Why the Hearthstone Championship Tour is exactly what Hearthstone needed
In 2014, Blizzard put £250,000 on the line for the Hearthstone World Championship. This year the company added four regional championships, upping the total to £650,000. Now it has nearly tripled the cash available to a whopping $1.9 million—more than all Hearthstone tournaments combined in 2015.
With nine regional championships feeding into a $1 million World Championship at Blizzcon, the 2016 Hearthstone Championship Tour will allow fans to follow the game and its professionals year-round on the largest stage.
Previous iterations of the Road to Blizzcon came under criticism from players and fans alike. They felt there was too much emphasis placed on tournaments, giving an advantage to those who received invites. There wasn't enough hands-on management from Blizzard to deal with problems. Ladder was boiled down to a final-day rush to squeeze into the top 100. These changes seem to address nearly all of these valid complaints.
Tournaments still give out qualification points, but only if there are no invites or byes afforded to big-name players. If an event organizer wants to have its event be part of the Championship Tour, all players will have to start at the same stage of a tournament. In practice, that means online qualifiers for these events will disappear. Instead, there will likely be preliminary online rounds leading to offline finals.
Allowing invitational tournaments to give out HWC points allowed established pros and popular personalities the opportunity to bypass qualifiers, and gave them a built-in advantage and reinforced their positions at the top of the scene. Now any player can challenge that position, and we're almost guaranteed that new stars will emerge.
Blizzard has also rebalanced the point distribution, meaning that players who do well but don't necessarily win an event will still be rewarded well. Points for all players who reach Legend in a month, rather than just those who race for top 100 in the last hour, are also extremely welcome.
It's hard not to be impressed, even when it comes to the small details. At offline events that award points, all players will be provided with accounts that have all cards unlocked. Sure, that doesn't help for online rounds. But what matters is that it shows Blizzard is taking a much more active role in managing Hearthstone esports outside of the World Championship itself.
Hopefully, this means that Blizzard will address one of the most severe criticisms of the 2015 Road to Blizzcon—that it was far too hands off, and didn't engage in solving problems. This caused a lot of problems, including poorly or incorrectly managed online events and rules being bent or poorly communicated.
While the gushing praise of the Championship Tour is deserved, it's impossible to ignore some issues—which Blizzard will hopefully shed more light on in coming weeks.
Five players received competitive bans in 2015, an issue I critiqued in detail earlier this year. We need clear and rigid competitive guidelines detailing what will and won't result in a ban, how long that ban will be, and how it will be administered.
In addition, some confusion has already occurred regarding the first points giving event of the 2016 event. Online game key resellers—sites like Kinguin and G2A that offer game keys online for rock bottom prices thanks to various and sometimes controversial acquisition methods—have been explicitly banned as a sponsor for Tour events. But despite this, DreamHack Winter displayed G2A.com logos prominently over the weekend. If G2A or DreamHack have been given some kind of exception, this should be made clear publicly. Not that an exception should be made if these rules are to be taken seriously. Blizzard has not responded to a request for clarification on this issue.
Those issues aside, the positive welcome the Championship Tour has received is definitely deserved. It has the potential to elevate Hearthstone esports to new heights, and stamp out a lot of the problems from previous years.
Image via Blizzard