Bringing gamers together online

From local cables to worldwide online, the desire to play together has transformed videogames and spawned an e-sport revolution that has only just begun.

Frank Pearce The Multiplayer Magician
Frank Pearce is Chief Development Officer and Co-Founder of Blizzard Entertainment. Pearce has played a leading role in the development of Blizzard's groundbreaking videogame franchises, including Warcraft, Starcraft, Diablo and World of Warcraft, the world's biggest massively multiplayer role-playing game.
Frank Pearce
3 min read

Twenty years is a long time in any industry. And when it comes to video games, dramatic changes can come so quickly that twenty years might as well be a lifetime. In 1995, we had recently had a little success with the first Warcraft, a strategy game released the previous November, and we were hard at work on the sequel, Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness.

We could have never anticipated back then that Warcraft would grow into a massive entertainment universe over the next twenty years. At that time we never even imagined how big online gaming itself would become -- or the e-sports phenomenon that would grow out of people playing multiplayer games against each other online.

Playing Warcraft or Warcraft II against a friend required jumping through some technological hoops. You had to know your modem settings or your friend's IP address or, if you were in the same place, a common option was to run a null modem cable between two computers. It was rudimentary, but it worked. More importantly, it was fun.

When we rolled out Battle.net with the release of the dungeon crawler Diablo in 1996, it changed everything for us. Our players now had a tailored online service, included right in the box and integrated with our game, that was built to connect them to each other seamlessly over the Internet. It was a logical evolution from where we were with Warcraft II, and it was must-have functionality for another strategy game we were developing at the time called StarCraft.

We launched StarCraft in March 1998. StarCraft: Brood War, its expansion, followed about nine months later. Within a year or so -- and really only about five years after our players were plugging extra cables into their computers to play against each other -- fully-fledged online StarCraft tournaments with cash prizes were being run in different regions of the world, particularly in South Korea, where competition was being televised on dedicated channels.

It was extremely exciting to see this new type of organized professional competition grow out of the idea of people getting together to have fun playing games. We were honored that StarCraft played a role in this process, and that Warcraft III and World of Warcraft continued that tradition over the next several years. When StarCraft II landed in 2010, live-streaming video games was beginning to take off, and it was clear that gaming was becoming the spectator sport of the future.

Like StarCraft II, we are developing our latest titles with the possibility in mind that skilled players around the world will want to compete in professional leagues and tournaments. We're giving more thought than ever before to designing our games for "watchability" in addition to playability. These are fundamental changes to our game-development process -- but what's really cool is that we're all participating in an evolution of how the world defines entertainment.

Looking back over the past twenty years, it's amazing to see how far games and technology have come. But what strikes me the most is the fact that highly organized, full-scale professional tournament gaming grew out of the simple experience of playing against your friends over a network and online, and countless amazingly talented players made careers for themselves doing just that.

I'm proud of the part that Blizzard has played in competitive gaming, and I'm excited to see what e-sports will look like over the next twenty years. I'm sure there will be some crazy technological advancements in how people play and watch games, but I suspect that at their core, the most amazing thing about games will be the same as it's always been: how they bring people together, whether it's two people playing co-op on the same couch, or 10 people in different regions competing online in front of an audience of millions.