Heroes Never Die
James O’Connor investigates how a behemoth like Blizzard does esports
I still remember the first time the enormity of esports, and the arrival of competitive gaming as a global phenomenon, really sank in for me. It was the 2011 Global StarCraft II League Grand Final, held that year at Blizzcon. It was the first time the event had ever been hosted by a country other than Korea, and I was there to cover it for Hyper's sister mag, PC PowerPlay. While things didn’t go particularly smoothly (there were technical issues with one of the PCs that delayed the match by about half an hour), the crowd’s excitement when MMA (Seong-Won Mun) defeated IMMvp (Jong-Hyun Jung) eclipsed any other sport event I’d been to.
In 2017, Starcraft II is just one of Blizzard’s esports pillars: Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm, and Overwatch are all games designed explicitly to foster competitive scenes. Blizzard isn’t just a developer and a publisher: it's in the entertainment business now, facilitating champion players and making sure that the infrastructure exists so that fans can watch and follow their favourites. Blizzcon 2016 was dominated by esports: there were major tournaments for all four of these games, as well as World of Warcraft (see boxout), with massive prizes on offer. In the afterglow of these numerous championships, we spoke with producers, players, and shout-casters to try and get a sense of what makes Blizzard one of the top publishers for modern competition ready esports titles.
HEARTHSTONE: DESIGNING A COMPETITIVE F2P GAME
Hearthstone, Blizzard’s free-to-play digital collectable card game, has attracted a huge esports crowd. At the time of writing, Hearthstone (current player base: over 50 million) is Blizzard’s most watched game on Twitch. At the recent Hearthstone World Championship, held during Blizzcon, the top prize was USD $250,000 from a prize pool that totaled $1 million. The winner was Pavel Beltukov, an 18-year-old from Russia, whose previous top prize had been $5000 in the Championship League earlier that year.