Tanks, Technology, and the Accessibility of eSports: Insight into Wargaming’s eSport’s Division
The 2016 Grand Finals for Wargaming’s World of Tanks was held in Warsaw, Poland on April 8th and 9th. World of Tanks may not be the most popular of the eSports but it is an important player in the growing entertainment genre. I had the opportunity to talk tanks, technology, and the accessibility of eSports with Wargaming’s Global Director of eSports Mohamed Fadl at the event.
World of Tank's Growth and World of Tanks
This was the third annual Grand Finals event for World of Tanks and while it was still held in Warsaw, it moved to a larger venue, Torwar Hall. When asked what’s helped the eSports event grow Fadl commented, “It’s the players . . .and the fans.” It’s evident from the deafening cheers of fans in the audience for teams like two time Grand Finals winners Na’Vi, that the professional players have a loyal following.
Another piece of the eSports puzzle is pure entertainment value. To be successful as a spectator sport a video game needs sponsors and skilled players sure, but that’s nothing without an audience. To gain an eSports audience a game needs to be entertaining, “That’s the most important thing.”, explains Fadl. “Even my mother can enjoy it. . . .You see the torpedo flying through the air and it’s like a Hollywood movie.”,he adds talking about World of Warships.
Speaking of World of Warships, the 2016 Grand Finals showcased the first match of the game on a global stage. The game might not be as polished for eSports as World of Tanks but it was cinematic and entertaining. When asked about the future of World of Warships as an eSport the Global Director of eSports said it will depend on the interest of the community.
European Domination and Global Expansion
There's already a lot of support from the community for World of Tanks as an eSport, albeit more in European regions. The teams from Europe are stronger competitors too. The reason for that is, “The game was launched in Russia. . .”, explains Mo and it took a few years to expand into other regions. Already we’re seeing more teams from other regions making it into the competition and making it farther through the brackets as well.
European teams may be dominating the competition, but teams in other regions show a lot of promise. “To be a great player you have to be a good person . . . .and passionate”, says Mo Fadl, “Take the new team eClipse . . .they have so much passion . . .give them a couple of years and I think they will really be incredible.” North American hopefuls eClipse came to the Grand Finals for the first time and although they didn’t make it to day two, they played well and gave North American fans hope that a NA team might make it to the finals one year.
Having new blood injected into the competition and underdog teams to root for is part of what keeps the Grand Finals interesting. That’s part of what goes into choosing the Wild Card teams. For example, former champions and second place winners of the Grand Finals 2016 HellRaisers were chosen as a Wild Card team partly because a lot of people wanted to see them return to the world stage. Red Cannids were a Wild Card team as well, selected to a degree because a Brazilian team had never come to the finals before. “How amazing would that be? To see a team that’s never been here before come and win it all?”, Mo enthused.
Entertainment Value and Making it Pro
Even changes to the tournament format are influenced by a need to make the competition entertaining. Notable changes to the format of the tournament in 2016 include the inclusion of tier X tanks and an extended battle time. When asked “Why the changes?” Fadl answered, “ . . the tier X tanks are the end game for players in the community,” Extending the battle time to seven minutes was to allow for more interesting strategies using the more heavy hitting tanks. “The two go hand in hand.”, he explained.
Making the tournament game look more like the online game is a likely direction Wargaming is taking World of Tanks eSports. Part of the appeal of watching professional sports is relating to the players and feeling like you could be a pro one day too. “That’s the reason we are looking at making the tournament 15 vs.15. . .”, reveals Mo. So in future Grand Finals we may see teams of 15 players and entire clans that worked their way up to the finals by playing the same game they started with online.
Working your way up from a clan to a member of a professional team playing in tournaments is no easy feat. Yet, if you prove you have the skill, Wargaming will be there to support you. “We are making a path to try and help the players be successful.”,says the Global Director of eSports. When teams get into the gold league and start qualifying for tournaments Wargaming reaches out to help players sail the choppy waters of becoming a professional gamer; helping them get connected with sponsors and figuring out all the legal stuff.
Technology in eSports
Technology is another crucial piece of eSports’ growth. A VR experience was available during the Grand Finals and Fadl expressed an interest in the technology's inclusion in World of Tanks. “Technology is the friend of eSports.”, says Mo. Although Wargaming has heavily supported streaming service Hitbox recently, they aren’t favoring one streaming avenue over any other. “People can choose what they want to use, where they want to watch.”, explains Fadl.
From streaming services making eSports more accessible for viewers to new video game physics making the game more challenging and interesting, technology will continue to drive eSports further. The director of eSports does recognize that access to technology can be an obstacle to players in certain parts of the globe. He believes in time the technology and access to it will come and eSports will be available for everyone.
Out of the Box eSports
Wargaming may be partial to their own game and it’s slice of the eSports scene but they are also cheering for the genre as a whole, or at least their Global Director of eSports Mohamed Fadl is. “It’s important not to put eSports in a box.”, he said expressing a desire for creativity and openness when it comes to furthering the competitive gaming sector. “All games are competitive, whether it’s against a computer, or yourself, you are trying to do better and challenging yourself, so all games are competitive.”, explains Fadl.
It drives home the idea that eSports will thrive wherever there are fans to watch. The companies involved in shaping it need to take their cues from their audience. eSports will evolve, change and grow into a new and exciting genre of entertainment not quite like anything we’ve ever seen before, if we let it.