MMOs and E-Sports – Part 1: Why hasn’t it worked?

E-Sports – The Current Landscape

I had a lengthy discussion the other day with a friend of mine with whom I share a common interest in game genres. We are also both fans of watching, but not playing, Starcraft 2. Currently, the biggest games being played as E-Sports are League of Legends, Halo: Reach, Call of Duty, and Starcraft 2. The genres are rather limited. There is one RTS, one MOBA game, and two FPS games. Why aren’t other genres represented?

Well, how about MMORPGs? Well wait a moment, how is THAT a competitive game? How is it an e-sport? To answer that question, we should consider the last time an MMO was in consideration as an e-sport: World of Warcraft Arena.

World of Warcraft Arena:

WoW Arena used to be featured at MLG (Major League Gaming) but after a few tournaments, was removed. Why? WoW is one of the most popular MMOs in the world, so why didn’t it work? Arena suffered from three glaring issues:

  • Difficulty following the action – The games, when the action occured, were difficult to follow. Clutch interupt? You can barely make out a kicking animation through the fiery explosions and swinging weapons. LoS’ed a cast? Can’t tell without cast bars. Even with the help of the casters pointing out what occurred, most laymen couldn’t tell what is going on.
  • Slow games – Turtling became a big issue in games, where both teams played so defensively to the point that no one died, and basically just poked and prodded each other, trying to force a mistake. Problem is, at a high enough level of play, its almost impossible to make that mistake if you really just want to turtle and not extend yourself. There were championship matches where games went to the time limit easily, because no one would die. This makes for incredibly boring games. Imagine sitting watching six players poking, prodding, running away, and chasing people but not really killing anyone for 45 minutes.
  • Extreme vulnerability to the meta-game – the first couple seasons of arena were open to team composition experimentation; you saw a lot of different styles of play and it made it interesting for everyone. But with power gamers and min/maxers, people eventually picked the BEST compositions and played them exclusively. Classes began to be balanced around those compositions. So when someone came along with a broken composition that was strong it forced EVERYONE to play the same thing or get rolled. This occurred with Beastcleave (Enhancement Shaman, Beast Mastery Hunter, Holy Paladin) in 3s. And with Wizard Cleave. And again with African Turtle Cleave. See the common theme? While I hear it is MUCH better now with the variety of viable comps, this new-found openness didn’t occur at the critical stage of Arena adoption while it was at MLG; ie: too little, too late.
There were other issues but by far, these three were the worst in terms of getting widespread adoption by laypersons that have no prior knowledge of World of Warcraft. By the time a lot of these issues were addressed, Arena fell out of favor of viewers and it was dropped by MLG. It is still played at Blizzard annual tournaments but doesn’t draw as many viewers as Starcraft 2 does.
Starcraft (both the first and second game) have proven popular with gamers and e-sport fans due to the ability for anyone to follow the action. The games are fast paced and the meta-game does not shift incredibly in a single tournament season.

In another post, I will address the newest contender as an E-Sport MMO: Guild Wars 2