In 2016, eSports are expected to generate revenues of $500 million and have around 150 million viewers. As a market with potential growth and full of business opportunities, the companies are watching closely the eSports scene. In the recent years, there have been significant acquisitions such as Amazon buying Twitch for almost $1 billion, increasing budgets for advertising, sponsorship etc. Blizzard Entertainment’s Hearthstone, as a major player in the eSports scene and a game changer in the card game industry, deserves an in-depth analysis of its competitive structure. In this article, I am going to explain the competitive structure of Hearthstone for the year of 2017, and what it takes to be crowned the Best Hearthstone Player in the world.
The ultimate competitive objective in Hearthstone to win the Hearthstone World Championship. To be able to qualify to the World Championship which will be held in January 2018 for the Year of the Mammoth, players have to go through a process called Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT). The first step is Season Championship Playoffs, then Season Championships and the last stop is the World Championship tournaments.
Road to the Season Championship Playoffs
There are three Seasons in the 2017 Hearthstone Championship Tour; Winter, Spring and Summer (which we are currently in), which all go on for 3 months. Each season qualifies 4 players to the World Championships and after the Summer Season, there is the “Last Call” period to determine the final 4 spots in the World Championships to make a total of 16 players. To qualify to the Season Championships, players have to compete in the Season Championship Playoffs of their respective region.
There are two possible ways to qualify to Season Championship Playoffs in each region; winning a Tavern Hero Tournament or being a top 64 HCT point earner (or tie with the 64th) in the region at the end of the season.
Tavern Hero path is relatively simple; there are many local Tavern Hero Qualifiers organized by third parties and the winners of these qualifier tournaments are eligible to participate to the Tavern Hero tournaments which is an online tournament. The top 8 finishers of the Tavern Hero Tournament for each region are qualified to the Season Playoffs of their regions.
Top point earner path is bit more grindy. At this point, I am going to give the information regarding the point structure, then later in this article I am going to discuss this path in detail.
Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT) Points
There are three ways to earn HCT points besides the Season Playoffs, Season Championships and World Championship.
- Cups: Open tournaments with small prizes and/or small size
- Majors: Relatively big tournaments
- Ladder: Reaching Legend rank on the ladder awards at least 1 point and additional points to top 200 finishers each month.
|Cups*||Awards 1 point to top 8||Awards 5 points to the winner|
|Majors||Awards 2 point to top 16||Awards 15 points to the winner|
|Ladder||Awards 1 point at legend||Awards 12 points for 1st place|
It should be noted that points can be earned from Cups once per month and the best performance of the month counts for the HCT points. Therefore, one can earn up to 5 points from Cups each month i.e. 15 points each season.
In addition, Major tournaments are hard to come by; as of late-June, there are no scheduled Major tournaments until September 2017. Under these circumstances, the ladder becomes the only option to the competitive players to earn additional points, besides Cups, for a spot in the Season Playoffs.
Season Championships Playoffs
The 72 qualified players (8 tavern heroes + 64 HCT point earners) compete for the top 4 to earn an invitation to the Season Championships. The prize pool for this tournament is $25,000. Season Championship Playoffs are held in 4 regions (Americas, Europe, APAC and China), therefore a total of 16 players are qualified to the Season Championships.
Similarly to the Season Championship playoffs, the players from 4 regions (this time 4 from each region- total 16) play for the top 4 to qualify to the Hearthstone World Championships. The prize pool is $250,000 for this tournament.
The 2017 Hearthstone World Championship is a 16-player tournament with a $1 million prize payout that will be held in January 2018. These 16 players come from;
- Top 4 players from Winter Championship
- Top 4 players from Spring Championship
- Top 4 players from Summer Championship
- Top HCT point earner from each region (Americas, Europe, APAC and China) i.e. “Last Call”
As mentioned earlier, Season Championship Playoffs and Season Championship tournaments award HCT points to top finishers. These points are used to determine for the last 4 spots in the World Championships – top point earners (who are not qualified to the World Championship by any other means) from each region. Therefore, it is possible to fail to make top 4 in the Season Championship and still qualify to the World Championship because the players still accumulate points. However, the top point earner spot is a year-long process and it is an achievement on its own.
