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StarCraft vs. Warcraft: What is the WoW community missing?

For the past year or so, I've been living a double life. To some, I am a skilled and tenacious night elf priestess, adventuring through Azeroth at the charge of the Holy Light, healing the injured and saving the incompetent. To others, however, I am but a lowly brood mother, commanding a swarming, parasitic army with occasional success against my enemies across the Koprulu sector. Don't follow me? Basically, I've just been playing a lot of StarCraft 2 whenever I'm not raiding.

Still, being heavily invested in WoW and StarCraft has really felt like living two lives at times, especially when you consider how dramatically different they both are. And I'm not talking about the gameplay; obviously one would expect an MMORPG and an RTS to be incomparable. What I mean is that that the culture and community that surrounds these two games are distinctively different, despite the fact that the games share some of their playerbase with one another. You'd think that one game community would be pretty similar to the next, but they're not.

The whole thing has left me with a lot of questions to turn over in my mind. Is it possible that the WoW and StarCraft communities could learn from the other? Seven years in, is it even possible for the WoW community to change in any significant way at this point? And if so, is there something missing in the WoW community? To explore the idea further, I started making a list of all the things I thought the StarCraft community had that the WoW community was lacking.

A truly central community news and information hub

There are a lot of StarCraft websites out there, but TeamLiquid.net is without a doubt at the center of it all. The latest news is always available there, whether it's written up by the site's editorial staff or reposted in the forums by members. The forums are active with discussion on strategy, events, news, and juicy drama (if you're into that kind of thing). Members can also post their own blogs there, a feature that many reputable players are known to use from time to time. Finally, Liquipedia (the StarCraft community's wiki) is hosted there, as well as a comprehensive database of players who stream their gameplay.

In contrast, the WoW community is spread out all over the place. WoW Insider, MMO-Champion, Wowhead, Machinima.com, Warcraft Movies, Elitist Jerks, Arena Junkies, Wowpedia, TankSpot, LearnToRaid, Curse, WoW Interface, World of Logs, WoW Progress -- the list just keeps going, especially when you start adding in individual class content. It seems Blizzard at least has noticed this spread in recent years, launching its new and improved community site a little over a year ago. Unfortunately, the community site is limited by the fact that all the content and discussion is moderated by Blizzard, which inevitably drives some players away when they need to rant, rave, or just discuss more controversial topics.

Other groups like Zam and Curse have managed to connect content together by networking several sites together, but the goal of this networking isn't really clear to me. By allowing the sites they acquire to preserve their unique identities, the audiences of each site remain separated. In my mind, it would make much more sense if these network sites were linked together by a central forum so the community discussion was focused in one place. Granted, I'm not a web engineer, so maybe there is something I'm overlooking.

A well-populated subreddit

On any given day, I can load up the StarCraft subreddit and instantly know what the hot news in the community is. Team Liquid is great for getting information about everything, but Reddit aggregates the highlights of it all by letting users upvote posts. Reddit is also the best place to find the StarCraft community's funniest jokes and memes, giving the community a lighter side to fall back on when it needs a break from the competitive play.

That said, WoW does have its own subreddit, it's just not nearly as active as it should be when you consider how huge our community is. The StarCraft subreddit runs circles around ours, and that's kind of a shame when you consider the previous point that I talked about. If the community is spread out, why not use Reddit to pull it together? I couldn't be the only person out there who wants to see more WoW memes and pictures of WoW-themed crafts that players' girlfriends made them.

Coaching

Without question, StarCraft is a competitive game, and most people who play it regularly look to get better. Players can talk about the game on forums or read guides on builds and strategy, but one popular way to get focused help in the game is through coaching. For a small fee, usually $20 to $50, you can book an hour with a coach who will analyze your play and instruct you on how to improve in the areas you're having problems with. Coaches are typically professional players who have won numerous online or LAN tournaments, though some are just high-level players with a knack for teaching.

The WoW community, in contrast, offers very little to a player seeking individualized assistance. You can find plenty of written class guides, but they're usually aimed at a general audience of readers. Players can read up and ask for help on class discussion on forums, but the quality of the responses you can get will vary from day to day. So what's a noob to do? Well, believe it or not, there actually is coaching in WoW. A player named Landsoul has been offering coaching for a couple of years now. The problem is, he only really offers coaching for DPS warriors. Every other class is pretty much out of luck.

