Blizzard Means Business with Massive Changes for Pro Heroes of the Storm in 2017

Kevin Hovdestad@lackofrealismFeatured ColumnistSeptember 25, 2016

http://blizzard.gamespress.com/en-CA/Heroes-of-the-Storm#?tab=logos

Blizzard dropped some big news in the esports world with their recent announcement that competitive Heroes of the Storm is getting an all-new league structure for 2017. The Heroes Global Championship program’s update isn’t just a facelift—Blizzard is going to be managing this league in-house, and fans have a lot to look forward to because of that.

Heroes of the Storm Esports Product Manager Sam Braithwaite recently appeared on Blizzard’s “Beyond the Nexus” video show with hosts Wade "Dreadnaught" Penfold and Jaycie "Gillyweed" Gluck to discuss the rationale behind some of the changes going into 2017.

Heroes, Braithwaite suggests, was hard to follow for fans—a theory that the complex 2016 format and the limited events that were broadcast certainly confirms. Braithwaite believes that Heroes esports has more stories to tell.

While details are still thin, Braithwaite did drop a few key pieces of information in this interview:

  • The 2017 league format should "triple" the amount of content there is for fans to watch.
  • All of the players on the top eight teams comprising each regional league will receive a fixed "appearance fee" as compensation, and every player will receive an equal payment for competing (prior to prize winnings, of course).
  • A new Open Division is designed to bridge the gap between professional play and top-tier amateur competitors. Players can form teams and compete in the Open Division tournaments for cash prizes and points toward playing in the promotion/relegation matches that will occur twice annually.

No further official information has surfaced yet, although the timing of this announcement strongly suggests that Blizzard will unveil additional particulars at their annual BlizzCon convention, where the 2016 HGC finals take place November 5 and 6.

With what has been released so far, however, there are some strong hints at what exactly players and fans might have in store for them next year.

   

“We’ll be shifting to a uniform online league format.”

Not unlike some of its competitors, such as the League of Legends Championship Series, the new HotS league will likely be run in house by Blizzard (likely in partnership with some of the same players they’ve worked with on most of their other esports—ESL for production, as an example). The league format means there will be ongoing matches between the league teams throughout the year, keeping the visibility of the game and the teams high. (For comparison’s sake, look at the on-again, off-again timing of tournaments and events in 2016, via esportsearnings.com.)

In addition, Blizzard has openly stated that fans can expect more roster consistency from the new league format (as opposed to the "Rosterpocalypse" issues in competitive Heroes up to this point), so contractual limitations on teams changing their player lineups—such as trade deadlines—are all but guaranteed.

   

“You can also look forward to more international events.”

There are a total of 19 Premier events (at least $100,000 prize pool) in Heroes in 2016, including the ongoing Super League in Korea and the upcoming Fall Global Championship at BlizzCon. Out of these, only three—Blizzard’s own HGC Spring, Summer, and Fall Championships—were international events, featuring teams from all of the major regions (which Blizzard categorizes as North America, Europe, Korea and China).

In the interview, Braithwaite says it was difficult for fans to get a sense of the global Heroes scene and pointed to a number of the interesting international rivalries that had been established between teams that ran into each other multiple times. The approach they’ve highlighted indicates they’ll have Western (NA/EU) and Eastern (KR/CN) tournaments, which are most likely going to be in addition to the current model that includes global seasonal finales.

   

“We’ll be introducing a promotion and relegation system.”

If you’re not already familiar with the concept, promotion and relegation comes to esports from traditional sports, where the best teams in a lower division can move up into a higher division, while the weakest performing teams in the upper division will be relegated to the lower division. Blizzard is introducing this idea into the HGC in 2017 with two instances of promotion and relegation per year, which will allow amateur teams a chance to enter into the salaried league in their region.

Going by the announcement, the process for the amateur bracket—or Open Division, as Blizzard is calling it—may closely resemble the system they used to determine who qualified to compete in the seasonal playoffs for each region in the Hearthstone Championship Tour this year. There is no indication that in-game ladder performance will be weighted for the Open Division, which makes sense given that players online aren’t locked to a consistent roster for standard online team play.


We’ll no doubt know more about Blizzard’s plans for HGC at BlizzCon, as qualifiers for next year’s new league structure are slated to start in November. Keep an eye on the Heroes of the Storm esports portal for more updates.

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