The love of Warcraft III doesn’t end for some people. Prime example: Manuel “Grubby” Schenkhuizen. A WC3 legend, and one of the greatest esports players of all time, Grubby is still thoroughly involved in playing RTS games. Whether WC3, the recently released Age of Empires 4, or some StarCraft II, Grubby lives and breathes the genre.
Inven Global spoke with Grubby to hear his thoughts on Reforged, AOE4, and the WarCraft scene.
There was a job posting from Blizzard recently regarding a new Lead Designer for Reforged. At present time, what do you think is the biggest aspect holding the game back?
To keep it simple, the biggest thing holding the game back now is its reputation. Blizzard soured the reputation for Reforged, and "by proxy", of WarCraft III itself. The WC3 game is still uniquely suitable as one of the most fun games and engines to play 1on1 competitive RTS that's a bit more lighthearted than SC2/AOE4. Additionally, I don't know any RTS that does team games better than WC3. 4on4 is very popular right now and I'm having a blast playing it.
Finally, the custom game section of WC3 is the one that led to TDs and MOBAs being so famous, because the engine is so good. It still has CGs going on. If I had to pick three developments for WC3, it'd be:
- A new, actual HD graphics reboot that is faithful to the original
- Fixing the custom game section and making it as readable as it deserves to be; with global CG support, and maybe a latency drop (more servers!)
- Advertising what W3Champions.com has built and making it an official 3rd party extension.
I'd say incorporate, but I have no faith anymore in Blizzard that if they incorporated W3C into their own client, they'd handle it with the TLC that it deserves, like how the W3C mod and dev squad has done so for the last couple of years.
"The game had the potential to bring back, and retain, a lot of players that used to play WC3. It lost the chance with many, many people because Reforged got screwed."
Even if Blizzard didn’t mess up Reforged, I’m worried that the popularity would only be Blizzard still wouldn’t have driven that much renewed interest in the game, and it wouldn’t reach the same level of The Frozen Throne. Do you agree?
It is enough for WC3 to be appreciated by thousands on a daily basis. It's a 20+ year-old game. Blizzard wanted their millions of WoW players to play WC3 which is why they wanted a new graphics overhaul and campaign overhaul, as they tried to connect it to the interests and recognition of WoW players.
The truth is, though, that RTS is for those that enjoy RTS. A WoW quest grinder that doesn't like RTS is unlikely to grind 4on4 games on a daily basis in Bronze League to Masters League, though who knows, I guess. The game had the potential to bring back, and retain, a lot of players that used to play WC3. It lost the chance with many, many people because Reforged got screwed.
If Blizzard are able to fix these problems, and Reforged does achieve a level of long-term success, do you think there’s enough money and infrastructure to support WC3?
The love of the people defines it. There are tens of thousands of people in the West alone that still enjoy and watch WC3 on a weekly basis. That means there's enough infrastructure to support small to medium scale esports and even DLC, if the dev were so inclined. It's just not a billion-dollar game anymore, and that's okay. WC3 deserves to be run by a team and leadership that appreciates and recognizes that some income is still income, and that WC3 has a reputation that needs to be fixed for Blizzard to be taken seriously in any future game releases.
Could WC3 do something similar to the Super Smash Bros. Melee scene? The game is as old as WC3, has less support from Nintendo than WC3 has with Blizzard, but still has a relatively healthy competitive scene. It’s been almost entirely grassroots, with massive in-house tournaments and crowdfunded documentaries celebrating and advertising the scene’s history. Do you think that level of grassroots impact is possible with WC3? Why hasn’t it happened yet?
That's already happening. Back2Warcraft have started to organize their own weekly tournament again; W3Champions is running three-monthly tournaments with thousands of dollars of prize money; China has very regular tournaments.
"In 11 years of competing, I've achieved almost everything I wanted to. I'm not ruling out that I will sometimes compete in something, but it has to be meaningful to me."
Another thing Melee has is the benefit of younger players getting involved. Some of the top champions are currently in their early 20s. Even in a new game like AOE4, all the top players are usually in their 30s. Do you see many young players joining RTS? Should that be the focus for the survivability of RTS?
This is less likely for WC3 or RTSs. I don't know why. I feel like if I were a youngster today, I'd still love games like WC3 and AOE4. But any kid I talk to, or any parent with kids, and they say their kids play games — I ask, what games? It's always Roblox/Fortnite/Minecraft, etc.
What have been the main differences between RTS games of the past and a game like AOE4?
AOE4 has captured the imagination and interest of almost the entire RTS gaming scene from young to old because it built on a powerful franchise history of AOE1-3, AOE Online and Mythology, while coming at a perfect timing for Blizzard RTS gamers that were looking for something new after SC1/ SC2/WC3. It balances strongly around economy management in particular, and has solid graphics and astounding sound design. With eight interestingly built civilizations and 14 different maps, there was enough for many people to explore, sink their teeth in, and test their mettle in a competitive environment.
What do you think some of the misconceptions Blizzard RTS fans have about AOE4?
