Wargaming continues to grow its eSports presence around the globe. The publisher invested $8 million into its Wargaming.net League (WGN) in 2013 and upped that to $10 million last year. The WGL North American Finals take place on March 15 in San Francisco with $171,000 up for grabs. The Grand Finals will once again take place in Warsaw, Poland April 25-26. Oscar Miranda, head of North American eSports at Wargaming, talks about the lessons learned over the years and how its partnership with ESL has helped grow its audience in this exclusive interview.

Oscar Miranda, head of North American eSports at WargamingOscar Miranda, Head of North American eSports at Wargaming

What have you learned from past seasons that you’re applying to 2015?

We have learned the importance of planning out our seasons well in advance. It’s never too early to start putting together outlines and ideas for what we want to accomplishment. The sooner we finalize each detail, the more capable we are in delivering. With that in mind, we are already off to a great start in 2015.

Additionally, we’ve realized the need for improved player communications. We have several channels that we use for an open dialogue with our players. Communication is at the heart of our cooperation to provide optimal league play for our World of Tanks players, and we collaborate with players to make sure it’s successful. For example, World of Tanks League players have sent us feedback which we have worked with our development team to implement in the game. Their feedback is very important to us, and we worked closely with them to develop the new Attack/Defense format which will be used in the upcoming season.

How has your partnership with ESL expanded this year?

This was our first year working exclusively with ESL as our partner in North America. They have been successfully working with our European team in hosting their events, so it made perfect sense to have the same partner for both regions. Along with delivering regional finals, they were also behind our interregional event called €œRumble in the West€ matching the best teams from North America against Europe. We’re excited to have ESL expand into North America and are looking forward to additional international events in the future.

Can you talk about the structure of Cups with Open, Major and Pro?

In the WGLNA (Wargaming.net League North America), teams are promoted and relegated through tiered leagues from (highest to lowest) Gold League, Silver League and Bronze League. This season we changed from our original Open League and introduced the Open Cup. The Open Cup is a series of bi-weekly tournaments where teams can enter anytime throughout the season and earn cup points for victories. At the end of the season, the teams with the most cup points will earn admission into the Bronze League and hopefully work their way up to the Gold League.

How has the money available to gamers increased and how will it be distributed?

Prizing has increased this season as a consequence of restructuring our league calendar. We cut one league season and added Rumble in the West with online qualifiers that were open to all teams. This tournament was completed within a month, justifying a smaller prize pool than a typical league season. That allowed us to move additional funds and increase the prize pool for our current season.

How have you seen sponsorship interest grow with World of Tanks since inception?

Sponsorship interest has grown so much that we brought in additional help. The Business Development team out of our publishing office here in the San Francisco Bay Area has recently expanded in order to have one specific department dedicated to eSports and brand partnerships.  They’ve been a huge help in managing, pitching and acquiring league sponsors.

We’re still working to establish ourselves in the eSports scene, but we’ve experienced increased sponsor interest for individual teams throughout all leagues including one third of our Gold League.

What do you feel the ESL partnership will bring to the table this season?

Last season, both our publishing office and the team at ESL were streamlining processes together for the first time. Since we began working together, we have collectively improved our workflows and can’t wait to see the result of the collaboration at our finals here in San Francisco on March 15, 2015. ESL has always delivered high-quality live shows, and I can say with the utmost confidence and excitement that this season’s finals will be a spectacular event.

Can you talk about the audience for World of Tanks in the U.S. for eSports compared to the rest of the world?

The World of Tanks audience depends on which part of the world we compare it to. For instance, World of Tanks dominates the CIS region which is reflected in the high-level gameplay of their top teams and players. Their scene includes identifiable stars like Na’Vi, the current world champions. With that said, North America is quickly growing into one of the largest eSports viewing audiences worldwide. We can pin that on the high quality broadcasts that ESL helps us deliver, but we also strive to tell the stories behind our players beyond just gameplay which has increased viewership to show the people behind the teams that create their high level of gameplay.

What do you feel differentiates this game from other popular eSports titles like Dota 2 and League of Legends?

World of Tanks puts historical combat elements in players hands, and offers high accuracy on vehicles that exist, or have existed in history. This was what initially hooked me as a World of Tanks player and this is a huge draw to the majority of our avid Tanks players.

We’ve seen the big eSports events held at sports arenas and stadiums. What role do you see those types of venues playing for World of Tanks in the near future?

Our 2014 Grand Finals in Warsaw, Poland saw great success and drew in a crowd of thousands of fans at the venue with millions of viewers on our live Twitch broadcast. We are certainly working to achieve the same level of excitement in our fans in North America, but as I mentioned earlier, the CIS region and neighboring Poland, Ukraine, Czech Republic have a larger base of diehard World of Tanks audiences. This is why we traditionally hold major international events in those regions. Could we see a global Grand Finals in Warsaw’s national stadium one day That’s the dream.