RuneScape esports – how this venerable MMO can grow a competitive scene

RuneScape is a game beloved by many. Some have played for ten or even twenty years, while others have arrived in Geilinor more recently. Though the game is focused on grinding out skills and exploring the world and lore, there are certain aspects of the game that are very competitive, whether you’re playing the modern RS3 or Old School. But, as of right now, no one would associate RuneScape with esports.

How can RuneScape hope to change that, and tap into the flourishing esports market? Developer Jagex has tested the waters with it before, and there are certainly upcoming opportunities to do so. Esports could add a new dimension to RuneScape that brings old players back, attracts new players, and grows the game to new and historic heights.

Hurdles for RuneScape to overcome as an esport

Before moving forward, it is important to identify some of the main things that are or will hinder RuneScape’s esports scene. First on this list is Experience. In RuneScape and MMOs in general, the competitive aspects usually revolve around skills that take a long time to train, and rare items that take time to find. For modes where leveling up an account is part of the competition, XP rates have to be increased. This is done in things like Twisted Leagues and Deadman Mode, so in reality, it isn’t a huge deal. It only means the base game can’t be used when the focus is on competition.

RuneScape esports

A second hindrance is the intricacies of PvP combat in RuneScape. There are a ton of different gear options and setups at the highest level that make PvP quite interesting to watch or participate in. But at the same time, this makes it difficult for casual players to follow. PvPers swap equipment and prayers very quickly and utilize their special attacks at key moments. For an untrained eye, this is difficult to make sense of in the moment. Therefore, if one-on-one combat is the focus, Jagex should promote educational content on PvP, with things like guides and breakdowns of fights.

Perhaps the biggest issue is the lack of infrastructure for RuneScape esports. If Jagex was able to make a solid foundation, established organizations would want to sign players to represent them in-game. This is simple enough for individuals, but not as much for clans or groups. This isn’t applicable in all potential scenes, but something to note when considering some. Drawing off of this point is the fact that Jagex would have a lot of financial responsibility if large, clan-based events were the focus, as any player willing to dedicate their time to competing would deserve decent prizes for their effort.

It has to be noted that none of these obstacles are impossible to overcome. In fact, figuring out these, and other problems not mentioned here, would be worth it if a RuneScape esports scene did develop. As a result, it’s all about nailing down what the esports scene would revolve around.

Deadman mode

There are definite hurdles for RuneScape to overcome, that’s certain for any game seeking esports fame. Thankfully,  on April 9Old School RuneScape announced two events that will happen soon. These will test the waters for an esports scene of sorts. The first one is Deadman Mode – DMM for short. It has so far been Old School RuneScape’s main esports focus.

DMM is a temporary, unique game mode that tests the mettle of all who participate. Players start off with a fresh account and must level up in preparation for a PvP tournament. They have four weeks to do so before that event, but there are two main differences that make DMM exciting. First, EXP rates are heavily increased. Depending on when and how long you’ve been playing that day, the increase is between 20% and 5%.

The second, more important part, is that PvP is enabled almost everywhere. This means something as risk-averse as Woodcutting can be dangerous. In addition, dying in this mode doesn’t just mean you lose what’s in your inventory. When you die, you lose EXP in your skills and the ten highest-value items you own, whether it’s on your person or in your bank. This makes everything in the game mode suspenseful, with a high risk-reward payoff.

RuneScape esports

Drawbacks to DMM

Thinking about DMM as RuneScape’s way into esports is strange in some respects. It is established already as their primary competitive mode, but it isn’t flawless. As mentioned before, the event runs for four weeks. This does allow for players and fans to follow the progression of their favorite YouTubers and Twitch streamers, but can be hard to craft broadcasting narratives and a “big picture” of the tournament.

Obviously, an esport event has to be streamed. But because dedicated players will play for hours every day, it proves difficult to keep up with everything and everyone. That, along with the fact that they would require massive effort, makes daily streams unreasonable.

