Blizzard Entertainment's "Heroes of the Dorm" tournament — the finals of which were televised on ESPN2 last month — was just the first step in the studio's eSports push for Heroes of the Storm, its upcoming multiplayer online battle arena game (or, as Blizzard refers to it, "online team brawler"). The college competition was a massive success in Blizzard's eyes, and the studio is going global with a larger-scale tournament for Heroes of the Storm: Road to BlizzCon, the company announced today.
"Road to BlizzCon, and this year, is focused on delivering a preliminary, out-the-gate story," said Chris Sigaty, Heroes of the Storm's executive producer, in a phone interview with Polygon yesterday. "It's not the official league; it's nothing like that. It's just the kickoff of eSports in an official capacity for Heroes."
Sigaty indicated that Heroes of the Storm has picked up a worldwide following since its initial alpha testing phase, which began in March 2014. Accordingly, Road to BlizzCon will bring in players from around the globe. International qualifiers begin later this month, just before the game's official release on June 2.
Blizzard is partnering with eSports organizations to hold regional championships across the Americas, Europe, China, Korea and Taiwan from now until November, when the tournament series will culminate in an eight-team World Championship at BlizzCon 2015 in Anaheim, California. Blizzard is offering a total prize pool worth over $1.2 million in cash and prizes, including $500,000 to be awarded at BlizzCon; the winning squad will take home $200,000.
"It was important to us that Road to BlizzCon allow those regions to participate in a meaningful way," said Sigaty. You can see the global structure below.
Blizzard started small with Heroes of the Dorm (video below), which was confined to colleges across the U.S. and Canada. Sigaty said the tournament "blew away our wildest expectations," and added that Blizzard sees the vehement debate about its presence on ESPN as a positive result. That's because the studio's overall goal with the tournament was to "hit a demographic that wouldn't normally see this."
Heroes of the Storm is seen as a less complicated game than its two main competitors, Riot Games' League of Legends and Valve's Dota 2. That fact drives much of Blizzard's eSports strategy for the game, according to Sigaty.
"There was a lot of effort that went into talking to the common man or woman that would be watching that has not yet experienced Heroes," said Sigaty, referring to Blizzard's presentation focus for Heroes of the Dorm. The idea was to raise potential players' interest level by explaining how the game works. Blizzard will maintain that strategy with Road to BlizzCon, and it seems the studio is going into Heroes of the Storm's launch with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.
"We want the Road to BlizzCon to demonstrate that it is different [from other MOBAs], it does have this depth that we've been accused of not having," Sigaty explained. "What we're trying to do is let the world know that Heroes is a highly competitive, rich game with a lot of depth to it."
Part of that plan is a continued focus on livestreaming Heroes of the Storm eSports in a way that doesn't turn off novices.
"It's not that we don't want to talk about specific strategies or get into the real depth of the game, because it's all there," Sigaty noted. "We want to make sure we also consistently talk to players who may not be familiar with [Heroes of the Storm], so it can be viewed by somebody who's not hardcore playing the game, but might be interested in doing that." That commentary style, Blizzard hopes, will ensure that Road to BlizzCon streams are entertaining and watchable even for people who aren't intimately familiar with the game.
Sigaty said Blizzard has already seen a robust eSports interest from the Heroes of the Storm community, and that broadcasting strategy should hopefully expand the game's audience. While Blizzard is focusing on Road to BlizzCon as an introductory foray into eSports for the game, it has bigger plans for next year that will likely resemble the professional gaming setups for its other games.
"We'll be talking later this year about the plans for 2016, and the sort of official leagues that we imagine having around Heroes," said Sigaty, naming the StarCraft 2 World Championship Series as a "potential inspiration." Going forward, that won't likely be the only eSports activity around Heroes of the Storm — Sigaty said the Heroes of the Dorm tournament went so well that "it's probably not a one-off" event.