This weekend sees the second yearly Wargaming.net League Grand Finals take place in Warsaw, Poland, with the world’s finest teams of World of Tanks taking the fight to each other in a battle for a six-figure grand prize and the chance to cement their status as the very best.
We’re live at the event, and Day One has seen a slew of exhilarating battles as well as an exciting glimpse into Wargaming’s vision for the future of not only their game, but eSports at large.
The vision is a surprisingly open one: one that is inclusive rather than exclusive, with a Bronze, Silver and Gold League structure designed to take even the most casual of players and encourage them to graduate - with the three tiers essentially representing Casual, Semi-Pro and Pro - with more cash prizes involved at the higher tiers and with those in Gold actually having the opportunity to be salaried players, with Wargaming paying them to continue to compete.
It’s even open with regards to the competition: In an opening conference, Wargaming boss Victor Kislyi described this as “our weekend” - but went on to name-check the likes of Valve, Blizzard and Riot Games, praising their eSports efforts. Even Capcom’s Street Fighter push was noted on-stage by a Razer representative.
In the past, some of have argued that World of Tanks isn’t a right fit for the world of eSports. The argument is that the game comes from a difference place - that Valve’s DOTA or Blizzard’s Starcraft were designed with high-level competition in mind. World of Tanks, its creators admit, was designed to be a fun, exciting and of course profitable free-to-play game for everyone first and foremost - the garb of eSports is being tailored around that build, rather than the game built to fit that suit already.
After tweaks at both a game level and a tournament organizational level, World of Tanks seems to finally be finding its place, something embodied in the matches on the first day of its World Finals. There’s perhaps still issues in the core game itself - and the difficult issue of a crash during one match of course is never ideal - but it’s hard to disagree that Wargaming is throwing everything it has behind WOT as an eSport.
At the event itself, World of Tanks’ status as a truly competitive game isn’t even up for debate. The venue is vast and impressive, and outside, throngs of people watch the goings on inside on a big screen. So many people have shown up outside, I witnessed Wargaming PR dashing to source more seating for them.
Inside the Expo XXI centre, a slick stage gives space for spectators in the room as well as multiple streaming stations with various sets of suit-clad commentators, each speaking different languages and providing colour commentary for region-specific streams. Much of this is focused on Eastern Europe – World of Tanks is by far the most popular in Russia - but there’s plenty for the US and UK, as well as other countries, too.
There’s undoubtedly an Eastern-European bias here, but everything still feels rather international. As one Chinese team takes the stage, a hype video plays with the team’s members forcefully chanting their country’s name. They’re crushed in battle, with many of the matches where a European team faces somebody from outside playing out the same: right now, Europe rules the Tanks roost.
The event itself continues to impress. It just looks slick - Wargaming are happy to lay out details on exactly how much money they’ve pumped into Tanks as an eSport. By the CEO’s count $26 million will have been invested in it by the end of this league season - a serious commitment.
While the debate on how viable WOT is as a full-blown eSport like your MOBAs of the world rages on, Wargaming seeks to demonstrate by showing rather than telling - and day one of the Grand Finals have made a fairly compelling case.
Here’s the Day One results in full:
Stage 1, Match 1: Kazna Kru vs. ARETE, 5:1
Stage 1, Match 2: EL Gaming vs. RG, 5:0
Stage 1, Match 3: Schoolbus vs. YaTo.Gaming, 5:2
Stage 1, Match 4: NaVi vs. RG, 5:0
Stage 1, Match 5: Hellraisers vs. Kazna Kru, 5:0
Stage 1, Match 6: Virtus.PRO vs. Elevate, 5:1
Stage 2, Match 1: NaVi vs. EL Gaming, 5:0
Stage 2, Match 2: HR vs. ARETE, 5:4
Stage 2, Match 3: WP.SC6 vs. Virtus.PRO, 5:3
Stage 2, Match 4: Schoolbus vs. RUlette 5:0
Stage 2, Match 5: WP.SC6 vs. Elevate, 5:0
Stage 2, Match 6: YaTo.Gaming vs RUlette, 5:0