Poland has become a hotbed for global eSports. On the heels of the record-setting Intel Extreme Masters (IEM) World Championships in Katowice in March, Wargaming has returned to Warsaw for its World of Tanks Grand Finals at Torwar Hall. ESports company ESL produces the event.
This marks the third year Warsaw has hosted the Grand Finals, but the first in Torwar Hall. Wargaming had to move to a bigger arena because of the number of local attendees who swarmed the arena last year. This year’s venue is home to basketball and hockey games and holds 8,000 people, compared with the 700-seat venue used in the past.
“Poland has fantastic fans that are very knowledgeable about the game,” says Oscar Miranda, head of eSports at Wargaming North America. “They really get behind the gameplay, cheering when a tank gets destroyed and even when a tactic develops and forces engagement. Poland also offers solid infrastructure, making us feel like we’re in the West while maintaining all the charm of the East.”
Publisher Wargaming’s free-to-play World of Tanks game may not be as popular an eSport as Tencent-owned Riot Games’ League of Legends or Valve’s Dota 2 or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, but the game has been building on its global audience of over 145 million players through eSports.
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PC is the leading platform for World of Tanks with over 120 million players, and the focal point for the Wargaming.net League. Twelve of the top teams from five regions around the globe are vying for $300,000 in cash prizes over the two-day event. One of the two North American teams, eClipse, is composed almost entirely of high school students.
The competition features two teams of seven players commandeering authentic World War II tanks across various battlefields in 10-minute matches. The gameplay revolves around Attack/Defense, which requires one team to defend two zones, while the other team tries to outmaneuver them or destroy all of their tanks.
The Grand Finals is being livestreamed around the globe in eight languages through partners such as ESL and Hitbox. Amazon’s Twitch is livestreaming the matches in English, Polish, and Russian. Last year’s Grand Finals peaked at 150,000 concurrent viewers.
“All regions have seen viewership grow tremendously, so we’re expecting to break through this figure as well,” Miranda says.
That’s attracted Intel, PayPal, SanDisc, and Razer as sponsors for the Grand Finals. Wargaming has also teamed up with Uber to offer fans free rides to the event.
For more on virtual reality, watch:
Wargaming has teamed with Russian virtual reality company Fibrum to demonstrate a new app that allows attendees at the Grand Finals to experience seven vs. seven PC gameplay action in VR. The technology uses a wireless connection to transfer the PC gameplay to Android and iOS VR headsets. Users can control the camera perspective and navigate the battlefield using a game controller. Fourteen PCs are set up in the concourse area, where four Fibrum VR headsets allow users to take in the action.
While the technology is not available for the actual Grand Finals matches, Alex Bobko, head of global marketing projects at Wargaming, believes by next year’s Grand Finals the technology will allow Wargaming to connect to a global virtual reality audience. Wargaming developed the in-game app alongside Fibrum.
“As a company who is constantly working on new and innovative ideas, we are open to prototype and experiment across all VR platforms, like Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, and PlayStation VR, or other new technologies in the future. ”
Wargaming has been an early adopter of virtual reality technology, creating 360-degree video content that brings WWII history to life in new ways.
Sony Interactive Entertainment has a presence at the Grand Finals, offering attendees free access to the PlayStation 4 version of World of Tanks. The free game is also available on Xbox One, and there’s even a mobile version, World of Tanks: Blitz.
The Grand Finals also features the first-ever World of Warships eSports competition between two of the top teams in the world. It’s a preview of what could become another eSport offering from Wargaming, which also publishers World of Warplanes.
Mohamed Fadl, head of global competitive gaming at Wargaming, says the company has invested over $32 million in top-level eSports since 2012. Fadl says that while the company doesn’t make money off eSports directly—it doesn’t even charge fans to attend events—eSports allows Wargaming to connect its game, and brand, with the players of tomorrow.
“The average lifetime for our audience is eight months, but the more involved they get in competitive gaming the more money they spend and the more time they stay with the game,” Fadl says.
The PC version of World of Tanks generated $446 million in 2015, according to SuperData Research. The game earned the No. 5 slot, generating more revenue than Valve’s more popular eSports games Dota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (which were No. 8 and 9, respectively).