Developer turns to partners for hosting
It's been a tumultuous year for Blizzard Entertainment. After firing the entirety of its Heroes of the Storm esports circuit in December 2018, the developer would eventually confirm that its other titles would still see competition in 2019. But in the following year, it saw aggressive cost-cutting by its parent company. This included mass layoffs and the voluntary exits of some key esports personnel.
The echoes of these measures could still be felt at November’s BlizzCon. Here, only the top teams had their travel reimbursed and some prize pools were entirely crowd-funded. The convention would still be deemed an overall success but, with no further announcements, it left fans of the developer’s non-Overwatch esports wondering what, if anything, the new year would have in store for them.
These questions have now been answered, with Blizzard announcing that ESL and DreamHack will take over the running of its Hearthstone, StarCraft II and WarCraft III: Reforged competitions.
For Hearthstone, this means an expansion of its Masters Tour from three to six stops. The base prize pool for each of these will be $250,000, with further crowd-funding options planned.
Hearthstone Masters Tour 2020:
Jan 31 - Feb 2 Arlington, Texas
Mar 20 - 22 Bali, Indonesia
Jun 12 - 14 Jönköping, Sweden
TBD July/August, Asia-Pacific
Sep 11 - 13 Montreal, Canada
TBD December, Spain
As before, the Tour's top talent has the possibility of getting promoted into the sixteen-player Grandmasters league. Last year this construction was criticized, as there were only two promotion spots available over the whole year. This number has now been upped to three per season, of which there are two in 2020. This comes to much more accessible six per year total.
The format of said Grandmasters competition has also been adjusted. Division placements will now be determined through head-to-head competition, before the regular round-robins start.
Goodbye WCS, hello EPL
StarCraft II's World Championship Series will be replaced by the ESL Pro Tour, a brand already familiar to those who follow Counter-Strike.
This will combine ESL and DreamHack tournaments, as well as possibly third-party events like HomeStory Cup, into a single ranking. Each event will have EPL points on the line and at the end of the season, the top placed players will meet for a final championship at Intel Extreme Masters Katowice.
The starting prize pool for the whole of the StarCraft circuit will be $1.9 million this year, again likely supplementable through crowd-funding, as has been the case for WCS.
StarCraft II EPL events:
Feb 24 - Mar 1 IEM Katowice 2020
May 22 - 24 DreamHack SC2 Masters Dallas
Jul 2 - 4 DreamHack SC2 Masters Valencia
Sep 11 - 13 DreamHack SC2 Masters Montreal
Jan 2021 DreamHack SC2 Masters Leipzig
TBD IEM Katowice 2021
Qualifiers will replace the old WCS Challenger system, with the lower-represented regions each losing one spot to Europe.
South Korea will still have its own tournaments, although it’s unclear whether these will be under the GSL banner. This Korea-World division was originally created at a time when the country’s players won every event, in an attempt to foster international talent. With the foreign players quite capable of holding their own these days, it has become a topic of debate. ESL has stated that it will wade into that one at a later time, but is focussing on getting the new Pro Tour off the ground for now.
Warcraft’s back, tell a friend
Lastly, the deal marks the return of Warcraft III competition in the West. With the game’s remaster yet to be released (it's due on the 28th), details are still scarce. One imagines it will follow StarCraft II's setup fairly closely, however. We do already know some event dates, which are below.
WarCraft III EPL Events:
Feb 21 - 23 Anaheim
Jun 12-14 Jönköping
Oct 16-18 Rotterdam
More to come
The agreement between the parties will run for three years, with Blizzard committing $1.2 million a year to each of its titles. More details are expected at a later date, through the official ESL Pro website.
At this time, we do not know what all this means for BlizzCon. For now though, at least these esports are saved.
Image via ESL