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World of Warcraft esports in 2021: Does it have a future?

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Seventeen years after its release, World of Warcraft is still one of the most popular massive-multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) in the world.

However, World of Warcraft esports is still relatively small compared to other popular games. On top of that, it seems that WoW has faced a lot of criticism recently. The latest addition to the storyline wasn’t received well (just take a look at the comments on the trailer) and the World of Warcraft forums are full of player complaints.

Then there’s the news of the lawsuit filed against the game’s developer, Activision Blizzard, by the California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). This ongoing lawsuit, filed on July 20th 2021, includes numerous allegations of harassment, gender-based discrimination and inequality. The stories that have emerged so far are troubling, to say the very least.

A piece published by the Washington Post on August 9th 2021 includes a comprehensive report of this. The response has also impacted World of Warcraft directly, and this has perhaps exacerbated talk of a ‘WoW Exodus‘ in the midst of the rise of Final Fantasy XIV.

How is all this impacting future plans for World of Warcraft esports? Seventeen years after its release, can WoW still become a major esport?

A short history of World of Warcraft esports

World of Warcraft esports

Although World of Warcraft initially launched with hardly any PvP elements, Blizzard Entertainment was quick to add a PvP Honour system  the first being Battlegrounds, and then the Arena. Although Battlegrounds allowed player teams to fight each other, it was the introduction of the Arena that paved the way towards a serious competitive WoW system. As the name suggests, the Arena sends player teams to a separate combat area, where they would fight each other two vs two, three vs three, or five vs five.

In the years that followed, the Arena system kept expanding with new maps, the introduction of leaderboards, and separate seasons. The biggest competitive World of Warcraft expansion arrived in 2017 with the introduction of the Mythic Dungeon Invitational tournament (later changed to Mythic Dungeon International). 

This new branch of World of Warcraft esports is different from the Arena. It’s about ‘player versus environment (PvE)’ combat instead of player versus player battles. As a result, teams have to work together and make tactical decisions to clear a dungeon within the time limit.

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