Why Hearthstone Is the Next Big eSport

Ryan “State” Visbeck is a pro StarCraft 2 player officially sponsored by Game Front. Read more of his work in his weekly column, State on StarCraft, and follow him on Twitter @ROOTState


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At BlizzCon 2013, the Hearthstone Innkeeper’s Invitational—Hearthstone’s inaugural tournament—was nearly as popular as StarCraft 2 and even overtook the World Championship Series at one point in viewership. As a fast-paced, free-to-play collectible strategy card game, it is easy to see why Hearthstone is so popular. With Blizzard’s eSports experience and the strength of the WarCraft franchise, this upcoming title has the potential to be the next big eSport.

The tournament was won by Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski, a professional StarCraft 2 commentator and one of the world’s most passionate gamers. Stemkoski is known in the StarCraft community for his insightful, deeply analytical commentary—and though he now spends most of his time at a caster’s desk, he is no stranger to competition.

Stemkoski was pro-level in the popular card game Magic: The Gathering before he began to pursue a career in StarCraft: Brood War as a professional gamer. At the Innkeeper’s Invitational, Stemkoski upset favorites Jeffrey “Trump” Shih and Octavian “Kripparrian” Morosan to become BlizzCon’s first Hearthstone champion.

Minutes after stepping off stage, Stemkoski was casting the StarCraft 2 Global Finals.

Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski and Hearthstone Community Manager Christina Sims

The success of Blizzard’s inaugural Hearthstone tournament raises new questions about the game’s future as an eSport, and Stemkoski’s victory draws new parallels between Hearthstone and StarCraft 2. “The game is competitive and enjoyable to watch on many levels,” said eSports personality John “TotalBiscuit” Bain after casting the tournament finals. “The numbers proved that there is interest [in Hearthstone as an eSport].”

Over 100,000 fans tuned in on Twitch.TV to watch Bain and co-commentator Kevin Knocke cast the Hearthstone Innkeeper Invitational Grand Finals. Thousands more crowded the tournament stage to watch Stemkoski’s win. As Blizzard’s development team continues to improve upon their design and the game enters open beta in December, interest in Hearthstone should continue to grow.

“The addition of new gameplay mechanics will lead to stronger, more varied gameplay,” said Bain. “Improvements such as a better observing mode in which casters can see both hands, upcoming card draws, efficiency and graveyards will help Hearthstone be treated seriously as a competitive sport.”

Speaking as a pro-gamer, I find Hearthstone to be fun, engaging and relatable—and though the game is easy to understand on the surface, it has potential for great strategic depth. “In a long series, you will be able to see who the better player is,” Bain said. “In small numbers of games, Hearthstone can appear to be very luck-based, but it is less random than many people believe.”

Blizzard has succeeded in creating a gameplay experience rewarding to both players and spectators. I’ve had the opportunity to play Hearthstone over the last month and I’m really excited to see what happens once everyone has a chance to play. If TotalBiscuit is right, Hearthstone could become the next premier eSport—right alongside the likes of StarCraft 2, DotA 2 and League of Legends.

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1 Comment on Why Hearthstone Is the Next Big eSport

Derek

On November 11, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Odd, the consensus among beta testers is that the game DOES lack strategic depth and is far too luck based. The game is limited in viable deck builds and strategies not just because of the small deck size and general card pool, but more-so because of the number of class specific cards and mechanics. Identifying the winning player is usually possible by the 4th turn, which is why we’re seeing incredibly high rates of conceding just one or two minutes into a match.

There are other other arguably serious shortcomings, such as the wildfire growth of statistically proven overpowered deck archetypes (that now nearly everybody plays), and of course the expected players who’ve spent many hundreds of dollars and play legendary after legendary card.

Oh how I wish Wizards could design a game client as brilliant as Hearthstone. The interface, controls, deck building, animations, and dialogue are all top notch. But the core gameplay and constructed deck planning is anything but deep and strategic, certainly not up to par with MTGO.

Sadly Hearthstone is just one more in a long line of streamlined and dumbed down games to capture the audience who can’t handle the traditional aspects of a game genre. Blizzard is doing the same thing to the MOBA scene with Heroes of the Storm. Just as WoW dumbed down the MMO scene.