Counter-Strike, League of Legends, Dota 2 and StarCraft 2 are the main titles that come to mind talking about esports. Blizzard Entertainment is a huge company and has supplied four games which are currently being played competitively. These games are StarCraft 2, Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone. All these games have a strong player base and huge esports communities behind them. All but one, that is. Hearthstone, despite its enormous player base, has not as much success in comparison to the other Blizzard titles. But why is that?
Hearthstone is a Collectible Card Game (CCG) made by Blizzard Entertainment, which was released March 2014. Outside of the world of electronic sports, CCGs are immensely successful. Magic: The Gathering, for example, enjoyed tremendous popularity around 2005. Online CCGs are, so to speak, the renaissance of CCGs and deck builders. However, until now these kinds of games have failed to conquer esports. Despite Hearthstone being released quite some time ago, the professional scene is only growing ever so slowly.
As we all know, size does matter. The community is very actively supporting Hearthstone and is investing huge sums of money. But this enormous base has little to do with professional esports. In July 2016, the total number of hours the game was being watched amounted to 35.4 million on Twitch. In comparison, Counter-Strike could boast of 36.2 million hours. These numbers are deceitful, since merely 6.8 million hours of view time were generated by esports events. This is less than half of what Counter-Strike had. The amount of viewers Hearthstone manages to reach do look heathy, though. The biggest tournaments peak at 150.000 viewers. Of course, these numbers are small if you compare them to League of Legends or Counter-Strike.
The big tournaments are hosted by Blizzard Entertainment, and are called the “Hearthstone-Championship Tour”. This year’s Winter Championship takes place in an all-inclusive hotel on the Bahamas. It is safe to say, that the Hearthstone scene is relatively relaxed and informal. It is unable to compete with events like the IEM Katowice or ESL One, as it is hardly comparable to them. But will this situation be changed in the future? The DreamHack announced that Hearthstone will play a crucial role in seven out of ten events planned for this year.
The elephant in the room for Hearthstone is the element of unpredictability. You don’t know which card will be drawn next, there are many random effects (for example the card “Mad Bomber, which randomly deals three damage. It is totally possible to hit your stuff on the board only, which annoys many players). Random elements are frowned upon in esports, and rightfully so. There are ways to turn the odds in your favor, however, this will always be an easy excuse for a loss, regardless of the player’s errors beforehand.
It is possible for Hearthstone to boom in the professional scene, due to the support of the DreamHack. Nevertheless, it will be quite a way until it has reached Counter-Strike‘s level of viewership and engagement. CCGs have never made it to the esport scene, therefore it would be a historic achievement for Hearthstone if it managed to do so.