Warcraft 3: Reforged esports interview: Preparing for DreamHack Anaheim and beyond

The Warcraft 3: Reforged esports season has begun and Shacknews went to DreamHack Anaheim to chat with Blizzard's Kerry LaRose about putting together the competitive circuit, the deal with ESL, and working through the game's rough launch.


DreamHack Anaheim is underway from the Anaheim Convention Center, bringing together thousands of gaming enthusiasts and also dozens of the top esports games in the world. For Blizzard Entertainment, it's probably a bigger weekend than most. This will be the first major esports event for Warcraft III: Reforged and many eyes look to be on it for more reasons than one.

Warcraft III has had a long and storied history in the competitive space. It's a tradition that Blizzard hopes to see continue with Reforged. Of course, it's worth noting that Reforged hasn't exactly had an ideal launch. But in spite of the game's rocky opening weeks, the esports community continues to plow forward, largely on the strength of a recent deal with ESL and DreamHack.

The first Warcraft III: Reforged tournament of the 2020 season is underway, but prior to the start of it, Shacknews had the opportunity to speak to Esports Associate Product Manager Kerry LaRose. We discussed the history of Warcraft III esports, the goals for this upcoming season, and the deal with ESL and what it means for the competitive side of the game going forward. And yes, I do make sure to ask about... ahem... the launch.

Shacknews: I'm looking at the setup that you have for this weekend, so take a moment to talk about how you got here. How did the deal with ESL and DreamHack come about?

Kerry LaRose, Associate Product Manager of Esports: Some of the esports team, we were really looking at how we could put together some sort of program that would be a great long-term option for us and for both Warcraft III and StarCraft II. We've been working on these esports for so many years and one of the things that the community's always really wanted was a long-term roadmap for what the game would look like and what the esport would look like. And that's something we felt that ESL was really the best partner out there to work with on. They're someone we've partnered with for many years on RTS titles. They have the trust of the community, they have the trust of us, and they have a lot of global capabilities to put on really cool events all over the world. They can move really fast and do a lot of really cool stuff with a lot of people who know about the games, who are passionate about the games, and who are really interested with working with us on this.

It's something that we really felt was a great move for the games, a great move for the community, to be able to announce something so far out in advance and say, "Hey, here's what you have, we have these awesome esports that are going to be around for a while." We just felt it was a good opportunity for us to take this step.

Shacknews: If you're a follower of old-school competitive Warcraft III, what can you look forward to seeing from Reforged esports?

LaRose: I think the main thing is a lot more of the same, but with some additional attention. The game has been out for almost 18 years now. We're still patching it, we're still creating balance patches, we're still changing the game, tweaking it, we're seeing new meta games pop up right now with new hero choices and new units and everything and that's something we're paying a lot of attention to and excited to be working on.

But the other thing is, we're seeing a lot of people come back to the game with Reforged and a lot of new people picking up the game. And we want to use the esport to bring more attention to the game, show that there's a lot of cool ways to experience Warcraft III, that there's a lot of great players who have been playing the game for over a decade now, but then, hopefully bring in some new talent, as well. Whether they're coming from StarCraft or whether they're new to the RTS genre and being able to compete at a high level and that's something that we think having this global tour with ESL opens up.

Shacknews: What are some of the challenges you've encountered in getting to this weekend?

LaRose: I think it's always challenging when you're launching a new program. That's probably the hardest thing you can do with esports. But the fact that we've been working on RTS titles for so long and working with these partners for so long really helped smooth out a lot of that process.

I think the biggest challenge going forward is figuring out how to integrate the different global regions and how to encourage new people to experience the game at a high level. It's something that we're still waiting to see how that happens, we're still waiting to see the new blood come in and then figuring out how to take those stars and elevate them to the level of our established stars. That's the next step.

Shacknews: What can you tell me about the competitive field. Who are some of the new and familiar faces that viewers can look forward to seeing on the big stage?

LaRose: We're really seeing all the returning players. A lot of the top players never really stopped playing. We have some of the biggest names here, like Moon [Jang Jae Ho], Happy [Dmitry Kostin], Foggy [Andriy Koren], people that have been around the scene for a long time and won a lot of championships already. But a lot of them have been playing in the last several years, specifically in the China region, which is where we see the most Warcraft III high-level play going on. One of the things we want to do is help bring those to a new audience.

In terms of rising stars, that's something we're still waiting to see. This is our first big event and we think it might take a little bit of time before we really see some of those new names cropping up at a high level. But really, this is our first chance to see if there's somebody that's been flying under the radar and hopefully, we see some new names on the stage.

(Photo credits: Li Hoang for DreamHack)

Shacknews: Blizzard is widely recognized for putting together exciting esports presentations. While we know ESL is doing a lot of the heavy lifting, are there any elements of production from the StarCraft II side, the Hearthstone side, or the Overwatch League side that the team is applying for Warcraft III?

