It's good to be the best. The premiere athlete in your school, the highest-scoring test taker in your class, or the team that raises the championship trophy overhead at the end of the season. If the rush that comes from success wasn't worth the agonizing amount of practice or resources invested to take the top spot, there'd be little incentive to go for it.
Since its launch nearly seven years ago, Blizzard Entertainment's Hearthstone has been the top dog in the digital collectible card game space and it transformed the genre that many know and love. Naturally, Activision Blizzard has benefited as well to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars the game has raked in for the company from the millions of active users ranging from young to old.
To say there are competitors in the digital card game space is like comparing the Overwatch League to that of your local college's esports club. Sure, technically there are other card games that do exist and have healthy player bases (Ex. Legends of Runeterra, Magic The Gathering: Online, etc.) however as of yet they do not take up enough of a market share to be seen as a long-term threat. Even on Hearthstone's worse day, the game's viewership on Twitch dominates that of its "competitors."
So when BlizzConline 2021 took place over the weekend, Hearthstone players were likely expecting the same old song and dance from the game's development team during the celebration: A new expansion would be revealed, maybe some never-before-seen cards and mechanics would be shown and that would be it. Not that any of those items are boring; in fact, millions of players around the world circled that date on their calendars in excitement for what was to come.
What they received, however, was much more than they could have imagined. Not only was Forged in the Barrens, the game's upcoming expansion announced but also:
- A sneak peek into some cards appearing in the upcoming Core Set
- A new categorization system for spell cards in the form of Spell Schools
- An entire story that will take place across three expansion's during the Year of the Gryphon in 2021
- A unique keyword, Frenzy
- Ranked Spells which level up as the game progresses
- A handful of cards set to appear in the upcoming expansion
- An entirely new RPG roguelike game mode set to come out "later in the year"
- Information from the development team in an extensive Q&A
- In-depth interviews with numerous gaming publications
In an entirely virtual event that lacked the in-person buzz, Hearthstone stole the show.
In an interview with TechPulse, Hearthstone's Game Director, Ben Lee, said that about 75% of the game's playerbase has been playing for more than four years. To some, that is a cause for alarm. To others, that number is astoundingly positive for the future of the title. So, knowing that, Blizzard just focused their Hearthstone BlizzConline presentation on pleasing those who are looking for new content and ways to play, right? Nope. Blizzard targeted an audience of roguelike fans who may have dabbled in other card games such as Slay the Spire or Monster Train with their new game mode, Mercenaries.
Blizzard isn't satisfied with just being in first place in the digital collectible card game universe, they want to crush their competition with more content and better content, more often with the use of their Hearthstone client that Lee called a "platform for card games."
By making the upcoming Core Set free to all players, Blizzard is looking to invite new players into their Hearthstone ecosystem while giving old players who have spent a great deal of money on the game a little break from opening their wallets. They also want to allow players, who may have dabbled in the title in the past but stopped due to the game's high cost, a chance to return.
It was the perfect strategy of a titan.
Tim Rizzo is the editor and a reporter for Inven Global. He joined the company back in 2017.