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2018 Hearthstone Esports Season Adds Masters and Challengers Programs

The Hearthstone World Championship isn't set to take place until January, but that does mean that the 2017 esports season is rapidly coming to a close. So with another year in the books, Blizzard has taken a step back and made a couple of refinements in preparation for the upcoming 2018 Hearthstone Championship Tour.

The first thing to note is that 2018 will be divided into three seasons, one for each of the game's expansions. Season 1 will run from January through March, Season 2 will go from April through July, and Season 3 will take place from August through November. Each season will see players aiming for a point target, with the Season 1 target being 45 points. All players who hit that point total will qualify for the seasonal Playoff in their home country.

The culmination of the HCT Season will once again be the HCT World Championship, where 16 of the best Hearthstone players will compete for a share of $1 million.

Blizzard will up personnel support for the HCT Playoffs, adding staff and infrastructure to ensure some of this past season's more unpleasant issues (most notably, online connection issues) don't resurface. The trade-off is that each region will receive fewer Playoff venues. However, Blizzard hopes to make it worth the competitors' while by offering minimum $1,000 prizes for participating, a big increase from the $100 minimums of 2017. To help increase representation, Blizzard will increase the number of international tournaments, with HCT Tour Stops opening the door to pro Hearthstone players from entirely new countries to compete.

Speaking of new representation, Blizzard is opening another path to Season Playoffs and that's via the Hearthstone Challengers program. By winning a Tavern Hero Qualifier (local tounrmanets held in a Blizzard-approved Fireside Gathering) or an online Challenger Cup, players qualify for the Challenger Finals. The top eight finishers at the Challenger Finals will move on to the Seasonal Playoffs. The Hearthstone Challengers program is only open to anyone who has not qualified for the Playoffs in the previous three consecutive HCT seasons, which should open the door for some new faces.

For those who don't make it through the HCT Playoffs, the other way to get to the World Championships is by finishing the year as the Regional Points Leader. The top point earners in every region for the entire year will receive an invite to the World Championships, as well as an $8,000 bonus.

In addition to all of that, 2018 will debut the Hearthstone Masters system. Laid out across three tiers, this is meant to recognize top players based on consistently good performance. Each tier will offer tournament appearance bonuses, HCT Playoff invitations, and invitations to online Blizzard-run tournaments with cash prizes, and special merchandise. Player tiers are determined by the rolling sum of their point totals over the most recent three HCT seasons. Those players can maintain their place on those tiers by hitting a point total in the current HCT season.

Here are the benefits:

  • 3-Star Master (200 points)
    • Invite to Seasonal Playoffs
    • $2500 appearance bonus for up to three events each season
    • Invite to monthly online tournaments with cash prizes
    • End-of-year swag
  • 2-Star Master (175 points)
    • $1000 appearance bonus for one event per season
    • Invite to monthly online tournaments with cash prizes
    • End-of-year swag
  • 1-Star Master (150 points)
    • Invite to monthly online tournaments with cash prizes
    • End-of-year swag

Blizzard also hopes to attract more professional esports teams through a special team incentive. Teams can select three representatives from under their umbrella to participate in the HCT season. Cash incentives of up to $7500 per player are then offered to the teams that finish in the top 10 Pro Team Standings. Individual team members will also be rewarded for their efforts.

This is understandably a lot to take in, so be sure to visit the Hearthstone website with any further questions. The 2017 Hearthstone season wraps up on the weekend of January 18-20 with the Hearthstone World Championships in Amsterdamn.

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