Sep 8 2016 - 3:11 pm

Competitive Hearthstone isn't dying, but it might be changing forever

Hearthstone fans have had a lot of bad news in recent months
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.

Hearthstone fans have had a lot of bad news in recent months. From teams shutting down, to tournaments going away, many people have been wondering what it means for the long term health of the scene.

Whenever there's some apparent downward trend for an esport, fans are very prone to hysteria. "Dead game!" is a refrain almost as old as esports itself.

So, is competitive Hearthstone dying? Probably not. But that doesn't mean you're wrong to be concerned. It's time for some Hearthstone fans to confront an uncomfortable truth: There was never really going to be a place for a card game among the esports elite.

This week the big news is the demise of Team Archon. Once a seemingly unstoppable mix of one of the game's most popular streamers, the most successful prize money winner in the game and a number of other talented players, the team was also the first to establish a team house and hosted half a dozen tournaments. The pinnacle of these was the $250,000 Archon Team League Championships, still considered one of the best events Hearthstone fans have ever seen.

But now, Archon founder Jason "Amaz" Chan is back to being a sponsored streamer under NRG eSports. James "Firebat" Kostesich, Sebastian "Xixo" Bentert, and the rest of the team had already moved on before that announcement. And Archon is about to be consigned to esports history.

Arguably more telling from a competitive standpoint was the disbandment of Natus Vincere's Hearthstone team. Alongside Frederik "Hoej" Nielsen, Kim "Surrender" Jung-soo and the afformentioned Xixo, the team was home to the reigning world champion Sebastian "Ostkaka" Engwall. The team was considered to be one of the two strongest in the entire game, and was one of the most decorated. But an established and storied franchise like Na`Vi didn't see the value in keeping them on.

Other teams, like Fade2Karma, Hearthlytics and ManaLight, have also shut down their competitive Hearthstone divisions this year. Meanwhile, popular tournaments like ATLC, the Viagame House Cup, the Hearthstone Pro League, and Vulcun Deckmasters have all disappeared since 2015.

However it's not all bad news. Big franchises like and now NRG eSports have decided to get into the game this year for the very first time, so they must see some value in having a presence.

Setting that aside, Hearthstone does have some key things that will help it to maintain a strong esports presence—even if that presence ends up being diminished from the insane highs of 2015.

Big streamers like Amaz, Octavian "Kripparrian" Morosan, and Jeffrey "Trump" Shih, as well as the most popular competitive players like David "Dog" Caero, Firebat, and Thijs Molendijk, give the game a solid base Twitch audience. Additionally, tournaments can still attract solid audiences of well over 40,000. It might not be the dizzying heights of 140,000 that ATLC reached, but it's still a sizable audience for established circuit events like DreamHack. This year's Hearthstone World Championship will be a real test for the game's viewership.

Some established teams continue to expand. CompLexity are a great example of how not to overspend, and only pick up players who can offer a return to the team. They balance competitive players like Simon "Crane" Raunholst with streamers and casters who bring the team exposure like Kacem "Noxious" Khilaji and Simon "Sottle" Welch. Teams need to follow this model and become more shrewd, rather than inflating salaries in a bidding war without considering return on that investment—something Amaz admitted was a problem with the salaries Archon was paying, and they were by no means the highest in the scene.

While League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Dota remain the pinnacle of esports popularity, Hearthstone managed to nip at their heels for a significant proportion of its early life. The game enjoyed some incredible success in a very short period of time, and money was thrown around like there was no tomorrow. But it may now be that the scene is contracting to a more sustainable and manageable level.

What this will look like when all is said and done I'm not sure. But I am confident that we still see Hearthstone as a major player on Twitch, with a strong esports scene, for many years to come.    

Jan 19 2017 - 8:01 pm

G2 start Trinity Series with 6-0 Murloc sweep

It was a one-sided start to the hotly-anticipated league.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via Blizzard Entertainment

G2 Esports got their ESL Trinity Series campaign off to a flying start yesterday, beating Alliance in assertive fashion.

Hearthstone's number one team dominated the Swedish Alliance lineup en route to a 6-0 sweep in the opening clash of the team league.

Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy and Dima "Rdu" Radu were able to simply sit back and make enthusiastic murloc noises, as two-time European champion Thijs Molendijk piloted his Anyfin Paladin deck to six straight game wins.

Alliance's all-Swedish lineup of 2015 world champion Sebastian "Ostkaka" Engwall, three-time major winner Jon "Orange" Westberg, and Harald "Powder" Gimre was expected to be a big player in this team league. But the initial loss will be a setback to their title aspirations.

As we know from experience, however, initial losses are no indicator of eventual success. The G2 trio, then known as Nihilum, finished fifth in the regular season of the Archon Team League Championships before going on to win the playoffs.

In the other game of the day, underdogs Tempo Storm emerged victorious against Virtus Pro 6-3. Three game wins with Rogue by David "JustSaiyan" Shan provided an insurmountable advantage for Tempo Storm.

