When Blizzard revealed Warcraft 3: Reforged at BlizzCon 2018, millions of gamers were reminded of 17-year-old game that rarely, if not ever, receives major spotlight. To the curious delight of many (and bewilderment of a few) Blizzard dedicated significant opening ceremony attention to the announcement, with many in attendance concluding that it was actually the most exciting reveal of the event.
It was validating, euphoric moment to realize the greatest RTS ever (hyperbolic, but it checks out) will get a second chance at capturing an entirely new generation of gamers, but, to the ever loyal Warcraft 3 community, this news wasn't too much of a surprise.
Unknown to the majority of Blizzard fans, Warcraft 3 had been getting significant patch updates and engine optimizations prior to the Reforged announcement, the first one happened on February 21st, 2018, seven years since the last patch in 2011.
After that, the slow but steady resurgence starting to pick up speed. Over 21,000 people tuned in to Twitch to watch show matches in celebration of the new patch, and what followed was new patch, after patch, each one changing the meta and inspiring new strategies in the small, but fierce esport.
Bigger prize pools, more teams.
Now, we live in a world where Warcraft 3 tournaments are preparing themselves for the inevitable popularity boost that will come when Reforged is released. For example, one of the biggest tournaments, The Warcraft 3 Gold League, had a 5,900 USD prize pool during it's 2018 Winter season.
The prize pool for the WGL in Summer of 2019 is much bigger.
Top players already attend the WGL and the increased prize pool will significantly increase the prestige of the event.
In addition, community leaders are putting together their own leagues and events in an effort to lay the groundwork for the incoming Reforged popularity. Case in point: the folks at Warcraft3.info are starting their own league with the intent of delivering Warcraft 3 esports content every Sunday.
The prize pools come from crowdfunding via Matcherino if any generous Warcraft 3 old schoolers are reading.
Warcraft3.info has also recently reported on the influx of pro-players being signed to established esports teams.
Reading the list of players feels like going through a time-warp back to 2006.
China still has the largest Warcraft 3 scene, so it makes sense that four esports organizations (Newbee, Rogue Warriors, Lucky Future and World Elite) have already formed teams with the long-term plan of dominating Reforged.
However, EU and NA esports orgs have also joined the fray. The German esports organization mTw have just recently signed two incredibly skilled Korean players, Noh “Lucifer” Jae Wook and Lee “Check” Hyung Joo, giving them now four active Warcraft 3 players, each of which represents one of the unique playable races the game has to offer.
Meanwhile, the NA esports org ROOTGaming has signed veteran Canadian player Jonathan "KiWiKaKi" Garneau (you may remember him from Starcraft 2) and a relatively new competitor to Warcraft 3, Cédric-Joseph "iNSUPERABLE" Dubé. Like the other regions, ROOT Gaming is gearing up for Reforged competition
Will Reforged maintain the momentum?
The signs of a growing audience and Warcraft 3 interest are everywhere. The leading broadcasting and streaming team, Back2Warcraft (their dedication to keeping the scene alive is impossible to overstate) has just recently broke a YouTube milestone, adding to their already successful Twitch channel.
Like other enduring esports that are decades old, Warcraft 3 has preserved its community through sheer passion and dedication. For many, their support of Warcraft 3 is practical -- it's simply the best RTS game on the market and time hasn't changed that. The gameplay is still incredibly rewarding and, to those interested, its esport has always been filled with awesome comebacks, legendary players, and tense moments.
But the ambitious Reforged project will launch Warcraft 3 and it's staunch esports community into the limelight. A seasoned group of competitors, broadcasters and viewers will have to contend with modern indicators of "a successful esport", including big stream numbers, large prize pools, and frequent game updates.
Inevitably, many won't understand Warcraft 3 esports when Reforged finally goes live. They will, in bemusement, question the games unit collision, its creep AI and strange hotkeys. They won't understand why three high-level undead heroes can take out entire armies, nor will they appreciate why ultimate abilities are rarely used or even selected by pro-players.
There will likely be the all-too-familiar "dead game" jeers and calls for sweeping nerfs and buffs every time a common strategy defeats a unique one. The Reforged launch will be seen as a success if Warcraft 3 explodes in popularity and, at worst, another reason for gamers to lose faith in Blizzard if the remastering doesn't live up to expectations.
However, this type of thinking misses the big picture: Warcraft 3 has already proven itself as an incredibly fun game with mechanics that have single-handedly influenced PC esports and genres more so than any other game of its time. Reforged isn't trying to relaunch a new game, it's trying to preserve an incredible one.
Executive Producer of Classic Games at Blizzard, Rob Bridenbecker, explained this best during Reforged panel at BlizzCon 2018:
"At the end of the day, like all of this, was an effort to really heal-up the community and bring everybody together. So when you talk about putting this stuff on the modern battle.net -- that's the vision, that's the reason that's why we got to do this stuff. There is one big blizzard and the way in which we engage with that one big blizzard is through battle.net and through the launcher.
To not have some of our games in that, it's just criminal. And I'm just happy as hell to be able to usher [Warcraft 3] back in."
It is telling that Bridenbecker mentions healing a fractured community of gamers as part of the inspiration for Blizzard's classic games department. With the current state of the company and gamers frustration with recent layoffs and esports decisions, Reforged may very well be part of the healing Blizzard needs.
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.