blizzcon Live Raids have shown us that Blizzard is certainly capable of doing this sort of thing. Now, it's time for them to push the envelope even further. 

Looking forward to the final months of 2019, Blizzard could capitalize on Classic WoW as an esport this November at Blizzcon, as the entire World of Warcraft community will have its eyes glued to the event. And while it should be a given that Blizzard will be announcing news surrounding both Classic and Retail WoW, it would make a ton of sense for the convention to showcase World of Warcraft as a featured title - especially in an esports setting. If anything, Blizzard should most definitely invite some of those same players from the Method event to highlight the triumphs of World of Warcraft Classic to the community as a whole. 

Even an event like a quick Molten Core race between two groups, or even better, a preview of content from a future phase, could garner serious interest from around the WoW Classic community. As of now, the content that’s to come during the game’s future phases is relatively unknown. Aside from the fact that all of the content has been seen before, no one truly knows how it’s going to be implemented or played years after its original release. 

From there, Blizzard should strongly consider investing resources into Classic WoW outside of the game itself. The biggest challenge facing the game right now is longevity and the biggest question that Blizzard faces: What is going to keep players engaged with the game long-term? 

Perhaps a competitive scene could keep people interested in Classic WoW, and the fact of the matter is that players are shifting their eyes from the PvP side of the game to something more PvE-focused. If Blizzard is serious about retaining the playerbase of Classic WoW, then the time to act upon an official PvE-focused esports event or league is now. Keeping the masses engaged and focused on WoW is going to be key for Blizzard moving ahead. With games like Destiny: Shadowkeep and Borderlands 3 looking to dominate the fall market of games, WoW Classic will need to keep its head above water and retain as much of its original playerbase as possible. 

The first wave of re-subscribers should be emerging around September 27. Gauging the success of Classic can be done then. As for the longevity of the game, only time will tell.