It is now six years since video gaming giant Blizzard delighted its fans by launching Hearthstone. The digital card game received universal acclaim for its simple rules, strategic depth, high production values, blistering pace and winning personality. It continued to gain momentum in the ensuing years and it hit an impressive milestone when the player count reached 100 million in November 2018.
Hearthstone continued to flourish throughout 2019, as Blizzard reported an increase in monthly users during Q2. Yet it faces significant challenges as it bids to maintain the remarkable longevity it has already enjoyed. Hearthstone enjoyed an astronomical rise to the top of the video gaming sector, but it is now in danger of crashing and burning.
Despite boasting a healthy player count, it is worth noting that Hearthstone is sliding down the Twitch rankings. It was the fifth most popular game on the preeminent video game streaming platform in 2018, behind only Fortnite, League of Legends, Dota 2 and World of Warcraft. It slipped to 10th in 2019, leapfrogged by the likes of Grand Theft Auto V, CS:GO and Apex Legends.
It also has a significant challenger in Magic: The Gathering Arena, the popular tabletop card game rebooted for the digital era and armed with an eye-catching $10 million budget for professional events in 2019. Hasbro owns Magic and it has deep pockets, so it can afford to give the game a significant push in this burgeoning sector.
Death by Strangulation
Posters on forums have also expressed their frustration at the expensive nature of playing the game. Expansions are released, cards are exiled to the Wild format and players must invest in new cards to build decks when the meta shifts in order to enjoy Hearthstone at full tilt.
The Standard mode is where the action lies, and it is used in the pro events and tournaments. You need to engage in card rotation in order to compete in Standard, which makes pricing an issue. Blizzard has been accused of strangling the game.
The Descent of Dragons expansion went live last month and 60 packs cost more than $60. Seven League of Explorer card rewards will be available as part of the campaign for $7 later this month. It all adds up.
Need for Nerfing
The expansions have not always run smoothly either. For example, Descent of Dragons made Galakrond Shamans outrageously powerful, requiring Blizzard to start working on nerfs almost immediately
Blizzard is obviously running a business, and the expansions have proved seriously lucrative. However, it will go rapidly downhill unless it manages to keep a healthy community of players that feel they are receiving strong value for money. The high cost of remaining competitive has clearly proved prohibitive for some players and driven them away, so Blizzard has a fine line it must tread in 2020.
Yet there are plenty of reasons for positivity regarding its chances of enjoying a healthy future. Hearthstone is making great strides within the thriving world of competitive gaming. It is the eighth most lucrative esport of all time, and the prize money on offer at tournaments continues to increase.
Last year’s Hearthstone World Championship carried a prize pool of $1 million, which is the joint largest in the game’s history. The Grand Masters Global Finals 2019, Masters Tour Las Vegas and Masters Tour Seoul each offered $500,000 in prize money, leaving them in the top six highest paying Hearthstone tournaments ever hosted.
There is an increasing amount of money up for grabs, and that allows more players to turn professional. They serve as ambassadors for the game, and their exploits whip up excitement among the wider gaming community, driving interest in Hearthstone and keeping the scene fresh and relevant to fans across the world.
Despite the downside of the expansion system, it also helps keep the game fresh, vibrant and dynamic, making it much harder for players to grow bored.
Blizzard Doubles Down on Masters Tour
Blizzard has not always embraced the esports arena. It made the controversial decision to end funding for Heroes of the Storm’s pro scene, and it has never really backed WarCraft with heaps of cash. Yet it seems to recognize the potential for esports to boost Hearthstone’s profile and longevity.
It plans to host twice as many Masters Tour events for the 2020 season than it did in 2019, which should be music to the ears of Hearthstone pros. Those tournaments will also each see increased prize pools. The minimum pool for each event is set at $250,000.
Each Master’s Tour winner will pocket at least $22,000, provided crowdfunding goals are met. ESL and DreamHack will run the events, with the first taking place this month in Texas and another in Bali, Indonesia, in March, with tournaments planned for Jönköping – the home of DreamHack in Sweden – and Montreal later in the year.
There will be two more tournaments later in the year. One is likely to be hosted in Spain, and Australia is a potential venue for the other. This activity should help boost Hearthstone’s popularity around the globe.
Pros Lead the Charge
As always, there will be a World Championship too. This provides fans the opportunity to watch the best in the business battle it out for huge prizes, and anyone that likes betting on video games will find all manner of exciting markets to choose from.
Last year Norwegian star Hunterace walked off with the top prize of $250,000 after delivering a string of dazzling performances. He is now the fourth highest earning Hearthstone star in history, but 42 different pros have earned six-figure sums by playing the game and that is a healthy number.
A thriving professional scene has helped games like LoL, Dota 2 and CS:GO enjoy the sort of longevity that eludes the vast majority of video games. That is why Hasbro is investing heavily in it for Magic, and Epic Games is also throwing fistfuls of cash at a nascent Fortnite esports scene. Hearthstone is already flourishing in this vibrant sector, and that can help it enjoy many more years as the top online card playing game in the world.