Have you ever wondered how Hearthstone’s professional card-slingers find their way to fame and glory? The shifting sands of the game’s esport scene can be a bit tough to follow considering the many changes Blizzard makes to the system every year – which is why we’ve put together this handy primer for the two biggest official events of 2018. How does the hearthstone tournament scene work?
The Grand Tournament
While Hearthstone’s competitive origins are grassroots in nature, most of the game’s tournament scene has taken place under the Hearthstone Championship Tour – HCT – umbrella from 2015 onwards, with it being the official series of events that eventually lead up to the crowning of a world champion.
Qualification involves the collection of Competitive Points which you can earn by accomplishing a multitude of feats. The most common method is finishing in a high position during the monthly online seasons (while you get points for any Legend finish, you realistically at least a top 500 position at the end of the month) and by performing well at Tour Stops. These are offline international tournaments that reward the top finishers with cash prizes and points and are regularly held all around the world. To provide some context: finishing on the very top of the ladder nets you 16 points, a top 25 spot brings in 15 and top 50 is worth 12 – meanwhile, winning a tour stop gets you 15, a runner-up spot 12, a semi-final finish is 10; the steady stream of CPs runs out after the 32nd place where you still get 4 for your troubles.
These are very different from your ladder experience: instead of a series of one-off games against a random opponent, players are tasked with constructing a four-deck lineup (only featuring a class once) which they will then use in a best-of-five series where both participants get a ban. Currently, the Conquest format is the law of the land in the tournament scene – once you win with a deck, it’s locked for the rest of the series, requiring you to win once with every non-banned deck you’ve got. This means that most successful strategies try to target a popular deck to some extent by bringing an array of archetypes that have a high-percentage winrate against what they expect to be widely brought to the tournament. Getting this decision right is just as pivotal before the competition even begins as being on top of your game at the event.
Every season, the race is on – there are three seasonal cycles in the Hearthstone Championship Tour, and earning enough points throughout one of them gets you invited to the Seasonal Playoffs, a major offline event featuring everyone who reached the pre-announced point threshold and those who made it through the Challenger Series, a separate set of events meant for players with no recent HCT accomplishments that were established as an additional avenue for those who are just getting into the Hearthstone tournament scene. These events feature a very similar tournament structure to the Tour Stops: the initial field is whittled down by a set number of Swiss rounds, after which the top eight players progress to a double-elimination playoff bracket (nominally with two groups of four players) where they can alter their deck submissions.
Every region (Europe, Americas, APAC, China) has a separate playoff from which the top four finishers qualify for the Seasonal Championship. This event only features the double-elimination playoff bracket. From here, the top four qualify for the World Championship. The three seasonal championships get you twelve players – the sixteen-strong field is rounded out by the highest point earner from each region who didn’t otherwise qualify.
Don’t worry: it’s a lot less complicated than it sounds. We promise.
A global network
There’s also the Hearthstone Global Games – a very different beast, much akin to the Overwatch World Cup. It features a team of four players per nation – one being the highest Competitive Point earner of the country and three other players voted in by the community – and a unique format.
The teams are asked to prepare nine different decks, one for each class. This selection is eventually reduced down to three as both sides secretly ban one of the opponent’s classes. These bans get revealed once they’re locked in, after which the teams are asked to pick two of their own classes to play. This process is repeated until there are only five decks left.
This one, on the other hand, is just as complicated as it sounds. Even though each deck is piloted by an individual player, the team is in constant communication throughout the match, making this a team effort instead of a series of 1v1 matches.
The tournament consists of three rounds: the round of 48 is in progress at the time of writing. It is an online Swiss portion where the initial field is whittled down to 16 after a series of matches. They proceed to the second round and are then distributed into 4 groups of 4 teams. The top two teams advance from each group to the offline playoffs featuring a single-elimination bracket. Until recently, the Hearthstone Championship Tour’s grand finale took place at BlizzCon – last year, it was turned into its own unique event. Now it’s the Global Games’ exciting conclusion that you’ll get to enjoy at the conference on November 2nd and 3rd.
This covers everything you need to know about the two largest Blizzard-sanctioned events in the Hearthstone tournament scene – but there are still a few exciting third-party tournaments left even to this date. We’ll give you a primer on those – and their exciting history – in another article.