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The Past, Present, and Future of Guild Wars Competitive Play

By Michael Gills, Tournament Coordinator

Guild Wars competitive play has had an exciting history of intense competition, fun seasons, and surprise upsets. From the regionals of the GWWC and the championship run of The Last Pride to the surprise finish of the American teams at the GWFC (though War Machine earned the championship), all the way to the unexpected victory of Peace and Harmony in the recent Winterfest Playoffs, Guild Wars has compiled a rich history of GvG competition.

Now, it is time for ArenaNet to advance Guild Wars competitive play into new areas and to use newer technologies to continue the excitement.

Before I talk about the future, though, I'd like to discuss the past and its culmination in the present state of Guild Wars competition.


Looking Back

The GWWC
When I first started at ArenaNet, the plans for the GWWC (Guild Wars World Championship) were about to go out the door. On my first day I was asked to look over the plans and use my experience in competitive play programs to bring them up to speed.

After addressing several questions about the initial plan, we devised the official rules and jumped right into the regional competition for the GWWC.

In the first regional event, guilds competed against others from the same region with the top 2 finishers from each region earning invitations and trips to Taiwan for the finals. We wanted the top 16 guilds from each region competing to win the trip, but we soon learned that not as many players had or could get passports (a requirement to compete) as we had initially thought.

So instead of 16 for each region, Europe had 10 guilds compete, America had 12, and Korea ran a live competition with their top 6 guilds.

After intense matches and several upsets (Ep and EW anyone?), we had our 6 participants for the championships.

The championship itself was a lot of fun (read Saurus's "IQ Goes to Taipei" posts at the Team IQ Forums for a player's perspective), and we discovered a lot that we could improve for the next event.

The GWFC
After introducing the popular cape trims in our first fun season, we started in on the Guild Wars Factions Championship series.

We wanted to create a longer and more exciting series for this next championship, and with the inclusion of new regions for Guild Wars (Taiwan and Japan), we wanted to provide worldwide opportunities that allowed guilds to qualify for the championship itself.

After three exciting seasons with their own upsets (I Black Widow I over The Last Pride anyone?), the challenging Last Chance 72-hour grinder (Idiot Savants wins!), and the unexpected changes in the end (Sacrament of the Waooru defeats Treacherous Empire and then relinquishes their slot for the GWFC due to scheduling conflicts), we ended up with nearly the same list of guilds for the GWFC that we had for the GWWC (the same two American and Korean guilds, a Finnish guild with many of the same players from the GWWC and the Esoteric Warriors who previously came so close to winning).

Leading up to the GWFC, we also tested out new game play and event styles at several live events such as the E3 Challenge (at the last E3 ever), our sealed play event at Gen Con Indianapolis, and the sealed play and Guild Wars Live events at The Penny Arcade Expo.

The GWFC championship, held in Leipzig, Germany ended up much closer to the type of mega event we had always wanted, with thousands of fans showing up to watch and root for their favorites. We even managed a much cooler booth AND a great day of fan activities held on Sunday to boot!

So once we were getting championships to be the huge exciting events we wanted, it was time to start looking at the systems we used to get there. That is where our recent Autumn and Winterfest seasons came in.


Looking Around

I've written in the past about many of the topics we tested in these recent seasons, such as ladder concerns, Swiss rounds, and tie-breakers as well as expanding the number of participating guilds and a graduated prize scale. By testing these and other ideas (such as a limited skill pool) in recent seasons we learned a lot about our existing tournament systems and how far they can go.

The recent Winterfest playoffs for example, featured 32 participating guilds. This was our largest online tournament yet! However, to run this event we needed eight ArenaNet staff willing to get up at 7 a.m. and sit in the office both Saturday and Sunday morning. Added to this concern, my main office computer went down with the recent wind storms here in Seattle and we had to scramble to recreate the tournament pairings and mailing lists as the event ran.

