The pro Hearthstone scene will undergo some significant changes in 2019, beginning with the introduction of a new competitive program called Hearthstone Masters. Roughly 30 tournaments will be held during each week of a Masters Tour qualifying season, and and they'll be open to all eligible players, meaning that anyone who wants to can take a shot at the bigs.
"Top-performing competitors" at Masters Qualifiers tournaments will earn free Hearthstone card packs, but the real reward is an invite to a Masters Tour event, which will go to the winner of each qualifying tournament. The top 200 finishers in the Standard Ranked Play Ladder during a Masters Qualifier season will also have an opportunity to take part through a Ranked Ladder Qualifier, which will award a Masters Tour spot to the top four finishers.
Players can also qualify for a Masters Tour slot through "licensed third-party tournaments," a top finish at a previous Masters Tour event, in the China Gold Series, or by finishing the Year of the Raven with at least 120 Hearthstone Competitive points.
The first Masters Tour event will take place June 14-16 in Las Vegas, with a minimum $250,000 prize pool. It could end up being much larger, however, as Blizzard is taking a cue from The International by offering a limited "esports bundle" for sale in the Hearthstone shop. A portion of all sales (which will begin later this year) will be split across three Hearthstone Masters Tour events planned for 2019: First Vegas, then unannounced locations in Asia and Europe.
Also on the way is an even higher-level competitive tier called Hearthstone Grandmasters. Details haven't been revealed but Blizzard said that "consistent top finishes at Masters Tour events" will be one way to get in.
Perhaps most interestingly for those of us who'd rather watch than compete, Blizzard also announced that the Conquest format will be replaced, following the 2019 Hearthstone World Championship, with a new format called Specialist. Instead of bringing five decks of different classes to the table, competitors in the Specialist format—as befits the name—will use three decks from the same class, designating as primary, secondary, and tertiary build. These must only vary from the primary deck by five cards, effectively introducing 'sideboarding', the card game concept by which players introduce specific tech cards to counter their opponent's strategy.
To be honest, I’m not totally sure how good this format will be, since I’ve never really played it seriously. I’m not sure what the right number of decks/cards you can change is, but I really like the idea in principle, and I feel like it’s a solid direction.February 21, 2019
Blizzard said the change represents "a major departure" from most competitive formats—you can find out more about how the new system will work in the video down below. From what we've seen so far the pros seem excited about the change—in part on the basis that any change is exciting at this point. Hopefully Blizzard's testing hasn't shown any danger that one class will run rampant, leading to endless mirror matches. Let us know if you'll be creating a tournament lineup in the comments below.