On April 4-6, publisher Wargaming held its first ever Grand Finals e-sports tournament for its mega-hit wargame, World of Tanks. Held in Warsaw, Poland, the event was a huge success and Wargaming's already planning to make next year's Grand Finals bigger and better. At the event, Wargaming CEO Victor Kislyi took time out of his hectic schedule to answer a few questions about the newly-created Wargaming e-sports League.
Examiner: You mentioned during the press conference that you hadn't designed World of Tanks with e-sports in mind. How have you had to change the game to suit e-sports?
VK: The basic game of course did not change. We had to do the special mode because our usual 15 v 15 mode—it's difficult to pull off 15 v 15. We had to change to 7 v 7. We're constantly working on the balance of the game—meaning the whole game. The more balanced the game is, the more balanced the e-sports competition is. Right now we're making special e-sports maps which are symmetrical. They don't look symmetrical, but they're symmetrical from a standpoint of gameplay.
They still look beautiful like real maps. There are also lots of bells and whistles. You have to have e-sports spectator mode, a special way to represent the teams, special places for advertising because this is being streamed and the teams have their sponsors.
Examiner: Do you see yourselves in the future adding new e-sports modes and objectives?
VK: The imagination runs wild. You have to understand we have limited resources. We're hiring like crazy—we're much more than 3,000 people today but it's still not enough for what we want to do and what the players request from us. E-sports is serious. People are playing for big money here and they're doing a lot of good for us with this broadcasting material.
We're doing a special program for cyber-athletes where we're giving them contracts and they'll have an obligation to play a certain number of matches and meet a certain number of requests because it's them who know better than anyone what needs to be done for more balance, more see-saw battles, more action and drive. Our developers came here to talk to these players and this is just the beginning. We'll keep doing things step by step, communicating with our main boss, the consumer—in this case these e-sports guys who are pretty much our partners.
I'm very surprised to see those matches be very dynamic, last second kills, one-on-one because we had this problem that due to the very high risk of a single mistake when you're 7 on 7, people tend to be very cautious at the beginning and there's a little bit more camping than is good for a spectacular show. These particular matches are quite fast but we have to come up with some gameplay ideas so that they don't camp. We want the players to help us figure out how to do this.
Examiner: You mentioned that you'd gotten more World of Tanks players because of e-sports. How do you know that?
VK: It's natural but the financial benefit isn't immediate. It's about long-term perspective. We are very passionate about moving the whole industry forward and we think we're doing things that are good for the whole industry. During our first year we had 100 million views which is not so bad and it's going to get more and more. Remember free to play? It was nowhere near—nobody wanted to do free to play five years ago. Now everyone's doing it. E-sports will be the same.
Examiner: How long do you think it will be before e-sports athletes get the same respect as traditional athletes?
VK: Apart from Korea or maybe China, the society has not received these guys as real sportsmen. Give it time. We're making stars out of them.
Examiner: How many spectators do you think have come today to watch the Grand Finals?
VK: This is Friday today and we have two groups—today was like the underdogs, round robin and there are a lot here now. On Sunday (the final day of the tournament) we expect a bonanza. This is our first time [holding a tournament]. We don't know many things yet. We're excited and a little nervous. So far it's looking great.
Examiner: Do you plan on holding the Grand Finals in a different city every year?
VK: Again, we don't know. This is our first year. Let's finish it and see the results.
Examiner: What's been the most challenging aspect of starting this new e-sports sub-division of Wargaming?
VK: We're not just game makers or game publishers. These days games are cultural events. We are doing so many things: books about tanks, comic books, historical things with museums, we're digging up the old tanks and planes from the bottom of the sea. We realize if what we do is just a game, it will sooner or later run out
E-sports with the broadcasting, the prizes, the show-business appeal is a very natural continuation to what we do. [The hardest thing] apart from logistics, which have to be immaculate because it's on TV, it's a big stage and if something goes wrong...you have to make sure it's fair competition conditions and you have to make it a nice show. Our people trained a lot and we have good partners. The hardest things was probably thinking, “What if nobody comes?”
A couple of years ago, we came to Warsaw to talk to the media and we grabbed the opportunity to talk to the players as well. We chose a bar, rented half of it and told players to come. We arrived and there were two guys. What a humiliation (we thought). But then those two whistled and from around the corner came 60 or 70 more guys. We talked to them about everything. They gave us so many ideas, including the public matches.
[To be successful] you have to be humble, you have to be passionate, meet with the media, knock on the doors. Spectators are our bread and butter here [for e-sports]. We want them to come and cheer and spread the news; we have to make sure they're taken care of. Some big companies, for them it's about the money. The money doesn't matter. It's about the players.
For more information about the World of Tanks Grand Finals, visit the official Grand Finals website.