Wargaming Founder Believes ESports Will Become As Big As Soccer

Victor Kislyi explains why World of Tanks is just the beginning of Wargaming’s big plans for eSports.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Victor Kislyi, CEO and founder of free-to-play game publisher Wargaming, was at the 2014 Game Developers Conference (GDC). The executive has orchestrated a huge event in Tychy, Poland to celebrate the conclusion of the third season of the Wargaming.net league. The top World of Tanks pro gamers will compete for huge prizes, as part of a $2.5 million season. Kislyi explains what role World of Warplanes and World of Warships will play in eSports moving forward in this exclusive interview.

What role does eSports play for Wargaming and World of Tanks?

ESports is the new form of entertainment. It’s like a modern version of the Roman gladiators, but non-violent.  We were happy to be able to join eSports a year ago.  We have 80 million registrations, which is important because you can’t just call your game an eSport game. You first have to have a critical mass and then some portion of that community starts to play eSports.  That’s how it happens.  Our budget for last year was $2.5 million in prize money for the 12-month season. We had 3,000 teams and only 14 are going to the Finals in Poland. The winners will get some nice checks. 

What will the Finals be like in Poland?

This is new form of televised entertainment. The winners will come to Poland and fight on the stage live with World of Tanks.  It could be World of Warplanes tomorrow. It could be League of Legends. It could be some other game. But there are going to be hundreds of spectators on the ground and there are going to be hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of viewers online watching through Twitch.

How have you guys tweaked your game to appeal more to the eSports community?

Critical mass was important, but then we did this special eSports mode with more balanced maps and a spectator camera, as well as some little twitches to the game. ESports has to be balanced.  ESports has to be spectacular. So it’s a never-ending battle. This year we have what we have.  Next year we’ll probably offer Twitch more camera views. We’ll elaborate on spectator mode. The game is really good. It’s just you have to operate it every month, every year.

When it came to this year’s Finals you focused on Poland and you have a huge European base of players. What role do you see the United States playing in the future with potential Finals and Championships?

Poland was chosen because it’s a nice destination. It could have been in Malta, or in England, or in the U.S. or in China. It just happened to be Poland.  As soon as you pick a country for your Finals, the rest of 279 UN members complain. But it could be U.S. next year. Poland has nothing to do with the popularity of the game. But you have to pick a country.

We’re seeing League of Legends sell out the Staples Center and Dota 2 using a German World Cup stadium. How big do you think these types of stadium spectacles can become?

League of Legends is a huge game with big success, but they just started a couple of years before World of Tanks. We’re not yet at that level, but I can see League of Legends, Dota 2 and other games grow bigger and bigger in the future. It’s just the beginning. ESports is not in the form today that it will stay in forever. ESports is just in its inception. We’re going to be taking over the stadiums in the future.

In the United States they’re building three eSports arenas around the country. What role do you see eSports playing for your company moving forward?

It’s the way to the TV screen. It’s the way to YouTube. It’s the way to Twitch. It’s the way to millions of spectators. From now on it depends on how spectacular you can make your competition and how good your commentators are, how good your athletes are. It’s the new form of live entertainment. It’s almost interactive and instant, all around the world with Russians, Americans, Chinese, Filipinos, Germans watching and playing non-stop. It’s like soccer. I think eSports will on day be a neighbor of soccer on the TV.

How far away do you feel eSports is from becoming as recognizable as soccer in the the United States?

Let me counter you with a question. Ten years ago soccer was dominating the world and then there was basketball and other sports. Would you believe me 10 years ago if I told you that video game competitions would be filmed and broadcast on the TV?

No.

Five years ago South Korea was holding StarCraft competitions. The beauty of digital is that it grows and expands very fast. So today, soccer and football and basketball are bigger than eSports. Five years from now, I don’t know. If it catches up, it will do it fast.

When it comes to World of Warplanes and World of Warships, what opportunities do you see there with eSports?

It’s not about our willingness to make an eSport discipline. If we happen to have 50 million active players in two years it will become eSports automatically. Coming back to gaming, you just have to make a good game and it eventually it’s transformed into eSports naturally.

Are there tweaks you made to World of Tanks for eSports that influenced the development of those two newer games?

Oh, yeah. From our publishing arm, we always have this reality check -- could Warplanes be an eSport discipline? Yes, because of this, this and this.  No, because of this.  Can we change this?  That’s a never-ending battle. Yes, the discussion about eSports always is ongoing. World of Warplanes is much more likely a candidate for eSports because it’s fast and spectacular. World of Warships is very beautiful on-screen, but a little slower than Warplanes, so we will see. It’s too early to talk about Warships. Warplanes, yeah, why not?

What role does these cash prizes companies are offering for eSports tournaments playing in establishing that this is not a fad, this is something that’s here to stay?

Can you imagine this? A normal post office worker or a teacher has her teenage son comes back home and says, “Mom, I got this.”  Boom! And he shows to her a $250,000 check, which is a part of this big pot. And that’s for playing video games. It’s not about the number for the whole bunch of companies or teams. It’s when a teenager comes back home and announces to his parents or that eSports, video games is now his day job with a check. I think this is good.

How do you see the prize pools increasing over time?

Right now, it’s ridiculous compared to what’s going to happen with prize pools in the future. We are just beginning with $2.5 million for World of Tanks or $8 million for League of Legends. It’s going to grow bigger and bigger because of the TV and the advertising. Those checks are going to get bigger and bigger in the future and mothers are going to be more and more impressed. The bigger the pot, the better it is for the eSports cause.

We’re also seeing more games coming out and more companies getting involved in eSports.  How many games do you feel can support eSports? 

I do not actually believe that there could be too many. Let it be as many good games as there are out there. They have to be spectacular and then let the player and the viewers choose. I cannot give you an answer like five, or eight or 12 games is good for eSports.  Good games go there. If your game is not so good, you just don’t go there. It’s going to be a natural kind of selection.

How have you seen in the advent of Twitch and livestreaming open the door for these types of opportunities?

TV is good and big, but now Web TV has taken its place. It’s not just eSports, it’s YouTube and  many other things that people watch on the web now. ESports is just one of them. It’s easy. It’s instant. It could be done in portions and you switch on and off. You can do things on your computer and just watch it in a little window. It is going to be bigger and bigger. Today I cannot give you a number, but it’s going to take over TV, not just eSports, any Web video is going to take over.

Featured Columnist

John Gaudiosi has been covering the video game business for over 20 years for outlets like The Washington Post, Reuters, Fortune, AOL and CNN. He's EIC of video game site Gamerhub.tv.

Published Mar. 24th 2014
  • Capt. Eliza Creststeel
    Contributor
    Not a good comparison when speaking of the US. Despite that hundreds of thousands of US kids play soccer, Americans really don't watch it.
  • Chris Coccaro
    Correspondent
    With the finals happening in Poland, and the companies head offices spread over Europe, of course they're going to use football aka American soccer as a reference point. Soccer is the most popular sport in Europe.

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