Amongst the newer generation of gamers, the name Blizzard Entertainment evokes a list of modern titles: Overwatch, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, and Starcraft 2. Most of these titles also fit into the extremely popular and rapidly growing eSports scene. What newer gamers might not know, however, is that Blizzard were some of the earliest pioneers in the concept of professional gaming: and one of their older titles, Warcraft III, is seeing a rapid resurgence in popularity.
While Warcraft III continued to be played long after its time in the limelight, the revival first began in 2013 at a famous tournament known as World Cyber Games in China. While League of Legends was the title game of the event, Warcraft III had an equal if not larger live crowd watching. For the fans at home, popular League of Legends personality and caster Christopher ‘MonteCristo’ Mykles shoutcasted games, alongside Australia’s own Andrew ‘mOOnGLaDe’ Pender and other Warcraft personalities. This, combined with the praise and gratitude Mykles showed on social media for being able to cast at the event, exposed a new generation of eSports fans to one of the classics.
While the game remained a staple feature of tournaments in Asia, particularly China, 2014 and 2015 marked the resurgence in popularity of Warcraft III in the Western sphere of professional gaming fans. Most of this success can be attributed to a team of hardworking players and commentators from Germany known as ‘Back2Warcraft (B2W),’ who stream Warcraft III on TwitchTV frequently. The founder of B2W, Jannes ‘Neo’ Tjarks, told me about how the stream has surged in popularity since its foundation in 2014:
“We’re getting close to 2,000 live viewers per stream now, which makes me pretty damn proud. With numbers like this, old fans see it on Twitch and start to come back.”
Tjarks’ co-caster and fellow B2W team member, Remo ‘Remodemo’ Rimmel, agrees with this assessment: “Many of today’s Warcraft fans go way back. They still know the old names from years ago and have fond memories of those times.”
It would also be these old-school players who would contribute to the revival of the game. The Chinese brought back legendary player Li ‘Sky’ Xiaofen as the representative and spokesperson of the World Cyber Arena 2014 tournament, to the delight of Warcraft fans across the globe. Then, in 2015, WCA one-upped themselves by bringing Korean legend Jang “moon” Jae-ho out of retirement, an act that Tjarks described as “by far the biggest move anyone could pull off for Warcraft.”
In turn, the Western scene’s interest in the game was also rekindled by the incredible WCA 2015 tournament run of German Marc ‘yAwS’ Förster, who would beat the highest levels of competition to make it to the grand finals of the event and take home 2nd place. In the past top European players such as Manuel ‘Grubby’ Schenkhuizen and Yoan ‘ToD’ Merlo were able to defeat Asia’s best, but Förster’s performance was the first time such victories had been achieved in the modern scene of Warcraft III.
These successes and displays of top level Warcraft reignited a flame in the old guard of the game, and as a result we have seen these popular players stream Warcraft III frequently on TwitchTV. ‘Grubby’ regularly pulls 3000-4000 viewers while on the game, and constantly faces demand from his viewers to keep playing. Korean Legend Park ‘Lyn’ June not only returned to competitive play, but began streaming to a large audience.
When you take a look at how the entire scene began steamrolling, its easy to understand why Warcraft III has seen such a strong revival as an eSport and online game.
The potential for even more
With the significant increase in interest of Warcraft III, it is unsurprising that the scene is capitalising on this exposure and growth to continue re-growing the former eSport giant. In China the distributor for Blizzard Games, Netease, has taken it on themselves to build the resurgence in Warcraft III’s popularity and have begun their own tournament series.
Known as the ‘GOLD Series’, Warcraft III is played alongside much larger Blizzard titles, most notably Hearthstone and Starcraft 2. Not only is this significant exposure, but the large prizepool places it as the second largest event behind the annual WCA. This is giving the game more exposure across Asia, and could attract other gamers of Blizzard products towards their older titles.
Inspired by the continuous stream of large prizepool tournaments coming out of Asia, the European scene has also taken it upon themselves to begin hosting tournaments of similar magnitude. Yoan ‘ToD’ Merlo, previously mentioned as one of the greats of the game, has started crowdfunding for a major tournament due to start at the end of September.
