Lately, you may have noticed the increasing amount of publicity and promotion of competitive World of Warcraft PvP. Starting out with Blizzard's official Arena Rankings with their implementation of the Armory and following up with the World Series of Video Games (WSVG) in China and Louisville and Championship Gaming Series (CGS), the media's eyes on WoW as a game, let alone as a competitive E-Sport is becoming more and more of a debate in the gaming industry.
While for years already, games such as Guildwars have had competitive PvP tournaments with monetary prizes, it is first now that MMORPGs as a genre is being looked at by the eyes of the world. This is mostly due to the sheer size of WoW's subscription base as well as Blizzard's enormous financial resources backing the project.
To tell the truth, I was not really into the idea of competitive "professional" gaming much myself until the mass PR around World of Warcraft PvP hit the world with storm shortly after the release of The Burning Crusade expansion - mainly because I never was much of a FPS nor RTS player - genres who have dominated the professional gaming market for years with titles such as CounterStrike and Starcraft. Perhaps another reason why MMORPG Pro-Gaming has gained so much attention lately is also because of Starcraft being another Blizzard product. In essence, the mentality many people are following is that "Blizzard has done it before and proven themselves" and they can replicate this in World of Warcraft.
In reality though, MMORPG PvP and FPS/RTS matches are completely different in nature. Not just because of the coherent design around the older genres as competitive platforms, but also because of how a match plays out for the spectator. In my mind, it is a lot easier to tell a skilled player from a random newbie in spectated FPS or RTS games simply because you are a lot more aware of what is going on at all times. In MMORPG's however, there is so much information, game mechanics and understanding that is required by the viewer to fully appreciate what is being shown. Other obstacles are the actual spectating client and broadcasting itself. Being an infant in terms of broadcasting, viewing and commenting experience of a MMORPG PvP match it is hard to accomodate the various factors that come into play by each team on a very rapid pace such as using line of sight kiting of casters, predicting and interupting spells and exceptional use of attacks/assist trains to rapidly drop a target. This does not even begin to delve into the depths of talent specs and a team's class matrix with explanation of why Team A has an advantage over Team B.
There are some websites out there that specialize in the analysis of teams like this, most notably SK Gaming, Amped E-Sports and World of Ming. While each of these websites respectably are attacking the idea of bringing awareness and understanding to the competitive World of Warcraft scene, they are going at it in completely different angles. While SK Gaming and Amped take the more formal approach as already internationally recognized E-Sports websites, World of Ming follows suit as a more vocal and personally biased resource, often embedding racist slurs or personal attacks in his commentary, seemingly to amuse the audience.
One thing is certain though, bringing out the childish and often idiotic behavior of 'elitist' players from PvP realms in MMOs is definitely not the way to go when attempting to appeal to the masses and sparking interest around the game and its competiveness. The word "professional gamer" in this would mean: an expert player, as of golf or tennis, serving as a teacher, consultant, performer, or contestant; pro. When you have some of the leading websites on the internet running their mouth as if they were still teenagers, it is hard for the mass media, the audience and potential financial investors to take the venue of competition seriously.
Another thing that is equally important to keep in mind is that a transition from a hobby to a professional e-sport is not something that happens overnight. American culture in particular is very adamant about seperating 'real sports' from e-sports as an accepted form of entertainment - very much unlike our eastern culture counterparts such as China and Korea. It is only through improvements to the flaws mentioned above, through steadfast quality media representation and through the timely process of mass adaptation that WoW will succeed as an E-Sport in American society. It is also up to us, the fansites and communities, to portray this e-sport with as much professionalism as possible in order to not alienate the real target market - the audience.
I originally posted this under my Curse 'V4 Beta' Blog, but due to the interest and debate it sparked at the office I decided to make it an article all of you are able to read and give responses to. I am interested in hearing what the preliminary thoughts around competitive PvP in WoW are from as many as possible so consider yourself invited to share your thoughts.