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Hearthstone gets serious about esports in 2016 with nearly $2 million in prizes

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Though many of its most vocal fans still debate over whether or not it can actually be a legitimate esport, Hearthstone had a great 2015 full of competition, ending in a fun World Championship series at BlizzCon. The competition was fierce, especially considering that the prize pool totaled a mere $250,000. Next year, Blizzard will be quadrupling that prize pool as it focuses on making Hearthstone a bigger esport.

Today Blizzard announced its ambitious plans for Hearthstone esports in 2016, including a $1 million prize pool for the World Championship. As part of increasing the competitive profile of the game and keeping fans engaged, Blizzard will be splitting the Hearthstone calendar into four seasons: the Winter Season from December to February, the Spring Season from March to May, the Summer Season from June to July, and the World Championship, which will run through the finals at BlizzCon in November.

Here's a nice visual layout of the calendar as provided by Blizzard:

Hearthstone Championship Tour timeline

So what does splitting things up into seasons actually mean? Here's how it will work.

At the end of the Winter, Spring and Summer seasons, there will be a Championship tournament in each of three territories — Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific. The winners of each Season tournament in each territory will automatically advance to the first round of the Hearthstone World Championship at the end of the year.

A fourth player from each region will make their way to the World Championship by winning a Last Call Invitational tournament to be held in October, just before BlizzCon.

That gives us 12 players for the World Championship. A final four will also come from China, which is considered the game's fourth territory. However, it appears as though China will have its own method for determining who makes the cut, which Blizzard has yet to reveal.

Here's another handy visual for all that information:

Hearthstone World Championship roadmap

This is an infinitely more structured system than 2015's and should provide for more consistent competitive Hearthstone viewing, as well as the emergence of some interesting stories throughout the year. Blizzard notes one major notable change to how it will run tournaments: Players can still be invited, but they will not be able to receive byes from early rounds. All players will begin in the same opening round, leading (hopefully) to a more even playing field for everyone.

In addition to the $1 million World Championship prize pool, Blizzard says it will provide a $100,000 prize pool for each of the Season Championships in each territory — so basically almost another full million in cash pumped into the Hearthstone scene.

If all of this has you interested in checking out some Hearthstone esports, the first major point-granting event for the 2016 Winter Season takes place this weekend. The Dreamhack Winter esports event will be taking place in Sweden from this Thursday, Nov. 26, through Sunday, Nov. 29. In addition to the Dreamhack Hearthstone Grand Prix, the event will host tournaments for Counter-Strike: Global OffensiveStarCraft 2: Legacy of the VoidDota 2Super Smash Bros. MeleeUltra Street Fighter 4Heroes of the Storm and League of Legends.

You can check out the schedule and get more information on the Dreamhack Winter website. If you'd like to try to get into the Hearthstone esports scene for yourself, you can begin earning points toward the Winter Season Championship by playing ranked mode beginning in December.