Plus, manually verifying skill compliance for the limited skill event and changing guild halls for participants between each round made running these tournaments harder and harder with more guilds participating. The more guilds, rules, and new formats that we add to a tournament, the more complex each round becomes, and adding more staff to manage this complexity doesn't necessarily help. The feedback we've received from players about larger events has been positive, but if we want to continue holding these large events, we clearly need a new system.


Looking Ahead

Our goal for competitive play has always been simple: to create an easily-understood and user-friendly system that encourages more players to care about, participate in, and earn fame and glory in competitive Guild Wars play.

We understand that the current ladder system has encouraged some "not fun" behaviors such as smurfing or point farming. We know it can be hard to find, let alone schedule, eight players who are available to practice and play at the same time. We've experienced how difficult it is to schedule matches across several international time zones. And we've learned that most players enjoy playing in actual tournaments more than the grinding needed to do well on the current tournament ladder.

So, now it is time to make some real changes in competitive play for Guild Wars.


Finally, the Good Stuff

Daily Automated Tournaments
This is the first big change coming up, most likely in late January. Instead of having to spend hours playing lots of matches to climb the GvG ladder, it will all come down to how your guild does in actual tournament play.

Automated tournaments mean we will be able to schedule and run hundreds, if not thousands, of tournaments at all levels every year. Each of these tournaments will provide participants the opportunity for fame and glory, in-game prizes, and opportunities to participate in global championships.

We will schedule automated tournaments to run two or three times a day starting at beneficial times for players in all times zones. In addition, these tournaments will be able to handle any number of participants, automatically determine match start times (and countdown times until the next round), announce pairings, and report results of each event for publication on our web site.

Free play GvG matches will still exist in their current form BUT the ELO rating on them will be greatly reduced. Guilds can enter free play matches for fun and practice, but for all real purposes, these matches will have little effect on each guild's overall ladder rating or ranking.

One important change you should all be aware of is that you will HAVE to be a member of a guild for 30 days before your account will be allowed to enter an automated tournament for that guild. Just as we required long term membership in a guild for our previous tournaments, it will again be required for the automated tournaments. This means that guests will NOT be allowed for tournament play (thus, the end of smurf and tank guilds)! I recommend creating or joining the guild you want to compete in NOW so you will be eligible for the first automated tournaments when they start in early 2007.

Tournament Ladder to Reset One Last Time
Yes, you read that correct. At the start of 2007, we will reset the tournament ladder, for the very last time. As previously discussed, the main purpose of the ladder and the ELO system was to provide mathematical strength measurements of competitors and their history.

While the ladder will still be around, and players can view the competitive history of each guild, the focus will shift to how well guilds do in individual tournaments as opposed to grinding the ladder.

1v1 Tournament Ladder and Championship Series
This is probably the biggest expansion of all. Given the introduction of Hero Battles with the release of Guild Wars Nightfall, it only makes sense for us to offer this as an additional format for competitive play.

Starting in early 2007, alongside the 2007 Guild Wars GvG World Championship series, we will run a similar series for 1v1 Hero Battles (1 player and 3 Heroes vs. 1 player and 3 Heroes).

This new format will get the same support that GvG has, including its own tournament ladder, automated tournaments, and a world championship event.

And with the advent of this system, we will also track individual account statistics! This means we will be able to call out individual accomplishments as well as accomplishments of competitive guilds.


Details! We want the details!

Those will be coming soon. The rules and prize structure for the 2007 Guild Wars World Championship series (for GvG and 1v1) will be coming out in the next few weeks.

Our programming team and designers are working hard on these competitive system updates and, as they get completed, we will let you know the specifics.

While they are doing that, we will also be working on all sorts of additional competitive play support such as expanding and improving the Xunlai Tournament House, and looking at additional ways of tracking and presenting information for players and fans alike.

The history of competitive Guild Wars has been exciting. Now we look forward to a future that will take the excitement we have all built together and ratchet it up several more notches.