The thing that boggles my mind most about all this is that there has been a market for this kind of thing for years. I know because having been in numerous server-first guilds, I frequently get whispered by other players looking for answers to the specific questions they have. Sometimes the answer is short and quick, but more often than not, it has to be long and involved to be correct. Not wanting to be rude, I usually try to accommodate these people, but once you add in the follow-up questions and the fact that I get a few of these whispers a week, there really is no way to manage all the extra time it takes to help people. And the thing is, these players really want to talk to someone about their problems, even if the answers they're looking for are already out there in guides an on forums. Why has no one given these players a place to go?

The ability to watch competitive play

Without question, the biggest difference between StarCraft and WoW is that StarCraft is also a spectator sport. For some reason, people love watching StarCraft, and because of this, almost every night you can sit down at your computer and watch some of the most talented StarCraft players duking it out for your entertainment. Casting and commentary from the community's experts accompany the games to keep spectators up to speed on the action. The result is an exciting, suspenseful e-sport that is so popular to watch, companies organize massive LAN tournaments where players can gather to compete in front of a live audience for cash prizes. In Korea, the game is so popular that there are a few television channels dedicated to it.

And it doesn't stop there. The fandom behind the game is so huge that it has led to things like BarCraft, organized meet-ups at local sports bars where fans can gather once a month or even once a week to have a beer and watch StarCraft on big-screen TVs as though it were just another sport. The best of the best professional players are treated like stars and paid to give endorsements to keyboards, headsets, or Dr. Pepper. You can even buy replica jerseys for your favorite player, just like you could Ichiro or Michael Jordan.

WoW doesn't even come close. The only truly competitive aspect of WoW takes place in the Arena, but lately it's been dying as a spectator sport. Blizzard is the only organization that hosts arena tournaments anymore since Major League Gaming (an organization that runs LAN tournaments for StarCraft, Call of Duty, and Halo) took WoW out of their feature line-up during the 2010 season. Even though the reason MLG canceled WoW is unrelated to viewer ratings, I happened to attend the very last tournament that showcased WoW Arena and I can't say it looked particularly promising. All the seats in the audience were empty, with the exception of me and maybe six other people who turned out to be friends or managers of the players. The day before, StarCraft fans had filled those same seats, as well as the floors and aisles.

I suspect Arena has become so unpopular to watch for two reasons. One is that Blizzard doesn't really endorse the game as a spectator sport. In StarCraft, the game's interface allows you to observe games played by other players live or as a replays. To do that in WoW, you need a special client that allows you to watch the games, and to get it you need the endorsement and support of Blizzard. That sort of stifles development of new tournaments by small organizations or fans of the game.

The second reason, and I must stress that this one is entirely my own opinion, is that Arena games don't make for a very watchable sport unless you're already into it yourself. Why? Because there is too much going on. Competitive StarCraft puts just one player against another, where as WoW Arena is balanced to be played three against three -- that's just too many players to keep up with for a casual spectator. You can't appreciate the subtlety of each maneuver when you're staring at a cluster of bodies that can run through each other.

That all said, I know that there are other competitive aspects to WoW like the world-first race in raiding. Problem is, you can't exactly watch that, unless you consider updating the front page of WoW Progress a spectator sport. Heck, even if you could -- let's say Blizzard suddenly allowed us to watch an overview shot of all the top guilds competing for a first guild -- would anyone really want to watch Paragon wipe on heroic Ragnaros 500 times for four weeks? Oddly enough, Blizzard did experiment with making raiding into a spectator sport with the live raid at BlizzCon 2011. Though it was just for fun, I have to admit there was a strange appeal to watching vodka and Blood Legion race to clear heroic Firelands. The problem is, when you really think about it, the content had already been nerfed and the guilds were just plowing through most of the bosses through muscle memory. It's not really a test of skill at that point anymore.

Do we even want a change?

I think I could list a few more differences, but at this point, the most pressing question on my mind is whether the WoW community even wants a change. There are probably plenty of advantages we have over the StarCraft community. Off the top of my head, having the community spread is beneficial in allowing each sub-community to control its culture and voice without any biases from outsiders. Just consider what I said earlier ... I think Arena is boring to watch, but I'm sure there are plenty of people who don't agree and wouldn't want me having any sort of editorial influence over a website they wanted to get information on.

What do you think? Do you want to see more from the WoW community? Is there something missing?

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion

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