World of Tanks and the Future of eSports
The Grand Finals for Wargaming.net League’s 2014-2015 season got off to an exciting start in Warsaw, Poland on April 25th, 2015. A massive amount of fans gathered outside of the Expo XXI building, where The Grand Finals were being held for a second time, for a chance to see the professional gaming action live. The huge international eSports event offers competitive World of Tanks players a chance to win their cut of a huge cash prize and the title of World Champion.
This is the second annual Grand Finals for World of Tanks and Wargaming is adamant about making eSports a fully fledged genre of sports entertainment in its own right. “World of Tanks” got its start in the eSports scene back in 2012 at the World Cyber Games in China. “World of Tanks” and eSports as a whole have come a long way since then.
Yet, CEO of Wargaming Victor Kislyi sees it going even farther. The Grand Finals for WoT had 1.7M viewers in 2014 and that number is expected to grow. In fact the projected audience for eSports in 2017 is 145 million people according to data presented during a press conference preceding the 2015 tournament. With a growing audience comes growing opportunities for revenue and business. Revenue from eSports is expected to climb from $199 to $465 million over the next two years.
Wargaming is honest about their companies motives, saying eSports has to be entertaining and it has to be a business. You need an audience, you need competitors and you need sponsors to make it thrive. Razor, PaySafeCard and intel sponsored The Grand Finals in 2015 and intel and Razor representatives expressed their companies full support behind the eSports scene.
Wargaming wants to help create professional players for their game World of Tanks. They already have their own league, Wargaming.net League, but they want to take their support a step further and make a career platform for their players. Players can now turn their “Hobby into a Profession” and their “Enthusiasm into Entrepreneurship”, expressed Wargaming’s CEO Victor Kislyi.
Part of Wargaming’s support for creating pro-WoT players is the new ladder system. Players will start out in the Bronze league and once they’ve proven themselves they can graduate to the Silver league or semi-pro status and from there it’s up to the Gold league which will qualify players for professional play. This isn’t unlike other ladder ranking systems found in competitive games like League of Legends but Wargaming wants to make sure their Gold league players will have what they need to succeed in a professional setting.
The Gold league will provide a salary for each team that makes it in. Wargaming will provide $750K in annual salaries per region for World of Tanks equalling $3 million in annual salaries globally. “You have to invest”, said Victor Kislyi about making a successful eSports division.
It’s clear that the leaders of Wargaming are passionate about their game and that may attribute to the success WoT has seen over the last five years. “It’s not about brand, It’s not about ego, It’s about creating something.”, said Wargaming eSports director Mohamed Fadl about the success and future of World of Tanks as a professional competitive game.
So what's in store for Wargaming’s eSport future? More of what they’re already doing but bigger and better, as their audience and sponsorship allows, is the answer. That doesn't mean they aren’t considering some changes and new additions to their eSports scene though.
Already the game mode has changed since the last WoT Grand Finals. The new attack/defense mode has really made the gameplay more aggressive, fast paced and action packed. These changes were made in part to entice Western audiences who have been slower to adopt the game and tend to prefer a more aggressive play style. Pro-players helped Wargaming come up with the changes to the game and it seems to be a great improvement.
As far as other Wargaming titles for the eSports scene? “Nothing’s impossible. We’ll see.”, as was heard frequently throughout the conferences Q&A session. World of Tanks for Xbox One was released in late 2015 but CEO Victor doesn’t think the console audience is competitive enough to support WoT eSports on that platform. However, if the audience is there and the players want it, than Wargaming is open to expanding.
Prospects for World of Warships are also looking good and although it will take time to perfect the game and grow it’s audience, it has potential as a competitive game. More potential than World of Warplanes, but Wargaming knows their strengths and weaknesses and is focusing on making their games unique and the best that they can be. Right now World of Tanks is receiving the most of their attention because it's the best business decision.
When asked whether their flagship game will be going 'mainstream' to fit it’s presence in the eSports scene, they said they wouldn’t dumb down the strategy and technical skills needed to play the game in order to reach a wider audience. They are dedicated to making a competitive AAA quality game that is truly free to play and win.