PvE e-sports could work under the right conditions

Over the past few weekends (and leading into next weekend as well), Blizzard has been hosting a unique sort of e-sports event called the Mythic Dungeon Invitational for its hit MMORPG title World of Warcraft. The event is unique because, as most World of Warcraft players know, Mythic Dungeons are a strictly PvE (Player vs. Environment) affair, and e-sports has been, by and large, a phenomenon that has focused only on PvP (Player vs. Player) games and events.

Now, while some fans may scoff at the idea of PvE e-sports, it’s actually a concept that could prove to be quite engaging, though I’m personally not convinced that World of Warcraft is the best game to lead the charge.

The Best of the Best

First, a brief rundown of both Mythic Dungeons in World of Warcraft and the corresponding Mythic Dungeon Invitational, since it’s a good grounding spot for the entire argument. Apologies in advance if you’re already familiar with how Mythic Dungeons work.

In World of Warcraft, Mythic Dungeons are special endgame versions of standard dungeons that can be increased in level using a special keystone that is granted upon completing of a standard Mythic Dungeon. Completing subsequent runs of the Mythic Dungeon tied to your keystone increases the keystone’s level (and thus makes the dungeon harder), and eventually modifiers are also added in to make the dungeon even more difficult.

For an average player, progressing past keystone level 10 is considered impressive, and for the Mythic Dungeon Invitational, a baseline keystone level of 17 (along with three Blizzard-chosen modifiers) is used, giving you an idea of just how tough the Invitational’s dungeons are.

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The Mythic Dungeon Invitational tasks two competing teams of players with progressing through an identical Mythic Dungeon in the fastest time possible. Teams have to balance progressing through the dungeon at a steady clip with constant evaluations of how many enemy “mobs” (individual enemy units) they can handle at once, since a time penalty is garnered every time a player dies, and if the team “wipes” (i.e. every player on the team is killed), the associated penalty for having to reset all but assures the other team will win (unless, of course, they wipe too).

There’s a surprising amount of depth within the competitive aspects of the Mythic Dungeon Invitational (which I will also refer to as the “MDI” to help expedite my own writing), thanks mainly to the fact that there’s a rather large breadth of different character classes and specializations (or specs) that a team can pick and choose from. While every dungeon team in World of Warcraft, Mythic or otherwise, consists of a single tank (to absorb damage), a single healer (to make sure nobody dies), and three damage-dealers (also known as “DPS” which stands for damage per second), the minute differences in picking, for example, a Shaman healer over a Druid healer, or a ranged DPS over a melee DPS, can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

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All of the above certainly sounds like it would make for an exciting “race against time” type of event, but sadly, as much as fun as World of Warcraft can be to play, it’s just not that fun to watch, and I say that about both the MDI and the game’s Arena-based PvP competitions which have had a more longstanding e-sports presence.

Whether it’s PvP or PvE, World of Warcraft often struggles to make e-sports an engaging visual spectacle, but as I infer with the title of this article, I think that’s more of an issue with World of Warcraft’s more rudimentary gameplay visuals than a problem with PvE-based e-sports.

Picking Your Audience

I’m not a particularly big fan of PvP as a whole, so the advent of a PvE-focused e-sports events naturally got me pretty excited. While no other company besides Blizzard has really bothered to try hosting a strictly PvE-centric e-sports event, there is certainly a precedent for other companies to do so.

I think it’d be kind of cool to watch two squads of pro Titanfall 2 players compete for the highest scores and fastest completion times in a high-difficulty match of the game’s Frontier Defense co-op mode, or to see two teams of high caliber Gears of War 4 players attempt the same in the title’s iconic Horde mode.

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Wouldn’t it be exciting to see pairs of StarCraft II players hold out for as long as they could against endless waves of enemy AI forces that quickly ratcheted up in difficulty? Or seasoned Mirror’s Edge players challenge themselves directly in the game’s more advanced time trials?

All of the above are just spitball examples off the top of my head, but the point is that it’s surprisingly easy to add a layer of semi-direct competition onto an otherwise purely co-op (or single-player) experience and turn it into something that’s suddenly a lot more fun to watch. Blizzard has proved as much with World of Warcraft’s Mythic Dungeons (to a degree), but I could see other genres like first-person shooters or RTS games having much more success if they decided to take the same concept and run with it.

If anything, I hope that Blizzard’s efforts with the MDI prove to be more than just a one-off experiment that eventually fades into obscurity. Direct competition in games like Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Rocket League, and whatever the newest Call of Duty game happens to be is certainly fun in its own right, but just because other games or modes don’t involve players directly competing with each other face-to-face doesn’t mean they have no e-sports potential at all.

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