Opinion: Why Every Brand Manager Needs to Know About the World of Warcraft Race to World First

This week, teams of heroes will stand before the gates of Castle Nathria, home to the vile and treacherous Sire Denathrius. The wicked vampire needs to be slain in order to save the world, and no one champion could possibly do it alone.

That said, these groups of adventurers are so skilled, so experienced that defeating Denathrius is a foregone conclusion – hell, they did it like nine times last week. You see, Sire Denathrius is the final boss of the latest World of Warcraft raid: a part of the game reserved for teams of players to challenge themselves against the toughest monsters.

Raids are slowly added to WoW over the course of an expansion, and when the toughest version of the newest raid becomes available, the most skilled raiders will challenge themselves to not only defeat its final boss, but to be the first team in the entire world to do so.

This is the Race to World First, an esports competition unlike any other. You can read our previous race coverage here and here for a deeper explanation, but suffice it to say that for roughly the next seven to 10 days the top teams will be playing WoW for 16 hours a day until Denathrius goes down. While the race has taken place for over a decade, it was only in 2018 that it became a spectator sport.

Since then, thousands have tuned in live to keep up with how the marathon race progresses and to be there live when one team eventually claims victory. The Race to World First is a special esports event that is still in its infancy, but every brand manager should be exploring ways to get on board for the next one in a few months. Here’s why:

For the Community, By the Community

We’ve spoken before about the value of attaching your brand to a grassroots esports competition. There are still many esports with thriving communities that lack the proper support from their developer to create sustainable careers or sustain their ecosystem. When a brand comes into these communities the right way, they become an ally, a part of the team helping bolster that esport. 

While Activision Blizzard operates its own esports infrastructure for WoW, it is almost entirely hands off with the Race to World First. This has allowed esports teams and brands like Red Bull to organize their own events around the competition with virtually no interference from the developer. By all indications, Activision Blizzard has no interest in running the race itself, which means brands have substantially more creative freedom to become part of the WoW community – and there are few better communities to get involved with.

WoW Just Won’t Die

Sometimes esports die. Players move on, the developer stops investing, the game gets outdated. It can be risky to move into a new game that does not have a proven track record of esports investment and attention. While the RWF’s esports legacy is only two years old, World of Warcraft has been around since 2004 and shows no signs of dying any time soon. 

The newest expansion, Shadowlands, was the fastest-selling video game of all time during its initial release last month. According to investor calls, the game is still going strong, having received an infusion of players with the release of WoW Classic last year. WoW’s cyclical release schedule and powerful presence in the cultural zeitgeist (remember the South Park episode?) mean that every two years the game will draw back players who have moved on, and the RWF can appeal to the millions who played WoW in college but haven’t touched the game in years.

In short, a group like Complexity-Limit will likely be competing in the RWF for years to come and holding on to a strong, growing audience. A brand could sign a deal for the next six races with relative confidence that WoW and the RWF will retain its audience, and become an ally to a community-driven esports event.


World of Warcraft

developer Blizzard Entertainment

publisher Blizzard Entertainment

Player Share Rank: 8

Most Popular in: Sweden

Total Price Pool: $5.02 M USD

Brand Safety Dance

Not only is the RWF a safe investment from a sustainability standpoint, it is one of the most brand safe esports out there. Some brands are reasonably cautious about attaching themselves to a shooter title, or a game where players are focused on killing one another. However, in the Race to World First the only violence being done is to giant monsters out to destroy the world. Players aren’t fighting directly against one another, they are racing side by side in friendly competition.

Outside of Rocket League, there is probably no safer esports competition for a brand that wants to be involved in esports.


Of course, none of these factors matter if no one actually cares about watching the race. Fortunately, they really, really do. Last week Complexity-Limit’s leader Max “Maximum” Smith’s personal Twitch stream reached a peak concurrent viewership of over 32K – and the race was still a week away. During the most recent race in February, Smith’s stream peaked at over 128K. 

Method, which took second place in that race, saw its mainstream peak at 84K. Add in all the other guild members streaming their own perspective and you have hundreds of thousands of viewers tuning in to 16-hour-long broadcasts for a full week, longer in some cases. It took 13 days for the race through The Eternal Palace to be won by Method in July of last year.

The Race to World First represents a unique opportunity for brands. There is nothing else like it in esports. It is a grassroots competition tied to one of the best-known video games of the 21st century. It is one of the safest esports your brand could be tied to from a game content perspective. Viewership is strong and the game is stable enough to expect continued success long term.

This week is a perfect time for any brand curious about the race to begin investigating. With a new expansion upon us, the current RWF will show who the top contenders are – and who is most likely to attract viewers for the next race in a few months. Now is the time to begin exploring opportunities in this space, for as soon as Sire Denathrius falls, our heroes will begging preparing to conquer the next world-ending threat, and race once more.

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