Blizzard's Unintended Esport: The History of the RWF Event



The Race to World First (RWF) has been an aspect of World of Warcraft PVE history since Onyxia and Molten Core were released with the original launch of the game on November 23, 2004. The US region dominated the raids in Vanilla WoW until the EU guild Nihilum came in and swept the World First C’thun (AQ40) and Kel’thuzad (Naxxramas) kills.

Over the next 14 years, the Race to World First continued in much the same way. It was a competition amongst the top guilds, but behind closed doors. There was certainly hype and bragging rights in the public sphere after a World First kill was secured, but for the average WoW player, it was something in the periphery of the game experience. Players would refresh the forums for posts about who killed what boss and when.They would be on the lookout for blog posts and kill videos, but aside from that, the Race to World First was heard about after the fact and not actually seen.

The landscape of the RWF took a big turn when the Method guild started innovating the raiding scene. When the first raid of the newest WoW expansion, Battle for Azeroth, was released, guilds entered the long-abandoned titan research facility of Uldir to battle the Old God G’huun. By this point, social media had helped to bring the Race to World First to the masses, but it was still something that occurred in relative secrecy since many top guilds did not stream the race. However, in the Fall of 2018, Method saw an opportunity to turn the race into something extraordinary: they announced that they would be live streaming their Uldir progress. Method teamed up with Redbull and took the RWF to the Redbull Gaming Sphere in London where they flew in a few of their raiders, hired a couple of casters, and turned their raid progress into an actual live event.

Over the course of a single expansion and a mere span of two years, Method’s bold leap in taking the RWF out of the shadows and into the spotlight has completely transformed the competition as we know it. Here’s a brief look at how the RWF has quickly turned into WoW’s biggest competition.




Photo Credit: Method

Uldir


The raid first opened on Mythic difficulty on September 11th, 2018. Method was the only guild live streaming the event, but the race was a close one. For most of the first reset, it looked as though the top US guild Limit would take the World First of the final boss, G’huun. This would have been a huge upset as no US guild had achieved a World First end-boss kill since Blood Legion killed Empress Shek’zeer in the Heart of Fear raid in 2012.

At the end of the first week of raiding in the US, G’huun was still alive. Having gotten to the final boss first, Limit had been progressing on G’huun for multiple days and they were close to a kill. Upon reset on Tuesday morning, they decided to forego a re-clear of the entire raid and extended their lockout to immediately return to G’huun to try for the kill. As reset for EU servers was not until the next day, there was concern that Method (also progressing on G’huun), might beat Limit to the punch. When EU servers reset on Wednesday morning, Method made the decision to re-clear the raid for more gear before they went back to G’huun. As hindsight is 20/20, that did appear to be the right choice as Method was able to re-clear all of Uldir and kill G’huun before Limit was able to secure the World First.

Creating an event out of a raiding competition that had been in existence since 2004 seemed to many like the natural progression of things, as streaming and esports have been growing at an incredible pace over the last decade. On the other hand, by streaming the event, Method gave up the ability to keep their strats and preparation secret. Raid strategies have often been the difference-maker when it comes to who gets World First on a boss, so Method was taking a pretty big chance by streaming everything.

Looking back at the viewership numbers, that chance certainly paid off. As reported by Wowhead shortly after the race ended, there was a main Method stream channel with caster and host commentary, and many individual players were also streaming at the same time. During the raid, Sco, the GM and main tank for Method, was the #2 channel on Twitch with 3.8 million viewer hours. He had almost 1 million more than Ninja, and was behind only the stream for the CS:GO Major tournament. Combining all of the Method streams, we saw a peak of over 263,000 concurrent viewers. Considering the total viewership hours over the 8 day race, we dare say that Method, and especially their sponsors for the event, benefited greatly.

Method’s Uldir stream event showed conclusively that there was significant viewership to be obtained, and thus money to be made, from World First raiding. Additionally, as they did achieve the World First for Uldir, it showed that streaming did not necessarily put a guild at a competitive disadvantage. Other guilds and organizations quickly took note, and the face of Mythic raiding in Warcraft was changed forever.



Photo Credit: Method

Battle of Dazar’alor


Capitalizing on the success of their Uldir event, and riding high as returning champions, Method went back to the Red Bull Gaming Sphere in London for the second raid of BFA, Battle of Dazar’alor. This time, the organization decided to double down on the RWF as an event, and greatly improved their production value. They flew out almost half of their raiding team to play together in London in what has become known as a “boot camp” style event. The stream production was significantly improved with spotlight player videos and impressive graphics. Method also brought in a number of notable WoW personalities to host and cast the event, such as Rich Campbell, Esfand, Tettles, Preach, and more.

This focus on the production value of the “main” stream for the event showed in the reception by viewers. In contrast to the Uldir event, Sco’s personal stream did not gain the massive traction as it did before, but the main Method channel more than doubled its viewership hours throughout the event.

In terms of monetary gain and sponsorship visibility, having the “main” Method stream channel more than double in growth would have been very lucrative for the Method organization. As we look back at this growth and the opportunities it showcased, we can likely surmise that this is when other organizations began to take note that Uldir was not a one-off, and that investing in the RWF as an event was a smart move.

