Blizzard Entertainment announced its plans for Hearthstone esports in 2023 this week, most notably that it would feature only seven events (down from 12 in 2022) and a total prize pool $650K USD (down from last year’s $3M and 2021’s $2.22M). Also important to note for 2023 is that Hearthstone Esports will not have either the viewership or player participation from China this year.
The 2023 season will feature a total of seven events: three Masters Tour Seasonal Championships that lead into 2023 World Championship, and three standalone Battlegrounds: Lobby Legends tournaments. Battlegrounds: Lobby Legends will have a $50K prize pool each, while Hearthstone Masters Tour will offer no prize money—but will qualify winners for the Championship event.
Qualifying for each event will take place through regional ladders across three-month seasons using a “competitive points” system. Each Masters Tour and Lobby Legends event will invite 16 of the top ladder players based on competitive points earned through monthly standings. The top four points earners in each region will receive invites, followed by the top four overall points earners regardless of region.
News of the drastically-reduced prize pool and events that offer no prize money at all has not been well received by the community, with the general consensus among fans and professional players being that this may be the beginning of the end for Hearthstone Esports as we know it.
A broader impact on the 2023 season is Chinese players being excluded from play due to Activision Blizzard ending its distribution deal in the country with Chinese publisher NetEase. Because NetEase will no longer represent Blizzard games (Hearthstone, World of Warcraft, etc.) in the region, they cease to be operational at the end of January. Further, Chinese players won’t be able to play the game because Battle.net and Hearthstone will no longer have valid game approval by the Chinese government—and getting new game approval (even with a brand new partner) could take anywhere from six months to two years. China is an important region for Hearthstone both for participation in competitions and the staggering amount of viewership the game generates there.
More details on Hearthstone Esports for this year can be found on Blizzard’s official site.