New Hearthstone esports season has kicked-off last weekend with Masters Tour event. The series has changed significantly in 2021: the number of participants has grown, and the prize fund has been cut by half. As a result, the tournament showed one of the worst results in the series by viewership statistics.
How has the Masters Tour series changed in 2021?
Since last March, the competitions of the series have been held online. The way Blizzard played off that is that it renamed the ‘host cities’: instead of real cities they are now named after legendary capitals of Azeroth, and the first was the stronghold of the Alliance Ironforge.
Five more tournaments are to be held in Masters Tour 2021. The closest one is scheduled for late April to early May, with Orgrimmar as its capital. The last event of the series will take place at the end of November: the competition will be hosted by Undercity, the capital of the Undead.
The overall number of tournaments remained the same, but they all have been moved online due to the pandemic. In addition, Blizzard has cut their prize pools from $500,000 to $250,000. However, this did not frighten the players: 392 people participated in the final stage of the competition, and 48 are current Grandmasters.
The championship brought together players from all over the world, including participants from Europe, CIS, North and South America, Korea, China and Japan. Interestingly, a player from ladder placed top-5 at Masters Tour 2021 Ironforge — Floki from Belgium. And the winner is Xiaobai from KaiZi Gaming: together with two compatriots he represents the China Gold Series in the top 12 of the tournament.
Blizzard is clearly not that interested in esports
Alas, the new realities of the Hearthstone esports scene create problems for many regions. In the face of the pandemic, Blizzard is actively cutting its esports staff, including those involved in production of the events.
The first Hearthstone tournament in 2021 was covered only by official Blizzard channels. The French studio was closed, and there were no streams in Russian and Arabic languages: the similar situation occurred in World of Warcraft esports: the official streams are now limited to English.
In the CIS, the last competitive season of Hearthstone was covered by Gameplane Esports. But in the end of February the company announced that it most likely will not cover the championships in 2021: so there will be no Russian-language streams of the Masters Tour and the Grandmasters league: at least in the near future.
Overall state of Hearthstone esports has an effect on viewership statistics of esports events. Masters Tour Ironforge attracted only 11.5K spectators at peak. It is the second worst result for the series in a year: only had less viewers Masters Tour Online Asia Pacific (9.2K at peak)
Since 2020, all Hearthstone esports events have been covered exclusively on YouTube, and this also does not either benefit the viewership statistics. For comparison, the last Masters Tour event of 2019 was simultaneously watched by up to 59K people: while the competitions were on Twitch, the number of viewers was several times higher.
The Masters Tour 2021 Ironforge lacked a lot: it only had 7.5K peope as average audience. The most popular tournament of the series since the beginning of the pandemic is still Masters Tour 2020 Montreal, where an average of 13.7K people watched the streams at peak.
Is losing CIS regional coverage a big thing for HS esports?
The loss of the official Russian-language studio is about to be a huge problem not only for the region, but also for HS as an esports discipline in general. Just look at the audience statistics of the last World Cup: the Russian-speaking peak of viewers was more than 68K people, while the official English-language stream (which became the 2nd most popular) was simultaneously watched by only 15.6K spectators.
The average Hearthstone esports audience continues to fall steadily and this trend will continue if viewers are not ready to go to the English-language stream. This also applies to the Grandmasters series, the new season of which starts on April 9: and there will be no CIS players in it.
It should be noted, that the CIS excitement for Hearthstone is mainly caused by one player: SilverName. Russian streamer has claimed several times that he is no longer interested in Standard mode, which means that esports has faded into the background for him. At least until Blizzard introduces the Battlegrounds esports ecosystem.
Most popular matches and players of Masters Tour Ironforge
Hearthstone esports is heavily dependent on popular content creators, which is why the various Blizzard promotional events tend to draw more viewers than the esports tournaments.
Top 5 HS events of 2020: all of them were streamed on Twitch
Not that many prominent Western esports atheltes reached the ⅛ final of Ironforge. The Italian player Turna from Exeed Esports, Bequiet from Germany and the Belgian representative of Solary under the nickname Maverick, who reached the final.
The most popular match of the tournament was the European derby: Maverick played with Greek resident Sidi in the quarterfinals. The top 5 games also include Turna’s matches Turna vs Floki and Xiaobai.
Xiaobai's match with Japanese player okasinnsuke also caused a stir. This is the second most popular match of the tournament, which was watched by 10.7K spectators at peak.
What to expect from the Grandmasters league?
Ironforge's viewership statistics were influenced by another important factor: meta. The championship was held at the end of year of the Phoenix when all the strongest decks and archetypes have long been formed. And although the Madness at the Darkmoon Faire mini-set has added several new cards, the overall balance of power has not changed.
The start of the new Grandmasters season is scheduled for April 9th, and by this time the new expansion Forged in the Barrens will be released, the first one in the year of the Griffin. Hearthstone will continue to change: Blizzard is actively working to bring back those who played the game several years back, which is why the "Classic Mode" is coming out.
However, most of the changes have little to do with esports. But the new cards will still attract viewers to esports broadcasts: at least for a short period of time.
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