Image source: @Realkailoren / Flickr / Djarii / Melissa Croft

London’s Red Bull Gaming Sphere hosted a special launch event earlier this week to mark the launch of Blizzard Entertainment’s latest World of Warcraft expansion: Battle for Azeroth.

British Esports’ Dom Sacco checks out the event and provides a quick update on competitive World of Warcraft – and the game’s newest update.

It might not be as popular as the likes of League of Legends, CSGO or Dota 2, but World of Warcraft also has its own competitive scene, with a dedicated following and a host of pro players.

Not only is there the Arena player-versus-player side of things, where teams usually take part in 3v3 matches, but there’s also the player-versus-environment raiding.

When new high-end content is released in the game, guilds across the world race to down new bosses and complete the dungeons first. It might not typically be seen as esports, but it’s still a battle to be the best – and has been going on pretty much since World of Warcraft first launched back in 2004.

At the Red Bull Gaming Sphere in London on Tuesday evening (August 14th), some of these pros faced off against one another in duel showmatches and mingled with guests. These included Oscar “Whaazz” Wulff from UK esports organisation Method Black, whose roots are in the World of Warcraft competitive scene.

It wasn’t your typical launch event: the Gaming Sphere had been transformed into a miniature Azeroth, with trees, pillars and flags of the Horde and the Alliance and other factions dotted around.

There were several actors dressed up as different races from the game – such as orcs, undead, night elves, goblins and more – and guests had to complete real life quests by interacting with them, solving riddles and gathering items. One quest even involved going on a ‘patrol’ with members of their faction outside the Arena to challenge each other to duels, or gather some confectionery from a nearby shop.

Cosplayer Melissa Croft was painted and styled by Method influencer and bodypainter Djarii on-stream, to look like Sylvanas Windrunner from World of Warcraft (pictured, top).

There were also Warcraft-themed drinks, goodies up for grabs and each guest had to wear a blue or red armband, to mark their affiliation with the Horde or the Alliance.

It made for a unique launch event and shows that there is room for venues like the Gaming Sphere to go beyond typical esports events into general gaming or experiential events.

As well as the live event, there’s been a lot of buzz around Warcraft this week. The game knocked Fortnite off the top-spot on livestreaming platform Twitch, with almost 600,000 viewers around the launch of Battle for Azeroth. The expansion sees old rivalries between the Horde and the Alliance reignited as war consumes the world of Azeroth again.

Then there’s the upcoming World of Warcraft Arena World Championship Finals – the next big WoW esports event – which takes place at Blizzcon in November.

World of Warcraft has had its ups and downs in the past, but Battle for Azeroth has shown there’s life in the old dog yet. Could this mark a resurgence in the game and more specifically its competitive side? Time will tell.