How different video games approach competitive esports scenes.
It is an exciting time of the year for esports with many of the world’s biggest esports competitions just around the corner. As the world starts to catch on to what has been brewing in the competitive esports scenes, esports prize pools are skyrocketing. The total prize money awarded is at just under $450 million USD ($447,228,607.18 as of June 25th) and threatens to surpass half a billion dollars by the end of 2018. With that in mind, we take a look at the biggest esports in recent years and how their respective competitive scenes are operated in terms of the types of competitions they have, how they are qualified for and how often they occur to better understand what fans can expect from their favourite competitive esport titles. The video games discussed here make up 6 of the top 7 esports in 2017 in terms of the prize pools of their esports competitions, which will be listed from lowest to highest.
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Hearthstone, of Blizzard Entertainment, is the world’s most popular online collectible card game with a player base of over 70 million recorded in early 2017. It surpasses all other competitive online card games by not only having the 7th largest total prize money awarded in 2017 but also being the only game of its type in the top 20 of this list, as well as the only online card game in the top 50 for all-time total prize money awarded. As such, Hearthstone is wildly popular among its niche in the esports scenes, but not particularly well-known outside of that. However, the future looks bright for Hearthstone, as its well-organised esports structure is very accessible and comprehendible for newcomers and is bound to be a strong foundation for future growth.
The Hearthstone professional scene revolves around the yearly Hearthstone Championship Tour which is composed of three 4-month long seasons and a highly competitive World Championship upon its conclusion. The 2018 tour started in January with a 3-month Season 1 (the succeeding tour will begin in December of 2018 to ensure consistent 4-month seasons) followed by Season 2 in April until July and then Season 3 in August through to November. There are several recent additions to this tour, one being the Hearthstone Masters system. Under this system, competitors have a rolling tally of their last 3 months-worth of points – which they can earn through placing highly on the ranked leaderboards, at Tour Stops and Seasonal Playoffs or Championships as well as the World Championship. Depending on their tally, players can achieve one of three tiers (3-Star Master, 2-Star Master and 1-Star Master), which give various benefits such as invitations to Seasonal Playoffs and online tournaments, bonuses for appearing at events and commemorative end-of-year swag. There is also a Pro Team Standings system in place, where approved organisations can select 3 players to represent them with media exposure for that organisation and a cash prize based on their players’ combined point tally at the end of each season.
The highlight of each season is the Season Championship, which players can compete in through the Seasonal Playoffs for the four regions (Americas, Europe, Asia-Pacific and China). 3-Star Masters are granted an automatic invite to the Seasonal Playoffs, and those with a point tally greater than the season’s Point Threshold will also qualify. Players are also given the opportunity to compete by placing in the top 8 in Challenger Cups and Tavern Hero Qualifiers, however these are only open to those who have not qualified for a playoff in the previous 3 seasons, allowing new blood to burst onto the main stage. Ultimately, the Hearthstone Championship Tour culminates in the World Championship, Hearthstone’s biggest esports competition, where 16 of the best players from around the world battle it out for a prize pool likely to be equal to or potentially greater than the previous tour’s $1,000,000 USD. 12 of the competitors will qualify directly from placing top 4 at each of the Seasonal Championships, while the leaders of the Regional Points Standings will be invited as the last 4. The 2017 Hearthstone World Championships held in January of this year raked in over 8 million viewers and was watched for a total time of over 21 million hours, cementing Hearthstone as a key player among the other more popular genres in the various esports scenes.
Another successful esports title from Blizzard Entertainment is Overwatch, which, despite having only been released in May of 2016, reached a total player count of 40 million before its second anniversary earlier this year. It’s prize pools have already exceeded $8.4 million USD making it the esport with the 8th highest total prize money awarded and the 6th highest in 2017. Overwatch has hit the ground running in terms of developing its esports scenes with the first season of the Overwatch League reaching the end of its regular season and approaching its post season while the 2018 Overwatch World Cup starts to inch closer with player tryouts for the qualified countries just around the corner.
Overwatch World Cup:
The Overwatch World Cup is one of the two key components of Overwatch’s competitive esport scene. The idea of a ‘world cup’ in traditional sports is closely mirrored in Overwatch and many other video games and is by no means a new thing. The countries competing will put together their best players from various teams to fight for not only glory and pride, but also bragging rights over everyone else. However, only a handful of countries can compete, and the selection process for countries and even team members is rigorous. When the process began in March, 4 countries were selected to host the group stages for different regions and automatically qualified for the tournament. The remaining countries were then selected by Blizzard, who tracked the skill rating of every country’s top 150 players to find the 20 nations with the highest-skilled player-base. Subsequently, the competing nations created a committee, with a general manager, coach and community lead. Following this are the player tryouts where the 3 members of the committee all get a say in who they want on their roster. Once this is finalised in July, the group stages take place at the 4 host nations from August to October to decide the top 8 who will go head-to-head at the Overwatch World Cup in November at BlizzCon.
The Overwatch League is the more prominent esports competition of Overwatch’s esports scenes, and is much more entrepreneurial since it is the first esport title to follow the traditional sport model of regular play between permanent city-based franchises in a league. The league was first announced in November 2016 and the first season commenced in January 2018 with 12 teams who all competed in Los Angeles. They are composed of 9 American teams and 1 team apiece from South Korea, China and the UK. The 12 teams are split into the Pacific Division (for the American West Coast and Asia) and the Atlantic Division (for the American East Coast and Europe). The franchised teams are owned by groups and parent-groups of esports organisations (Misfits, Optic, Cloud9, Team Envy, Immortals, NRG and Gen-G), sport teams (New England Patriots, New York Mets, Philadelphia Flyers and Arsenal F.C) and an internet company (NetEase).
The first season was composed of 4 stages, with playoffs occurring at the end of each stage to wrap up with the Stage Finals, granting a prize money bonus to the winner and runner-up. At the conclusion of the regular season comes the post season and the championship playoffs, where the top teams in the league compete to be crowned the first Overwatch League Champions and receive $1,000,000 USD. The players all receive a $50,000 USD minimum salary, housing, healthcare and retirement savings plans, on top of the bonus prize money which totals $3.5 Million USD. Blizzard also ensures that players follow a strict code of conduct and even provides training support and media training. This level of support from the company behind an esports title is fairly new, and is a promising sign for the sustainable development of esports into regular leagues and seasons embodying the structure of traditional sports.
There is even a system in place to allow entry into the league for up and coming players. The Overwatch Open Division features some of the best amateur players at the top of the game’s competitive mode in a structured season across different regions. Teams can then progress to the Overwatch Contenders League, which unifies existing regional competitions under the same model and gives players the exposure to be picked up by teams in the Overwatch League.
With the regular season having been recently completed, Blizzard have already announced that there will be 6 new franchises for Season 2 with 2 each in Europe, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. The CEO, Pete Vlastelica voiced the intention for a Berlin franchise, and considerations of one in Paris, Amsterdam or even Scandinavia. He also revealed that the 3rdseason will emulate a home-and-away season with teams competing in their own cities, opening up new possibilities for sponsorship and endorsement for the teams and their stadiums.
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