Heroes of the Storm is halfway through Phase 2 of its 2018 season. The halfway mark has paved the way for this weekend's HGC Western Clash, an event that takes the top four teams in the North American standings and the top four teams in the European standings and pits them in an eight-team tournament for a $100,000 prize pool. The action has been fierce throughout the weekend, giving viewers an idea of what to expect over the course of the remainder of the regular season and from the Global Finals at BlizzCon.
The Heroes Global Championship series has been on the rise over the past couple of years, featuring stalwarts like Team Dignitas and Tempo Storm firmly in place, along with newew faces like HeroesHearth and Team Octalysis. To get an idea of where the Heroes esports scene is headed, Shacknews sat down with HGC Product Lead John Teymoorian to discuss the streams' improved presentation, the return of HGC Cheer, Twitch drops, and more.
Shacknews: What is the current state of the Heroes of the Storm esports scene? How would you say things have progressed over the course of Phases 1 and 2?
John Teymoorian, HGC Product Lead: I would say esports is doing really well. Our hours watched over the years is up by 20 percent, compared to last year. I think a lot of that comes down to some of the changes that we made in 2018. We saw a lot of opportunity to better serve our non-English speaking viewers and we created a bunch of owned and operated channels to provide better quality content in a language that better suits them. So we created the BlizzHeroesRU, BlizzHeroesDE, and BlizzHeroesFR channels. So we're seeing a lot of viewership growth through those channels, as well as our main HGC channel.
We launched a couple of initiatives for the community. We brought back Cheer for 2018 and we saw a lot of opportunity to improve upon that, so we changed the structure of the program to be in three stages. We noticed that people were getting a bit fatigued from Cheering, based on last year's program. So we added some more compelling rewards, rewards that are relevant to what's going on in the HGC. Overall, it's being received really well. As an example, we have two tiers of rewards for each Stage. The first tier was a mount, the second tier was an amount that was tied to the winner of the Mid-Season Brawl. Then we just released Stage 2 and that's going to have a banner and a spray tied to the winner of Western Clash and Eastern Clash. We're pretty happy with those results.
The Twitch Drops program was another huge thing. We're rewarding viewers for watching Heroes streams. They can get rewards, guaranteed, based on the number of hours they watch. They can get a loot box and an avatar image they can put on their profile. We had one for Horde and Alliance, themed around Altarac Pass dropping at the same time.
Overall, it's been really healthy. Viewership is up across the board, the game is doing well. All of that together is overall improved.
Shacknews: You're talking about growing that international audience. How important is it to grow the game's audience worldwide?
Teymoorian: For us, when we initially started looking at this, we were looking at our viewership to get a better understanding of where people are watching from. We saw with Russia, France, and Germany, there are some countries that have a much, much higher viewership than the rest of the territories. So we started thinking "How do we make things better for them?" So we got some feedback from our community and we made this change to see how it would perform. Thankfully, the results are that it's positive and people are responding well to it.
At the end of the day, we're just trying to create really exciting experiences. We're trying to present Heroes play at the highest possible light and do justice to the game. Anything that we can do to provide a better experience for where our viewers are coming from is important to us.
Shacknews: HGC Cheer is back! How have you worked with Twitch to make improvements to the program?
Teymoorian: We looked at the performance of Cheer and we read feedback on Reddit and other locations. We talked to the pros, got their feedback, got their experience with the program. And then we worked with Twitch and went through ideas, brainstormed, designed our own things, passed it back to them. It's a very collaborative process and it's been pretty positive thus far. We delayed the release intentionally, so that we could get all of these features that we wanted to include, show them what we've learned and make improvements to the program. We think the wait was worth it and so we're looking already into what that could mean for 2019. We're still gathering data, awaiting to see how everything plays out closer to the end of Stage 3 and then we'll go through the iterative process again.
It's a lot like developing software or games. You have an idea in your head of what you want to do, you try it out, you get feedback, and you iterate on it.
Shacknews: Can you offer a hint as to what HGC Cheer rewards are coming down the pipe?
Teymoorian: I wish I could. (laughs) They'll be out soon enough. This Stage goes through the Clashes and we'll have an update shortly.
Shacknews: The Blizzard Arena is still relatively new. It's a little over a year old now. How have you managed to improve the presentation at the Blizzard Arena over the past year?
