World of Warcraft's Arena Tournament launched on March 31, 2008, letting players immediately create level 70 characters and equip them with high level skills and epic armor. Competitors from around the world battle for up to $200,000 in cash prizes. At the same time, the Arena Tournament underscores Blizzard's intentions of using WoW's PvP gameplay as a type of eSport. WoW rose to become the most popular MMO in the world primarily because of its PvE content, and using its PvP for eSports marked a sharp turn in the game's focus. We catch up with WoW's Lead Designer, Tom Chilton, Paul Della Bitta (Senior Manager, Global Community and eSports) and Joong Kim (eSports Manager) to get the inside story about balancing PvP and PvE gameplay and what players can expect to from the future of Azeroth.
Tell us about the Arena Tournament and how World of Warcraft is taking steps towards becoming an eSport.
Tom: When we first created World or Warcraft, we always imagined that PvP would be very important in general. We didn't anticipate turning it into an eSport, so it's one of those things that's been evolving over time. In Burning Crusade, we developed the Arena system because we wanted a competitive element - we wanted something that felt like a sport within WoW itself. It so happens that it's a pretty good platform for eSports, since it's fun, fast-paced, action-oriented and well enough balanced. After running the arena seasons on the live servers, it seemed like a natural extension to move toward a more organized eSport tournament.
Are you going to take what you learn from the Arena Tournament and apply it to PvP areas in the live game?
Tom: Yes. It has a nice symbiotic relationship in a lot of ways. Since everyone will be playing on equal footing in the Arena Tournament Server as far as equipment, and players can change their characters as necessary, they're able to experiment with a lot of things that would be difficult to try out on a live server because of the limitations of leveling up a character. It provides us with an interesting petri dish, where we can evaluate how things are playing out on the tournament server and then apply that knowledge to live game where possible.
Do you think that there will be a time when the Tournament Arena will have its own rules and balances separate from the live game?
Tom: No, we intend for the games to stay very much the same in terms of rules and balance. Any changes we make on the live server will be reflected on the arena server. Anything that we learn and deem necessary to change on the arena server will also apply to the live server. It's very important to us that the experience on the live server feel well balanced, so any lessons we learn will work in both directions. We also want the game to feel consistent so that the Arena Tournament server still feels like World of Warcraft gameplay. We don't want it to start diverging and feel like a completely different game.
What is the ultimate goal with the Tournament Arena? Will there eventually be televised gameplay?
Tom: As a game designer, my ultimate goal is to have it be fun and exciting. I'm sure Paul has more to add.
Paul: As far as televising goes, eventually the players competing online will transition to a live event to each of the regions where we're running the tournament. The winners of those live events will go to a global final. We know our players are very interested in watching, so we're looking to broadcast them in some way. We'll be releasing more details as we get closer to those events.
There is an objective. We want to give our players the opportunity to become pros and show off their talents. Our players will have the opportunity to become superstars within the World of Warcraft community.
When are the Arena Tournament Finals expected to start?
Tom: Joong can answer that.
Joong: The online portion of the Tournament will end mid-July. Global Finals will begin late in the year... probably around October or November.
Any word on where the Global Finals may be held?
Joong: We're still looking around for where the best place is.
Is the Arena Tournament a sign that Blizzard will be dedicating more of its resources to PvP content instead of PvE?
Tom: No, I definitely wouldn't say that's the case. The vast majority of the team is dedicated toward developing our continuing expansions. By its very nature, it tends to be mostly PvE content. I think since the Arena Tournament is a new that it's getting a lot of attention right now, but it's not changing our development focus as a whole.
Tom: There are a lot of challenges. World of Warcraft is a very complex game, and you can break PvE down into a whole bunch of subcategories like soloing and questing. Then there's 5-man content, 10-man content and 25-player content - all have their own type of balance. Then throw small and large group PvP on top of all that. At the same time, we're trying to preserve the feel of a class-based game, where each class feels distinct and a different gameplay experience.
Do you guys play in the PvP areas? Any favorite classes?
Tom: Obviously, all the classes are dear to me. Our class team is full of guys that play a whole bunch of different characters. Every single class is fully represented across the development team as a whole. We're just as lively discussing class changes internally as we are on the forums. There are definitely a lot of people who are passionate about the game. Most people on the team are actual players and play every night.
We actually have an internal Blizzard Tournament going on because so many people here are interested in competing but are ineligible to play in the real one.
There appears to be a divide between PvP and PvE players. Some believe the risks and rewards of PvP aren't high enough, while others think that PvP is too unbalanced to be worth the effort. Do you think there should be a stronger blending of the PvP and PvE experiences?
Tom: We prefer that players experience a mix of content instead of pigeon holing into one kind of gameplay. The game ends up being more fun for more players that way. We like to create the game mechanics to encourage players to do different things. That's not to say we're trying to force people's hands if they want to do something exclusively. A player can focus on PvP in Arena Tournament and be successful, but we try to put in mechanics to allow or encourage crossover. I would liken it to questing, where it's more fun to do a variety of different ones instead of the same kill quests over and over. In the same way changing up quest types and areas are fun, changing up gameplay is fun. We often comment that although players may prefer one kind of game over another, even hardcore PvP players enjoy the PvE content quite a bit.
Is it possible, or even a priority, to design PvP areas to minimize griefing for new PvP players?
Tom: I think that deals with each person individually. We have separate PvE where players can't be killed by other players unless you do something that allows you to be killed. So, it really comes down to personal choice. People that sign onto a PvP server do so knowing that they can be killed by other players out in the world. Players looking for that kind of random, spontaneous, gameplay use the PvP servers so we don't intend to introduce rules to limit it.
Would Blizzard make class changes to encourage more diversified PvP configurations?
Tom: We'd like to see equal class representation, but some classes are inherently more popular than others because of what people imagine themselves to be within our world. So, regardless of balance, there will always be some classes that are more popular than others. Then there are PvE considerations along with all the different PvP configurations (2v2, 3v3 and 5v5), which makes the issue tricky.
How do you determine of a class, power or team combination is over or under powered?
Tom: A combination of gut, listening to players and looking at statistics. We're always listening and playing and looking over trends. We collect all that data and make decisions based on it. There are certain things we leave in because a class is powerful in one area but weak in another. We often won't bring down an area where a class is strong without bringing up an area where it's weak.
Thank you for your time.