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How World of Warcraft’s Race to World First Proves Esports can be PvE

Esports viewers are accustomed to witnessing events in which a number of humans compete directly against each other, calculating kills or goals to decide a winner. However, for several years now, World of Warcraft (WoW) has pioneered another type of competition: a race to be the first to accomplish the game’s most difficult content.

Blizzard’s genre-defining MMORPG contains long and complicated raids that are made of numerous ‘bosses’ that need puzzle elements, cooperative tasks, and highly coordinated teamwork to overcome (apart from raw damage). Raids are a narrative tale element in every WoW expansion, thus there is usually an iconic villain at the conclusion. Teams — usually in-game groupings of players known as guilds — compete to be the first in the world to defeat this key boss on the game’s most difficult setting (called Mythic).

Race to World First (RWF) events are distinct in that, unlike traditional esports tournaments, the enemy is controlled by a computer rather than another human, with participants racing each other to beat the machine. However, there is another feature that distinguishes these esports tournaments from others: they often endure one to two weeks.

A squad of 10 to 25 players compete for up to 300 hours to accomplish the raid at its most severe difficulty level (with minimal sleeping breaks in between). Despite the lengthy duration, the most recent WoW Race to World First, which just ended, saw Echo Esports beat Team Liquid by barely minutes, with both teams neck and neck, fiercely battling to peel away the final boss’ health.

“It’s not for the faint-hearted,” Scott Harrison, Operations General Manager at Team Liquid’s MMO arm Liquid Guild, said of his sixth World First race. “I found myself during Tindral Sageswift [one of the boss encounters] getting into bed after a day’s progress, closing my eyes and not being able to sleep due to replaying the fight in my head for hours.”

“As the race progresses you notice yourself getting tired earlier in the day, the long 16 hour days in which you’re focusing for the majority of that time really start to take a toll on you,” Harrison said. “Once the race kicks off it’s basically impossible to switch your brain off until it’s over, there isn’t time between matches like in other esports like CS/VALORANT/League where you can detach and recover mentally” .

This year’s race began with World of Warcraft’s 10.2 patch, Guardians of the Dream. This marked the launching of the final raid of World of Warcraft’s Dragonflight Expansion, titled ‘Amirdrassil, The Dream’s Hope’ – one last race for the world’s top teams.

“A typical WoW preparation cycle will have around four months of just ‘farm’ which is reclearing the current raid tier on a lot of characters each week” , Harrison went on to say. “Two months before a new raid tier releases [WoW developer] Blizzard will give all players access to the PTR [Public test realm] to test the new patch features, such as class changes, raid bosses and new gear from the raids … this leads to hundreds of hours of preparation from the team.”The race for the world-first kill in a World of Warcraft raid has long been a competitive and prized feat, albeit historically, it has primarily been about bragging rights. However, as elite guilds’ prominence has increased and esports has become more culturally ingrained, Race to World First’s have evolved into full-fledged esports events, with hundreds of thousands of fans eager to study the pros’ techniques and watch who comes out on top.

“The unique thing about the RWF events is that normally competitions of this size are run by the publishers of the game itself, however that is not the case for these events” Echo Esports’ Head of Partnerships and Events, Jasmin Poetzelsberger, told Esports Insider. “They are entirely produced by the competing teams, allowing them to be more in sync with the community and create a show that viewers can feel like they are a part of the ride, a part of the team.” This bond between fans and the team/casters/production crew is quite unusual in the industry.”

Around four years ago, the RWF format truly took off, with guilds livestreaming their progress. It swiftly gained popularity and professionalism, and began to resemble traditional esports events. Because of the long exposure they might get from more than 300 hours of transmission almost twice a year, production crews swelled and advertisers came knocking.

Top teams now fly their players and personnel to LAN to confront the challenge in person. Race to World First isn’t exclusive to World of Warcraft; other games, such as Bungie’s MMO Destiny 2, hold similar races when new raids are released, but World of Warcraft is presently the only one that involves professional players and organisations.

“We often say that the RWF is a marathon, not a sprint,” Poetzelsberger went on to say. “At first, everyone is eager to join the race and begin raiding. It is usual to experience a more consistent mood after the first few days. When we finally reach the raid’s final boss, you can feel the excitement spreading among the crew. Finally, when a kill is impending, especially if it is as close as it was this time, there is certain to be some tension on the squad.”

According to Esports Charts, the race to conquer Amirdrassil: The Dreams Hope received over 388,000 peak viewers, more over 25 million hours watched, and an astounding airtime of 306 hours. It’s the latest in a long line of such events, with the previous race attracting 253,000 peak viewers and the one before that 184,000. “Race to World First is one of the most-watched events on Twitch, and MMO category viewership increases 1000% on average during the broadcast,” Claire Thompson, Team Liquid’s Director of Global Sales & Platform Partnerships, told Esports Insider.

