On Feb. 21, Blizzard made a massive announcement about the future of Hearthstone esports and what is to come for the 2019 competitive season. Over the past couple of months, Blizzard has kept everyone in the dark. However, it was well worth the wait! 2019 Hearthstone esports will see the return of open qualifier tournaments, running under the banner of “Hearthstone Masters,” in addition to a new “Specialist format” for playing the game.
There will be yearly LAN events all around the world, starting out with the first one in Las Vegas June 14-16 of 2019. The first Masters event of 2019 will feature a prize pool of $250,000, on top of having the option to qualify for future Masters events. Also, this will be the first chance at becoming a “Hearthstone Grandmaster.” What the benefits of being a Hearthstone Grandmaster are have yet to be announced. However, the blog post alluded to an invitation to a possible “Hearthstone Grandmaster” exclusive tournament. Let’s get into how to qualify for these events and when you can start!
The first way to qualify for one of the Masters events will be through the online qualifiers that will be hosted on Battlefy. Approximately 30 tournaments will be hosted every week throughout the day to suit the availability of everyone who wishes to participate. Winning one of these Qualifier events will reward you with a spot in one of the three Masters Tour events throughout the year. The first Masters Tour you can qualify for is the tour in Las Vegas, of which the qualification season will run throughout March and April.
If you prefer not to participate or did not manage to qualify through one of the online tournaments, there will be another chance to secure your spot. This will be possible through the Ranked Ladder Qualifier, where the top 200 finishers on Ladder will face off against each other in an online tournament where the top 4, instead of only the winner, will earn their spot for the Masters Tour event.
Registration for the first online cups is expected to be live at 10 a.m. Pacific on Feb. 21. You can find the signup page on Battlefy, and the full qualifier schedule will be available on the PlayHearthstone website!
As mentioned in the blog post of Blizzard, you can also secure “an invitation through licensed third-party tournaments.” While there are no specifics set about which tournaments these will be, it is likely to include events such as DreamHack and possibly Tavern Hero events.
“Qualifying through the China Gold Series” is the second option. It is less important to most of you, as not many of you will be familiar with the concept of the Gold Series. The Gold Series is a massive open tournament circuit run in large cities throughout China, where people travel from all across the country. Not many westerners participate in these events, but with this new schedule, it could become a lot more common.
The final option to qualify is important for the professional players of the 2018 season. Those who managed to achieve a total of 120 Hearthstone Competitive Points in the 2018 competitive season will qualify directly for the Masters Tour events of 2019.
The specialist format is the new format Hearthstone esports will be using in 2019 starting April 25. But how does it work? It’s actually quite simple. Each player can choose one of the nine classes to build their deck and will have access to two other builds of that deck. Each extra deck may have up to five different tech cards. The “Primary deck,” likely to be an all-around build of the deck, always plays the first game of a series. The other two builds of the deck can be switched in for the other two games of the series.
Important to note is that all qualification events will use the best-of-three Specialist format. The reason for this, as Blizzard stated, is, “We have used feedback from our viewers and competitive community to make several new updates, including allowing note-taking in official competition, and more.” For a video explanation of the Specialist format, you can find it here on YouTube!
Personally, I agree with what Blizzard has stated here. As a long-term player and competitor, Hearthstone has always been difficult to follow. These changes will make things a lot simpler to follow for players new to the game. All in all, this should have a positive impact on the viewership of Hearthstone esports — which is the main goal Blizzard is trying to achieve with the steps they are taking.
I’m Arend Zijdenbos, from the Netherlands. Gamer for as long as I can remember. My current focus is further improving at esports journalism. Currently, I write for Daily Esports and PCInvasion. For more of me, find me on twitter @Azijdenbos.