Behind the Scenes of the MDI

The Castle Nathria Race to World First (RWF) may have ended at the last station, but the WoW esports train certainly shows no signs of stopping. Back in December, Blizzard announced their initial plans for both the MDI and AWC, and sign-ups for the first rounds of both competitions have already come and gone. We are full speed ahead into competitive WoW in 2021!

The MDI as a tournament has seen significant evolution since its inception. Blizzard has constantly worked to improve the MDI experience for both competitors and viewers alike, and to truly develop the niche that this exciting esport fits into. This time around there are a couple of notable format changes, with the amalgamation of the Americas/Oceania, European, Korean and Taiwanese teams into one global region, and the introduction of a rule preventing class stacking. These changes will likely have a significant impact on the competition and we are on the edge of our seats waiting to see how things pan out.

To learn more about these changes and the thought processes behind them, we decided to go straight to the source. We were fortunate enough to be able to interview Adrian Archer-Lock, aka Healingstat, the newly appointed Product Manager of the MDI! Keep reading to get an inside look into what we can expect from the first MDI season of Shadowlands.

Q: It’s the very first MDI season of a brand new expansion. New dungeons, new affixes, new game systems. What are you hoping to see?

Personally, I’ve been having a blast playing through the new dungeons. My favorite part of MDI is seeing the strategies the teams come up with to tackle the new challenges each season. The thing I’m most interested to see in Shadowlands Season 1 is how teams play around the new Prideful affix to their advantage, and if we see different strategies there between the teams. I’m also excited to see the Mists of Tirna Scithe maze in action on the MDI shows!

Q: We’re seeing two major changes come to the MDI this year, one of which is the swap to one global region as opposed to separate NA/OCE and EU regions. What was the major thought process behind this? Why the change?

One of the unique advantages of the MDI format is the ability for players to compete with other teams from all around the world. Without the barrier of latency between regions, they can play on their own servers. This change felt like the obvious growth to us, as we want to fully embrace the strengths of MDI as a global competition: this allows for games between the very best teams to play out each week.

Q: Is there concern this change will result in less participation?

With the format changes this year there are more opportunities to participate in the MDI than ever before. We will have 4 Time Trials & Cups per season in the Global Region, and additionally will be hosting 2 full seasons of MDI throughout 2021 each with a capstone finals event. With the new Shadowlands dungeons, I’m excited to see players getting involved, and encourage anyone interested to sign up to the events on GameBattles to receive access to the Tournament Realms as our Time Trials get underway!

Q: One region will lead to some interesting match-ups in the cups. Any teams you’re especially looking forward to seeing head to head?

It’s always fun to see the classic top teams that went head-to-head in the previous seasons face off against each other...Wunderbar and Golden Guardians left us on a nail-biting 3-2 for last year’s grand finals so that’s a rematch I can’t wait to see in Shadowlands. I’m also curious to see how the meta evolves between teams on a weekly basis as they’ll have the opportunity to compete against each other throughout the season in the global region, and improve upon their routes week to week, battling to be the Shadowlands Season 1 Champion!

Q: The other major change is the new rule where class stacking is not allowed. What is the main goal behind this, and what do you think the implication of this rule will be for MDI teams this season?

We are always looking for ways to improve the experience for all involved, from competitors to viewers. The goal with the new rules around class stacking is to boost representation of different strategies between teams and also add an extra layer of decision making for teams when they are building out their compositions for the dungeons.

Q: How long have you been considering this change? Were there any other format changes that were considered?

We are constantly evaluating ways we can iterate and this change has been explored for some time. We have several ideas around the virtual office for things we can tweak and improve on the MDI shows, and this year we decided to put some of these into action through One-Off events that we’ll be starting this year. These one-off events will feature even more ways for players to get involved in competitive dungeon running and highlight the dungeons in different ways.

Q: How much did the recent Keystone Masters “Format Experiments” tournament where players were specialization-locked play into the decision to add this rule?

The team has a great time watching the different community initiatives that have been growing throughout the years, and KSM’s different format experiments have been something we’ve been eyeing closely. Seeing some of the different decision making from teams during the recent KSM tournaments was certainly taken into consideration when working on our 2021 format.

Q: How do you think covenant-specific buffs throughout various dungeons will play into MDI strategies?

How teams will use the different bonuses to their advantages, having each covenant bring advantages to different dungeons. It’ll be interesting to see if teams change their strategies or build their compositions around that. As a Venthyr player myself my favorite thing is to provide a big buff to my team at moments during Sanguine Depths, I’m hoping to see some big pulls around those Anima Cages!

Q: Obviously Covid-19 is still a factor and we can expect the broadcasts to be remote again. Has any planning or work gone into improving the remote production?

In 2020, the pivot to remote work for our broadcast setup came shortly before the MDI season began. With that short turnaround time, our broadcast team did a great job to still put on a fantastic show integrating many of the features they would have for an in-studio broadcast, and then continuing to build upon that for the MDI Finals.

For 2021 we’ve come in with a much longer ramp up time, and we’re thrilled to share all the stuff we’ve been working on for the broadcasts. To name a few, we’ve been working hard on updates to our graphics package, the caster’s set ups, and may have a new MDI trailer in the works! I won’t spoil more now, but all will be revealed on on January 22nd.

Q: Any other insights you can give us on the goals for the MDI, for Shadowlands and beyond?

Shadowlands is an exciting time for the MDI as well as World of Warcraft in general. We’re excited to get our first season underway with the first Time Trials commencing January 14th before Cup 1 on the 22nd. Down the line, we have a tonne of great content coming up for MDI with 2 full seasons of competition throughout the year, great news for any MDI fan.

One area the team is excited to share more information on later in the year is our one-off events for 2021, these events will provide added variety to the way competitive dungeon running is viewed, more info soon!


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.