He­roes Never Die

James O’Con­nor in­ves­ti­gates how a be­he­moth like Bliz­zard does es­ports

Hyper - - CONTENTS -

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, 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.

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