WoW Insider got to chat with WSVG President and Commissioner Matthew Ringel about how he's trying to turn videogames into a spectator sport, what the real standard for Arena combat is, and how you can explain a fight between six people with different specs and different classes to an audience who's never seen this game before. No easy task, to be sure. The entire exclusive interview starts right after the jump.
WoW Insider: Let's start at the beginning-- how did WSVG start, and what was the idea behind it?
WSVG President and Commissioner Matt Ringel: Well we started the World Series about two years ago, and professional videogaming was really starting to take off in a number of countries. A lot of the key events out there were these big silos and one-off events, and we really wanted to create a circuit, and connect it to some of the biggest events while creating some of our own, and have some consistency event-to-event: big games, consistent setups, big rules, big prizing, and then set it up with a big final at the end. That was the idea behind the circuit, and a couple things that were important to us were number one, creating a real festival type of environment, where people could not only come out to see it, but also, general players could come out to play and try to get into the game. And the second part of it was to expand the set of competitive games that were played. With the first one, we started out with a lot more of the tried and true competitive games like Counterstrike, Quake, and Warcraft III-- this year, you'll see us move towards something that's a little broader and more inclusive. Still capturing a lot of those core traditional competitive games, but now also expanding to include World of Warcraft, Guitar Hero II, and those games.
So what games are involved in the tournament now?
There are four principal games, that we feature at every event. That's Guitar Hero II, Fight Night Round 3, World of Warcraft and Quake 4. Then we also have traditional games that we feature on a one-off basis-- we did Counterstrike at one event, we did Call of Duty 2, Gears of War, Warcraft III.
And how did those games get chosen?
We put them all into a hat and mix it up, people come in and choose.
No. [Laughs] We choose them with a couple of criteria in mind-- the first is a test of the community around a title-- that's critical for people to not only come out, but also to want to enter into that competitive play. The second is the quality of the competitive gameplay aspect to it-- how does the game inherently promote competition. And third, we think about spectatorship-- how can the game work for spectators both live and on television. And online.
So the most obvious question is "Can videogames be a spectator sport?" And obviously, we know what you think. But why are you at WSVG convinced that they can be successful?
Well, I'm convinced that they will continue to grow explosively, because of the sheer number of people playing. Relative to the number of people that have traditionally be exposed to spectating game competitions. It's very rare that, when watching a sport for the first time, that you have so many hundreds of billions of people who already are enthusiasts for that sport. That said, there's a lot that has to happen for a sport to grow-- it has to be on television a heck of a lot more, marketed a lot more, got to receive a lot more mainstream press attention. We have to get to know some of the stars, some of the teams in a more meaningful fashion than we've seen to date. But if you look at the growth of any sport, it takes many years for a sport to take off, and we see that as being on a great fast track, almost akin to the lightning growth of action sports.
I think that there are some games that lend themselves well to being spectator sports-- I read an interview where you said that Guitar Hero had the live audience all riled up, and when you play Guitar Hero, you've got a clear meter that goes back and forth and you can tell easily what's happening and who's winning. But World of Warcraft doesn't seem like that to me-- it's so complicated, especially with 5v5 or 3v3, it's so hard to tell what's happening. How do you set it up, like with the CBS show, how do you present it so that people can get involved in the drama?
There are a couple of ways, and I think we have taken some steps toward the right answer-- and you'll see some of that this Sunday-- but I think we have a long way to go, and everyone has a long way to go in getting World of Warcraft to the level where it needs to be as a spectatable game, but I think that the ingredients are there. First of all, we've set up a display, a graphical overlay, that clearly pops up the health bars of key players. We need to make it clear to the lay audience what the objective is. We need to be able to track health progress on a team without having to resort to understand or extrapolate whose health bar is what on somebody's interface. So we do that work for them, and make it very clear who we're following. We bring out the explanatory graphics, so that people understand what an Iceblock is, what a Hurricane is. And it's very critical in camerawork as well-- in the first case, we've had to rely very heavily on players' perspective. It's in the third person perspective, fortunately, so we're over the shoulder, but we can get cluttered up here and there with interfaces, and someone's progress, and what spells are being cast. The views that work a lot better are when we have cameras that we can control, and Blizzard is getting to the point where they're going to be able to release that. They're almost there-- we thought that they were going to be there a little bit earlier, and they're almost there. And that's going to be great for us, because then we can be shooting with many more cameras, basically running alongside the action and getting up close. You'll see in this piece how terrifically the action comes to life-- it's beautiful, it's hot-- when we're able to get into that space. But our opportunities to do so in the first piece were few and far between. If you think about shooting a football game, you've got 22 cameras on the field. In a typical WoW match, you're dealing with six. So when we get to the level of 22, then you're going to start to be able to have the full richness of doing reverse angles, up close, there's a lot that we can do with post, to go back and review a certain move or finishing move whatever it is, in great detail.
Yes. And that's the one place where I think videogames can benefit from being a spectator sport-- things like that spinning camera move that football games tried to do... You know that spinning camera move over the field? That's easy when you get the technology set up in videogames.
