This morning, Hearthstone Esports dropped a bombshell of an announcement regarding next year’s esports plan!
The timing of the announcement was a little odd–not the fact that it came out at 6 a.m. (competitive Hearthstone is a global business, after all) but more the fact that it came at what a lot of pro players considered to be very late in the cycle. For many players, tomorrow was considered the last day of the 2018 competitive season, because it is the final chance to get points before last call qualifications, the final round of seasonal championships, and, after that, World Championships. While the announcement actually did change this a little, players and teams were expecting a bit more heads up on changes and had started to get a bit antsy. Of course, the announcement also came right off the heels of the final Rastakhan’s Rumble reveal, so those of us reporting on both could have used a bit of pacing between the two major releases as well.
But regardless of the timing, it is here now, and it is a doozy! So we’re going to start off with the intro video, go over some of the major points that are mentioned (and some that are not mentioned) in the post, and then we’ll link the entire announcement at the end of this post, as we always do.
First of all, the following new system will kick off after the 2018 World Championships (which will take place in early 2019, before the first set of the year). That means that everyone who has already worked towards earning some goals this year (be they playoff appearances, qualifying for World Championships, or hitting one of the Masters tiers) will still get the prizes promised to them. In fact, the Masters program is being extended through March 31, 2019, for a “bonus ‘transitional’ season,” so that players on the cusp can have more opportunities to reach the next Masters tier and thereby guarantee themselves some value for all their great efforts this year. Note that while there is no official announcement of the start date for the new 2019 system, this transitional season seems to suggest the new program might officially begin on April 1, 2019.
At that point, the entire HCT and Masters Systems as we know them will be out the window!
The new system seems to be based on two major goals: making the system simpler to understand, and making the system cost less money (for players and organizers alike). Those goals will be accomplished by doing away with the multiple paths to pro and the calculation of competitive points and consolidating everything into one basic path:
Now, with a few exceptions, all players who want to compete on the professional level will need to first win an online qualifier to earn an invitation to a live tournament and then “do well” at the live tournament (the exact required placement is not specified, but is probably based on number of players who participate and/or are expected to compete in the next level) to get an invitation to the Premier Competition level.
The online qualifiers will begin some time in spring and be run multiple times per week, and appear poised to fill a similar role to the current Challenger Cup series. There will only be three live tournaments per year, which makes them sound like seasonal playoffs/championships jammed into one, but the major difference appears to be size. As all people who qualified are invited to that season’s tournament, and there are expected to be multiple qualifiers per week, the live tournaments will likely have hundreds of players competing for their share of $250,000 per live tournament.
The premier play is a bit more of a mystery, with additional announcements and explanations promised to come at some point “soon.” For now, we know that the premier play will be round-robin, regional, seasonal, and primarily online. This sounds somewhat like the Global Games, but a lot of details are missing to see how well the comparison actually works. In terms of prizes, we know that players will get performance-based incentives and an automatic invitation to the next season’s live tournament (implying that players need to qualify for premier play each season).
By starting the path out with online qualifiers, and playing most of the premier play online as well, the new system drastically cuts costs for both players (who only need to fly to a couple tournaments a year instead of 20+ Tour Stops) and Blizzard (who have to put on fewer major, live productions). That means bigger prize pools and lower costs of entry for team sponsors, which, at least in theory, makes it a lot easier for professionals to go full-time… If they even have to.
One thing that is conspicuously missing from the new system is any role of the ladder on competitive play.
Players will no longer need to compete for ladder placements to get points to qualify them for tournaments. I think this is overall a good change as it: 1) makes pros’ lives easier by removing the Legend grind–the last 48 hours of which sound particularly horrid–and allowing them to either get IRL jobs or focus more time on invitational tournaments, streaming, creating other content, etc.; 2) removes some of the pros from the ladder climb, where they don’t want to be and some players don’t want to face them; and 3) means to amateurs and pro-aspirants can more reasonably take steps towards professional play without as much of a time commitment.
