Interview with AoE tournament producer Robo Boro: "The AoE esports scene in heading in a great direction"

Interview with AoE tournament producer Robo Boro: "The AoE esports scene in heading in a great direction"

Age of Empires is growing as an esport and one of the vital reasons for that is the increase in the number of tournaments and small events that give the game its competetive edge. At the heart of the tournaments is Forgottens Empires’ tournament producer, Robo Boro. VPEsports had the chance to catch up with Robo to talk about the AoE esports scene, the direction in which the game is headed and what we can expect in the days to come, amongst other things.

Hello Robo! How’s it going with you? How are things in
the UK?

I’m doing pretty well, considering the Covid circumstances. Would love to be able to travel around and visit all of my friends in Europe, but just need to make the best of the situation we’re all stuck in. The UK is great otherwise, it’s similar enough to my native Australia that I have no issues living my life, but there are enough interesting things (mostly castles & medieval stuff) to be different.

Well that’s good to hear. Hopefully we can put this in
the rearview mirror soon and have some AoE LANs in the near future! Coming to
AoE, can you let us know your exact profile? You are quite well known as a
tournament organizer, but do you work for any organization or are you a
freelancer?

Originally, I started organizing tournaments for the simple fun of it, for my friends & clan mates. But after a while, I felt like giving back to our awesome AoE community and making events for everyone, especially higher level players. From there, I joined EscapeAoE with ZeroEmpires, producing the early Escape tournaments after the Rise of Rajas expansion was released in late 2016. That was pretty much a part time job until mid 2018 when Zak started the Escape Studio outside Leigh near Manchester and I moved to the UK for a full time Age of Empires job. That was the most exciting time in my life, and an absolute dream come true. Unfortunately the studio didn’t work out, but I landed on my feet, as I was recently hired by Forgotten Empires as the tournament producer for the Age of Empire franchise. What started out as a hobby is now a full time job working with the publishers of the Age of Empires games & Microsoft!

That is an amazing journey! And one that many people in
the community would love to undertake. So under your title as tournament
producer, what all do you cover? What does a typical day in Robo’s life look
like?

So far, my first few weeks have been mostly spent getting acquainted with the rest of the community team and the systems we use to organize ourselves and get all the work done. Going forward though I will be the main interface between anyone organizing a tournament and the World’s Edge team. If you want to request funding for a tournament or social media promotion, I will be the person to talk to and get everything sorted out. I will also be working closely with outside partners such as Red Bull for future tournaments to try to grow the Age of Empires esports scene. This won’t be limited to AoE II, mind you. AoE I has a vibrant scene in Vietnam, and with the upcoming release of Age of Empires III Definitive Edition, it’s possible that the existing community will continue to expand. A normal day is spending some time browsing AoEZone, Reddit, Esoc forums & Discords for the latest tournament announcements and updates on ongoing events, some time in meetings coordinating with the various teams involved with the franchise and the rest is spent planning future events or in discussion with partnered tournament hosts on what they need for their events.

That’s brilliant. And the best thing about you is, you are very responsive to people, unlike a lot of others analogous to you for different games. It’s interesting to know that AoE 1 has a vibrant scene in Vietnam. Is that the only place a competitive scene for the game is alive? What about AoE III? Does that have a competitive scene at all?

Age of Empires 1 has mostly been active in Vietnam, but there are some pockets of players throughout the rest of the world, and small events here and there catering to those. Winstonswaffles (twitch.tv/winstonswaffles) is a great streamer who puts on AoE I events, in which even some AoE II players have competed, such as TaToH & VNS_CooL (challonge.com/CiCFinals). The AoE III community is centered around www.eso-community.net and they regularly host events of varying size, from the seasonal majors with a few thousand dollars in prizes to weekend tournament for a few hundreds, along with charity events as well. You should definitely check them out if anyone is interested in getting involved with competitive AoE3!

Sounds intriguing! I had no idea the other two versions had tournaments happening. Can you think of a reason why a majority of the scene has converged near AoE II? And what do you think the release of Definitive Edition did for the AoE II competitive scene and the game as a whole?

I think for the majority of people, AoE II is just the most well rounded of the games. It has a similar feel to AoE I, but has a lot more quality of life features (improved upon even more with the Definitive Edition), and far more single player content with more maps, more campaigns and more civilisations. AoE III on the other hand is incredibly different, very different time period, economy style and military uses, not to mention the home city mechanic. It’s a perfectly fine game, but for some people, it’s just not exactly what they expect after AoE I & II. Definitive Edition has been absolutely amazing for the game. Hitting 10,000 concurrent viewers in a single Twitch stream last year was a massive milestone. Now, it is almost expected from every major tournament. The player base has grown significantly as well, there are many more people buying and playing the game. AoE II has survived for 20 years now, hopefully we can get another 20 out of it!

It is indeed an insane achievement that the game has
survived for 20 years. I remember playing AoE 1 a good 15 years ago and I fell
in love with the game pretty quickly. Can we get an inside scoop on when AoE IV
might be ready for release?

