Can we now say the competitive Hearthstone scene is in crisis? If not, it must be close to it. Earlier today Na'Vi announced that it has parted ways with its entire Hearthstone roster, which comprised current world champion Sebastian "Ostkaka" Engwall, recent Insomnia Truesilver Championship III finalist Sebastian "Xixo" Bentert, Jung Soo "Surrender" Kim, and Frederik "Hoej" Nielsen. The players will remain with Na'Vi until the end of September, during which time they will be assisted with finding new teams. “Our main task is to help them find good and stable organizations," said esports director Eugene "HarisPilton" Zolotarev.
No reason was cited for why the team has been dropped, though the statement notes: “The decision was really hard, as nobody wants to part with the world's best squad, however, sometimes you need to sacrifice the best to keep moving.” There’s also no sense that Na'Vi intends to replace the departing players with new ones, though I’ve asked for confirmation on this point. If that is the case, the implication would seem to be that the organisation sees no future in Hearthstone as a competitive game. If so, that should be worrying for fans, as until today Na'Vi had looked like the model of a successful Hearthstone organisation, rivaled only by G2 Esports in terms of talent.
Na'Vi was a relative late-comer to Hearthstone, only forming a team this time last year. Speculating as to why the organisation has now decided to end what appeared to be a successful experiment, it's worth noting that none of the Na'Vi players has a particularly strong reputation for streaming. I suspect it’s now the case that anyone seeking to make a career from the game, however talented, has to be able to deliver a regular and sizeable audience on Twitch in order to command a serious salary. Just placing high in tournaments isn’t enough, particularly given how tough it is to be consistent at Hearthstone, given the game’s baked-in RNG.
Adding to the sense that the game is struggling competitively, we also learned today that Jason “Amaz” Chen has left Team Archon, the organisation he co-founded, to join NRG eSports, which includes Shaquille O'Neal among its investors. As a result, the only remaining Archon player, 15 year-old phenom William “Amnesiac” Barton, will now become a free agent. The end of Archon comes as less of a shock, given that the organisation has been gravitating away from competitive play for some time, as indicated by the departures of Purple, Zalae, Orange and the former world champion Firebat.
Despite the predictability of Archon’s demise, the fact we now won’t see a second Archon Team League tournament is another blow to the Hearthstone as an esport. With its $250,000 prize pool and concurrent viewers peaking over 120k on Twitch, ATLC can lay strong claim to being the most successful Hearthstone event to date. That there’s now no sign of anything similar on the horizon, and continued question marks over the game’s competitive viability percolating within the community, ought to be of concern to Blizzard’s esports department. And that’s before we even get into talking about Yogg.
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With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.