I’ve seen my fair share of quality documentaries about gamers and gaming (FRAG, The King of Kong and Playing Columbine come to mind immediately), and I’m happy to report that Race to World First holds its own amongst their ranks. Focusing on gaming guilds engaged in record-breaking and making raids in World of Warcraft, the film had the potential for stereotype abuse and boredom (look, people playing on their computer… where’s Leeroy Jenkins?), but it managed to transcend those concerns.
For one, the film puts the emphasis not so much on the World of Warcraft, and explaining it, but instead zeroes in on the people and personalities making up the various guilds battling for world first, which is essentially the rank given to the guild that first beats the various bosses that are released into the game via expansion. Being the first to boss victory may seem silly in day-to-day life, but the guilds who rock the top of the leaderboard are known the world over (millions of people play WoW, and these are the top-ranked of them all). Video game rockstars, but instead of wrecking hotel rooms, they’re probably on a gaming raid.
While the documentary does a great job of hopping around to different top-tier guilds to introduce us to the gamers, the main narrative arc concerns the U.S. guild Blood Legion as they try to elevate their status to the top, a spot routinely held by European teams, most consistently a guild known as Paragon. Over the course of the film, we watch as the 25-person large Blood Legion battles in the World of Warcraft, and even amongst themselves, as members question the commitment of others to the ultimate goal.
Race to World First looks slick, and I really enjoyed the pacing and the attention given to the all the different guilds. While Blood Legion does get the bulk of said attention, it was nice to get a non-judgmental eye on their competitors. I never thought that random people playing World of Warcraft could be made suspenseful, but this documentary manages to do so, particularly in the final act.
My only major criticism of the film is that I would’ve liked a bit more information about exactly what I was seeing; maybe a better explanation of the World of Warcraft and why boss battles are so important (beyond my own basic knowledge from my own gaming, though I don’t play MMOs or WoW). Credit again, though, for making things intense, even when I didn’t always know what was happening, or why. It’s not the easiest thing to bring across the intensity of these video gamers, so I appreciate that the film got the feelings through.
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