World of Warcraft, is hoping to add its unique Player versus Player combat onto the competitive world stage (taking a cue from Guild Wars).
In Blizzard's MMORPG World of Warcraft, guilds find great pleasure and bragging rights from achieving "firsts." The most elusive of these is the "World First," which is attributed to the first guild to down a boss or the first player to receive a particular item. Death & Taxes knows a thing or two about racking up "World First" kills on end-game bosses, they have the "World Firsts" on Morogrim Tidewalker, Magtheridon, and Fathom Lord Karathress. Another guild, Nihilum snaps up "World Firsts" like your grandmother snipes Hummel Dolls at a yard sale, and are currently working on achieving the "World First" on the recently hot-fixed Lady Vashj. However, one "World First" that's currently being contested by neither of these two guilds is whether Team Pandemic's Power Trip or CheckSix's ZERG IT UP became the first sponsored Arena team in Azeroth's history.
On March 18, both Team Pandemic and CheckSix announced they each had signed deals to sponsor a WoW Arena team. They sponsors plucked the top two teams from the Bloodlust Battlegroup [with so many servers in World of Warcraft, they are broke down into small "battlegroups" for cross-server play]. "Bloodlust is home to many competitive PvP guilds both from past games and WoW itself (Nurfed, Vicious Cycle, Eminence, etc.)," said Joseph Romano, the leader of Power Trip. "It [the sponsorship] is only going to attract more teams to come to the cluster."
Why would Pandemic and CheckSix recruit from the Bloodlust Battlegroup? It's a challenge to pick teams to sponsor in WoW's PvP: "The same team that may be ranked #2 or #3 in one Battlegroup may be ranked #1 in another," said Stephen Schoder of Check Six. "this makes the proposition of scouting out the right team more difficult than most other competitive eSports. The arena system in World of Warcraft is much more complicated than the simplistic FPS and RTS games in terms of being able to immediately pick up on what is going on."
When speaking with 1UP, Schoder also elaborated that before pitching the idea to ZERG IT UP, they had been observing the guild for about a month prior checking out the level of maturity and respect the players had. Something, that many players of WoW will admit is an epic drop in of itself. Team Pandemic stated that they had to consider "over 50" possibilities before deciding on making an offer to Power Trip. Ladies and gentlemen, WoW is no longer just a game or a social phenomenon -- WoW is serious business.
Though, don't bank of seeing advertisements for AMD, Intel, Nokia, Wal-Mart, Tide, or other big companies logos placed all over your character's armor like a NASCAR driver's suit. Blizzard still maintains complete control of what type of content actually makes it into the game. However, it wouldn't be a shocker if magazine ads started pitching high-end game peripherals to players as the "Official Graphics Card of WoW Battleground Champs."
All the fuss over PvP is an interesting shift to see take place for longtime WoW players, as it would be hard for anyone to argue that Blizzard has put much more time into developing a rich, deep PvE experience. That's how the game has been supported for so long. That's why people bought the expansion -- new PvE content to tackle. And now, they're getting attention for PvP advancements. Ultimately this puts the onus on Blizzard to perfect PvP imbalances to the same level they've tweaked and refined PvE content to ensure a challenging, yet (mostly) bug-free playing experience.
"At the moment there are still balance issues that need to be worked out both in-game and in the arena ranking system itself. These issues will continue to become less and less of a problem as Blizzard is surely working hard to alleviate any and all problems standing in the way of its massive freight train of a game," said Schoder. "In the future you will soon find that Blizzard has tweaked the game to near perfection in preparation for mainstream eSports competition."
"This is only the beginning of what's to come in my eyes - things are only going to get more popular and more companies and teams are going to start to see the potential competitive WoW has," said Romano. "As far as people going for the 'slice of the Sandpear pie,' yes, I think a lot of people are going to start playing WoW more competitively, especially if gear is on equal terms with longstanding teams."
However, Blizzard won't be able to just snap their fingers and perfect their PvP system overnight. Given the amount of noise of the official forums about class imbalances, bugs within Arena play, Blizzard will have to shift their development process to consider these and a multitude of difference issues. A main point of contention among players is that if the Arena play is to be skill based, then Blizzard needs to equalize the gear used in order to fix imbalances and make the playing field level. At present, this only rewards those with the time, not gumption. While a team might be less skilled in PvP play, the fact they can devote twenty hours a week to acquiring "l33t" gear makes it harder for a more skilled, but less geared team to compete.
Alternatively, players argue that gear is the defining trait of the game -- that play revolves around gear. You play to get gear, show off gear in guild chat, and laugh (in private chats) at players who aren't decked out as well as you. Players on this side of the fence feel that if Blizzard offers standard "uniforms" as it were for their characters, it's possible that how they feel the class should be played might different from how Blizzard intends classes to play. This could potentially lead to those whose specs aren't congruent with Blizzard's philosophy having to rework and relearn how to contribute as effectively.
If one thing is written in stone, it's that with the introduction of pro-gaming/eSports into World of Warcraft the game's PvP has been set up to challenge games like Counter-Strike for the crown of competitive gaming. Blizzard still has some convincing to do, but the first wave of sponsored players is ready to blaze the path with them. And if Blizzard has proven anything to us in the past two plus years, it's that if you have the population larger than that Switzerland paying you $15 a month, anything can be accomplished and done right.