It’s been six days since Activision-Blizzard made the announcement that the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship (HGC) circuit would be discontinued and developers from the title moved to other, unannounced projects.
Although “announcement” is too generous a word.
Maybe “slap-in-the-face” is more appropriate considering the disingenuous manner the message was delivered, via an unfeeling press release. The content of the statement itself felt more corporate than personable. To many, it was insulting.
The decision, which was likely made long ago by executives and hopefully delayed by passionate members of the HotS team fighting for an alternative, will leave an everlasting sour taste on the tongues of Blizzard die-hards.
In addition to long-time players, Blizzard’s business partners and the industry as a whole should take note of the company’s willingness to end a competitive scene as quickly as it started. If Blizzard can pull the plug on an esports scene with millions of dollars invested each year towards its growth in the blink of an eye, what assurance do large organizations have that their commitments will pay dividends in any Blizzard esport?
The prominent organizations within the competitive Heroes of the Storm scene that did stick around year-after-year only to have the rug pulled out from under them have no reason to return. Dignitas, Team Liquid, Method (who eviscerated Blizzard in their statement upon receiving the news), Fnatic, Gen.G Esports, Ballistix, Tempo Storm, Roll20 and Simplicity are all gone.
Some of the biggest esports organizations in the world depart knowing that Blizzard was willing to treat multi-million companies who stuck around in a struggling esports scene in the way that they, did despite a minimal investment by the company who made the game.
For years, Blizzard failed to put in the work necessary to incentivize sponsors and organizations to dive feet first into the HGC but numerous organizations stuck around anyways.
A lack of in-game store with team merchandise; a top-heavy league play structure that benefits only a select few teams; and, failure to give teams/players/sponsors an ample amount of on-screen time were all issues have all been brought to Blizzard’s attention over the years, but their feedback fell on deaf ears, according to those with knowledge of the situation.
It’s completely understandable for a company the size of Activision Blizzard to do what’s in the best financial interest of investors, shareholders, and, in general, the business. That being said, why not slowly downsize or use the HGC as a trial for their other esports such as the Overwatch League?
"Scrolling through Twitter and seeing professional player after professional player, HGC fan after fan, community member after community member, gaming industry leader after industry leader react to the announcement was one of the more difficult moments for myself in recent memory."
Blizzard has never been afraid to use Heroes of the Storm to test-run ambitious ideas, such as the Heroes of the Dorm collegiate tournament, and if the company was losing faith that the competitive scene was worth funding, why not treat the HGC as a research and development project for other competitive verticles?
The rash and finite manner in which they decided to end the competitive scene all together not only hurts the business but dismisses the feelings of the Heroes’ community who love it.
The human cost of the Heroes’ community
What makes Heroes of the Storm special is not only the contents of the game itself but the family-like community that has been built over time.
Since its inception back in 2015, the game was never able to penetrate the MOBA-market in the way that it was intended. As it failed to reach the magnitude of League of Legends or DOTA, it was considered by many to be a “dead game” by MOBA lovers and the disregarded child of Blizzard.
Those who preferred the game’s more casual elements and Blizzard universe within developed a chip on their shoulders and a level of dedication towards a title that was all but dismissed by Blizzard and the MOBA world.
That undying love for the title translated well into the esports scene. The HGC weekly League Play broadcasts would pull anywhere from 8K-25K on a given day and larger offline tournaments could see 50K or more without issue.
For a game that wasn’t supported well by Blizzard--and the small development team and budget is a good estimation of that--viewership was there. Fans turned out to events, professional players had strong social media followings, and the player base as a whole devoured competitive content.
To have that end with the snap of Blizzard’s Thanos-esque finger was inconsolable for some.
"Seeing this family at offline events over the past year-plus and the thousands upon thousands of Blizzard die-hards pack BlizzCon and international events regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or walks of life, makes you wonder how Blizzard could do this in the manner that they did."
As someone who has been involved in the Heroes of the Storm scene for close to four years and was blessed enough to attend numerous offline tournaments in 2018, the news was devastating.
Scrolling through Twitter and seeing professional player after professional player, HGC fan after fan, community member after community member, gaming industry leader after industry leader react to the announcement was one of the more difficult moments for myself in recent memory.
Although my job is to report on the Heroes of the Storm scene, one cannot help forming an emotional attachment and relationships with your subject matter. Seeing players you have worked with for a long period of time tweeting about their sudden unemployment, lack of future direction, or even what they are going to tell their families at Christmas (less than two weeks away) pushed me to tears.
To add insult to injury, Thursday night and Friday morning consisted of former professional players and those within the community turning on their Twitch streams to reminisce about their fondest memories while tears welled in their eyes.
Korean shoutcaster Daniel “Gclef” Na, former Dignitas player Kenn “Zaelia” Rasmussen, and Tempo Storm’s Kurtis “Kala” Lloyd are just a few that couldn’t hold back their emotions on stream knowing it may only be downhill for the game they have dedicated their lives to.
In the process, Blizzard has lost many lifelong fans of the company. A decision of that magnitude being made so close to the holiday season without the willingness to downsize not only impacts those who rely on the title for a job, pleasure or a way to escape from the world but also comes across as inhumane.
What’s next for the Heroes’ family?
Heroes of the Storm has always been a game with a family-feel to it in the client and in the community of those who create content and work with the title.
From educational content creators such as MFPallytime, to beloved developers such as Lana Bachynski, to professional players who we may never see compete at the highest level again, all were family and it's no longer whole without the competitive scene.
Seeing this family at offline events over the past year-plus and the thousands upon thousands of Blizzard die-hards pack BlizzCon and international events regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or walks of life, makes you wonder how Blizzard could do this in the manner that they did.
What did any of them do to deserve this? Why my family? What’s their next move?
The competitive scene was grandpa. Sure, he was a little funky and wasn’t for everyone but the family is whole with him. I want grandpa back.
Tim Rizzo is the editor and a reporter for Inven Global. He joined the company back in 2017.