I can’t say anything about that…

Ahh you’re breaking my heart, Robo. How do you like the progression of the professional scene in the last few months? You think it is heading in the right direction? What would you like to see change?

I think we’re heading in a great direction, more events on a more consistent basis allows for more people to really have a go at making this game a part time, or even a full time job. Is it greedy to say I would like even more & larger tournaments? In reality I would like to see major esports organizations start to get involved with players, teams & events. It’s a great way to raise awareness of the growing scene & helps give a reason to cheer for teams. It can also be good cross promotion for the organizations themselves. I started watching Team Secret’s Rainbow 6 Siege team competing over the past year, even though I had never watched the game before that.

Haha, well, let’s say that’s generous greedy! There is definitely bound to be more organizations involved in the game once they start seeing the growth. Now that you’ve mentioned Secret, I was sad to see Secret sever ties with AoE II, because that is a big esports organization and them having a team helps the game to get more attention. Do you think AoE can get as big as LoL or Dota 2? I’ve asked this to a few community members and they’re a bit skeptical about it, mostly as the game isn’t very new player friendly…what do you think?

I don’t think that is reasonable expectation. Those games simply have so many more players, and are far more accessible to new players and viewers. I think a better expectation would be to aim for something like StarCraft 2 in its heyday. AoE II has more viewers than StarCraft 2 most of the time as is, so we’re well on the way to accomplish that, in my opinion.

Take small steps and in a few years, you never know! You mentioned there need to be more consistent events on a regular basis, and I see a lot of streamers have small events, like Empire Wars Duo by LidaKor right now. As someone neutral, do you think it is a deterrent for these hosts that a lot of popular streamers also stream their event and their channel doesn’t get the popularity they hope? It has been a question of debate in the Dota 2 scene…

I think it depends on what the tournament host wants to get out of their tournament. If they want personal success limiting the event to only themselves means they might get a few extra viewers, but at the same time significantly less viewers will hear about the tournament. I think it is more likely that by allowing others to stream the events, and making it clear who the host is, most viewers will do something to support the hosts of these excellent events, and give them a follow and maybe watch the event if their preferred streamer isn’t broadcasting it. Something else to keep in mind is that if you wish to approach outside sponsors, it is much better to be able to say your tournament has 30,000 viewers over 5 channels, all of which will see their sponsorship, compared to 10,000 viewers on a single channel. I think we are still a relatively small, tight knit community and together we should be able to work towards the best end results for this game we all love.

That is true. I guess the difference between AoE II and
Dota 2 is that AoE is still growing while Dota 2 is already a well established
game. However, Valve recently did make a rule that streamers casting a
tournament need to have an overlay of the organizer and sponsor. Do you think
that would make it better or provide more impetus to small organizers?

There is a similar system in place at the moment, where tournament organizer provides a tournament banner which all broadcasters need to use while casting. It has info about the event, the host and sponsors (if there are any) and does help give some recognition to those who deserve it. Providing an entire overlay isn’t really something I have considered before but I think it could certainly be an interesting idea, and would probably be something that outside sponsors would approve of.

Lot of ways to go, I guess. Do you love playing the game?
Or are you more about watching it?!

I love playing, but mostly with my friends. Whether it’s random rated games, competing in lower level tournaments together or helping them prepare for their own tournaments, that’s what I like the best. I’ve never really been able to sit down and play by myself for hours at a time, it’s more rewarding having a laugh with friends. I watch AoE content all the time, most days I have a stream on in the background while I’m working, just so I can keep an eye on the score of the latest show match or tournament. I’ve also dabbled a little bit with playing AoE III, but at the moment I’m waiting for the Definitive Edition to come out before really playing a lot more.

I hear you! It’s always nice to have a stream on in the background while working. What are you most excited for in the days to come? KotD 3?

King of the Desert 3 will be amazing, of course. Incredibly high level 1v1s on the classic Arabia is always a sight to see. I’m most excited to see how far Capoch can go after his excellent performance in Red Bull Wololo 2. Speaking of RBW, the tease for RBW 3 is exciting, showing that a major sponsor like Red Bull sees enough promise in AoE II that they want to continue investing in events.

It is indeed exciting that Red Bull put up a trailer for RBW3 right away after season 2 ended! Red Bull are definitely one of the prominent entities in the esports scene and having them be part of AoE is surely huge for the game. Any other games you like playing?

I play a little Hearthstone on the side as it’s fairly low stress, don’t need to worry about micro & macro, it’s just planning ahead and thinking through what the opponent might do. My friend group is going mad for Among Us at the moment, we’ve been playing it every evening this week since discovering it and just having an absolute blast making accusations & counter accusations.

Which is Bill Gates’ favorite AoE?!

I hope Bill will love AoE IV, maybe someone can ask about another AoE in 10 years’ time on Reddit and keep the franchise going.

Oh man, I hope AoE IV is so amazing that no one will need to ask Bill for another one! Thank you so much for your time and your efforts towards making AoE big, Robo! Any shoutouts?

Massive shout to the entire, awesome community and all the
amazing friends I’ve made along the way! Thank you all for helping make this game
be what it is.

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