As we have laid down the basics for the competitive structure of Hearthstone Championship Tour, now we can see what a competitive player does.
As mentioned earlier, there are two main source of HCT points; Cups and Ladder. Majors are left out because there are not many Majors tournaments scheduled. Although in this article the occasional majors tournaments are ignored, though it is worth to mention that majors tournaments are big, high-level tournaments, therefore, earning points are more difficult.
Cups on the other hand, are easily accessible because the vast majority of them are online tournaments and several of them are organized in a given month. Some websites organize even daily events for each region. In addition, they are open tournaments i.e. no requirements, no qualifiers etc. However, usually there is a very small prize pool such as $300, so it is not a major source of income. Also as mentioned earlier, players can earn HCT points from only one Cup tournament i.e. after winning one Cup tournament, no additional points can be earned for the rest of the month. Considering the small prize pool, playing Cup tournaments would be beneficial only for experience.
The final rankings on the ladder are determined by the ranks of players at the very last moment of the monthly season. Therefore, players have to dedicate the last day of the month to the ladder climb at legend rank to make it to the top 200 for additional points. The last day push is sort of a one-day tournament where the players are trying to win as much as possible to get to the top, assuming that they were already close to the top 200 before the last day. Therefore, it is still a month-long process rather than a one-day tournament.
Each Season (Winter, Spring, Summer) takes 3 months. For a competitive player, it would be logical to assume that he/she hits at least legend rank on the ladder each month, hence earning at least 3 points during the season. According to the rankings of the Spring Season, there are approximately 1000 players in Americas and APAC regions that hit 3 points and 2556 players in Europe (Data of China are not available). The actual number of players who pursue HCT points would be much less since there are many players and/or streamers that hit legend every month but not pursue HCT points such as Savjz, Kibler etc. However, they may have motivations other than HCT points to end up in the top 200 such as viewer challenges, proving of skill or brand making etc.
|Region||# of players with >= 3 points||# of players with >= 10 points||Points of 64th place|
We can easily conclude from the table above that the competition in Europe has much more competitive players than Americas and APAC regions where it is enough to earn less than 20 points to qualify to the Season Playoffs, on the other hand, for Europe the cut for top 64 required 24 points.
There are up to 15 points to earn from open Cups for each season. In addition to this, as mentioned earlier, we assume the players hit legend each month, earning 3 more points. In total it makes up to 18 points without any other point awarding events or additional points from ladder. However, 18 points are barely enough to qualify in the APAC region and for Europe and Americas not enough (Interesting note; the APAC Spring Playoffs winner, Mage, earned exactly 18 points to qualify to the tournament). This implies that it is a necessary to earn points from the top 200 rank in each of the months of the season to secure the spot in the Season Playoffs.
There are 167 and 156 players with 10 or more points in Americas and APAC regions respectively, whereas there are 301 players in Europe. If we assume all these players are competing for top 200 at the legend rank each month, there is still room for other players in Americas and APAC, however in Europe the competition is much more intense.
For competitive players, it is also important to be proficient in many decks. The ability to know as much matchups as you can is crucial for the tournaments. Seeing how the game plays out, mulligans of both sides with or without the coin, decklists/variants/lineups, possible tech choices, metagame knowledge etc. are all necessary knowledge to be successful in the tournament field. However, as mentioned earlier, you should be climbing the ladder at the legend ranks at the same time therefore, your win rate should not be low while trying out new decks as you approach to the end of the month. Therefore, playing every single deck enough to master it is virtually impossible but the knowledge gained through playtesting is worth it.
Considering all of these things I have mentioned above, it is safe to say that, competitive Hearthstone is a full time job. Competitive players have to spend hours for tournaments and the ladder to accumulate enough points to qualify to the first step of the road to the world championship. In addition, the three-month long process each season can be exhausting and draining, especially if things don’t go well in the Season Playoffs. Even if a spot in the Season Championship is secured, the players have to start the new season while preparing for the Season Championship because in a 16 player high level tournament there is no guarantee to be placed in the top 4. Therefore, only the players who are qualified to the World Championship can have a more relaxed season until the World Championship. Even in this case players have to continue practicing to keep their skills at the highest level possible.