Roll20 Weighs in on Esports

You might recall that Roll20 (owned by the Orr Group), a popular online platform for role-playing games, also happens to own an esport team. I asked Nolan T. Jones, co-owner of the Orr Group, what he thought about esports and D&D being back in the spotlight.

Let's get one thing straight: Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner didn't literally mean Dungeons & Dragons should have an esport.

Or rather, he meant he would like to replicate the success of an esport with an online D&D platform, in the same way Wizards of the Coast hopes to bolster their currently-beta Magic: The Gathering Arena game with Twitch streams and competitions. But while Goldner might have confused the terms, Jones certainly knows what he's talking about -- Roll20 invested in esports, announcing their sponsorship in May 2017:
Team 8 will now compete as Roll20 esports. It’s a mildly unorthodox thing for a company like Roll20 to up and jump into esports, but there’s a lot about it that just made sense. We don’t do much advertising (‘cause you all do such a fantastic job of telling your friends about us!) and we feel like the friendly Heroes community might occasionally enjoy taking a break from winning and losing to make more friends on Roll20 in the same way we’ve enjoyed exorcising our competitive Diablo’s in “HotS.”

Roll20 is currently between teams, but that hasn't put them off of esports all together. "We parted ways with our original roster because we couldn't come to an agreement on a long term future," said Jones, "but are currently at the tail end of negotiations with a new roster."

But why esports? "People like watching competition," said Jones. "We like watching basketball, quiz game shows, and now video games be played. We like seeing people experience wins and losses in a clearly defined format, and esports is no different from those other pursuits."

The official clarification after Goldner's statement was that "the game has not yet been classified by the company as an esport because of its limited competitive scope." Jones still sees it as a possibility though. "The things about D&D and esports that make sense to me are the amount of statistical min-maxing that can be involved and the emphasis on teamwork. There are so many ways a D&D esport could happen, it's dizzying, so the first thing I'd hope to see is a solid, small scope to get started."

Part of the appeal of esports is closely tied with viewership, and WOTC's frequent references to Twitch are certainly part of the appeal. Jones thinks that's part of what makes an esport possible. "In this new streaming enivornment, it's fair to say that any game can become popular viewing even without direct corporate sponsorship. It was not so long ago that D&D had no real official streaming presence to speak of, and yet Twitch was full of D&D streamers!"

Roll20's platform is large enough that it could easily be a platform for this sort of competition. Jones thinks it depends on how WOTC defined the scope of a D&D esport. "It's fair to say we would WANT to be involved, be it as a platform or a team sponsor or something completely different."

It seems, for now, that a D&D esport is in the distant future. But competitive D&D is not unheard of, and given the game's popularity on digital and streaming channels, the ingredients are there if and when WOTC is ready to jump in.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

LuisCarlos17f

Explorer
Yes, D&D may be a powerful franchise for a e-sport, but I don't mean a player vs player or team vs team sport but something like a Team vs Environment or an asymmetric team vs player.
 

unknowable

Explorer
Yes, D&D may be a powerful franchise for a e-sport, but I don't mean a player vs player or team vs team sport but something like a Team vs Environment or an asymmetric team vs player.
The game is too random and at it's best has too much GM arbitration to be worth while imo.
 

Mallus

Hero
On the one hand, tournament modules and scoring groups have been a thing since the early days of gaming conventions, dating back to the late 1970s.

On the other, the success of D&D live streaming today is pretty squarely built around the personalities -- acting ability & screen presence -- of the people playing. It's not rooted in technical proficiencies of the participants the way it is for other eSports (caveat - that I'm aware of).

So in a word: no. Not seeing how this will work. Unless the competitions are less DOTA 2 International/Evo and more Oscars/Emmy's (Daytime Emmy's??).
 

dave2008

Adventurer
I could definitely see how this could work. My firm has been involved in the design of several esports facilities and I can see how D&D could become a part of it. It is not something I am interested in, but my children watch esports and if their generation could be steered to esports D&D I can see how the would be a boon for the game.

Now, to be clear, I am not advocating for esports D&D to replace TTRPG D&D. I see them as working together, so you have:

1) TTRPG D&D
2) AL D&D
3) Streaming D&D
4) esports D&D
5) board games D&D
6) movies D&D

All working together.

If D&D gets revenue from multiple streams I think it only helps the one that I like the most (TTRPG)
 

Kobold Boots

Villager
Competitive D&D

- Strict rules about what DMs can and can not do.
- Two player groups attempting the same module at the same time in the same game space. DMs for each group are monitored by a third judge to ensure adequate advancement.
- When player groups exist in the same part of the module at the same time.. - third judge handles combat between them. No changing of any die rolls.

D&D Survivor. Last man standing or first to finish.

Be well
KB
 

pming

Adventurer
Hiya.

I'm still not seeing it. They are trying, to my eyes, to take something that is pretty much anathema to what D&D actually is, video/stream it, and make money. If you boil it right down, some suit/business-major has convinced Hasbro-at-large that if you take successful streaming, and successful D&D market growth, and smash them together...they'll make millions!

Looking at what dave2008 (just using what you said as an example, dave) said was:

1) TTRPG D&D
2) AL D&D
3) Streaming D&D
4) esports D&D
5) board games D&D
6) movies D&D

All working together.
I see that and think that the only reason this is a list, and labeled as 'all working together'isn't that the suits are thinking "That will be cool! Lots of fun! People will love it!". In stead, they are thinking "Money, Money, Money, Money, Money and possibly even MORE Money!". A business is there to make money, yes, but a business needs to have their product make sense and be desirable by the people likely to buy it. The people who are getting into D&D (or still playing it) are looking to get AWAY FROM their computers, TV's and all the "vicarious excitement" of watching others do something...and sit down at a kitchen table with friends, relax, roll some dice and play make-believe. Personal, face to face, human interaction and contact. That's a HUGE part of the attraction of TTRPG'ing. People watching esports/streaming are doing pretty much the exact opposite (watching others enjoy something and through that watching, get the "excitement" they would like to have first-hand)...no interaction and no contact.

