This year's Hearthstone Championship Tour is on the verge of wrapping up, with the group stages underway right now, before next week's grand finals at BlizzCon where a new world champion will be crowned. Blizzard is already looking beyond that though, to the 2017 competitive season. And big changes are on the way, streamlining the yearlong format and tying it more closely to the release of new card sets.
The biggest single change is merging the regional Seasonal Championships into global events, which Blizzard says will give fans "more global clashes throughout the year." Each global Seasonal Championships will be held in a different region, in venues that will allow for in-person attendance. Four representatives from each region—Americans, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and China—will attend each Seasonal Championship, selected by Swiss Tournament-format regional Season Playoffs.
Blizzard added that this format, which will continue to incorporate local Tavern Heroes, will be "more competitive to qualify for," and offer a deeper prize pool that will enable rewards for a greater number of participants. It's also like to go down well with most pros, who are pretty vocal about preferring Swiss because it means a single loss doesn't have quite such a brutal effect on their chances of progression.
The timing of the HCT is changing as well. "We’d like to keep the tournament meta fresh and exciting, and we will work toward aligning the HCT tournaments with our Standard Year and its associated content releases. What this means for next year is that each of the global Season Championships will take place during its own content cycle," Blizzard explained. "This also means that the next World Championship will take place at the end the upcoming Standard year in early 2018." Note that this means the next HCT final won't be at BlizzCon, though we understand there will still be a competitive Hearthstone event as part of the schedule.
Merging the existing regional championships into single global entities definitely feels like the right decision. It will mean a less diluted pool of talent, plus events should feel unique and flavorful, particularly as they'll be synced to the injection of creativity that comes with a new card set. Again, pros have long complained that balance changes and new releases were timed with no consideration for the competitive scene, so this should be well received too.
Points earned from tournament and Ranked Play are also being adjusted to allow for a more even distribution among a greater number of players, and the prize pool for 2017 is going up to over $2 million, more than double that of the previous year. That includes a $1 million prize pool for the World Championships—the same as the total prize pool for the 2016 finals—plus $250,000 prize pools for each Seasonal Championship, and "at least" $20,000 in prizes for each Season Playoff.
Blizzard is also launching a couple of entirely new programs for 2017: The Hearthstone Global Games, which will see the top Competitive Point scorer from each country and three fan-voted compatriots doing battle in a weekly global league, and the Hearthstone Inn-vitationals, an exhibition showcase of "a variety of fun Hearthstone formats," featuring streamers, tournament winners, and celebrities.
Before all that, though, the 2016 Hearthstone World Championship finals await at BlizzCon, which is running on November 4-5. The full schedule of BlizzCon events is available here. Don't forget to pick your potential winner and you could snag yourself some free packs.