There's a new entry on the eSports horizon. Professional gamers from other major titles are flocking to Blizzard's Hearthstone and have been streaming live matches to thousands of fans for weeks now—despite the fact that the general public can't even play the game yet.
Blizzard recognizes the interest. It's tapped the most popular players to compete in Hearthstone's first-ever professional match later this year, the company announced Oct. 10.
Hearthstone is a virtual battle card game spun-off from Blizzard’s Warcraft universe. Using characters, creatures, and lore from the series, players assemble decks of 30 cards and pit them against each other. Each player attempts to drain their opponent’s hit points to zero while putting up their own defenses. Winning requires both good deck planning and the ability to adapt to changing game conditions on the fly. You can think of it as a simplified, virtual version of Magic: The Gathering, the famed card game that's maintained widespread popularity since launching in 1993.
Why would Blizzard bother running a tournament for a game that the public can't even play yet? To some it seems like a taunt. Beta keys to Hearthstone have sold for hundreds of dollars online, while Blizzard's giveaways have been notoriously unorganized, leaving many fans frustrated.
Reactions to the tournament's announcement have been mixed, however, across Blizzard's community. As forum member Bamm says: "Awesome. A tournament to a game I can't play yet!!!!!"
That said, it’s understandable why Blizzard thinks there's an audience. Hearthstone livestreams have put up big numbers, and a forum on Reddit devoted to the game already has 25,000 subscribers who are, as the tagline says, "waiting for a beta invite."
Called the Hearthstone Innkeeper's Invitational, the tournament will feature some recognizable players: Day, Artosis, Husky, Kripparrian, Trump, Noxious, Reckful, and Hafu. Each will bring three decks. When all three decks are defeated, the player is out—possibly hinting at a format for future Hearthstone tournaments as the game attempts to become a fully fledged eSport.
Combining the audience from each of these stars, it’s clear there are some serious spectator numbers for the tournament.
"The idea behind the Invitational is simple," the company wrote in its post. "Take some of Hearthstone’s most passionate players and pit them against each other in a no-holds-barred deathmatch."
But this leads into the second complaint about the Invitational, as fans decry Blizzard's understanding of the term "passionate player." Many of the invited competitors indeed command enormous followings, especially the Starcraft trio of Day, Husky, and Artosis. But hardcore Hearthstone fans complain this doesn't represent the "best" players in Hearthstone. Few, if any, are on top of the leaderboards in the game. In other words, the tournament is more about celebrity than about gaming chops.
"Most passionate = famous YouTubers," commenter ThatHC wrote.
That said, it's hard to deny the skill of some of these players. Trump, for example, has recently been adopted by frequent pro-gaming sponsor and computer manufacturer Razer as the world's first professional Hearthstone player. Fans should keep in mind that Blizzard intends for this to be a showmatch. These players were handpicked by Blizzard to try and draw the most viewers. That's it.
No, it's not a balanced field. But it should certainly be entertaining.
Image via Blizzard Entertainment