Jan 8 2015 - 9:05 pm

Most Western players still owed Chinese Hearthstone prizes

Last year, professional Hearthstone players won prizes totaling more than $1 million
Weekend Editor

Last year, professional Hearthstone players won prizes totaling more than $1 million. That's a huge number, considering the game only officially launched in March. But it turns out those numbers are somewhat meaningless.

A large amount of that prize money, including the majority of what's owed to two of the biggest winners in 2014, has yet to materialize. The majority of Western players who won prize money at the World Cyber Arena and World Esports Championships in China have not received their winnings, the Daily Dot has learned.

Is it worth the time and expenses for Western players to compete in China?

In total, the two tournaments owe Western players a combined $69,875, compared to just $8,125 of prizes that have been successfully paid out.

The delay is thanks to a lack of planning and experience on both sides. It's clear that organizers had no clear plan on how to pay Western players their prize money within a reasonable timeframe. And players and teams lack the experience and know-how necessary to provide necessary information for Chinese money transfers.

The World Cyber Arena 2014 tournament, which took place Oct. 2-6, boasted a $195,000 prize pool. The top 16 finishers won prizes, nine of which were won by players based in Europe or the United States. Just two of those players, Janne "Savjz" Mikkonen and Johan "Darkwonyx" Hansson, have received the $1,625 they won. But six other players, including Dima "Rdu" Radu, and  Cloud9's Marcin "Gnimsh" Filipowicz and Andrew "TidesofTime" Biessener, have yet to receive the same amount, or any money at all from the organization.

The largest sum yet to be paid belongs to Peter "Gaara" Stevanovic, who won $27,625 for finishing third.

Chinese players haven't fared that much better. Wang "TiddlerCelestial" Xieyu, who won $48,750 for placing second in the tournament, only received his money after two months of waiting, the Chinese star told the Daily Dot.

Those who worked on WCA's behalf says both sides are responsible for the delays.

"Clearly, there is no intention from the WCA side to avoid paying the prizes," Rania Hatzi, the official Western player liaison for the event, told the Daily Dot.

"On one side, some of the players significantly delayed sending their banking information for the transfer, even though the WCA repeatedly asked for it. On the other side, the Chinese banking system is quite different, so it takes significant time to sort out the correct routing numbers, as well as to clear the wire transfer."

Filipowicz told Daily Dot he provided all of his banking information, but has yet to send them an obscure bank serial number WCA had asked for.

"Even though we have to wait for our payments coming from China I'm personally used to long time of arrival," Filipowicz said. "[While] I'd love to get the payouts within the reasonable three month period, I'm aware that it's mostly not the case and players have to wait. Hopefully something can be done about [this] and maybe we can find a better and faster solution to reward EU/NA players."

Other players share Filipowicz' relaxed viewpoint.

"Getting my prize money late is something I'm used to," Jan "ek0p" Palys told the Daily Dot, saying he waited "a year" to get prize money from the world championships for the World of Warcraft trading card game.

The largest sum yet to be paid belongs to Peter "Gaara" Stevanovic, who won $27,625.

Others offered mixed reviews of WCA's outreach with players. Dan "Alchemixt" Walton (who is also owed $1625) said he was in contact with someone at WCA "daily". But Tempo Storm team manager Dan "Frodan" Chou said he "last heard from them a month ago."

Biessener also hasn't received his money from the World Esports Championships, played in China from Sep. 5-7, more than four months ago. That's because his prize there was awarded in actual cash. Chinese customs prohibits travelers from taking more than ¥20,000 in cash, or about  $5,000, out of the country.

So three Western players who won smaller amounts were able to take it home without a problem. But Biessener, who won ¥200,000 (or $32,500), was told by Chinese customs that he couldn't bring the money on the flight. Instead, WEC took the money back, promising to pay him.

Despite WEC assuring him it would resolve the issue quickly, Biessener still hasn't received his payment. He did tell the Daily Dot, however, that he expected to be paid "really soon."

"I honestly just expected it to be gone if they didn't run another tourney," he added.

It wasn't just Hearthstone players paid in hard cash. American esports team Cloud9 finished third at the event's Dota 2 tournament, winning around $32,500. Cloud9 team owner Jack Etienne likely violated Chinese customs when he put the money in a backpack and traveled to Korea before finally heading home to the United States.

"WEC paid us immediately in cash which seems great because there is no concern of delayed or failure of payment," Etienne told The Daily Dot. "But trying to get 160000 RMB in cash out of China safely was terrifying. I traveled to Korea with a backpack full of cash for several weeks."

It turns out those numbers are somewhat meaningless.

In October, WEC officials apologized for the delay in a statement to GosuGamers. "First of all, we are very sorry for any inconvenience caused," the statement read. "We think it’s a wonderful idea to pay players their prize money in cash on the scene of finals and it was [proven by] the players and audience there were quite excited at that moment. It’s our mistake, without concern for limits of carrying hard cash across the border out of China."

The delays are likely not a deliberate or malicious attempt to withhold prize money. But these problems may cast a shadow over future events in China. Is it worth the time and expenses for Western players to compete in China?

WCA and WEC did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

Update 1/8/15 4:30pm CT: This article has been updated to include additional information from Biessener. 

Photo via DreamHack/Flickr