While World of Warcraft has competitions for its player vs. player (PvP) modes, the player vs. environment (PvE) style of action in Race to World First creates a distinct engaged audience. “Fans can actively participate in the event by attempting to defeat the raid themselves or just by comparing their results to the best guilds in the world,” he said. “Fans can also volunteer as helpers for their favourite guilds during the Split raids, a phase which makes up the first part of the competition, when guilds focus on building a loot supply for gear they need to attempt boss kills in later phases.”

According to Team Liquid, the enticing potential in terms of audiences is also bigger than normal, which is likely a factor in its decision to buy Limit Guild and add an MMO vertical to its roster of teams in January 2022. Complexity had been working with Limit for two years prior to Liquid’s takeover. “While the average World of Warcraft fan traditionally skews a bit older as the result of multigenerational reach, we’ve also recently seen an influx of younger players,” Thompson said in a statement.

Not everyone considers World of Warcraft raid races to be esports, but they increasingly have all the trappings of one – LAN events with video game-based competitions, watched online by hundreds of thousands, and even sponsorship deals. When a Race to World First event occurs, Liquid hosts a 24-hour live broadcast on Twitch to showcase its teams’ progress. Advertisements and activations from current Liquid sponsors include Coinbase, Secret Lab, Honda, Kingston, and Monster Energy.

Organising a Race to World First in WoW, on the other hand, presents its own set of obstacles. “There is no set time at which the race happens each year,” Chris Ambrosio, Team Liquid’s Senior Director of Events, told Esports Insider. “Everything is entirely dependent on when Blizzard releases the update.” As a result, we spend the first few months of planning doing as much as we can but not being able to commit to any definite plans.According to Esports Charts, the race to conquer Amirdrassil: The Dreams Hope received over 388,000 peak viewers, more over 25 million hours watched, and an astounding airtime of 306 hours. It’s the latest in a long line of such events, with the previous race attracting 253,000 peak viewers and the one before that 184,000. “Race to World First is one of the most-watched events on Twitch, and MMO category viewership increases 1000% on average during the broadcast,” Claire Thompson, Team Liquid’s Director of Global Sales & Platform Partnerships, told Esports Insider.

While World of Warcraft has competitions for its player vs. player (PvP) modes, the player vs. environment (PvE) style of action in Race to World First creates a distinct engaged audience. “Fans can actively participate in the event by attempting to defeat the raid themselves or just by comparing their results to the best guilds in the world,” he said. “Fans can also volunteer as helpers for their favourite guilds during the Split raids, a phase which makes up the first part of the competition, when guilds focus on building a loot supply for gear they need to attempt boss kills in later phases.”

According to Team Liquid, the enticing potential in terms of audiences is also bigger than normal, which is likely a factor in its decision to buy Limit Guild and add an MMO vertical to its roster of teams in January 2022. Complexity had been working with Limit for two years prior to Liquid’s takeover. “While the average World of Warcraft fan traditionally skews a bit older as the result of multigenerational reach, we’ve also recently seen an influx of younger players,” Thompson said in a statement.

Not everyone considers World of Warcraft raid races to be esports, but they increasingly have all the trappings of one – LAN events with video game-based competitions, watched online by hundreds of thousands, and even sponsorship deals. When a Race to World First event occurs, Liquid hosts a 24-hour live broadcast on Twitch to showcase its teams’ progress. Advertisements and activations from current Liquid sponsors include Coinbase, Secret Lab, Honda, Kingston, and Monster Energy.

Organising a Race to World First in WoW, on the other hand, presents its own set of obstacles. “There is no set time at which the race happens each year,” Chris Ambrosio, Team Liquid’s Senior Director of Events, told Esports Insider. “Everything is entirely dependent on when Blizzard releases the update.” As a result, we spend the first few months of planning doing as much as we can but not being able to commit to any definite plans.We will enter sprint mode as soon as we receive a publicly publicised date from Blizzard. We normally have approximately a month before the race to finalise graphics, organise flights and hotels for 60+ people, prepare a live broadcast, and plan shoulder content to help support the overall event in a very short period of time.”

“To support such a long show each day, we have two full production crews working shifts, as well as a roster of talent hosting and casting.” “It’s been a bit of trial and error getting the scheduling right on these, but after our fourth RWF, we’re starting to find a groove,” Ambrosio said.

This broadcast structure, he says, “was quite scary to commit to” because of his many insecurities, short notice, and long days. But, with a well-oiled engine in place, Liquid is optimistic about the future of RWF as an esport, particularly when World of Warcraft’s next content update, The War Within, launches next autumn.

“It is clear that Blizzard is putting, now more than ever, their focus into the future of WoW as they revealed the Worldsoul Saga with the next three expansions already planned out,” Poetzelsberger of Echo esports told us regarding the ecosystem’s longevity.

“We anticipate an even faster release schedule in the future, with less downtime between patches and expansions, resulting in more frequent RWF events.” This should finally put to rest any claims that ‘WoW is dying’ that have been made in the past. The most recent RWF was a perfect example of how massive these events can be.

“So if Blizzard releases content at a faster rate and also replicates the success of this raid’s boss design and difficulty in the future, I can foresee not just a sustainable esport, but a golden era for WoW in the next few years, starting with the release of the War Within expansion.”

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