Last Thursday, Blizzard, the producers of esports games Overwatch, Hearthstone, and Starcraft, announced that one of their most popular esports titles, Heroes of the Storm, will cease to be supported for esports tournaments.
Included in this cut of events is the largest esports college tournament in the United States, Heroes of the Dorm. That series featured hundreds of collegiate teams from across the country. The announcement was made in a joint blog post by Blizzard president J. Allen Brack and the company’s chief development officer, Ray Gresko.
Here’s a bit of their statement:
“The love that the [esports] community has for these programs is deeply felt by everyone who works on them, but we ultimately feel this is the right decision versus moving forward in a way that would not meet the standards that players and fans have come to expect.”
“We’ll continue actively supporting the game with new heroes, themed events and other content that our community loves, though the cadence will change. Ultimately, we’re setting up the game for long-term sustainability.”
“This isn’t the first time we’ve had to make tough choices like this. Games like Diablo II, World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, Overwatch and more would not exist had we not made similar decisions in the past.”
Why is Blizzard cutting Heroes of the Storm now?
To many outside the upper echelons of Blizzard, it may seem entirely counter-intuitive to cease esports tournaments for a title that clear has a large fanbase of players. That said, while Heroes of the Storm players may be upset by the decision, the move makes a great deal of sense for Blizzard.
Heroes of the Storm may enjoy strong support from players and a healthy user base, but in terms of esports, it is certainly one of the lesser lights in the Blizzard stable. The Overwatch League, for instance, continues to pull in millions in investment and sees top-level tournaments with vast prize money available.
That’s not the case for Hearthstone. While some tournaments, such as the recent Heroes of the Storm Global Championship Finals, saw a prize pool of $1,000,000 available, the sheer number of tournaments available for Heroes of the Storm are far fewer. Plus, the prize money is far less than in other esports today. Perhaps more telling is that the Anaheim event mentioned above didn’t attract many sponsors.
The company may well feel that Heroes of the Storm has run its course. The game was released in June 2015 and is a rarity. It’s a crossover title featuring characters from a number of other Blizzard games, such as Warcraft, Diablo, Starcraft, Overwatch, and the Lost Vikings.
Although the company has purposefully not styled the game as a multiplier online battle arena game (such as Dota 2 or League of Legends) or a strategy game (such as Starcraft II), there is no doubt Heroes of the Storm contains strong elements of both. Given that it hasn’t matched these other games in terms of esports popularity, long-term support was not a sure thing.
What will be Blizzard’s next esports move?
This move from Blizzard is part of a broader strategy for its esports future. Clearly, the company needs to devote significant resources to its expanding Overwatch League. Indeed, it would not surprise me if much of the staff for Heroes of the Storm is now working on the next Overwatch League season.
Beyond that, it’ll be interesting to see whether the company decides to diversify its gaming options any further. While existing esports games can be improved by a series of mods and expansion packs, there is nothing quite like the release of a new esports game to capture the imagination of a new generation.
While I have no evidence to corroborate this, it would be hugely surprising to me if Blizzard wasn’t already working on a game to replace and recapture the success of Heroes of the Storm, but with a model more akin to the Overwatch League.
We already know Diablo 4 is in the pipeline. Blizzard may well be pinning its hopes on D4 as the next esports phenomenon. However, with no concrete release date and details of the game skill very sketchy, it may be some time before this eagerly awaited release is available to play.
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