Paladins: Champions of the Realm is currently in development at Hi-Rez Studios, with a beta live right now on PC, PS4, and Xbox One. In London last week Gamereactor talked to Hi-Rez Studios' community content and esports specialist, Vox, and he filled us in on what's coming to the esports scene for Paladins, and we asked more specifically about what the studio's esports strategy for the game is.
"Well, Paladins esports didn't come from Hi-Rez initially," Vox explained. "Paladins was first released into closed beta and became available for people to play if they were lucky enough to get a beta key handed out to them, or if they effectively bought into the closed beta with the Founders Pack purchase, which effectively unlocks every champion past, present, and future [...] Then we saw players, after a while of playing, you know, grouping up as parties of five, as friends, actually start doing something quite remarkable. We had players so keen, right off the bat, to get playing at a competitive level, to try and test their mettle against each other, that we had parties of five queue up at the exact same time, they do a sync in Discord or Curse or Skype, and go 'three, two, one, queue', just as an attempt to queue snipe each other, and get into the same game, because at the time we didn't have custom lobby functionality [...] very quickly we added that in, because there was demand there."
"With Hi-Rez Studios and its approach to Paladins' esports, it's always been very much that there has been such a passionate drive from the players coming through at a core, which we have been more than keen to support. The drive and the real emphasis of this has always come from the players and, at least from my personal opinion (this isn't what represents the company) the only way to establish a strong esport is to have a strong grassroots foundation, where you have a passionate player-base that drives things forwards, and you have a big population to build on. You can try and make things big and you can try and blow things up and put a lot of money into it, but if the core drive from the players isn't there, well, you're going to be left a little bit wanting. And we've been so lucky with Paladins that we've created a game where these players have found a competitive environment in which they can thrive, and from the very get-go, they've been pushing and creating community tournaments, they've been just wanting to play at a competitive level or the joy of playing."
"Now we have been able to support that to the best of our ability, starting off last year with the Paladins Founders Tournament which occurred between the two top European and North American teams after a series of qualifier events, and was hosted at DreamHack Summer, in Jönköping, Sweden, and was an absolutely phenomenal event, we had our first LAN champions [...] We [also] had a series of online events which eventually led up to the Paladins Invitational at Hi-Rez Expo of 2017, where we had eight teams from different regions all around the world [...] It was an amazing event, bringing all these players in from every single region that we could where we have our game, where we have a thriving competitive scene."
We then asked Vox about how this strategy will take shape moving forward, and what's in store for the future. "We're looking to continue to support community cups where we can with in-game prizing, that's something we're very keen on doing," he responded. "If people want to set up tournaments, we have criteria which they can meet, they can get involved with us, they can reach out to us and we can see if we can provide that community prizing for them. And this not only encourages us to run grassroots scene, but also encourages any broadcasters to step up [...] That's a foundation in which we can help facilitate broadcasters, commentators, and players to really come in, get their first taste of a competitive experience from whatever angle they want to, and continue to grow from there."
"Also, we have our in-house esports events as well. So currently we're about to go into the Paladins Masters LAN [which is] a big event featuring, again, nine teams this time, from around the world. We've got two from North America, two from Europe, one from China, one from Oceania, one from Latin America, one from Brazil, and an extra one from both Europe and North America, which are these wildcard spots, which will face off against each other first [...] So we're absolutely thrilled to have all of that coming together."
These tournaments aren't always without issue, however. "We have encountered teams with VISA issues previously, so on occasion that can be a difficulty of getting everybody that we want there," Vox explained, "but we do our best to help facilitate that."
"Moving forwards," he continued, "we recently announced that there will be [an event] at DreamHack Valencia in Spain in July of 2017, and this is going to be a fantastic event where we'll have, again, PC Paladins players from all round the world, their teams joining us once again for another big LAN event. But, also very importantly, we've also celebrated the release of console closed beta for Paladins. We now have, in closed beta, Paladins available to play on the Xbox One and PS4 platforms, and we've just announced our Console Wars event, to be held at DreamHack Valencia as well. We'll be hosting a series of qualifier events, and we'll be taking the top two teams - the top team for Xbox and the top team for PS4, for both Europe and North America - to be pitted against each other head-to-head at DreamHack, in cross-platform play [...] and we're thrilled about this because not only are we looking to really help establish the groundwork for a strong console competitive scene, because again the demand and drive is there from the community, we're excited to be pitting against cross-platform Xbox players versus PS4 players."
So Hi-Rez has clearly taken to momentum created by the community and used it to develop more of their own content for the esports scene, and time will tell how this shapes up as the game itself continues to develop into a full release. Either way, there's a demand there right now, and more events are coming as they attempt to generate even more interest.