I think that's true. Now, with sports, you just shoot what's happening on the field, but with videogames, there's what's happening on the field, and then there's also the players outside of it. Do you think that when you're showing these games on television, is the story of the game in the game world, or is it outside with the players?
Well, it's both. And it actually is one of the reasons why WoW is such an amazing game for eSports. We do a balance of introducting the teams outside of the game, so we get to know them a little bit. Obviously, during gameplay, we're focused principally inside the game-- if there's some great calls or drama or shouting or whatever, we'll cut outside the gameplay and then go back in. The way in which we've set up our tournaments is a five round structure, and we've given the ability to strategize and respec after two of the rounds, and we go right into the huddle. So you're getting the revised strategy, and you're going to be able to see how they're going to execute this next. Which actually is quite interesting. On top of that, we have the announcers-- we have people that are doing play-by-play and color commentary, so the combination is fairly balanced-- the in game action with the players' personality outside of it.
One of the things that players have noticed is that the 3v3 arena matches, as with Team Pandemic-- those things have gotten a lot of press. But in game, Blizzard actually gives more arena points for 5v5. It seems like they're trying to push 5v5, where you guys are having more success with 3v3. What do you think is the standard for arena combat-- is it 3v3 or 5v5?
We think Blizzard is interested in supporting both-- and also, they're going to start supporting 2v2 even more. They chose for their own ladders, their own tournaments, 5v5 format. We conferred with them in making our choice, and they felt given what it is that we're trying to accomplish, they felt that 3v3 was absolutely the right way for us to go. For one-- and again, with respect to spectatorship both in person and online, it's just easier to follow three than it is five. And the other problem with two is the whole question of how 3v3 is sufficiently balanced, the way in which characters are equipped, that it was a fairly constructed tournament, and one that can be followed. One of the interesting things that we're seeing in 3v3 is that, in many cases, people will show up with five. And we do allow substitutions, depending upon what another team is intending to favor or what their strengths may be, you can take somebody off the bench, if you will. Which adds a whole gamechanging facet to the match.
One of the things that players have asked Blizzard a lot for is a way to watch arena matches in game somehow-- either watch recorded matches or watch matches as they happen. We know you don't work at Blizzard obviously, and you have no control over what they do, but do you think that implementing something like that would help support your endeavors-- would that make the spectator sport of WoW more popular?
I think it would. I think increased exposure certainly helps. So yes, we would be in favor of something like that.
And this this CBS event on Sunday-- how did that come about? How did you decide to put something on CBS?
Well, first off, this is our second year working with CBS. We did some shows with them last year. This is the first time we're really putting on game competitions themselves as opposed to just player profiles. CBS is the strongest network out there when it comes to sports, and we felt that their weekend afternoon sports block is a great place for us to be showcasing the new type of sports. It's exactly where things like action sports and other alternative sports have succeeded over the years. But we're really excited to enter into a deal with them.
So what can we expect to see? How much of the show is WoW, or are there any highlights you can tell us about?
Yeah, about a little over of a third of the show is WoW. We feature principally our Louisville tournament, but also some of the amazing action we had in China, where there were actually 102,000 people at the event. People know the results, and Team Pandemic has been pretty unstoppable this year, and it's great to see this thing, because it really helps people understand why, what are the ingredients that go into their success.
Cool. And there will be other games as well, right-- Guitar Hero and other games?
Yes, Guitar Hero and Fight Night.
I heard that the show will be produced by Matthew Mills, who also did a Gamer's Week special on MTV?
Correct. He was an executive producer of all Gamer's Week activities-- he did about 41 hours of games programming.
Was that a choice made by you guys, or was that made by CBS?
We did it. We worked with him on our CBS college sports shows, and we really liked working with him.
Do you think that you'd benefit from having someone who works on non eSports come in, rather than someone who's worked more on videogames programming?
Well, we really have a balance, too. I mean, it's helpful to have a whole team in house, led by Hunter Luisi, and they are really quite good at making game capture, and of course we have excellent announcers, called shoutcasters, so it's a collaborative approach. There isn't one person who can mastermind all of it-- everyone's got a hand in the sport and how we shoot it and how we treat it.
Can't wait to see it. What's next for the WSVG-- you're all going to Sweden in December, eventually?
Eventually yeah-- we've got Toronto in August, which is going to be great for all those Canadian gamers, since they couldn't participate in the ladders in the big Blizzard tournament, so they can do this. And we'll be in Los Angeles, we'll be in Europe, and we'll be in Sweden.
Any plans to expand WoW-- expand a little bit more, maybe put in some 5v5? Are you going to be at BlizzCon?
Yeah, we'll be at BlizzCon, there and covering it. And yeah, we certainly want to grow extensively with World of Warcraft, it's been a great title for us, and we all love it.
Great. Anything else you'd like to say to WoW Insider readers?
Well, we just appreciate the great support of WoW Insider that we've had this year, and so just that shout out of appreciation to the community.
Great, thanks very much.
Great questions, thank you.