Not only has Merlo secured over $4,000 to date in prize money, but secured funding from Ting Mobile. This makes Merlo’s tournament, according to Back2Warcraft’s Tjarks, “the first company-sponsored tournament to western Warcraft” in quite some time, and praised Merlo for making it happen. A huge success with this tournament could spark even more company sponsorships in the Warcraft scene, the type of investment and sponsorship we are currently seeing from the big dogs of modern eSports.
With the continuing boom of major tournaments, and the potential for even more sponsorship and promotion of the game, it appears Warcraft III could continue its second wind and grow to larger heights within the modern eSports landscape.
It’s not an easy climb
Warcraft III has had its slew of challenges as it has survived, and eventually rebuilt, over the years it has fallen out of the spotlight. It will also continue to face new challenges as it continues its rapid resurgence.
Rimmel from B2W describes what has been without a doubt Warcraft III’s biggest challenge: “Blizzard has done nothing for Warcraft III at all for the last six years.” While this seems blunt, it is the unfortunate reality. While this is a testament to how amazing of a job everyone has done to keep the scene alive and keep it running, it is the elephant in the room over how much bigger everything could be if Blizzard did remain involved with the game.
It even goes as far as clients for playing Warcraft III on, as very few people use the actual Blizzard Battle.net client to play the game on. Instead, Westerners mostly use Warcraft3Arena, while most of the Asian playerbase use the previously mentioned Chinese Netease. Tjarks believes that an overhaul of Battle.net to make it up to date, on top of making multiplayer Free to Play like their other RTS title Starcraft 2, could also spark a resurgence amongst more players and fans of Blizzard.
All of this, however, lays on the shoulders of a company which seems to have little interest in their old game. “Warcraft III doesn’t sell anymore” remarked Rimmel, and since Blizzard is a company trying to make profit it makes sense that Warcraft III is the bottom of their priority list. There have been rumours of a Warcraft III HD remake, which could be one of the only ways Blizzard show interest to the game again by having a revamped product to market.
This remake, however, has been talked about within the existing Warcraft III community and opens a whole new can of worms. Not only would the game potentially look different, but there is the chance that with it would come new rebalancing of the game which would shape how it is played. Rimmel expressed fears that “this might lead to the Counter-Strike phenomenon”, referring to the launch of Counter Strike: Source in 2004 which ended up dividing, and not uniting, the scene and ultimately damaging it. With a scene as small as Warcraft’s, they cannot afford for this to happen.
A staple of most popular modern eSports titles are that they are multiplayer. Usually, in a 5v5 team format. People want to play with their friends, and the success of these types of games speaks volume about demand. Likewise Starcraft 2, a RTS title like Warcraft 3, declined sharply in both player-base and viewership as these multiplayer titles overtook the market.
This remains another of Warcraft’s biggest challenges. “Playing a game 1v1 is pretty stressful and demanding” says Rimmel. RTS games require not only excellent and extensive game knowledge, but simultaneous micromanagement of your units and macromanagement of your economy. For the new age of gamers who play games centred around controlling only one unit or hero, this is a very daunting and challenging task.
Tjarks also mentions the concept of ‘Ladder Anxiety’, being worried to play in a competitive environment. “In One-on-One, people are responsible for their own mistakes [and can’t blame teammates]... it’s a big step to overcome this.” With how ready players are to lay the blame on their teammates, it would be difficult for them to enter an environment and game which is dependent on them alone to succeed.
Tjarks also discussed that while the scene and the popularity of the game itself has been growing, “the burden of carrying the scene lays on very few shoulders and it’s pretty exhausting for all of us.” If himself or his fellow Back2Warcraft casters are unable to stream, there is very little to no coverage. Tjarks emphasises that more people should jump in and start working to produce content for the scene, helping to grow it and share the burden on more shoulders.
Despite all these challenges, the Back2Warcraft team is nothing short of proud of the state of the scene. “We should try to remember where we stand with this game. It is 14 years old! And we still have a healthy community. That is actually crazy!”
Jannes ‘Neo’ Tjarks and Remo ‘Remodemo’ Rimmel are the Back2Warcraft team. Make sure to subscribe to them on Twitch and check out their website for a schedule of Warcraft III events. A big thank you to both of them for taking the time to talk to me.
WORDS BY HAYDEN FITZGERALD