That means that weekly broadcasts may be optimal. This would allow enough time for narratives to be produced without the tedium of grinding gameplay. With this system, Jagex would likely do a roundup of the highest-ranked players and clans. Plus, there would definitely be time to look over clips of notable events, like rare drops or deaths, from high-profile names. Finally, there could be interviews with players to add more depth to the event too. While this would favor the already well-known players and content creators, it’s a necessary start for a developing scene.

DMM is certainly promising and it appears to be what Jagex favors at this time. But there are more options. One of these options was actually announced alongside 2020’s DMM.

One-versus-one tournaments

The next option Jagex has in regards to RuneScape esports is 1v1 tournaments. With a set amount of players and a straightforward tournament style, this definitely has some appeal.

Player killing (PK’ing) has a special place in RuneScape. Its been an integral part of the experience for many throughout the years, and it creates a high skill cap in the game. There are a variety of strategies players can utilize, which makes it such an interesting thing to learn, watch and do.

From a viewer perspective, this event would be easier to follow. Though there will be many matches occurring at once, simply spectating famous players as their matches go down is easy enough for Jagex. Like a Twitch Rivals tournament, spectators would have  the option of watching the main Jagex stream, or their favorite streamer, so long as they don’t die early on.

There are two main drawbacks to this as RuneScape’s primary esports competition. The first is that, as we mentioned before, high-level PvP can be difficult for casual players to fully understand. The second drawback is that this type of tournament has the potential to get boring for some viewers. Though it will be exciting as an occasional event, the large base of casual players might grow disinterested if this was the event Jagex pushed specifically. There isn’t much macro strategy, only micro and proper use of mechanics. Almost all esports competitions have both aspects, meaning that 1v1s are insufficient for a long-term, stable scene.

RuneScape esports

Castle Wars and Clan Wars

Two more options exist as potential outlets for RuneScape in the esports world, and neither has been given a chance yet. These are the Castle Wars and Clan Wars game modes. These are minigames within RuneScape that hold a decent deal of competitive potential, and many players enjoy them. Unfortunately they aren’t extremely active pieces of content anymore.

In these modes, two clans or teams face off against each other in a grand battle. Clan Wars is more simple, with two clans fighting on a battlefield until a win condition is met. There are a few different conditions that clan leaders can choose, but they almost all rely on the volume of kills, though there is the objective-based Oddskull mode too.

While similar, Castle Wars has a leg up in terms of depth. Here, two teams are pitted against each other in a capture the flag competition. Each team holds a castle and must raid the other team’s castle to capture their flag and bring it back to their home base. There are multiple avenues to navigate the battlefield and tools to stop, stall or kill enemies. This adds quite some depth to the game that would probably develop into unique strategies and metas when executed on from a high-level.

Both offer competition with both macro and micro strategy and mechanics that give it a great appeal for players and spectators. In addition, there isn’t any need for grinding on a new account and, similarly to games like League of Legends or Dota 2, this mode offers a static battlefield with seemingly limitless variations in how to play. However, Jagex would have to do some specific balancing around this aspect of the game. For example, there would have to be a set member limit and customized instances for practicing, scrimmaging and competing. Furthermore, this idea is difficult for potential organizations to handle if it were popularized, because of the relatively large size of “teams”.

Untapped potential

Jagex has a great deal of work to do if they want to make an accessible esports scene for RuneScape. They actually do have a lot of options in which direction to take. But if anyone wants to see them realized, there needs to be action. More testing should be done with each option, and a set course needs to be planned, as sporadic, short-notice events won’t cut it in the long term.

While each option was discussed individually, it also may be possible to incorporate them all together. It would offer the best of all worlds, and give people clear goals. For example, a DMM competition could be held at the start of the year, having players grind an account for ranking. Then the ranking is used by clans or organizations to pick the best players for a Castle Wars tournament later in the year. Something like this would need fine-tuning, but is viable.

Regardless of the specifics, the world of RuneScape could foster an esports scene quite well. Though it’s not a necessity, it would be amazing to see Jagex try and make this a reality. It would undoubtedly bring a new aspect to the game many players would enjoy.

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Brandon Sturak

Brandon is a League of Legends expert with a passion for esports. He writes for both SQUAD and ESTNN, while also acting as Head Coach for the Niagara University League of Legends team. Find him on Twitter @GhandiLoL.
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