“You know…at our level it’s not a game about tanks, it’s a game about strategies. So we really don’t really care about tanks anymore – it’s mind games mostly.”, Victor ‘Bishop’ Novohatski tells me mid way through the Wargaming.net League Grand Finals in Warsaw, Poland. His team, Virtus.Pro are one of the favoured teams for the event, having reached the final last year.
His statement is a stark contrast to that of a question asked by a tank historian at the opening press conference who requested that armoured cars and weaponized trains be added to the game. He appeared to have his whole speech planned out, with facts and sound reasoning for the addition, then he seemed to get quite annoyed when Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi tried to brush off his question. If anything, these two differing opinions on the game prove one thing: World of Tanks is a game for all types of people, something that was evident at the grand finals.
“The first conceptual meetings started last year, right after the previous finals. But let’s say we really started to put our hands in the dirt in December 2014″, Nicolas Passermand (Head of eSports Europe at Wargaming) says during our interview. “This year we wanted to be even more global than last year when it was really European centred. This year it is really big. I think we have on site, if I include everyone who is here for professional reasons, we reach 1000 people working here. I include everyone that is not a spectator, 1000 people working just for people to enjoy the show.”
Having such a large team of people seemed to work excellently, as bar a few minor technical issues the event ran smoothly, with no major delays, no extended time with nothing happening and no lack of attendees. In fact the event was full for the entire weekend, with the queues outside usually consisting of hundreds of people waiting to get into the free event.
“We evaluated the option [of charging for entry] but we really want to stay free”, continues Passermand, “you know so that everyone can join and have fun with us and you got a t-shirt, you had a blast, you come with your friends your family. We want to stay accessible so it’s best if it’s free. There is the queue, but we wanted to be sure that people in the queue had a blast as well, which will not be quite the same experience as watching the main stage, of course. We installed a big screen for them outside that has good sound so that they can still follow the games and we have the food trucks, and we have the two tanks, so even if they are in the queue outside there is something to do, it’s not boring waiting.”
The venue itself was the EXPO XXI in Warsaw, Poland. The team had transformed what looked like a large convention centre hall into one of the most impressive eSports stages and seating areas I have ever seen. Its capacity certainly didn’t match that of the LoL world finals, but even so, the atmosphere (especially during the final) was electric, with people from across the globe cheering on the Russian and Chinese competitors that were battling it out for first place.
“Poland has one of the most excited communities about World of Tanks,” Passermand informed me when asked about why Warsaw was chosen as the host city, “I think we have more than one million customers here, people just love World of Tanks so it just makes sense to go where the fans are. If on top of it you add logistic matters such as finding easy visas, finding a place with good professionals who can set up something really nice, and the fact that we like to work with the city of Warsaw like last year – it was success. Poland is the best place.”
Throughout the interview Passermand continued to mention how this was an event for the fans, how all of Wargaming’s eSports offerings were for the fans, as that’s what they wanted to see. “We [the eSports division] are an answer to the community’s hunger for competition. At the beginning, World of Tanks was not meant to be an eSport game when it was designed. We just listened to the communities, and they said they wanted eSports and competition to be able to live out our passion.”
One of the biggest differences to last year’s event that has been implemented primarily for the fans is the new competitive rule set. The new rules offer up an attack versus defense game type that is designed to encourage faster paced games and more exciting gameplay.
“The new format, attack v defense, it’s definitely better for teams, for viewers, for everyone. But of course we had to spend a lot of time to prepare new strategies because the old ones were no good anymore – but we like it,” says Bishop from Virtus.Pro “in the old format you had no reason to attack because both teams were defending. And they have advantage when you defend you have advantage. Now you’re forced to attack or you lose. As you can see since the format changed, there are a lot of light tanks, because not only format change but the time limit, it’s much shorter, so light tanks replaced heavy tanks and medium tanks.”
Bishop’s statement was echoed by Passermand: “It was one of our biggest changes last year. Before that it was so boring to watch, because we favoured defensive strategies so people were camping and because artillery was not on par at this moment of the game it was hard to prevent someone from camping.”
