Speed running may be the key to bigger World of Warcraft Esports

World of Warcraft PvP is a beloved experience for many PC gamers and fans alike. However, WoW esports has never quite lived up to the hype. You'd think that the most popular MMORPG on the planet would have a massive esports scene but, on the contrary, the 5v5 and eventual change to 3v3 arena format haven't captured the core of WoW's audience.

In hindsight, there are plenty of reasons why WoW PvP remains a difficult esport to sell. For one, the majority of WoW players don't enjoy highly competitive PvP. WoW has always been the casual gamers MMORPG of choice, but competitive PvP is incredibly challenging and mechanically intense. For most players, casual raiding, dungeons, and other PvE elements remain the bulk of WoW's appeal.

Secondly, Battlegrounds and world PvP were where the majority of players scratched their competitive itch. In these environments, class balance and individual skill are less important, as the various objectives and the natural chaos of multiple players allowed for less skilled players to enjoy the occasional win and feelings of usefulness.

Arena PvP was a completely different environment with class composition, teamwork, and individual skill being the most important factors.  Arena ranks and the pressure of performing well appealed to many gamers, but not the majority of WoW players.

▲ WoW esports is lighting fast and difficult to follow as an observer.

Lastly, WoW esports is legendarily hard to follow. In your typical 3 vs. 3 match, rounds are decided by whichever team manages to kill an opposing member of the other team first. It is essentially impossible to come back from a 3v2 deficient and, as a result, gameplay is centered around crucial moments that decide the life of one player. 

If you don't know all of WoW 12 classes intimately, understanding how someone died becomes nearly impossible. The commentators do their best to explain the significance of what is going on screen (and they should be praised for how well they try and explain the game to new viewers), but most casual observers see a bunch of colors and bars moving; the tension and risk impossible to appreciate.

Speed running raids?

With the introduction of Mythic Dungeon Invitationals, World of Warcraft seems to have found an improved way to spotlight how competitive and entertaining the game can be. Just this weekend during the first Mythic Dungeon Invitational Global LAN finals, Twitch.tv viewership of the event peaked at an impressive 98,370 viewers. 

EDITORS NOTE: Some Twitch stat websites report even higher view numbers for the MDI event while others report lower. As a result, Twitch.tv viewership numbers are being used to understand the general viewing patterns for the following events and should be viewed as such.

To put this number into context, the BlizzCon 2017 Arena World Champions reportedly peaked at 79,865 views. MDI reaching similar numbers during its very first major event (without the benefit of a BlizzCon backdrop) is an impressive success for the much newer format.

▲ Stats provided by Twitchtracker.com

Back in March, the NA and EU Arena World Championship cups reportedly peaked at around 19,229 views (NA) and 24,783 views (EU). In that same month, the AWC Finals reportedly peaked at 28,234 views.

In contrast, the Mythic Dungeon Invitational weekends in April had an average viewership of around 35,000 viewers throughout the weekend, peaking once at 52,556 views. 

Something new for WoW to offer

Competitive World of Warcraft seems to work when players are speeding through dungeons. Considering that PvE encounters are what the majority WoW players enjoy a daily basis, maybe that shouldn't come as a big surprise.

There are key traits to any viewing experience that can help predict a successful esports and competitive Mythic Dungeons has several of them:

1. A visual broadcast that comes close to mirroring gameplay.
2. Watching is informative makes you better at raiding
3. Neck-and-neck races determined by seconds or a single death provides natural tension.

WoW PvP at the highest level is defined by intuition and prediction -- things you can't improve by just watching arena combat.  On the other hand, Mythic Dungeon Invitational's intricate strategies, slower commentary and easy to understand goal post (fastest time wins!) presents World of Warcraft in a way more players can appreciate.

It's easy to respect the skill of a professional raid group when fans see them breeze through encounters and bosses they might still struggle with. It provides amateur raiders something to aspire to and is a surprisingly good way to learn about raid mechanics you might otherwise have missed.

But, perhaps most importantly, it reveals there are more amateur raiders than amateur arena combatants.

Kjell's Angels, winners of the first LAN MDI event.

Next stop, BlizzCon

After this weekends tournament concluded with Kjell's Angels winning the lions share of a $100,000 prize pool, the next big event for competitive WoW raiding happens during BlizzCon 2018.

The MDI All-Stars event will feature invited teams from all over the globe and, even though it is just an exhibition event, it might further prove that the future of competitive WoW is a PvE affair as opposed to a PvP one.

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