World of Warcraft Classic’s launch was so popular that players could hardly get online. The title is a return to the original days of Blizzard’s MMO, back before players had flying mounts, unlimited ammunition, and new worlds to explore.
One thing managed to make the jump from the modern version of the game to its original iteration: the idea of a Race to World First, where players rushed to level 60 to down Ragnaros, the final boss of the Molten Core raid.
Method, the current top guild in the world, partnered with the World Showdown of Esports to put on a Race to World First. In Battle for Azeroth, the current expansion, Method had streamed their progress through the expansions’ raids: Uldir, the Battle for Dazar’Alor, and Azshara’s Eternal Palace. These races racked up hundreds of thousands of views, garnering interest over the weeks of progress, especially when American guild Limit would be right on Method’s heels in the race to win the World First.
While players around the world waited in queues to try and play Classic, Method were on a stage in Las Vegas, taking place in something that looked very much like a traditional esports event … except the opponent was the game itself.
The Classic Race to World First was both anticlimactic — Ragnaros was downed in just a few days, as opposed to a few months — and an interesting prototype for Method’s further experiments in World of Warcraft content.
Method returns home
For Scott “Sco” McMillan, the Classic Race to World First was a trip through memory lane. McMillan sat down for an interview with Polygon not too long after the first level 60 and the fall of Ragnaros.
“It was pretty amazing, because 15 years ago is when I started playing,” said McMillan. “We created the Method guild in May 2005, and being able to celebrate the game that started the whole Method thing and allowed me to follow my passion into what’s now my full time job was pretty cool.”
The players on the Vegas stage were given everything they needed to play World of Warcraft non-stop. Method was given the liberty to handle its own schedules and planning, and the WSOE provided endless water bottles, snacks and meals, and comfortable couches for players to catch a nap.
Shanna Roberts, General Manager of Method, is one of the people tasked with ensuring Method stay healthy and happy during these events. “It’s a balancing act,” she says on a phone call with Polygon. “When you’re talking about adults, we can’t say ‘OK! It’s time to come eat now!’”
“This speaks to our core strength of having over 30 core staff. We’re conditioned for this kind of marathon,” says Christian Bishop, commissioner for the WSOE. “We keep the doors open, keep the power on, and have catering available 24/7.”
“If we see a player that’s starting to look in distress — tired, they’re sweating, on stream they’re starting to sound incoherent… we do have the ability to go up to them and say, for your safety, you have to stop streaming,” says Roberts.
There are risks to playing hard and pushing around raid launches and events like the Classic launch. For Method, the reward has been clear: viewers on Twitch, interest from fans, and financial gain. “There has been a major boost to non-endemic sponsors as a result of race to world first going to public,” says Roberts. This influx of interest and cash allows the scene to grow.
While Method and the WSOE did have staff on hand to intervene, Method has been in the game for 15 years, and at this point, playing the game so intensely comes easily. That didn’t mean they were ready for the Classic race, however.
Method went Horde out of loyalty to their retail faction, even though in Classic, Alliance was considered the stronger faction. McMillan shares that Method knew they would be at a major disadvantage in any kind of serious Race to World First. “As a guild, we didn’t really have any preparation into Classic. We were going up against the private server guilds, like APES [the World First winners], who have been practicing on private servers for like seven years at this point.”
Sure enough, the players who claimed World First on both level 60 and Ragnaros were relatively unknown. According to McMillan, this was a feature, not a bug. “The reality of the event is that it was meant to be a celebration of classic World of Warcraft and the release of the game. And it was focused around different members of the community, ranging from very hardcore players down to more casual players.”
This approach is an evolution of Method’s streaming. Uldir was a small and humble Race to World First, Battle for Dazar’Alor was broader, and Azshara’s Eternal Palace was the most elaborate Race yet, with both Method and Limit, sponsored by Red Bull, hosting multi-guild events documenting and streaming progress through the raid. That’s something they hope to keep expanding on in both the retail version of the game, and in Classic.
“We’re dedicated to both retail and Classic,” says McMillan. He considers the raids one of the strongest parts of Battle for Azeroth, and the escalation in raid design is reflected in Classic. Ragnaros once was an unstoppable wall that players rammed their heads against for months; now he goes down in mere days. Meanwhile, content like the Jaina Proudmoore or Queen Azshara fights can go on for weeks as guilds try different strategies and compositions.
Method’s attention will be focused on preparing for the 8.3 raid in World of Warcraft — there are alts to gear up, essences to farm, and an item level to raise. But McMillan still considers building an esports-style event platform for raiding guilds and players. These streams command powerful view numbers — hundreds of thousands of viewers watched Jokerd pull mobs en masse, kill them with ice magic, and hit level 60.
The interest for an esport that goes beyond head-to-head tactical combat, like StarCraft 2 or League of Legends, is clearly there. And by streaming and monetizing the Race to World First, that can allow skilled guilds to sustain themselves. Right now, many high level players have to balance resources like paid time off from work. If the current attempt to build infrastructure for World of Warcraft community esports.
He hopes that goes beyond the Race to World First in raid content. There’s the potential for smaller events, like a duel contest outside the gates of Ironforge. Roberts is looking to the Gates of Ahn’Qiraj event, an event that takes weeks of prep before culminating in players storm the gates of an ancient kingdom in an attempt to ring a gong and claim a special mount and title. It’s an event that grants exclusive rewards, and as Roberts notes, it has the one raid boss from Classic who hasn’t returned in new expansions.
“Content needs to have legs,” says Roberts. “Blackwing Lair will last hours, but Ahn’Qiraj has a system built into it that will last weeks.”
When it comes to Classic content, that kind of marathon is king. As two versions of World of Warcraft advance, the game’s esports appeal becomes more evident. It’s not as straightforward as a game of Rocket League, but there’s a sense of community and challenge that is unique to this particular game. Now, it’s just a matter of reliably capturing that in a bottle across two titles, and continuing to grow off a successful base.