Just the other week an email arrived in my inbox, eager to tell me about the latest indie title trying to position itself as an eSport. Unfortunately for the sender, you can’t simply decide that your game is an eSport – sure you can design it with that in mind, but without a diehard community, incredible game balance and gameplay that is fascinating to watch it isn’t going to succeed, let alone challenge the likes of DotA, League of Legends and Counter Strike. However, this year one game, with all of these qualities, has ascended the eSports ranks to comfortably become one of the top 5, and that game is Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
What started out as a side project from a small group of Blizzard staff has grown into easily the best collectable card game available. Set within the Warcraft universe, Hearthstone sees players collect cards in order to build a deck for one of the 9 classes and take on other players in battle.
Sure you could argue that Hearthstone is the same as every other CCG, just with a sprinkling of Warcraft lore and Blizzard polish, but it really is more than that. Everything is incredibly well balanced, meaning skill and strategy is much more important than having a strong deck. Doing anything within Hearthstone is so easy, even creating a deck or viewing your impressive collection of cards. There is even cross platform play between PC and mobile, and tapping on the structures in the corner of the board will set off some small animation that has no purpose other than to look cool. Even having built-in chat options is a brilliant design choice, as it removes the opportunity to be a dick.
Once you get into a match against an opponent, who is usually of an equal skill level thanks to the brilliant matchmaking, the battles are tense and exciting. One turn you can almost be assured victory, but the next your opponent has unleashed a wombo combo to leave you dwindling on a couple of health points and no cards that are capable of turning the tide of battle.
It’s a combination of all these elements that have not only made Hearthstone incredibly pleasing to play but also to watch. The ideas that we could only dream of but which the pros pull out almost every game are awe-inspiring; the close games with thousands of dollars on the line are nerve-wracking enough for us watching let along those playing and the slower pace compared to other eSports allows the casters to really explain everything, making it easy for new players to pick up what’s happening.
Herthstone really is the perfect eSport game, and that has been shown in its rapid growth. At the beginning of the year barely any tournament would break the $10,000 mark, but just a few months on we had the Blizzcon World Championships that offered up a prize pool of $250,000, and tournaments of $25,000 prize pools or more are now fairly regular. A growth that big hasn’t really been seen before in modern eSports, and what’s even more exciting is that the growth shows no sign of slowing down.
But Hearthstone is not just an eSport, it’s also a fantastic game that anyone can pick up and play but never spend a penny on. It’s a game that you can spend hours in front of your PC playing or one that you can jump on with the iPad during an ad break. You can spend months learning how each card interacts with every other card in the game or you can play it once a month and still be competitive. Most importantly, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is both great fun to watch and to play, and it isn’t going away any time soon.
How did we decide our top 10 games of the year? Come back on Christmas Eve for our four hour podcast-extravaganza, featuring this, and multiple other categories.