Exorsus (Экзорсус), a top world guild from Russia, also opted to stream the Battle of Dazar’alor raid, but they did not put on a broadcast style event like Method. Instead, they put together a “Team” stream channel on Twitch and streamed their progression live from multiple PoVs. It was exciting to see yet another guild livestream their progression. The kind of strategies and preparation that we could only speculate about over many raids and expansions were now unfolding right before our eyes.

Method also proved, yet again, that streaming their progression would not cause them to lose their competitive edge, as they did emerge as the victors after securing the World First kill of Jaina Proudmoore. It was another extremely tight race between Method and the top NA guild Limit, but Method ended up victorious.




Crucible of Storms


Crucible of Storms was a 2-boss mini-raid that was released in between Battle of Dazar’alor and The Eternal Palace. For many guilds, a 2-boss raid was not significant enough to host an event or put on any kind of large production. More guilds did opt to stream the raid, such as Limit, but generally speaking, the raid itself was not taken very seriously as a progression event for the world’s top guilds.

The raid size and the timing of the raid release created a situation where Crucible of Storms did not lend itself to being valuable as a production. Additionally, it is possible that the raid was expected to be a short and easy one (as many mini-raids have tended to be over the years). Many of us were indeed surprised when the raid opened to learn firsthand how difficult the two bosses ended up being, so it was certainly a big kudos to the EU guild, Pieces, who came out of the raid with World First kills for both bosses.




Photo Credit: Method, Red Bull Gaming Sphere

THE ETERNAL PALACE


Method led the charge in the first half of Battle of Azeroth when it came to creating a production out of the Race to World First. The third major raid of the expansion, The Eternal Palace, was when the RWF events truly exploded. There were two major events taking place for the duration of the raid, with multiple guilds involved in each.

Method and TakeTV
Opting to work with a new partner for this event, Method joined forces with the TakeTV studio in Germany for their production event of The Eternal Palace. If Method’s goal was to improve and grow their production with each event, they certainly did not disappoint with The Eternal Palace. The number of sponsors grew dramatically, the production quality was notably better, and they had a larger representation of their raiders on location for their boot camp style event.

Additionally, Method decided to ramp up their event by making it a 24/7 broadcast, and included a number of other guilds from around the world to ensure they had near-constant content. Chinese guilds Alpha (阿尔法), Skyline (天涯), and Ji Tian Hong (佶天鸿) provided Method with their raid progression streams and content, as did EU guilds Aversion and From Scratch, and North American guilds Vodka and Big Dumb Guild (BDGG).

Limit, Pieces and Red Bull
The number of live streams of the world’s top guilds during The Eternal Palace was completely unprecedented. The other main streamed event during the raid was that of Limit and Pieces coming together with Red Bull at the Gaming Sphere in London. Similar to Method, their stream event was a 24/7 broadcast, with added PoVs from many other guilds around the world. The event was streamed from the Red Bull Twitch channel, not from any of the guild’s channels, but many of the raiders also streamed from their individual PoVs.

The Red Bull event was also given access to streams and videos from Chinese guilds Alpha and Ji Tian Hong and EU guild Aversion, but they added streams from other top guilds around the world including FatSharkYes, ScrubBusters, and Exorsus, from the EU, AFK-R from Korea, and Honestly from the Oceanic (OCE) region.

In just the span of three major raid tiers, we went from seeing practically no streams from any top guilds, to having access to watching progression unfold live from 15 of the best guilds in the world in two major events. We also saw an increase of the “boot camp” style event, with over 30 raiders from Limit and Pieces raiding on location in London. This specific style of event also seems to have gained traction over the BFA expansion.

One major difference between the two main events, was the fact that although Method had been streaming their progress as an event since the first raid of the expansion, they did not stream their in-game voice communications. Limit made the choice to differentiate their first event from the other major RWF production by including their in-game comms for viewers to listen to. This was the first time we had been able to not just watch, but also listen, as a guild worked together towards the goal of World First. The added insight from the voice communications was an eye-opening viewership experience.

The Eternal Palace proved to be yet another nail-biting race, with both Method and Limit vying for the World First kill of Queen Azshara. Both guilds were progressing on the final boss at the same time, so viewers around the world watched as each guild slowly chipped away at the various phases of the fight. Azshara proved to have complicated mechanics, and for a long-time raider and follower of the RWF, it was exhilarating to watch and listen as the top players in the world adapted their strategies to progress on the boss. Method eventually came out on top yet again with another World First by downing the Naga queen first.





Photo Credit: Complexity Gaming

Ny’alotha


Prior to the release of the final raid of the BFA expansion, Limit announced that they had signed on with the esports organization Complexity. Established in 2003, and owned in part by the Dallas Cowboys organization as of 2017, Complexity has long been a significant name in esports.

World of Warcraft is not new to the esports scene. Method had established themselves as an esports organization as well as a guild, and many notable esports organizations have signed contracts with Area World Championship (AWC) teams, such as Cloud9 and Wildcard Gaming. Other organizations may have superficially gotten into the WoW PVE scene briefly, but not until Complexity signed Limit was there a presence in World First raiding from an esports organization that originated outside of World of Warcraft.

