Unleashing the gaming hounds; or, Blizzard’s Karazhan-style eSports chess maneuvering…

What’s more fun than tin-foil hattings about the goings-on of one of the gaming industry’s biggest hitters?

unleashthehounds

There have been quite a few interesting developments in the structuring of Blizzard’s eSports line-up lately. Developments that affect all of the company’s current and future eSports offerings.

First up was the announcement of the Heroes of the Storm Alpha (which will likely be mostly in-house testing with a limited number of community influencers before the next phases of testing open up progressively). Having tested the game at BlizzCon, I can say that it was certainly much further along than I had anticipated and viewing a few of the panels meant that we’ll likely see the title before long (or, Soon™, as we’ve come to know from Blizzard’s timeline vernacular).

Next we got wind that Blizzard was mutually parting ways with North American Star League, despite having already started the current WCS Starcraft II tournament season. Both sides remain mum on the actual reasons, while only glossing over the situation with the more simplified “We couldn’t honor our obligations and decided to go our separate ways.”

But there are a few floating pieces that seem to indicate this is more than just a failure to meet obligations.  Because really, NASL was only in charge of ONE title with an average Twitch.tv viewership of maybe 10K viewers.

On top of the Heroes of the Storm developments, there was also the fact that Hearthstone finally officially launched — this a few weeks after Blizzard announced intentions to support it as an eSport title by updating their community tournament licensing to include the CCG title. Couple that with the Alpha release of HOTS, and one can easily see what those “obligations” were that could not be met by NASL’s quaintly understaffed crew. Granted HOTS still has more development to undergo before it’s officially launched, but Hearthstone is now complete and Blizzard is itching to take on the CCG aspect of eSports by storm (no pun intended).

So what does it all mean? Well, first it means that Blizzard is playing Karazhan-style chess by strategically placing all of its eSports pieces on the board to take on the community and blow everyone away (at least one would hope). 2014 will be a big year for the company in the eSports world, I’m almost positive of that fact.

What I hope to NOT see is Blizzard trying to market solely to the MOBA-format eSports community by sniping at competitor audience numbers through typical side-by-side comparison marketing (think Apple vs. Samsung, iPad vs. Surface, cell phone companies, etc.). Just as most MMOs have tried the “next WoW killer” strategy and failed, so too would Blizzard if it decided to take on Riot’s eSport-leading MOBA title League of Legends. HOTS is not a LoL killer, nor should it be. Between what I tested at BlizzCon and the current Alpha-test walkthrough video, HOTS will definitely succeed on its own merit.

What I’m excited to see with Blizzard’s eSports offerings is to see just how successful both Hearthstone and HOTS will be, but Hearthstone in particular. Even in closed beta, Hearthstone‘s popularity seemed astronomical as evidenced by its reception at the BlizzCon Invitational. There was such an enormous showing that all signs point to Blizzard having another leading platform title, especially since the CCG market isn’t exactly bringing the numbers as far as eSports go (meaning it’s just WAITING for a superstar title).

I said it before…2014 is going to be a BIG year for Blizzard.

Pon de HOTS video and commence drooling:

INB4 check and mate.

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