Tobold's Blog
Sunday, August 05, 2018
Dungeons & Dragons "eSports"

Two weeks ago the CEO of Hasbro caused some confusion by mentioning Dungeons & Dragons and eSports in the same sentence. That was widely misquoted as "Dungeons & Dragons has a future in eSports". It doesn't. You can't "win" in Dungeons & Dragons, which makes the game eminently unsuitable as a sports competition. What really happened was that for Hasbro Dungeons & Dragons and Magic the Gathering are in the same business unit (Wizards of the Coast), and the CEO talked about the importance of Twitch and eSports for that business unit. What he meant was Twitch for Dungeons & Dragons, and eSports for Magic the Gathering.

Once you decoded the news, the sad part of it is that my complaint that the new Magic Arena is only targeting a small population of highly competitive players basically just got a response of "this is working as intended". Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast think that a highly competitive game that looks good as eSports on Twitch will drive sales. I'm still not convinced. A game like Starcraft makes for good eSports, because as a casual player you can still play it outside of tournaments without necessarily getting crushed immediately. Magic Arena doesn't have that protection. And due to the collectible "Pay2Win" aspect of Magic, a game that only has a highly competitive mode will quickly become inaccessible to new players.

The good news is on the side of Dungeons & Dragons. While not "eSports", a game of Dungeons & Dragons on Twitch or YouTube is often very watchable. Because it doesn't matter that nobody is winning, as long as the theatrics are good. There are a bunch of channels where people with some acting skill put on a really great show, which makes D&D on video sometimes even look better than reality (depending on the acting skills of your real life friends). And the Hasbro CEO is right that this has contributed to the stellar growth of Dungeons & Dragons since the release of 5th edition. He was right to correct Jim Cramer that D&D is not a "dead brand" any more, there is a huge revival ongoing where D&D is now bigger than before.

Dungeons & Dragons is a complicated game to get into. The duality of rolling dice on one level and playing a role on another level takes some time to grasp, and the rule books are thick. Seeing it played on video makes the idea of starting your own game appear a lot less daunting. (Pro Tip: If you would like to try starting to play Dungeons & Dragons with people who never played before, the Starter Set is excellent and contains everything you need to get started for under $20). YouTube also has channels on how to DM, or how to be a great D&D player. That is a lot of support that D&D didn't have the last time around. So while not eSports, Dungeons & Dragons does have a big future online as a watchable game, and unlike Magic Arena that online experience translates well into a fun experience at home.


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