LaRose: I can speak speficially to the StarCraft II side of it. Really, the games have a lot of similarities. In fact, a lot of the same people on ESL and DreamHack's side work on those titles. A lot of people on Blizzard's side work on those titles. So there's a lot of cross-pollination there and the knowledge translates really well. We have a lot of knowledge that we can apply there, in terms of how the tournaments are run, how the brackets are pretty similar, and just how everything moves from start to finish, the way we present the players on stage, there's a lot of comparisons, because it is a 1v1 title, it is an RTS title.

The pacing's a little bit different, so that can change things, which can make it a little bit more difficult to figure out times. But in terms of how the actual production is run, I feel like it's very similar, and the staff here that we're working with are good people who know RTS titles and have been working on our stuff for a long time.

Shacknews: With the release of Reforged, it means you may get a lot of new viewers watching for the first time. How does the team go about teaching this new audience how the game works?

LaRose: Well, I think that some of the learnings that we have from StarCraft II something we can definitely apply. In a lot of cases, ESL can apply their learnings, as well. They've been working with a ton of different titles for so long, in fact, more titles than we work with, so really, they have things to teach us in that regard. But just trying to generally, not just harness the people that have always been watching Warcraft III, but also trying to figure out ways to bring in new viewers. We have things that we like to do, like putting up streams on our launcher so people can experience it when loading up the game for the first time, or just trying to use our general ability to reach out to people and inform them of this cool new league that's starting up.

It's something that we're working with ESL on and applying our previous learnings to, but we're also trying to take from them what they've learned over the years of working with so many titles and integrating these things into their pro tour.

Shacknews: This has been one of the biggest challenges across all of esports right now and that's the coronavirus outbreak in China. With many tournaments across different games either being cancelled or rescheduled, how is the Warcraft III team handling the outbreak potentially affecting the schedule?

LaRose: We obviously take the coronavirus or any similar health situation very seriously. We take our players, our staff, everyone's health very seriously. It's obviously something that we're tracking very closely. We're trying to be as understanding and work closely with our tournament organizers, not just on Warcraft III or on this specific program, but all of our programs to make sure that we're doing the right thing. Safety is our number one concern.

We understand that DreamHack and ESL have their own programs and you may need to talk to them about what they're doing for their programs, but I know that they're also taking the safety of their competitors very seriously.

Shacknews: What can viewers expect out of this Warcraft III year?

LaRose: I wish I had all the answers to that. I think that the first thing we're going to see is a lot of new faces. Like I said before, there have been a lot of players in China specifically or people who have competed in the China region that the rest of the world isn't used to seeing. There are some big names that people who follow RTS games know, but there's also a ton of really great players that are playing mostly in that region that we're now going to see on a global stage. That's kind of the first thing, is bringing this already top tier of players to a wider audience. Not only is there going to be events in their backyard, but they're also going to see these casted in a number of different languages and across more venues.

The other thing is, hopefully we see players who have played in those regions, but who haven't been able to travel to where the main Warcraft III tournaments are happening, actually able to compete. That's something I'm personally excited about. I know that there's a lot of regions that have a large player base and a lot of passion for the game. Russia's a really great example, where there's a ton of people who play this game competitively, but haven't typically traveled for these events. And those people are actually going to get to compete for great prizing and the opportunity to be seen on the world stage, so I think the main thing we're going to see is a lot of new players who people didn't realize were really good coming to the forefront.

Shacknews: Lastly, I'd be remiss if I didn't address the elephant in the room. Warcraft III: Reforged had a bit of a rocky launch. There were technical hiccups, the player base isn't the happiest right now, etc. How do you feel that this launch has affected enthusiasm for the competitive product? And how do you, from the esports side, work to rise above that rough launch to put together the best esports presentation possible?

LaRose: Speaking specifically from the esports side, this is a game that's been around for roughly 18 years now and it's considered one of the best esports title of all-time. It was right there at the start of esports. And that esports scene has never gone away. It's certainly become a bit more regional, more focused, but it's something that people have always shown that they're willing to tune into and always willing to participate in. And we feel, really, what was lacking was the ability to bring it to a global audience.

Reforged really has done that for us. We have had a lot of people pick up the game for the first time, a lot of returning players, and a lot of people showing interest in the game. And we feel that the competitive core gameplay of Warcraft III is in a good spot. We've gotten good feedback about the current state of balance and the things that have been done with the game, so we feel that this is a great opportunity for us to show how cool this game, how cool it's always been, but also show it in high resolution, show it in a format that people are more used to seeing when they tune into a modern Twitch stream. So we think this is a good situation for us to show how good this game is and how awesome the competitors are.

DreamHack Anaheim is going down through Sunday. Those interested in catching WarCraft III can check out the ESL Warcraft 3 Twitch channel.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola