Blizzard CEO confirms Heroes of the Storm will have official pro level gaming

by Josh Bury May 8 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard PR

Blizzard has confirmed that Heroes of the Storm will have official pro-level competition around the time of the game’s launch in June.

In an email to theScore, Blizzard CEO and co-founder Mike Morhaime confirmed that Blizzard would establish a pro scene for their free-to-play multiplayer brawler.

“Our ultimate goal is to establish a pro structure for Heroes competition, but with the game in closed beta, it’s still too early to discuss what form that might ultimately take. That said, we do have plans for kicking off pro-level competition around the game’s launch, and we’re looking forward to talking more about that soon,” Morhaime confirmed.

With the game’s open beta set to begin on May 20 and the launch scheduled for June 2, it sounds like Blizzard will elaborate on their plans for their pro-level model shortly.

Currently, the major Heroes of the Storm leagues hosting competitive play are run by ESL, and Major League Gaming has held events as well. The recent collegiate-level Heroes of the Dorm tournament was run by Blizzard subsidiary TeSPA, who might look to take point on the upcoming official pro league.

It could prove interesting to see how the current pro scene handles the transition. Major gaming houses like Cloud9, compLexity and COGnitive gaming already have teams in the ESL’s Heroes North American major league. High-profile players could potentially look to make the leap to Blizzard’s official pro scene.

ESL’s final group stage games for major league season two are on May 21, after which the playoffs are set to take place. Those playoff dates aren’t yet public, but it’s possible they could run past the Heroes launch. What happens then? It’s all speculation until we know the exact format of Blizzard’s competitive scene and when qualifications, in whatever form that takes, is set to begin.

Morhaime weighs in on Heroes of the Dorm

Though Morhaime couldn’t say more about the structure of their pro-level tournament, he did take some time to weigh in on their recent foray into collegiate-level play.

“We couldn’t have hoped for a better outcome for the Heroes of the Dorm tournament. Both teams really gave it their all on the big stage in front of a huge audience, and we ended up with an epic, back-and-forth five-game series that went down to the wire and kept everyone on the edges of their seats,” Morhaime said.

The tournament broke from what many view as the standard North American eSports model: instead of broadcasting the final live on Twitch or another streaming service, the live coverage was available exclusively on ESPN2.

“It was awesome to see that our game was being watched in sports bars and households across America via ESPN2. A prime time final on ESPN allowed us to reach a new audience who might have otherwise never tuned in to an eSports event,” Morhaime said.

The result was that viewers who would never normally interact with eSports were exposed to the phenomenon. Sports personalities interacted with something that they hadn’t seen before.

Blizzard, Morhaime says, took notice.

“We were following the coverage and commentary as it was erupting on Twitter and around the Web. Several sports personalities tuned in expecting regular ESPN programming and didn’t know exactly what to expect, but thanks to the epic performance from UC Berkeley and Arizona State, they were glued to their seats. By telecasting the event on ESPN2, we were able to show an audience that might have been completely unaware of eSports how exciting these games can be,” Morhaime said.

Refining the viewing experience

Despite the exposure the tournament received in the mainstream as a result of opting to use ESPN2, some fans felt spurned by this decision and took to social media during the event to voice their concerns.

Morhaime said that the intent was not to alienate current fans and viewers, but rather to reach out to a wider audience. They worked to get the tournament on YouTube and Twitch as soon as possible, he added.

“Ultimately, we want as many people as possible to be able to watch our events live, and we’ll continue to explore ways to make that happen with future events,” Morhaime said.

Other fans voiced concerns about the presentation of the game’s user interface. The map, for example, had two settings: invisible, and “where did the action go?” There were also moments when the feed cut to a shot of the crowd right as a team fight was beginning. Despite the general quality of the evening’s presentation, these lessons are the sorts of things that Blizzard will be looking to improve upon for future events.

“It was definitely exciting, and we appreciated the awesome job that the casters did, in addition to the high-level play from all the teams involved. We also saw some UI-related opportunities with regard to TV presentation and will be keeping that in mind for the future,” Morhaime explained.

On the topic of whether Heroes or another Blizzard game would return to TV, Morhaime was quiet.

“We’re always looking for ways to bring our games to the widest possible audience, but we don’t have any television-related plans to announce at this time.”

The road to launch

It’s an exciting time to be a Heroes fan. In addition to the announcement of the official Blizzard competitive scene, we’ve got the recent announcement of the next hero, Kael’thas. As open beta and launch draw closer, we should have a clearer idea of where the game will be on June 2.

Josh Bury is a freelance journalist with a passion for Heroes of the Storm, Basketball and other nerdy activities. You can follow him on Twitter.