Blizzard made an announcement today that might end up having a big impact on esports in general and Hearthstone (Free) more specifically. According to the announcement, Blizzard has established a new division that will build on the Company’s “competitive gaming leadership" by creating new ways to deliver the best-in-class fan experience across all games and platforms. In order to achieve that, Blizzard’s new division will be headed by former CEO of ESPN and the NFL Network, Steve Bornstein. I know many of you might say that you don’t really don’t care about esports, but Blizzard’s move might have both short-term and long-term benefits for mobile gamers and gaming, especially with Blizzard being one of the biggest developers in the world at the moment. Also, Blizzard’s focus on esports will likely increase Hearthstone‘s popularity, which in turn might help make mobile gaming more respectable to the general audience.
First of all, esports is by definition all about multiplayer games, so this move should at least bring a better multiplayer infrastructure to Blizzard games including Hearthstone. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Blizzard recently requested a patent called Compete that’s all about improving multiplayer experiences. According to the patent, Compete will enable users to “organize and promote e-sports tournaments, to create and customize tournament brackets and ladders, track tournament progress, maintain related statistics, and post results." Keep in mind that recently where Blizzard goes, many other developers follow, so any new features the company develops might be “emulated" by other major companies.
As I wrote in a Touchstone Tavern a few weeks ago, Compete could be the reason why we haven’t seen an actual Tournament mode in Hearthstone even though many gamers have repeatedly asked for it. Perhaps now that Blizzard has decided to really put the spotlight on the esports aspect of its games, we’ll get some kind of a platform what will enable us to easily set up Hearthstone tournaments. Imagine how much fun we could have if we could organize TouchArcade Hearthstone tournaments without using any third party software to customize brackets and keep track of stats.
Long-term, Blizzard’s move to bring in a guy who knows how ESPN and NFL became so popular might help make esports more fun to watch, especially for those who aren’t really familiar with the various esports games. I’ve watched my fair share of esports (and watch Hearthstone tournaments almost daily), but to be honest, I don’t always get excited watching let’s say Vainglory because I’m not that well versed in the game’s intricacies. What channels like ESPN have successfully done is taken complex sports and made them viewer-friendly. I would like to see that happen to competitive gaming too because I shouldn’t have to know everything about a game to enjoy it.
Making esports more about the viewer rather than the competitor might help broaden the appeal of competitive gaming and persuade many other developers to turn their games into esports. I really want to see a broader spectrum of experiences taken to an “esport" level because that might open up more opportunities for gamers. Remember, you don’t have to be an expert at a game to compete, you need to be an expert to actually win. So, I’m hoping Blizzard’s new division manages to make esports much more accessible to the general public (and the casual gamer) and broadens both what the word means to people and the experiences it can provide. And that Hearthstone Tournament system wouldn’t hurt one bit.