It's been a few short weeks since BlizzCon where Na'vi's Ostaka became this year's Hearthstone world champ, but Blizzard is already talking about what's going to change for next year. Short answer: quite a lot. While BlizzCon will still play host to the 2016 world championship finals, and feature 16 qualifying players from four regions around the world, how those players get there—and what they can earn if they do—is going to change substantially.
Previously, players had to earn points by placing well in tournaments and/or the game's ranked ladder, which would then seed them into a regional qualifier. The top four players out of the qualifier then became their region's representatives at BlizzCon. In 2016, the new route to BlizzCon will be the "Championship Tour" format, which removes the single regional tournament entirely. Instead, the year will be broken into Winter, Spring, and Summer seasons, each with their own championship tournaments. The winners of those three tournaments will represent their region at the BlizzCon finals, along with a fourth player who has qualified through a "Last Call" tournament in the off season.
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While the point system still plays a major role in the seeding and qualification for these seasonal tournaments, it has been significantly rebalanced—with the top placing players at events earning fewer points, but lower placing players earning more, along with a similar rebalance for ladder points. Practically, this means placing first on the ladder will get you 15 points as opposed to last year's 100, while placing in the top 51 to 100 players will get you 5 points. This is a significant change for competitive players hoping to make it to the finals.
A common criticism of the 2015 point distribution was that the top of the ranked ladder is a very volatile environment, and players could easily lose their placing at the last minute. It also discouraged queuing late in the month. The points change doesn't solve that problem entirely, but it does mean that just getting into the top 100 has a significant impact, and there isn't a disproportionately large benefit to finishing in the top 10.
The most interesting change, though, is that Blizzard is no longer limiting official tournaments to the Conquest format, in which an opponent needs to win with all three of their decks. Tournament organizers will be able to choose between four different formats, including the 2014 championship's Last Hero Standing and a modified Conquest format where each player brings four decks and their opponent bans one of them. Many pro players have been calling for the addition of bans to the competitive scene for some time, and it would seem Blizzard has heard them—even announcing that the Winter Season Championship in February and March will be using the Conquest-ban format.
The format changes come alongside a serious hike in the stakes, as the World Championship prize pool for 2016 has been raised to a cool $1 million, including $100,000 prize pools for each of the nine Season Championships in the Americas, Europe, and Asia—that's four times the amount that was up for grabs last year,
Not all the changes will be immediately apparent to those watching online, but they clearly incorporate a huge amount of feedback given over the course of this competitive year, and seems like a step in the right direction in terms of refining Hearthstone's competitive scene. You can see all the changes being made to Hearthstone's 2016 competitive season on their official site. Maybe now's the time for you to go for it? I hear aggro Shaman is good right now...
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