The top eight Heroes teams from around the globe will meet at BlizzCon on Nov. 6 and 7 to compete for $500,000 in prizes, the culmination of a $1.2 million tour spanning five regions worldwide.
Games in the “online team brawler” or “multiplayer online battle arena” genre, depending on which company you work for, often feature massive esports following. League of Legends and Dota 2 regularly set records for prize money and viewership, with other titles like Smite following in their footsteps. Heroes of the Storm may still be in beta, but it’s already become the first video game competition to air live on ESPN with the Heroes of the Dorm event last month. And this will be its biggest competition yet.
The road to BlizzCon and the world championship represents the first major Heroes competition open to any player, regardless of team, region, or what university they attend. So far Blizzard has hosted two official Heroes competitions, the 2014 BlizzCon event won by Cloud9 and the recent college competition Heroes of the Dorm, but neither features the best teams in the game or the ability for anyone to taste the competition.
Blizzard’s executive producer Chris Sigaty says the road to BlizzCon will offer an open competition. “We’re trying to create an open system for players,” he says. “If they’re newly discovering Heroes at the officially launch they can show their mettle and start getting involved and participating at this competitive level.”
Anyone in each of the five competitive regions—the Americas, Europe, China, Korea, and Taiwan—can sign up and compete in a single elimination bracket to advance to the next level of competition. Each of those major regions will feature its own regional championship, with smaller regions like Latin America and Australia feeding into the bigger tourney. Blizzard is running the event through third party partners set to be announced at a later date.
That should give the teams and players who have competed in the budding Heroes esports scene what they finally wanted: a chance to show their skill on the big stage. But with Heroes hitting open beta on May 19 and launching on June 2, it’s truly anyone’s game.
The $500,000 prize pool is a significant step up from Blizzard’s past offerings—StarCraft 2, Hearthstone, and World of Warcraft each featured $250,000 pools in 2014—and is not representative of what those titles will pay out this year, Sigaty says. What it does represent is a big commitment to launching Heroes of the Storm with an opening salvo that puts it on the esports map.
Of course, the game already made quite a splash when it appeared on ESPN2 last month. The Heroes of the Dorm event featured an exciting grand finals and a spiffy new presentation designed for television, a dumbed down spectator interface designed to fit a television screen—and a layman’s audience. The road to BlizzCon will take some inspiration from Heroes of the Dorm—not in the spectator interface, but in the commentary. With the game set to receive an influx of new players at its pending launch, many fans will watch the competition uninitiated. Plus, Blizzard wants the game to appeal to not just players, but those who’ve never even touched it. Heroes of the Dorm succeeded in that regard, Sigaty says.
It was the “aha!” moment where Blizzard and the world realized that Heroes of the Storm really is cut out to be an esport. The road to BlizzCon and the $1.2 million up for grabs is the next step, but it’s only a step.
“This is just the beginning with the road to BlizzCon,” Sigaty says. “It does not represent what we’re doing next year and beyond.”
Blizzard governs StarCraft 2 and Hearthstone esports using the World Championship Series (WCS) system, which provides an overarching structure to third party tournaments hosted by organizers worldwide. Something like that could be a template for the future of Heroes, but the company will tailor it for Heroes’ unique needs.
“You can expect something to go much more towards some sort of league system,” Sigaty says. “We want something a lot more formal that is broader, is bigger, and that’s still doing the same things we’re doing with road to BlizzCon, like involving the regions and being very open to all the countries participating.”
For now, though, Heroes of the Storm fans will certainly be happy with a $1.2 million kickoff. On May 19, the game will hit open beta, essentially a test of server infrastructure before the game’s June 2 launch—the day Heroes takes the esports scene by storm.