Studio Wildcard recently held the largest ARK: Survival Evolved tournament to date. The tourney, dubbed The Last Stand, is the culmination of months of events that were featured on Twitch’s front page. Over 250 ARK “survivors” competed for more than $75,000 in prizes. Sponsors such as Logitech G, Cyber PC, Nvidia, and Nitrado have already partnered with Studio Wildcard in this new eSports business.

ARK stands out from the eSports crowd not just because of the prehistoric dinosaurs, but due to the open island survival gameplay experience. Jesse Rapczak, Studio Wildcard co-founder and co-creative director on ARK, discusses the future of this new eSport, including crowdfunding for future tournaments, in this exclusive interview.

JesseRapczak Jesse Rapczak

Were you thinking about eSports during development?

We knew that because of our inspiration, which was a of mixture of Hunger Games, Dino Riders, and Jurassic Park, we had this idea that it’d make a cool competitive game mode. We didn’t launch initially with it, but we did have a target to get it up with our modding tools after Steam early access. Survival of the Fittest is a good example of how to make a total conversion mod from the base game.

How have you seen the evolution of game as an eSport?

Almost every time we run a new tournament we incorporate feedback from previous ones. This one had four weeks of qualifying before the final event. We’re taking the time to respond to player feedback and come up with some more fun and exciting twists as we go forward. We have so many different types of events and so many strategies to win in the Survival of the Fittest matches, it’s just interesting for us to watch people play these matches on Twitch live and on YouTube recaps to see what they’re doing in the game.

What are your eSports plans moving forward?

We want to broaden the appeal of the game — not just to people who are fans of eSports — but use ARK and its dinosaurs and what it means to survive, which connects with TV reality shows like Survivor and pop culture movies like Hunger Games to reach a broader audience. I feel like we’re breaking the eSports mold a little bit. We’re moving away from a set map scenario where you can practice corners and timing and weapons, and we’re providing a tournament where you need to be prepared for anything that comes in your way. Community voting has a bit of hand in the match, as does dinosaur AI, and also other players. As a result, we see people discussing a tournament way after it ended to talk about strategies. We want to bring it more mainstream and create entertainment that the audience can enjoy. In a way, we’re anti-inspired by traditional eSports. Of course, we want something that appeals to eSports fans, but we want to open it up much broader.

How do you see established leagues and their production value impacting what you do going forward?

From a production value standpoint we’re inspired by the LCS stuff and the big tournaments that happen. We want to shoot for the high production value because that goes to the entertainment angle. Riot and Valve know how to handle tournaments and champion the good teams that are out there. One good way to improve things is a more polished Spectator mode and the ways in which the players can’t see God views new. The island is so huge and the teams are so spread out, there’s this challenge we have that other games don’t — which is finding all these different teams. Our latest tournament had 250 people. It’s challenging because of the unpredictable nature of the game.

How do you see the Spectator mode evolving?

This is our first stab at that. We had 70 tribes at the beginning of The Last Stand and tribes consist of up to six people, although some people chose to play solo. It’s hard, given the action to have the camera zoom around quickly, hopping between tribes. We have quick keys to search for tribes and any time anyone is killed a giant billboard in the sky proclaims their death and how they died. But that’s what we want to improve in the future. We want to automate that camera in the future so we don’t have to rely on a real person to manually do that — which is what we did at tournaments.

What role do sports arenas play in your future?

We partner with Twitch and some of the eSports gaming groups. The H1Z1 Invitational was a physical location at TwitchCon. The challenges in that tournament are similar to ARK in that it’s a survival game and the numbers of people are critical to the way the game works. We’re looking at what went right and wrong, and we have a good relationship with the Daybreak guys. It’s a totally different game. We’re all in this new genre together with survival eSports. We look at how to make this more manageable from a logistics location.

What’s the format you’d use for eSports moving forward?

The physical tournaments would be the championships. When we look at what we’ve done, we like the tournament ladder and the stories that happen over weeks and months of online play. This lets players follow teams and players and find fun ways to follow that through in-game content and out-of-game through videos and different teams brands. It then just comes down to planning and having teams there in a physical place for the championships. It’s still early and we have a lot to do.

What’s next for Survival of the Fittest?

We’re taking this from a mod to a full game mode. We’re taking eSports very seriously and that team is going to look at how to improve all the things we have listed.

How long will the development take?

It hasn’t even been a year since we began working on the game. You can expect to see some fast movement in less than six months and see the fruits of our labors.

What are your thoughts on crowdsourcing prize pools?

We like that approach with what Daybreak did with H1Z1 and Valve did with Dota 2. ARK is a great opportunity to do something like that. We were at Valve eight weeks ago talking about this. They were blown away by the amount of people they were getting investing in The International Dota 2 tournament. Valve has a really good model of engaging players and community in the game through in-game items and contests where people create merchandise. It’s the next natural step to crowdsourcing your prizes.

In real sports, NFL games are expensive, but that’s how you’re supporting your team. Crowdsourcing is like that. It’s more direct with the money going to the champions. Daybreak and Valve did that right.