This was a notable shift in the RWF. For over a decade it was a competition, then for three raids it was an event, but now going into Ny’alotha, it became an esport. While not a traditional esport in the sense that there is no monetary prize being played for, there is certainly money to be made from non-traditional means. We can easily surmise that Complexity did their due diligence to determine that it was a smart business move to sign the Limit guild roster to their organization and make a move into the RWF scene.

With the funding and resources of Complexity behind them, Limit (now Complexity-Limit) was poised to put on a greatly improved production for Ny’alotha. Almost the majority of the guild was flown to Texas to raid on location from the Gamestop Performance Center, a state-of-the-art esports studio. With a full production team behind them and a broadcast team of established casters and hosts, the Complexity Limit RWF event competed right alongside the more-experienced Method production team. Opinions vary greatly on which event was the “best”, but it is easy to state that both events were phenomenal.

Big Dumb Guild (BDGG) joined the Limit event this time around and had some players on-site at the Gamestop Performance Center as well. On top of live feeds from Club Camel and FatSharkYes, the Complexity-Limit event was also the place to watch exclusive videos from Pieces’ raid progression. Opting not to live-stream an event this time around, Pieces did allow Limit to show videos of their progression and kills throughout the RWF.

Method returned to the TakeTV studio in Germany for their Ny’alotha event, and again put on a 24/7 broadcasted event. As before, Method supplemented their broadcast with streams and content from other of the world’s top guilds. Alpha, Ji Tian Hong, Vodka and Aversion re-joined the fray, and new additions to the Method production were Club Camel, Fused, Ethical, and Imperative.

Aversion, a German guild, did a simultaneous production from the TakeTV studio as part of the larger Method event. They had a handful of their raiders on location, and provided a German-language live broadcast with hosts and interviews for their viewers. It was interesting to see another guild other than the “big two” have their own production, and it certainly helped to broaden the RWF audience by providing commentary in German.

The rivalry between Method and Limit seemed to truly reach a pinnacle during Ny’alotha, not just in terms of the raid itself but also the fact that both guilds were the main presence behind the two major live RWF events. Despite the presence of other guilds, the two events were colloquially referred to as the “Limit Event” and the “Method Event”, and viewers and fans around the world were tuning in to see which guild, and also which event, would triumph.

Breaking the 8-year streak of EU guilds claiming the title of World First Champions, Complexity-Limit triumphed in Ny’alotha, being the first guild in the entire world to kill the Old God N’zoth. The success of the two major production events, and the upset win of Complexity-Limit changed the face of world first raiding as we know it. We now go into a brand new expansion with a North American returning champion, and an esports community that looks at the RWF not just as a raid, but as a full-scale event for the entire world to watch.





What to Expect in Castle Nathria


It would appear that word got out after the RWF of Ny’alotha that entering the World of Warcraft World First Raiding scene was a good idea for esports organizations. We swiftly saw the Golden Guardians organization sign Big Dumb Guild (now BDGG), and Imperative signed on with a smaller esports organization, Lazarus. Pieces, who have worked hard to move beyond being a guild and have become an esports organization in their own right, have also expanded their sphere of influence beyond just their guild and invested in other WoW streamers as well.

What does all of this mean for the first raid of Shadowlands? We are already seeing a shift in the RWF event status quo. Instead of two major events with an array of guilds involved, we are seeing that most guilds and organizations are looking to host their own live streamed events. To date we've seen social media posts from BDGG, Aversion, and Lazarus Imperative, all announcing that they are holding their own events for the Castle Nathria RWF. Additionally, the new esports organization on the WoW scene, the OTK Network helmed by Rich Campbell, Asmongold, TipsOut, and others, has announced that they will be hosting a round-table style RWF stream, showcasing all of the events taking place around the world. This is four separate RWF events, and we still have not seen anything from returning champions Complexity Limit, or other notable top guilds such as Echo (formed from most of the old Method roster), Pieces, Exorsus, FatSharkYes, or any of the top guilds from the China region. We are eagerly refreshing our twitter feeds waiting for more announcements... this RWF is already looking to be the biggest yet!

The RWF is certainly emerging as an exceptional esport, showcasing the greatest players and strategists the World of Warcraft has ever seen. From a viewer perspective, it has been an exciting ride getting to this point, and we cannot wait to see where the RWF events take us in years to come.



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About the Author


Hulahoops has been playing WoW since Vanilla. If she’s not leading her Mythic Progression guild TBD through raids, she’s probably practicing for the MDI with her team Angry Toast. Hulahoops is a Holy Paladin in every sense of the term: she moderates the Hammer of Wrath Paladin Class Discord, and she was a practicing Lawyer for the last 7 years. Judgment isn’t just a spell! Hulahoops recently decided to put the law books away and follow her passion for esports by joining the team at RaiderIO as the Events and Community Coordinator. She is also passionate about making Azeroth an inclusive, welcoming space for all gamers and is a proud co-founder of the Defias Sisterhood community.