As our Heroes of the Storm correspondent Hannah Dwan noted in her assessment earlier this year, the professional side of Blizzard's MOBA has gone through a number of rough patches. As Blizzard have worked to get the game ready for the spotlight, major team organisations have started to move the other way. While this has opened the door for newcomers to make a splash on the main stage, it has raised questions about the longevity of the game.
In a new blog post, Blizzard have announced a number of major new initiatives designed to revitalise Heroes of the Storm's pro scene going into next year. A League of Legends-style online league system called the Heroes Global Championship is being adopted for North America, Europe, China and Korea, with the top eight teams in each being guaranteed a contract and payment. "You can look forward to more consistency not only in your favourite rosters" Blizzard write, "but also in the scheduling, casting, and quality of broadcasts."
There will be three international events over the course of the year that sound similar to LoL's Mid-Season Invitationals. Players from other regions—Blizzard list Taiwan, South East Asia, Latin America, and Australia/New Zealand—will have an opportunity to qualify for these competitions through local events.
There'll also be a Challenger-style promotion and regulation system for teams that don't make it into that top 8, with teams giving the opportunity to move up—or lose their spot—twice a year. Qualifiers begin in November.
This set of changes isn't notable because it's innovative—as mentioned, League works this way already—but because it's such a departure from the way Blizzard handle their other esports. This is a major investment of time and money that suggests that Blizzard still see a lot of potential in competitive Heroes of the Storm—or at the very least, that they believe the problems encountered so far stem from insufficient resources being thrown at the game rather than, say, an issue with the game itself or the community that has developed around it.
Paying players a salary is a surefire way to attract attention and create stability, as the unreliability of compensation in esports is one of the growing business' biggest recurring issues. It does, however, need to to be sensitively managed—the recent fracas in the League of Legends professional community has its roots in the close but fractious relationship between Riot and its Championship Series players. More money is certainly one solution to Heroes of the Storm's problems, but Blizzard will need to prove that they've got a knack for managing players whose interests may not always align with their own.