Earlier this year Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner announced that the company would be looking to produce an e-sports version of D&D. That proclamation is proving true–debuting in November, a new Competitive D&D Tournament, streamed in all its glory.
When Hasbro CEO and Chairman Brian Goldner appeared on Mad Money earlier this year, he talked about the boost that streaming and “eSports” had been giving to Magic: the Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons, saying that the company would be interested in exploring an eSports/competitive option for D&D. Well here we are friends, this is the world we live in now. Announced on Twitter earlier along with a newly formed D&D Sports TV channel, there’s a competitive tournament coming up in November featuring hosts, commentators and everything.
Welcome to @DnDSportsTV, the world’s first online #DnD tournament presented by @EncounterRP & @DnDBeyond! Watch your favorite gamers play in a cooperative Party vs. Party setting for a chance win a $5000 cash prize & raise money for @826LA!
— EncounterScareplay ? (@EncounterRP) October 15, 2018
DnDSports is a collaboration born of the folks at Encounter Roleplay and D&D Beyond, both of whom produce content with Wizards of the Coast and act as bastions for the D&D Community. I’m very curious to see how this all shakes out. The competitive tournament is said to feature Party vs. Party combat, which is an interesting direction to take this format because of where it will place the focus. In order to explain that, let’s first step back in time a little and talk about Competitive D&D as it has existed in the days of yore.
Step back with me to the early days of Dungeons and Dragons, when Gen Con was still in Lake Geneva Wisconsin, the Empire hadn’t yet Struck Back, and tournaments like the AD&D Open challenged players to compete for glory and treasure and treasure as they braved the depths of some of the most inventive Dungeons of the day. Modules like the Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan or the Ghost Tower of Inverness challenging adventurers’ ability to fight monsters, solve puzzles, and evade cunning traps as they made their way in real time through the modules.
As you can see, players had a lot they could do. You’d get points for being cautious in places–things like finding traps or probing floor, but risk was also rewarded. Certain things were penalized–falling in pits is a particularly ignominious fate when you learn that it carries a score penalty. That’s what drove the Tournament though. And from it you’d see a style of play that pit players vs. the module itself. For crawls like the Tomb of Horrors this is absolutely the case. There were Professional Modules out there for players to compete through.
Now let’s travel back…to the future. Only where we’re going we will need roads, because the future is now, and we live in it. D&D Sports’ tournament is going in a slightly different direction–at least for the time being. As mentioned earlier, the tournament will feature party-vs-party combat in an arena style setting, with players choosing from a roster of 15 pre-generated characters created just for the tournament. The match will feature some of the mechanics seen in other competitive esports games, including a pick/ban draft where players can prevent certain characters from being chosen.
This first foray into streamed tournaments will be an interesting one. On the one hand, part of what makes Dungeons and Dragons so popular is the storytelling. Shows like Critical Role and Acquisitions Incorporated are a success because of the stories they tell, and the characters that people get attached to. When one of the characters on Critical Role died earlier this year, fans were in an uproar about it. It’s hard to predict from this distance what an audience will become attached to in this kind of tournament.
We know that there will be a Dungeon Master and that the teams will be facing each other in an arena–and another big part of the excitement of watching live D&D is seeing how the dice fall. A lucky Crit (or three) can swing a game, but will it be enough to build an audience around? The old tournament modules had the draw of the arena being another kind of competitor. You could see characters die in imaginative ways–whether getting dissolved in a sphere of annihilation or swallowed up by a slime tapestry.
And Combat in 5th Edition isn’t explicitly a balanced affair–the designers themselves admit that they don’t balance classes to be equal in combat when playing. But all that means is that DM adjudication will be crucial. Part of what made competitive D&D tick in the past was the creativity that the restrictions engendered. You only have so much time and so many rooms to get through, how will you do it. If the players are just throwing down in a slugfest, then what’s going to keep people invested when they could be watching sick Overwatch play of the games or Fortnite noscopes?
I think the draw is there, though. Truly I do. D&D is more popular than ever–it’s just a question of finding what the right mix of action/creativity/character will keep people coming back to see the arena broadcast. Using Roll20 is a strong start–it allows players and spectators alike to see the arena, which you need–but it also limits the graphics you can see. Watching an explosion in a game tends to play a little better visually than seeing a template drop down on a map.
I could be wrong–and they could be designing some custom Roll20 art/graphics to use to highlight everything. I’m interested to see what this tournament looks like. I think, personally, it’ll come down to how they can create their round-to-round excitement. Pacing will be key for this tournament. 5th Edition has a lot of tactical play, and if they want to go very competitive, the tools are there, but it might end up looking more like 4th Edition’s balance.
At any rate, the tournament debuts November 10th and ends December 1st, and you’d better believe we’ll be keeping an eye out to see what happens. There’s no right way to play Dungeons and Dragons, after all–and seeing some hard hitting combat might be just the thing we need. A lot of eyes will be tuned in come November, so keep yours here, BoLS fans.
Is the world ready for Competitively Streamed D&D Tournaments? What do you think would make this work? Let us know in the comments!