Heroes of the Storm is evolving as an esport.
Blizzard’s new Heroes Global Championship (HGC) league starts this weekend. It’s a new format for competitive play for Heroes of the Storm, the developer’s multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) title. The genre is one of the most popular in the growing esports market, and Blizzard has put a lot of focus on creating and promoting esports events for its releases. You can find the full schedule here.
GamesBeat interviewed Sam Braithwaite, Heroes of the Storm’s esports lead. We talked about the HGC, how Heroes of the Storm’s esports business has evolved, and how it’ll bring in new fans by focusing on its players.
GamesBeat: How has Heroes of the Storm’s esports scene changed recently?
Sam Braithwaite: Over the course of 2016, we learned quite a few lessons. One big thing that Heroes struggled with was consistency. You could never find Heroes in the same stream or on one website that gives you all the information for what’s happening across the globe. It was very difficult to follow. We decided to step back and readdress what our scene looks like and what we want to accomplish.
With that, we launched HGC. It’s an A-team league that runs in North America, Europe, China, and Korea that all runs simultaneously in a double round robin league format. All of our teams are guaranteed to earn at least $100,000 as minimum compensation for participation if they participate the entire year. It’s about creating that stability, creating regular content for people to tune in on and providing the stability for not only rosters but the entire scene and where you get information, how you get information, how you digest it.
GamesBeat: Have you done much direct player compensation in the past?
Braithwaite: No, we’ve never done it before. This is a first for us. We’re proud of it, and we’re excited about it. We felt like, in order for Heroes to grow, we needed to let our players have the peace of mind — this is a career, a long-term investment. You don’t need another job. You can play Heroes full time. We want that for all of our players. We’re excited that we were able to do that.
GamesBeat: It seems like all of Blizzard’s esports games have been going through a lot of changes. Is this part of an internal plan?
Braithwaite: We’ve definitely made some changes. The biggest is just building our team. In the past year, we’ve hired so many people on the esports team across all the different franchises. We’re giving a lot of opportunities to think and plan ahead. With that, you start to see more of these intricate leagues and formats emerging across all of our franchises because we as Blizzard are taking esports seriously. It’s coming from the top down, and it’s something that the entire company feels. You’re not alone. Internally, we’re all feeling a big shift, that we as Blizzard support esports.
GamesBeat: Your game is constantly adding new characters, and each time you do this, does it shake up the game so much that it throws players a bit, trying to learn new characters and the counters for them? Or is it not that big an adjustment?
Braithwaite: The ideal situation is that a new character, a new hero on the roster doesn’t actually shake up the competitive scene. If one single hero can completely shift the meta, there’s something wrong with that hero. The real thing that we need to look at is, over the course of a few months, when several heroes are added, as well as several reworks, how does that shift the meta? When you look at overall sweeping armor changes or different heroics or talents in a warrior pool, we might start seeing a warrior-heavy meta. But I don’t think one particular hero can necessarily shake up the meta. But just in case — there are those chances, where a hero comes out that’s incredibly strong.
One thing we’re doing with HGC that we’ve never done before is a tournament realm. Moving forward, we’ll be able to identify and choose which patch we want to play on. With that, we’re always going to be two to four weeks behind the regular release schedule. There are huge heroes coming out that impact the game in a big way, but our professional players will have several weeks to adapt to those changes before they’re placed in a tournament environment.
GamesBeat: In the past, you’ve done TV events like Heroes of the Dorm. Is this new venture going to be more focused on streaming?
Braithwaite: We’re doing Heroes of the Dorm again this year. We’re really excited about it. But for Heroes and HGC, we’re not really looking for TV right now. We do have our broadcast partners that we’ll be pushing toward this year, Facebook and Twitch. I don’t see us being on TV for HGC this year, though.