Hearthstone Esports 2023 in trouble after massive cutbacks

Hearthstone is one of the top esports and one of the most popular gaming card games, but it seems the title just can’t quite support the level of events that it used to. Hearthstone esports funds and offerings are being massively cut down in 2023. There has been significant reductions in the scope and scale of competitive play.

Reduction in scope of esports is now a standard for Blizzard, as they aim to murder yet another esports scene.

HS Esports 2023

Hearthstone esports gets slashed in 2023

Hearthstone esports are being cut massively this year. The game’s premier circuit is going to have just three events for Masters. These will be online only, they’ll feature no prize pool at all, and there will only be 16 players in attendance for each.

In the tenth year of competitive Hearthstone, we have three Masters events, and a Final. The Masters events will serve as qualifiers for the Final, an an eight-player Hearthstone World Championship. Getting rid of prize pools for the bulk of events is a brash move. Battlegrounds: Lobby Legends will have a $50,000 prize pool while the total prize pool for the HS World Championship will be $500,000(USD).

That’s it.

In a blog explaining the changes, Hearthstone devs said:

“Last fall, we began thinking about setting hearthstone esports up for sustainability as it turns a decade old, balancing the realities of an ever-changing production landscape, sizing the program according to its audience, and finding the most direct path forward for payers to compete.”

Some of this might point some way towards an explanation for the cutback, specifically “sizing the program according to its audience.” The blog post does address these possible answers specifically though. An FAQ section claims that the cutback isn’t because “Hearth is declining/failing, ’ because of low viewership”, or that “HS esports is being cancelled in 2024”.

They’ve gone to lengths to reassure fans that the cutbacks and changes aren’t due to any of these things. Nor apparently due to the fallout of Blizzard’s deal with NetEase expiring, despite Chinese players and tournaments being effectively kept out of Hearthstone 2023 esports. This alone may keep some of the best Hearthstone players out of Hearthstone esports 2023.

Is this the start of the end of Hearthstone Esports?

Some players have called the cutback “putting Hearthstone 2023 esports into maintenance mode. Others have been a bit harsher.

The scale of the cutbacks is definitely unwelcome news for everyone that dedicated themselves to playing the game professionally. It’s going to be hard for players or orgs to realistically continue to spend resources on a game that offers such little support and incentive from prize pools.

Similar moves and sentiment was touted when Heroes of the Storm got cancelled. We ended up with a scene that fought tooth and nail to keep HoTs alive, but ultimate it was all for nought. Hearthstone may end up on the same trajectory.

Is Hearthstone in Decline?

Hearthstone esports viewership has been in decline. Last year’s World Championship was the worst performance to date. Its peak viewership was 21,786 viewers, and its average was just 13,044. The downtrend year-n-year is pretty clear to see. In 2019, Hearthstone had 276,206 peak viewers for the World Championship, 89,246 in 2020, and 23,409 in 2021. Average viewership has been on a similar straight-down trajectory.

A lot of people pin the blame for declining numbers specifically on the switch over to YouTube. However, Hearthstone will be returning to Twitch this year. There isn’t much reason to think the numbers will increase with this switch though, especially with such sweeping cutbacks to Hearthstone esports in 2023. Unless something changes, we might be seeing a wind-down of what was once a pillar of Blizzard’s esports.

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