In theory, this also means that the unpopular (at least for competitive play) ladder format (essentially a series of no-ban, best-of-one matches) will no longer be relevant for competitive play. However, the announcement also states that the official format of competitive Hearthstone play will be changed from Conquest to something that more closely matches the ladder experience. There are no further details at this time as to what, exactly, that means. Best-of-ones seem really bad for competitive play, so we don’t think that is an aspect of the ladder that will carry over. Additionally, the ladder does not have any sort of ban feature and a lot of people tend to play one deck and stick with it, but any format that requires people to play one exact set of 30 cards for an entire tournament seems like a recipe for a less engaging viewer experience–it is also a big gamble that future metagames won’t be dominated by one overpowered deck, like metagames have in the past. My best guess at this time is that we get some sort of one-deck-with-a-sideboard format, but again, that is pure speculation at this point.
Of course, we will be sure to update you as soon as we have more information about any and all of these upcoming changes. For now, you can check out the official video and blog-post announcements about these changes and let us know which parts you’re most excited to learn more about, in the comments below. Will we be seeing you in an online qualifier next year?
2018 was a great year for Hearthstone Esports. Earlier this month Team China upset tournament favorite Brazil in the Grand Finals of the Hearthstone Global Games at BlizzCon. We’ve crowned two seasonal champions at our Summer and Fall Championships. We’ve seen more than 200,000 players attend 25 Tour Stops and other major events across the globe. And by the end of the Year of the Raven we’ll have awarded more than $2.8 million in prize money—our largest amount ever.
Along the way, we’ve gathered feedback from players and fans. We’ve learned that many of you feel the HCT system can be challenging to follow, not as accessible to new players as it could be, and unsustainable for pros. Today we are excited to share with you a preview of our plan for continuing to make Hearthstone esports the best it can be for viewers and competitors alike.
Next Year—and Beyond
The Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT) as we know it will go out with a bang this coming spring with the HCT World Championship, where the best Hearthstone players in the world will duke it out for $1,000,000 in prizing.
After our World Championship, a new three-tiered competitive system will begin in earnest, consisting of qualifiers, live global tournaments, and an exclusive top tier, with more than $4 million in prizing up for grabs across the ecosystem in 2019. Here’s how it works:
Throughout the year, in conjunction with a third-party platform partner, Hearthstone Esports will run hundreds of qualifier tournaments, primarily online. The first of these will start in the spring, and they will not be region-locked: anyone from anywhere will be able to compete at a time that works for them. Winning a qualifier grants you entry to the next tier of competition.
Live Global Tournaments
In 2019, we will hold three invite-only tournaments around the world, with more planned for 2020. These live events will see our best and brightest Hearthstone players—from household names to aspiring pros who spiked their first tourney—compete for $250,000 per event. Best of all, success here will open the door to the ultimate level of competition.
The top tier is a seasonal round-robin online competition, split into regional divisions, featuring the best and most compelling Hearthstone players in the world. It will begin after the HCT World Championship and climax with an epic finale at year’s end. Players who participate in this competition receive performance-based bonuses, as well as automatic invites to all the live global events in the previous tier. We look forward to sharing more details soon about this level of play, including how players will join the competition in its inaugural year.
Our goals are for Hearthstone esports to be sustainable, entertaining, and accessible for all. As part of this, we will retire the Conquest format in 2019. Fundamentally, we want Hearthstone esports to better reflect the in-game experience, as well as be easier to grasp for new viewers. This new format, to be unveiled in the coming months, will be played across the ecosystem.
Hearthstone Masters and the Transitional Season
This year, the Hearthstone Masters System was created to recognize top players based on the consistency of their performance, with rewards pegged to Competitive Point totals from the previous three seasons. Many of you have been working toward these achievements—and so, while Hearthstone esports will change significantly in 2019, we will ensure that those who would have achieved Masters status earn rewards of equal or greater value.
Additionally, points earned during 2018 Season 1 will not expire on Dec. 1. From then until March 31, 2019, players will have a bonus “transitional” season to rack up even more points toward benefits next year:
During this period players can earn points at Tour Stops, the HCT Winter Playoffs, and the HCT Winter Championship, but not on ladder. See the rules for full details.
Thank you for reading! We look forward to hearing your feedback about the broad outlines of this new system. And, rest assured: in the coming months we will meet with players to answer questions and address concerns. We want everyone to be accounted for in this long-term vision, from casual fans to the most dedicated pros. This is the next evolution of our promise to make Hearthstone esports sustainable—and enjoyable!—to all those who enter the tavern.