Blizzard Makes $4 Million Investment into Heroes of the Storm eSports
When a gaming company gets into the MOBA space, they will inevitably try to grow an eSports community around it. The perception from the developers has always seemed to be that there needs to be a competitive to get interest from gamers. After all, League of Legends is massive and its World Championship has viewership that many sports leagues would be envious of.
While Blizzard has been trying to grow a competitive scene for their MOBA, Heroes of the Storm, since the game was in invitation-only beta, they are making their biggest eSports push ever for Heroes of the Storm in 2016. They announced their Heroes of the Storm Global Championship Circuit which will feature a cumulative prize pool of over $4 million for the year.
The World Championship Circuit looks to be modelled after the WCS Circuit that Blizzard implemented for StarCraft in 2016. The 2016 competitive year will feature three seasonal (spring, summer and fall) championship events culminating in the Global Championship which will presumably be held as part of BlizzCon.
The first seasonal championship is the Spring Global Championship Event to be held in Seoul from April 1st to 3rd. Twelve teams will qualify through eight regional qualifiers for a spot in the $500,000 tournament.
And that’s all we really know right now. Blizzard hasn’t announced any more details and checking other reports and Liquipedia have revealed no more information. Presumably, winning a seasonal Global Championship Event earns you a spot in the Global Championship final. Whether there is a points system that earns more teams a spot in the Global Championship final like StarCraft’s WCS is unknown. If there is, perhaps other tournaments will be points eligible. We also don’t know the format for the seasonal events.
Given how much information that has been released, it’s almost as if Blizzard has only really thought through where they want to go, not how to get there. We want to get from here to BlizzCon through three qualifiers. The route hasn’t really connected from the big seasonal events to BlizzCon nor does there seem to be a plan for more than three teams (assuming three teams win those seasonal finals) to go to the Global final. For teams, broadcasters and sponsors in the competitive HOTS scene, these are details that need to be laid out sooner rather than later.
Let’s go back to the dollars for a second. StarCraft is Blizzard’s biggest eSport at the moment. For the 2016 World Championship Series, Blizzard announced that they will be putting $2 million into WCS event prize pools. Yes, that’s half of what they’re putting into HOTS when comparative viewership would indicate that’s not the best course of action. Presumably, the money being spent on HOTS for heroes, skins and mounts along with the exposure from trying to attract to teams will more than cover a $4 million prize pool.
What worries me is that Blizzard is trying very hard to force a competitive scene in Heroes of the Storm rather than seeing if it happens organically. They have Team League, where two five-player premade squads do battle, in the game so competitive team play was bound to happen starting from that. The WCS Circuit where Blizzard supports tournament organizers or even Riot’s practice of supporting smaller tournaments would have been a good place to start rather than trying to force a big worldwide, year-long competition for one world champion.
One of the key differences between HOTS and other MOBAs is that other MOBAs have a better handle on competitive balance. Right now, there are five heroes with that have a selection rate of above 50% and two are being chosen 80% of the time. There’s always going to be a popular meta in a MOBA but the meta shouldn’t be “these champions are picked in every match.” It’s not an issue in pro play where they have implemented bans (which isn’t in the game proper) but how long until people give up on HOTS because every game feels the same due to slow balancing and irregular content updates. I think that Blizzard would have been better to spend that $4 million putting resources into the game and build eSports from there.