D&D isn't about competition. At ALL. Might as well make Solitaire an esport. Have I watched folk play and RPG? Yes, but not as a "thing"...only as a "I have 20 minutes to kill before everyone arrives for today's game session so lets see what Youtuber XYZ did last session". People who don't have the luxury of playing in a game themselves probably watch more; but given the chance, I'd bet they'd drop a televised D&D session in a hot second if they could play in a game themselves.

I don't know...I just don't see it working. At least not in a "make money" kind of reliable way. Role-playing relies far too much on random chance as well as completely non-definable "rules", as others have said (e.g., "I try and break the lock"...DM #1: "Make a Strength check at -2", ...DM #2: "Make an Athletics check at Disadvantage", ...DM #3, "Make an Attack Roll" ...all three DM's are "correct" in how to handle that situation). As others have said, watching a D&D game is about seeing the story unfold and seeing how the players react...nobody gives a flying ferk about specific rules or which player 'rolled better' or anything along that line. Sure, seeing someone roll a natural 20 during a critical fight is 'exciting' to see...via video or in real life in front of you at the table...but that isn't really a reliably predictable thing. I think Hasbro is comparing Apples to Screwdrivers, IMNSHO.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

EthanSental

Explorer
I think it would be funny to see late 70s/ early 80s tourney style dnd played nowadays in the everyone gets a participation trophy generation so we don't hurts anyone's feelings. I dont see it happening or being enjoyable too watch except for the end when we can see the whining and complaining that their table or a player should have won :)
 

Kobold Boots

Villager
I think it would be funny to see late 70s/ early 80s tourney style dnd played nowadays in the everyone gets a participation trophy generation so we don't hurts anyone's feelings. I dont see it happening or being enjoyable too watch except for the end when we can see the whining and complaining that their table or a player should have won :)
^^ This ^^

However, I do think that it can be done well enough to be marketable. Especially if we consider that golf has a rather rabid viewership.

There's a slot for every tab to fit in.

KB
 

LuisCarlos17f

Explorer
I am thinking about a totally different type of game, a mixture from different genres, like Real-Time-Strategy, Action RPG and Tower Defense. A player of the team would be the general, creating and controlling the minions, and the players would be the champions.
 

Caliban

Rules Monkey
Shows like Critical Role are more like watching an Improv Soap Opera. Very random and entertaining, and you feel a personal attachment to the players and their characters.

But I think a corporate sponsored "E-sports" version would be more like Reality TV - with carefully orchestrated drama and infighting for people to watch. Seeing the players compete against each other, even as they have to cooperate to beat the dungeon (or whatever the goal is).
 

Mallus

Hero
Shows like Critical Role are more like watching an Improv Soap Opera. Very random and entertaining, and you feel a personal attachment to the players and their characters.

But I think a corporate sponsored "E-sports" version would be more like Reality TV - with carefully orchestrated drama and infighting for people to watch. Seeing the players compete against each other, even as they have to cooperate to beat the dungeon (or whatever the goal is).
So eSports D&D would be more like the WWE? You know, if any version of this could work, this is the one!
 

pogre

Adventurer
So eSports D&D would be more like the WWE? You know, if any version of this could work, this is the one!
Were the Bushwhackers Druids or Rangers? Would Jimmy Hart be a bard? Now, this is something I could get into!
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
‘Competitive D&D’ would pretty much have to be a team-vs-team, one party of player characters versus an other party of player characters.

One-on-one works less well because character classes are so unevenly matched.

I would love to see D&D as an esport for design reasons − to see in fact, rather than theory, where the combat weaknesses are for each class, an if the classes really are balanced.

This reminds me of when mixed martial arts fighting sports first came out. People wanted to see what would happen if you put a karate guy against a boxer. Ultimately most martial arts proved to be disappointing, and it turned out that wrestling is the most effective fighting style.

For D&D, for design, it helps to know what really is effective.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Get off my lawn.

I don't get the appeal of esports, so this passes me by completely.
Not long ago, I would have been in your chorus, but I have to say that I enjoy watching my son and his friends compete in Fortnight and watching some of the recorded Twitch videos that some of the celebrity players post to their YouTube channels.

At some point in the past, I image some father shaking his head at his son, asking incredulously: "So, you are going to the field to just WATCH *OTHER* people kick a ball around? Are you not going to play? And people are PAYING for this? What's this world coming to‽"

I see many avenues for D&D as paid entertainment and even competitive paid entertainment. D&D provides a system for improv drama and/or comedy and there are groups making money doing this.

It doesn't take too much of a stretch of one's imagination to see WoTC developing a separate competitive-play rulebook. You could organize battle-royale, last-man-standing, "meat grinder" sessions. You could also take the Adventurer's League Epic convention style of play and adjust the rules to make it a competitive game. I would love to participate in and/or watch a well-run competitive Epic.
 

practicalm

Explorer
What we need is Dream Park .5.

Virtual Reality based dungeons / escape rooms that people complete and have their times and scores recorded. Local, regional, national and world wide competitions.
Each player can have multiple characters and they select the character for each event. But the player can only score each event instance once so that they cannot use player knowledge.

(Side bar rant: One thing that frustrates me about AL is the number of players that takes different characters through the same adventure multiple times. I feel this is just like reading the module ahead of time and I saw too much abuse of it.)
 

Advertisement

Advertisement

Top