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Esports Hearthstone

How long can Hearthstone maintain its streamer economy?


With the HCT finals booted from BlizzCon and an Inn-vitational taking its place, it’s probably a good time to take a look at the ever-growing disparity between the competitive and streaming communities of the game. Spoilers: the former barely exists.

The best of the best…

We’ve crowned three world champion so far in the history of Hearthstone. One of them has faded into relative obscurity, while the other two have gone into streaming. For all the emphasis Team 5 is putting on the grassroots scene, the actual competitive experience is obscenely top-heavy: it’s essentially “HCT or bust”.

According to calculations from February this year, the top three competitive earners owe around a staggering 78 percent of their combined earnings from just world championship events, and basically all in the top ten are on the list because of their HCT-based accomplishments. It is essentially impossible to do well enough in other, smaller events with their limited prize pools to sustain yourself as a professional player.

It is quite unfortunate that multiple players in the scene agree that this isn’t sustainable, especially with the edges being so low that even former world champions are mathematically unlikely to qualify for next year’s event. According to a well-publicized piece of analysis, only a third of the participants in a preliminary actually break even.


In fact, the career paths of the three HCT winners we’ve had so far are quite indicative of the fate that awaits serious competitors in the scene. They either transition into streaming, casting or some other job in the scene at least partially, or completely disappear like Ostkaka did. As for Firebat, he tweeted soon after Pavel’s win in 2016 that he will be back next year at HCT. He has made it – but only as a caster. As for the Russian, he’s a lot more active on Twitch now that he missed out on an HCT return by a single series. It’s as if like he also knew which way the wind blows…

…and then all the rest

The single-player nature of the game also compounds the issue as it makes less sense for an organization to maintain a team, while it is also less beneficial to be on one than it would obviously be in the case of a game like CS:GO. Yes, it gets you great practice partners, access and a support network, but essentially every organization expects some sort of content creation in return for their assistance as the sole contribution of competing and doing well simply isn’t enough.

As such, all roads lead to Rome, I mean Twitch: as time goes on, basically every member of the scene turns into a streamer, either to fulfill brand obligations or to get some actual reliable income. Needless to say, the time and effort put into maintaining a broadcast has to come off of gameplay and tournament preparation, denting the edge of these players. This isn’t a new phenomenon: while it is true that the early days of Hearthstone’s competitive scene were dominated by invitationals, players like Amaz posted great tournament results even at events like Dreamhack while Trump has successfully qualified for the preliminary continental HCT tournament last year. These players, like so many others that are relying on their stream to sustain themselves financially, decided to essentially ditch their competitive aspirations.

Team 5’s laissez-faire attitude is also unlikely to help things: if the incredibly bloated events and the failed attempt to kickstart a financially viable grassroots scene weren’t bad enough, they themselves seem to be putting a higher and higher emphasis on the celebrity scene with events like Oktoberbrawl and the Inn-vitational at this year’s BlizzCon. This doesn’t even take the lack of dedicated features (pause on disconnect, proper spectator mode, et cetera) into account…

Almost all serious competitors eventually come to the conclusion that content creation is a better way to go than to play at the best of your abilities. This isn’t going to be a sustainable environment in the long run.

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