When WSVG announced that they were picking up WoW , like many people I was skeptical. "It's all luck", "there's no skill involved", "it will look horrible for spectators" forum-goers cried, and I agreed. Recently, however, I changed my mind. Maybe it's because as you get older you get wiser (I turned 22 last week, thanks), maybe it's because I just switched from a Warrior to a Warlock (Oh how I love to hunt Mages), or maybe it's because of the words of encouragement from my editor-in-chief ("tough luck, we're covering it"). Whatever the reason, the fact is that I'm a convert and of the three doubts I had before, only one of them remains.
Luck is a Four Letter Word
Every competitive game involves some degree of chance. What separates games of chance from sport is the importance of the luck involved. For example, you would have a hard time convincing people that coin-flipping is a sport because it is 100% luck. A game like poker, though not a sport in my opinion, is more likely to be accepted as one because a player needs to know when to hold, when to fold and all the rest of it - he does not rely solely on getting a good hand. Likewise in WoW, a critical strike can turn a match but if you're healer is dying because you're busy nuking the wrong target that 2k Mortal Strike isn't going to help much.
So what I hear you ask? GotFrag isn't a poker site, that analogy isn't relevant. Ok then, look at the games that have traditionally been e-sports titles. Here's a little experiment you can try next time you play with HLTV on Dust2. Go cover B and spam the walls every round like usual. When the game's over go back and watch the demo and see how much damage you did. Do the same again and assuming you don't cheat I can guarantee you'll come out with two different numbers. For WC3 players I have an even better example: ever picked up a Book of the Dead from creeps in a game you were losing? Oh and Quake players: how about 'nade spamming those spawn points? An educated guess is still a guess.
Headshots Aren't the Only Skill
There seems to be an idea in some people's minds that since you don't have to aim for heads in WoW there's no skill involved. This assumption is wrong on two counts. Firstly, you do have to aim to some extent. If you've ever clicked on the wrong target while trying to cast a spell you'll know what I mean. I once spent ten seconds wondering why my Warrior was standing still until I realized I'd hit the enter key before spamming my skills, by which time the game was essentially lost. Ok, that's not aim in the strictest sense but it still shows just how essential one mistakenly pressed button can be.
The second reason this is wrong is because there is more to any game than just being able to point your cursor in the right place. Another argument I've heard is that the global cool down in WoW eliminates reaction times. At first glance this statement makes some sense. After all, how fast do you really need to be if your opponent can only hurt you ever 1.5 seconds? Well, put yourself in this situation. You're the Mage in a 3v3 team. You and your opponents are both running a typical Warrior-Mage-Paladin lineup. Both warriors are taking quite a beating when you notice their Mage is casting Polymorph on your Paladin. At the same time, their Paladin is about to heal the Warrior. You only have one Counterspell but two potentially hazardous spells being cast. Which one do you counter? And don't forget, Flash Heal and Polymorph are both 1.5 second cast times so don't take too long to make up your mind.
There is one problem which detracts somewhat from the skill of WoW, though. Blizzard has admitted time and again that WoW is balanced around PvE. This is a big problem in world PvP and PUG battlegrounds but neither of those things are considered competitive and neither of them are in WSVG. In fact, being balanced around class combinations is a good thing for a team game. It adds another dimension to the game. On top of your own character's talent build and your reactions, there's also the issue of countering the competition in terms of class vs class. Does the Paladin's durability make up for his lack of HOTs. How useful is Fear compared to Polymorph? Can a Fury Warrior do as good a job as a Moral Strike one? The questions and combinations are almost endless. So while Warlocks can complain about Rogues all day, having a Warrior to back you up against him will solve all your Cloak of Shadows problems.
We've established by now that WoW involves more skill than luck. The game is definitely worthy of competitive play, but like any game as young as WoW Arenas there are still problems. The biggest one in this case is for the spectators. Most people originally assumed that the game would be viewed from a first or third person perspective, the same as when playing. Skeptics cried that this would be about as much fun as watching a calculator and that people who don't play WoW would have no idea what was going on. This is probably true but at least the 8 million people who do play would have understood. The way it's been covered on WSVG streams and VOD's that I've seen are almost incomprehensible, even to a two year veteran (aka nerd) like myself. Without the combat text it's almost impossible to follow what is going on.
At the first WSVG to use WoW they had an third person view, similar to 'free cam' in CS. It looked like animated characters randomly swinging weapons at each other. You couldn't really tell what abilities were being used, except for the more visible Mage abilities like Iceblock. The only way you could understand what the Warriors were doing was by guessing. So while a hardcore WoW player could probably infer that they were using Mortal Strike and Hamstring, others would struggle. The next event used a view more akin to the playing experience. This proved to be a little easier to follow but with the commentators' UI being something of a mess it was still less than perfect.
However, as you can plainly see, progress has been made and Blizzard has a good track record of listening to feedback (despite what Rogues thing about Vanish). In my opinion, for what it's worth, a combination of the two systems would be preferable, sort of like HLTV for WoW. Give the viewers the chance to follow the player they want to see by clicking through a cycle of players in the game (a la first person/chase cam in HLTV) so they can see what an individual is doing and the choice of having a map overview (again, like HLTV) taking up all or part of the screen, so they can still see what's going on in the greater context of the match. Another useful addition would be small HP/MP status bars for both teams, similar to mods like CT_Raid, so spectators watching one player can still see what's going on with the other players. At previous events it was almost impossible to see who was winning until a player died. With status bars implemented it would be much easier to keep tabs on the action.
Just like 1.6 teams succeeding in Source, it's no coincidence that some of the best Guilds and Arena teams in WoW include famous names from elsewhere in gaming. Be it Fnatic's vo0 in PvP or Nihilum's Johnny R in PvE, pro-gamers succeed in WoW and it isn't anything to do with luck. WoW has the potential to be THE e-sports game and with such a huge fan base already built up it's more likely to go mainstream than any other game right now. With the CGS picking it up for next season the game's competitive side is only going to grow and with a few tweaks here and there the game will be much more viewer friendly. If a WoWTV system is implemented the only thing missing will be compulsory use of Female Bloodelf characters and we'll be ready for mainstream TV coverage in no time!