Not everyone seems to have the same opinion on the new rules. Vladyslav ‘DARKGODZIM’ Zamai spoke to me mere hours after his team SchoolBus were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage and didn’t seem impressed with the new rule set. “The rules are only for casters, for the crowd – not for the players. As team captain and manager and coach you can’t control the game. So like Chinese teams, they are just pushing forwards and it’s a lot of RNG in this game, so it’s not good for players. In the previous format it was boring format but it was better to understand better to play more tactically. The format needs to be changed. It will be more tactical and less random and more skill needs to be involved and not luck. Not like pushing 7 tanks in a YOLO push.”
Zamai is visibly upset during our chat, which is understandable after just being knocked out of the biggest tournament in his sport, and he realizes this may have impacted his opinions when I ask how he has found the event. “I hope that it will be better than I think it is now. Now it feels like the offline LAN event every season, with twelve teams not six like in Europe offline finals. But more crowd and bigger stage but the games, the rules, the computers, the ESL staff the same. Don’t feel like its a grand finals, it just feels like the normal finals.”
I then asked him why he felt this way, why he seemed so disappointed with the event itself as well as his team’s performance. “We expected to win. We were the second team after NaVi, we were favorites for this event, but we lost in the quarter final and we are disappointed. I don’t know. It’s the grand final, but its not organized very well. They added more rules, one day before tournament. It’s not critical rules, but an example rule could be about teamspeak, [they] didn’t say that teamspeak will be heard during the games, so we just saying some bad words and they said you can’t swear. It’s a small rule but there is a lot of things like that.”
However, he seemed more excited about the future of his team, and the Wargaming league in general, mentioning how he has high hopes for World of Warships: “It’s a good game, you can play it, it’s a really nice game, it’s a game where you can relax. It’s a game with a great future.” He wants to continue playing with his SchoolBus team, too: “I hope that we will play next grand final. We played the previous grand finals, this grand finals and I hope we will be in the next grand final.” He also keeps his Ketchup in the fridge.
Passermand clearly already has his sights set on the next grand finals when I ask about the chances of World of Tanks becoming as big as League or Dota in the future. “Well the quality of the production is of the same level now. We are at the same level as League of Legends, Valve and Blizzard in terms of quality. But you know we are not meant to be eSports game at the beginning, while LoL or StarCraft II were, so they have this huge difference at core concept that gives them bigger numbers in terms of viewership but we are getting there. I mean we have the quality so we can grow to a point where we will reach them, we are playing in the same league in terms of quality and we are all driving the eSports scene globally in the right direction.”
He also has high hope for eSports overall, and acknowledges that while they are in competition with other eSports companies they all have to work together to increase the size and popularity of eSports, something that was mentioned by multiple Wargaming staff during the event. “The last few years were big for eSports. Countries start to consider eSports player as sportsmen, so things are changing, it’s happening and the more steps that we take in this direction the more the mentalities are changing and the more the mentalities are changing the bigger we will grow. I expect things to grow bigger and bigger. Its not a bubble, its growing organically again.”
With eSports growing so rapidly I wondered if Passermand ever thought that eSports would be able to challenge the likes of the World Cup or the SuperBowl in terms of viewership? “I think that it already comparable. I don’t know if you saw the IEM [Intel Extreme Masters World Finals in Katowice] numbers but it’s already bigger than most of TV productions and even some sports. So yes, maybe it’s not like soccer world cup because that’s crazy big people just love that sport, but why not. At a point in a few years its hard to forecast but at a point we will be in competition with them, maybe for viewership but at the same time I don’t know. We are already as big as some other sports.”
And with that there was only time for one more question: where does Nicolas Passermand, Head of eSports Europe at Wargaming, keep his tomato ketchup, in the fridge or in the cupboard?
“I keep it in the fridge, what does it mean about me I don’t know! But I keep it in my fridge, because my mother was doing it when I was a child.”
Thanks to Nicolas, Bishop and Zamai for taking the time to speak to us.