To coincide with the release of upcoming expansion Heart of Thorns, ArenaNet are relaunching Guild Wars 2 as an esport in partnership with ESL. The first ESL Guild Wars 2 Pro League will be a series of tournaments with a total prize pool of $400,000. There's been a Guild Wars 2 competitive scene for a while, but this marks a major step up in terms of scale.
A new competitive leaderboard, the Guild Challenger League, will be added in the expansion. At the end of every Pro League season, the lowest-ranking Pro League teams will have to defend their position against the best Guild Challenger teams. This provides a pathway into competitive play for regular players akin to League of Legends' Challenger Series.
Qualifiers begin in mid-November, with the first eight teams in the Pro League determined by, variously, an open qualifier, World Tournament Series placement, and performance in the final Go4GuildWars2 Cup. The season will then lead to a LAN final at ESL's UK studios, with a prize pool of $200,000 for the whole thing. The second season will culminate at a LAN in California, and after that ArenaNet will announce arrangements for the first LAN World Championship of the new era.
Earlier in the week, I spoke to Steve Fowler, Colin Johanson and Joshua Davis from ArenaNet about the new plans.
PCG: Why did you made the decision to relaunch Guild Wars 2 esports?
Colin Johanson, Game Director: We have a really rich tradition of competitive gameplay. If you go back to the original Guild Wars, even, in the early days when this concept of of esports was really just starting up, we were running major tournaments for Guild Wars 1 back then. We had a Factions championship for global play.
We’ve been in the scene for a really long time and when Guild Wars 2 launched I think we were at a point where a lot of the features that we needed to have to truly succeed for competitive were not in place. What we’ve really spent the last three years doing is getting all the pieces in place that we need to have to be able to really grow this scene. Everything from getting our custom arenas to our spectator modes to, with the expansion that we’re about to ship, PvP leagues in game on top of this Pro League system that we’re developing.
We feel like at this point, we’ve really set the stage for the game to go to this next level. And we really didn’t want to make this jump until we knew we had every piece in place that we needed for the game to truly succeed and grow to this level. And we feel like today we’re at that point, development-wise.
PCG: Does this entail some changes to the way the live team operates? An esports scene for any game requires a lot of directed care that’s aimed at the top level of players. Is that going to be the case now because of this change?
CJ: In the original Guild Wars we had a dedicated head count that was assigned to basically supporting just that concept of competitive growth and leagues, and in the last year we’ve created that on Guild Wars 2 as well.
PCG: Does this change the way you approach balancing the game? Does this mean a new era of PvP-targeted balance updates with an eye on esports, that kind of thing?
CJ: Yeah, I think balance becomes infinitely more important once we have something like a Pro League running, and, you know, with our expansion we’re also adding raids to Guild Wars 2, and I think that puts another large focus on game balance as well. Having top-tier content like this, both for PvP and PvE in particular, helps reinforce that we need to do that.
Our strategy is basically gonna be to build a rolling cadence of balance updates that are scheduled, that can be expected, and you know exactly when they’re gonna happen and exactly how often, and they always come a couple weeks before any league begins.
What we’re gonna start doing is about once every quarter, every three months or so, we’re gonna do a major balance update that sets the stage, basically, for the next three months of gameplay that comes after it. We’re gonna give it a couple weeks after that for the balance changes to settle, for players to adjust to them, for us to make any small tweaks we need to of anything that comes out of that, and then we’ll start the next round of PvP Pro Leagues and in-game leagues.
We'll always make sure that players can expect, every three months, a major balance update, and you know it’ll change the meta of the game, keep it fresh and constantly be moving forward. That’s definitely one of the most important things that we’ve seen from our player base.
On page two: the Guild Wars 2 difference, supporting community casting, and the future of the Pro League.