Hi, my name is James and welcome to Code/Switch. Today I want to talk about the digital future of traditional gaming. Recently there was an interview with Hasbro president Brian Goldner where he credits eSports as a factor to growth for some of their product lines. Being tabletop geeks we joked in the Know Direction Discord that Mr, Goldner doesn’t understand what eSports means and contemplated the eSports potential of games like Pathfinder. Beyond the thick sheen of cynicism, it’s not hard to realize he’s talking about streamed Magic tournaments, streamed D&D, and Hasbro’s recent deal with Blizzard to become the master toy licensee for the Overwatch franchise.
Stepping back from that boring reality, how could you incorporate Pathfinder into the eSports arena? It’s too easy to say just streaming your home game, because while entertaining it’s not really competitive. Most competition we’re familiar with is head-to-head, where teams or individuals play against each other in games like soccer or chess. Another way to facilitate a competition is to have a time-trial like system similar to those found in bobsledding, where each team takes a turn at a challenge that isn’t the opposing team.
We can actually use World of Warcraft as a proxy for this style of competition. Both Pathfinder and Warcraft share that fantasy asthetic, but World of Warcraft exists solely in a digital space. World of Warcraft also has 2 forms of competition for its player base; Arena, which pits plays in fights against each other, and Raid Race, where teams try to be the first to complete a challenge against a dungeon made by the games designers.
Pathfinder could be run with teams of adventurers built for PvP facing off in an arena. It’s something I’ve heard of groups doing through friend and forums, but never really saw as something entertaining. Pathfinder and other RPGs are usually cooperative experiences, so maybe the novelty is fun? To do this as an eSport however would likely be unwatchable. The game itself isn’t balanced for player-vs-player combat and a surprisingly small amount of builds would permeate, along with plenty of controversy and disputes in regards to how rules are written.
A better option could be like World of Warcrafts raid races. Having super-hard dungeons like Emerald Spire being run by impartial judges at sanctioned events could be entertaining to watch. It may be similar to the Order of the Amber Dies mega playthroughs, but with prizes for groups that finish faster time or better completion percentage than others. This way also allows adventuring groups to hold some sway, giving fans heroes and heels to root for and against. Yes, watching this would spoil content, but the fans of the World of Warcraft raid races also face similar spoilage, but similarly to World of Warcraft, these adventures wouldn’t be for everyone. These adventures would be over-tuned and fun only for those groups who’d want a Rappan Athuk ++ experience.
Despite all these great ideas, I don’t see tabletop RPGs breaking into eSports. Their presence in the streaming and podcast formats is greatly appreciated and has helped the games we love to reach so many new people. What do you think, could tabletop RPGs break into the eSports realm or are they relegated to casual play? You can find me and all the other KD hosts at our Discord server, and if you’re looking for a good earful, you can click here to find Adventurous, Know Directions War for the Crown live stream/podcast! Thanks for your continued support and if I see you at Gencon this year, I’m sorry, I’m always that awkward.