No one can deny that Hearthstone is on the rise in Esports. Everyone’s favorite card-slinger continually finds itself in the top 3 games in terms of viewers on twitch, jostling mostly with League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Counter Strike. However, because of its meteoric rise in popularity the competitive scene is disjointed, random, saturated as we’ve already touched on here, and relies on a seemingly arbitrary Hearthstone World Championship points system being the one way for players to get to the only Blizzard-run tournament of the year, the World Championship at Blizzcon. Potential World Champions must play in as many tournaments as possible in order to maximize their chances at placing well in said tournaments and accruing enough points to attend Regionals. This current structure provides no reward system for players who did well last year, and makes it an absolute nightmare for fans to keep up to date on the latest tournament with so many tournament organizers and stream sources. If Blizzard organized an official, year round regular season structure similar to the LCS for League of Legends, it would help tremendously with the growth and development of Hearthstone as an Esport by providing job security for pro players, a single platform for fans to watch, and a transparent promotion structure for amateur players looking to break onto the scene.
First, let’s take a look at League of Legends, the most popular online game right now with an estimated player base around 67 million people. That’s higher than the population of the United Kingdom. So how did League become so enormously popular? Much of the credit can be claimed by the start of the official NA and EU LCS or League Championship Series. From 2011 to 2013 League of Legend’s active user base (that is the number of players playing at least one game per month) jumped from 1.4 million to 32.5 million. 2013 was, not coincidentally, the same year that the first LCS season launched. With the inaugural LCS season came player and coaching contracts, and weekly matches held on a consistent streaming platform with professional casting and analysis. The LCS made League of Legends easier and better to watch. Before the LCS existed teams would qualify for big events like the World Championship by placing well in random regional tournaments to accrue circuit points, much like Hearthstone does today. If Hearthstone followed in League’s footsteps it could experience the same level of growth.
My proposed structure would look something like this. For the first season, the top 16 players (in terms of world championship points) from each region would be invited to compete in a Blizzard-run Hearthstone regular season. Over the course of a couple months, these players would play in weekly matches broadcasted on Blizzard’s official stream. At the end of the season, the top 4 players would automatically earn a spot at the World Championships in Blizzcon; the next 4 players would be entered into their respective Regional tournament for a chance to qualify for Blizzcon, and the bottom 8 players would be placed into the Regional Qualifier tournament. The rest of the year would proceed as usual with the Regional Qualifiers and Blizzcon, then at the end of the year there would be a Promotion Tournament. In the Promotion Tournament the best players who did not get invited to Blizzcon would compete against the bottom 8 players from the previous season and the winners from that tournament would get invited to next year’s Regular Season and become salaried players.
The Regional tournaments and Blizzcon are great; we need to have that kind of consistency throughout the entire year. Adding a Regular Season would create more job security for pro players, corral all viewers onto one platform to ease viewing, create more fans, and provide a clear way for amateur players to become pros.