Here Comes the Boom - Episode 5

Here Comes the Boom - Episode 5

By John Hoskin -
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My column last week was so bad they didn’t even post it. I took a look at the World Cup and compared fans in that realm to those of MMOs. I’ll append that column at the bottom of this and maybe the editors won’t notice. In fact, my last article was so bad that Kevin Foster wrote his own column and asked that it be posted instead of mine. Nice guy.

On with the show.

If you’re looking for grammar or facts, you’ve come to the wrong place. Move along, nothing to see here.

Really, onward!

Can the MMO Industry Learn From eSports?

There I wrote it. I used the “e” word on a site that covers MMO games, where the general consensus from players seems to be that eSports is the devil that has come to steal their audience, sweep it away and close the door, but not before kicking their dog, letting the air out of their tires and kissing their significant other. 

I don’t believe that this is true. In fact, I’m 100% sure that the dog and tires part never happened. eSports is important to the health of MMOs and gaming in general…   

But first, 

Vin Diesel Fact: There was once a street named after Vin Diesel, but the name had to be changed because nobody crosses Vin Diesel and lives.

I wager that Vin Diesel plays both MMO and eSport titles. Here’s why…

My introduction to eSports was long ago in Anaheim at a little event we affectionately refer to as BlizzCon. At that time, the arena in World of Warcraft was the masterclass of eSports. I was smitten. This was the game that I loved to play taken to the next level. It was cooperative, but also competitive. This was going to be huge!  

What could have been (pronounced “bee – n”, not bin)

Watching teams of five coordinate to decimate their opponents captured the crowd’s attention at Blizzcon so long ago. It was all but impossible to find a seat to watch the matches and the fans were louder than at any other gaming event I had attended and I had attended more than I care to count.  

Competitive World of Warcraft was beautiful to behold and yet, it doesn’t exist as a major eSport today. Blizzard changed focus, competitors arrived that were free-to-play and the landscape changed.  

And yet, it was a good thing. eSports have put gaming back on the main stage of the entertainment industry. Where World of Warcraft once reigned supreme with its William Shatner ads, now sits a new line of kings who have a similar, yet different audience.

The Twitch Effect

As fantastic as games like StarCraft II, League of Legends, Dota 2 and Smash Brothers are, they owe much of their success to Twitch.tv. For those unfamiliar with Twitch, it is a platform that allows gamers to stream their games online to anyone who cares to watch. More importantly, it allows event coordinators to stream their events to hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers.

You watch hockey and football on traditional television, but you watch eSports on Twitch.tv. Other platforms are appearing backed by companies like Major League Gaming, but they lack the top of mind benefits of Twitch. That may change, or not, depending on whether fragmenting the market to earn ad revenue is worth the risk to companies like MLG.tv.

World of Warcraft and other MMOs command audiences on Twitch, but they pale in comparison to most eSports titles including Hearthstone which itself plays off the Warcraft IP. Yes, a card game regularly has more viewers than the world’s largest MMO. 

With a ready-made audience of millions, the famous quote “The medium is the message.” By Marshall McLuhan holds incredibly true for eSports and gaming in general.

The slower pace and less competitive nature of MMOs doesn’t lend itself to online viewing. I can watch a StarCraft II game and in most cases it’s over in 30 minutes. I don’t hear anyone saying, let’s grab some popcorn and watch this three-hour raid. But… what if we could measure the PvE experience, make it less than minutes in length and show that to gamers?  It might work, but it still requires a scoring mechanism, even if it is only a timer. 

Dumb and Dumber

As MMO developers make their games easier and easier to increase the potential number of players, they reduce the need to stream their games on Twitch. Game fans watch Twitch for a number of reasons, but one of the largest is to learn how to play their game of choice better.  

eSports will always fall into the “learn or die” category and I believe that MMOs need to return to that fold if they wish to grow once again. Dumbing things down isn’t going to put the brakes on the slow decline of MMO games. Let’s lower the barrier to entry, but give players who truly want a challenge a way to rise above the rest. WildStar has attempted this, but it remains to be seen if it they have done a good enough job. If they can reach a critical mass, keep changing things enough to keep it interesting and stay true to their vision then there is certainly hope.

Part of the joy of playing a game is showing off how good you are at it. eSports are built from the ground up to provide this rush and at one time, MMOs had this same measure (GearScore, guild rankings, etc.), but this measure was removed due to the cacophony of the casual player; mewling of their oppression like some extra in a Monty Python film. “We don’t like being excluded because we suck” they cried. Blizzard fixed that now didn’t they? I’m looking at you iLevel.

Show Me The Money

eSports fans support the publishers that cover their games. MMO fans, not so much. To be fair to our readers, we really don’t give you a way to show your support, but that will be changing. You could start by whitelisting us in your ad blocker software. Go ahead.. do it now… I’ll wait..

Tap… Tap… Tap…

See, you didn’t do it, and once upon a time there were enough MMO companies who advertised that it didn’t make a difference. The truth of the matter now is that in today’s gaming environment you either support the sites that you like financially or you won’t have them to visit much longer. 

eSports fans understand this. They support the products on the sites that they visit, they whitelist, they Like on Faceboo, they follow on Twitter, but most of all, they donate and subscribe. 

It may be because they are used to paying $5 here and there in their game of choice, but whatever the reason, they represent their game and their community well. They stand up to be counted so to speak. If MMO fans want the same level of coverage that they have been used to in the past, then they need to do the same.  It’s time to ante up or get out of the way. The good news is that it’s your choice.

Whether you want to believe it or not, that’s the state of the union in MMO publishing.

Now on to something more entertaining.

MMO news that matters. Just for fun I’m going to give you the title that we used and then follow-up with the sensational title it would have had if the article ran on Mashable.

And because the real world is usually more humorous than the virtual one.   Here are some real world stories to put a smile on your face.

That’s it. That’s all for this week. Show me that you have a voice, by commenting in the little Disqus box below.

Thanks as always for taking the time to read right to the bottom of the column. It’s like the credits of a movie and you just never know when I’m going to stick something good down here. I appreciate it.  

Oh, and follow me on @BoomjackTTH. Thanks! Have a great week!

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About The Author

John "Boomjack" Hoskin
Dissecting and distilling the game industry since 1994. Lover of family time, youth hockey, eSports, and the game industry in general.

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