Today's match day will see the other four teams make their debut, as Luminosity Gaming takes on Team Liquid and Cloud9 faces compLexity Gaming.

Jan 17 2017 - 11:07 pm

How to Watch the ESL Hearthstone Trinity Series: Players, Format, Times, and More

It's the biggest team league the game has seen in over a year.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via Blizzard Entertainment

It's been well over a year since Hearthstone last had a major team league in the West—something fans have been crying out for. Tomorrow the wait ends, and the ESL Trinity Series begins.

Eight trios, flying the banners of some of the biggest franchises in esports, will compete in best-of-11 matches until Mar. 2. The top teams will advance to a live finals at the ESL studios in California, with $75,000 up for grabs for the winning team.

This is a big moment for Hearthstone esports. After growth slowed in 2016, this league could get 2017 off to a big start as the major players in the scene attempt to stabilize and consolidate their positions.

Here's everything you need to know about the league, the teams involved, and how the matches will play out.

What is the format?

For each match, the teams will submit nine decks—one for each class in the game. Each team will ban out two of their opponent's decks, leaving seven decks from which the teams pick a final lineup of six.

The teams then play a best-of-11 match in the Last Hero Standing format—once a deck loses a game it is locked for the rest of the match, and you lose when you have no decks left. Unlike the Archon Team League Championships where each player was assigned a couple of decks to play, all six players will be playing every game of every series. They will do so with open communication, which viewers will be tuned in to throughout the broadcast.

The format requires a huge amount of strategy, deckbuilding skill, and team work. The teams will have to argue out each individual play, make their move within the short timeframe of a turn, and try not to fall out in the process. Matches will be long, and real-life fatigue will play a part.

How will the league be broadcast?

The broadcasts will be presented from ESL's studios in Burbank, California, with TJ Sanders and Brian Kibler slated to call the action.

The players themselves will be playing from home, adding another level of difficulty to the communication, until the league reaches its final stages.

The matches will be played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting tomorrow, with two matches per day. Games will start at 1pm ET (10am PT) for the duration of the seven week season and will be aired on ESL's Hearthstone Twitch channel.

Who are the teams?

The lineup features some of the biggest brands in esports. Two Hearthstone world champions, over a dozen tournament winners, and some wildcards too.

G2 Esports are easily the favorites to win it all. The trio of Dima "Rdu" Radu, Thijs Molendijk, and Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy is the most decorated in the game, with the Archon Team League Championships title also under their belt. The weight of expectation is firmly upon this European trio.

Although the team is relatively new, having just brought on a third member in time for the league, Alliance will be one of the teams to watch. The Swedish organization picked up a trio of players to represent the team and their country in three-time major winner Jon "Orange" Westberg, 2015 world champion Sebastian "Ostkaka" Engwall, and consistent journeyman Harald "Powder" Gimre.

Virtus Pro will be a force to be reckoned with. After starting out as rivals at the 2016 European Winter Championship, Artem "DrHippi" Kravets, Ole "Naiman" Batyrbekov, and Raphael "BunnyHoppor" Peltzer have formed a formidable unit. The team has been represented in countless major tournaments this year, with DrHippi finishing second in the world championship.

CompLexity will be looking to turn potential and underdog determination into results. Jan "SuperJJ" Janssen was impressively consistent throughout 2016, but did not win a major title. Simon "Crane" Raunholst has long been considered one of the best minds in the game but he has also not borne this out with results, while perennial prospect Tugay "MrYagut" Evsan will be looking to show just why he was so highly touted for so long.

The only all-American lineup in the tournament, Luminosity Gaming will also be hoping to live up to their billing. Branded a U.S. "super team" when they were formed last year, DreamHack Austin winner Keaton "Chakki" Gill and the experienced Paul "Zalae" Nemeth will be partnered by top young talent Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang.

The experienced but somewhat out-of-favor hand of Peter "Gaara" Stevanovic will look to guide Tempo Storm's young prospects David "JustSaiyan" Shan and Victor "Vlps" Lopez to success, while the veteran Team Liquid trio of David "Dog" Caero, Jeffrey "Sjow" Brusi, and Yevhenii "Neirea" Shumilin will aim to prove the value of experience.

Speaking of veterans, 2014 world champion James "Firebat" Kostesich, early leader Cong "StrifeCro" Shu, and 2014 World Esports Championship winner Andrew "TidesofTime" Biessener will round out the lineup for Cloud9. With Firebat having casted more than competed in 2016, StrifeCro having made just the odd appearance and TidesofTime having spent the past two years struggling with whether or not he loved the game anymore, this lineup will now have to deliver on a big stage.

Though 2017 is only a few weeks old, the ESL Trinity Series promises to be one of the most entertaining and competitive events of the year. The players will be tested to the limits of their skills—and Hearthstone fans will finally have another team league to get invested in.