One of the biggest misconceptions is that it has to be like AOE2, I guess. I also thought it was going to not be very competitive, but it is. However, Blizzard engines, mechanics, UI, and control scheme have been better than AOE4 has currently, though hopefully, that can continue to improve.
You’ve been streaming AOE4 since the game’s release. While the game doesn’t seem to have as high of viewership peaks, you command a larger audience on average. What have been your impressions of the game as a competitive title, and as a streaming title?
There was a very unexpected and exciting resurgence of stream viewership numbers when I started AOE4. On release, I was getting 6-8K concurrent viewers within 30 minutes of going live, which was insane. I'm back to my usual 2,500~ viewer concurrency on all of the games I play now, so AOE4 had that big peak in November for me and many people. This is, of course, very exciting as now I feel like I am making content and making more people happy simultaneously.
I made a lot of Civ guides on YouTube and was eagerly learning all about the game myself, together with the community that I was building and that was forming around the game. As a stream game, AOE4 is tricky because games tend to go pretty long and while that's usually a good thing, it can be hard to know where a player is at when you tune in halfway. Additionally, because it's multi-task heavy, I need to concentrate so I can't engage with the audience as carefree as I could in, for instance, Heroes of the Storm.
"I think Happy, for the last few years, is playing the highest level WC3 the game has ever seen. I'd never call him the GOAT, though. That title would have to go to Moon or Lyn."
In esports, the competitive lifecycle is pretty short. Most careers last only a few years and many players in games like League quit the game entirely after retiring. People like you still play WC3, and players like Moon are still able to compete. Why do you think this is?
It is because we have a very loyal and passionate fanbase that loves to see us play the games and genres we're known for. I am thankful for it every day.
Have you ever considered competing more, similar to someone like Moon?
I don't have the same competitive drive for competitions anymore. In 11 years of competing, I've achieved almost everything I wanted to. I'm not ruling out that I will sometimes compete in something, but it has to be meaningful to me. Even when I was competing, I cared a lot more about some tournaments than about others. The story was very important for me, the story building, the feeling.
Big, larger-than-life tournaments like WCG and WCS meant to world to me, whereas a $50K tourney with loads of prize money but not much of a story left me more disinterested. Via streaming, I get to experience the story-building on a daily basis, and I've found that tournaments don't play that big of a part anymore for me to feel fulfillment. I compete every day! In ladder games against and with other gamers. It's a lot of fun and sometimes very challenging.
How important do you think current competition is to someone’s legacy today? While there are still tournaments, and the meta has probably improved, the overall infrastructure and playerbase aren't what it was at WC3’s peak. Are victories today worth the same as when WC3 was at its peak. If not, what are they worth?
The level of top WC3 is actually the highest it's ever been, which is surprising. There are fewer players, so you'd think that the level would drop. For example, top ladder level of HOTS has dropped due to lower player base. But for WC3, it's actually up. A lot of these guys have always competed in WC3, and I think the efficiency of learning new tricks and micro has gone up due to information availability and exchange. I think streaming actually played a big part in this. A lot of clever little tricks and tips spread via Twitch tv and other streaming websites in Asia, for instance. The level of Lyn, Happy, Hitman, Soin, Moon, 120 today — it's so high.
"The level of top WC3 is actually the highest it's ever been."
Recently, there's an opinion which, perhaps controversial, is getting a lot of discussion: that Happy could actually be in the talks for GOAT in WC3, if not for his old-era achievements, but for his current-day consistency and peak skill in the meta. Continuing from my last question about the win values of different eras, do you think there's merit to this take, especially given you are in the conversation for GOAT yourself?
I think Happy, for the last few years, is playing the highest level WC3 the game has ever seen. I'd never call him the GOAT, though. That title would have to go to Moon or Lyn. They've achieved so many titles over such a long period of time, and they also have the sportsmanship and showmanship of a professional. I think they have been important for the game's popularity, just as perhaps I have been in the West, at least.
How long (and what) would Happy need to keep winning to get to that GOAT conversation? Is there enough prestige in new-era WC3, even, for a player to outweigh what the old greats like yourself, Moon, Sky, Fly 100% etc have done?
If Happy eventually wins more prize money than Moon (very unlikely), and does this over the next 10 years, he may be called the best player ever. However, I think he has done most of his work online (due to the nature of the current scene). When he went to LAN the last few years, he really delivered, but players like Moon, Sky, myself, Lyn, we traveled dozens or hundreds of times to prove ourselves at LAN over many years, and the travel itself is a challenge.
It also builds the community up, spreads the popularity of the game, keeps people caring about the storylines, and so on. There were dozens of candidates who could win tournaments, and in the environment that we played in, it was a never ending battle of training and competition. I think I like to see a split between what is a GOAT and who is currently the highest level player.
Looking back at your whole career, what would you say was your signature match?
That would be WCG 2008, I believe. Most people that mention tournaments I've played refer to this one. And, truth be told, so do I.
I write. I rap. I run. That’s pretty much it.