Wargaming Interview - Mohamed Fadl, Director of Esports
At this year's Grand Finals 2015 in Warsaw, Poland, we grabbed Mohamed Fadl, Wargaming's director of esports, for a quick discussion about the success and failures of the event and the company's future direction in a rapidly growing market.
Click to enlarge
bit-tech: Hi Mohamed, thanks for taking the time to sit down with us. How has the Grand Finals 2015 gone so far?
It's big. We had queues of over four thousand people standing and waiting. It's something we couldn't have imagined at all. Everyone on the whole team is very happy. Even the top teams playing, they never imagined anything like this, and even the venue is on a completely different level. Compared to last year, we improved so much so the teams are very happy, they feel like real stars, especially Na'Vi [Natus Vincere, Grand Finals 2014 winners] when they came in the helicopter, and then went out – it was crazy. Because then they saw all these journalists and fans coming and screaming, wanting autographs, taking pictures etc. – they felt like, “wow, this is really it”.
Click to enlarge - Na'Vi receiving a champions' welcome to the Grand Finals 2015
bit-tech: How has the new game mode been received by the community?
The new esports mode, Attack and Defence, was probably the best thing we ever did. If you saw last year's Finals we had so much camping, draws and horrible things happening for us as viewers which were quite boring. It's one of the things which we were pretty honest about, especially Victor [Kislyi, Wargaming CEO] at the press conference last year. He said, “yeah, we know we're campy, and we will tackle this”. We had to change it, so we worked a lot with the pro teams for about six months and Na'Vi especially were one of the biggest ones that fought for this new style, this new attack and defence mode you see now. We implemented it three months ago with the last season and we could see completely different behaviour. The community suddenly jumped on it – our numbers, participants in tournaments, viewers and streams all increased in all regions. This was really the thing we needed to make esports - esports. So, honestly, I can say this was the best move within our three years of esports.
bit-tech: So clearly between this year and last year there's been a very big change. Although it's still quite early to look at, is there anything you already think you'll change for next year?
We will work way closer with the pro teams for sure, because we see that when we really listen and have long, hard negotiations, what comes out is really a product we're proud of and this is really pleasing. So working closer with the pro teams is a must for us. I think this was a big turning point for us. That's why we focus a lot on teams now in Silver and Gold [leagues], we have to help these guys – they helped us to be what we are now so we have to help them to rise.
Click to enlarge - What everyone was playing for
And for the venue, I would say bigger – we were overwhelmed. Especially because we never said it's free. Even though we set a clear message that we don't want any money, and Victor wanted it free for everyone to attend, we never mentioned free. So we said, “okay, how many people will really come?” And then we saw queues in the morning four hours before the opening, and we were a bit overwhelmed. Even now, we've removed the shuttle services so we stop having queues outside because we don't want people standing in the cold and rain. We said, “guys, please, we would love to have you here but we made a mistake”. We underestimated the whole situation and we don't want it like yesterday when we first came out and people had been standing there for six hours. It should not be like this, it's wrong. Even though we have a big screen, we give them water etc. That's why we made a big change right away and said everyone with kids gets in as priority, so even now they should get them in right away because when you see babies there, families standing there for hours... no, it can't happen anymore so we learnt quite fast.
bit-tech: The new Attack and Defence mode is obviously working really well. What would you say is the next step to take World of Tanks even higher in esports?
To improve our spectator mode. There's still a lot to do because in the end it all comes down to how accessible you are, how easily digestible you are, and how easily people can understand what they're seeing. When I see my mother, she doesn't know what's happening, she sees tanks shooting but she doesn't get the connections. So, ideally, we'd find a perfect balance to make it easily accessible but still have a depth for our core players. This is something we have to tune.
Click to enlarge - Hellraisers took the championship this year
bit-tech: You've also got World of Warships in development. Do you think that has potential to be a successful epsorts title?
In my personal, humble opinion, yes. I play it a lot. Especially when you get to high tiers and you suddenly see the carriers and the interaction with so many planes and the destroyers and the cruisers. There's so much depth, so much happening, so many moments but a lot of people say it's so slow. No, it's not slow because you have so many things and you need a good balance and a lot of players – seven players, at least. You need a good interface which really shows what's happening. I can really see that Warships has a big potential for esports. We've even been challenged a lot on this internally; there are different mindsets [in the company]. But I think, personally, yes.
bit-tech: Is it being developed with esports in mind, and if so are you taking onboard any lessons learnt from World of Tanks
Click to enlarge - Moh speaking at the Grand Finals 2015 press conference (left) and the interview room (right)
Yes, we're taking lessons learnt from World of Tanks. It's developed as the developers want to develop it. So this time we've opened some doors, some APIs, some pre-programmed things and said, “hey guys, please leave some space for potential next steps”. And now what we'll 100 percent do the first time is to create a ladder system in Warships, like the Bronze, Silver and Gold [leagues] we talked about. We'll start with Bronze – we'll create a base, a very big, grassroots audience and see how feasible is it, how real the attraction is for them to participate and if there is a viewership that's interested. Because we learnt in World of Tanks that you can't force anything down on people. They came to us and said they want esports, so we gave them the league. And then people were like, “this is not esports, what are you doing to us? This is like a camp fest, etc.”. So we learned and said we'll make it step by step. Be humble, listen to people and take advantage of their knowledge.
bit-tech: You also launched Strongholds recently. How successful has that been in recruiting more players and teams to esports?
It's a funny circle because our Clan Wars players are core players, they're hardcore guys. With esports, they're hardcore too. They're like two big circles and they're overlapping as well. The thing is now with Strongholds and the new esports mode, the circles are getting bigger but it's not like they're merging. That's something you can see, the Clan Wars getting more traction. We're learning, we're improving our games every update like any other company does and we can see it's successful because the circles are growing. But the crossover is getting bigger and bigger as well.
bit-tech: Thanks again for your time, Mohamed.