Teymoorian: This is our second event here. One of the big things is having an audience for the first time for an HGC event. Last time we used this was, I think last October for HGC Finals. We're not involved in regular day-to-day at the Arena. We're just looking at it from the perspective of "How can we make a great experience for our HGC pros, our audiences online, and our attendees here?"
Things that we did were, for the first time, we're selling HGC merchandise and it's merchandise that we had only ever given out to the pros. We're selling it for the first time, so that our fans can come and get some swag to represent their love for the HGC. We're also selling some of the teams' merch here for the first time, something we're trying out. We're trying to create an opportunity for fans to rep the teams that they're here to see and share and meet new people.
We worked on a couple of the set pieces to improve the overall experience for the on-site audience and we've made some broadcast improvements.
Shacknews: Can you go into detail on some of those broadcast improvements?
Teymoorian: For example, we have some P.O.V. camera shots now, which we don't normally have during league play. Also, we have some new animations specific to victory.
Shacknews: The Global Finals at BlizzCon is such an amazing event. How do you hope to improve this year from last year?
Teymoorian: We've announced the format changes, but they're all based on community feedback. Mid-Season Brawl is our community's favorite event and it's because of the format, primarily. We have a long group of stage, with two groups of six competing in a round robin. We do about 60 games in a week. It's a lot. (laughs) It's like a phoenix bracket, a hybrid double elimination bracket.
We're bringing the round robin group stage from Mid-Season Brawl to HGC Finals for BlizzCon Opening Week. That's one of our biggest improvements. This is all coming back to what the players are asking for, what the pros are asking for, and what the community is asking for. What it creates is a lot of opportunities for teams and for us to see a lot of matches between different teams. Instead of it being a simple bracket where a team might be eliminated in two games, everybody gets to play everybody at least once. And from there, they go into a bracket.
It creates for a more exciting setup formula and there's a lot more data for the audience to pull from. They see a lot of different comps and teams reacting to different situations.
Shacknews: MOBA esports has been a crowded field for years. In what ways has Heroes of the Storm worked to stand out from other games in the genre?
Teymoorian: I think Heroes has always had its own identity. It's very fast-paced, the games are much faster. There's a lot of variety in the environments. In the HGC we run nine maps, but there's more than ten in total. They all have their own unique experience, they all have different objectives, they all require a different play style, they require coordination. Overall, the game is really simple to get into. You can play directly versus AI to get started, but as you look to improve and get into ranked modes and unranked modes, you start to see that the amount of depth that there is to the macro play in the game. Because most of the matches are focused on objective play, since in a lot of those cases those objectives will attack the Core for you. It creates this decision-making tree conundrum that you have to work through with your team and you have the added variables of the opposing team and what they're doing.
The game takes a while to master, especially if you look at Sky Temple, for example, where the win condition in that map is constantly changing. It's one of the most complex maps from a macro level to really wrap your head around. It's super exciting. You have maps like Towers of Doom, where the only way to damage the Core is to capture the objectives or destroy the forts. That map is always exciting to watch in the HGC, if you watch the Mid-Season Brawl Grand Finals, it's a perfect example of how complex and fun and exciting the game could be.
Shacknews: Last question from me, what key element of Heroes esports are you looking to improve over the next year?
Teymoorian: The first year was all about setting up a foundation, creating the ground work, because we were moving from a bunch of global programs that were all posted across different channels. There's just a lot of different things going on, so there wasn't a single place to get information on who was the best. The first year was about creating the league, setting the foundation, creating the HGC website, the one stop shop for everything on what's going on in Heroes esports.
This year was about ensuring infrastructure for the long-term for our players and bringing in sponsors. I think people are starting to understand more about the relationship between sponsors and esports and how it helps to grow esports. So we set up team ownership and slot ownership. We've gotten sponsors to come in. Recently, we had Granite Gaming and Endemic to sponsor two of our unsponsored teams. We're getting pretty close to all of our teams in NA and EU being sponsored.
From here, it's to further develop that infrastructure to create new revenue channels for our players, our teams, and for the organizations to feel good about their investment and let them know that getting involved in the HGC is the right thing to do for them and it's going to help make them successful. It's going to make the players successful and ensure they're well taken care of.
I think looking at that and continuing to grow the Open division, with growing participation there, is going to be a big thing. Because that feeds into our pro scene.
The HGC Western Clash concludes today from the Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA. Catch the final games on the Heroes of the Storm Twitch channel.
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Heroes of the Storm's John Teymoorian on HGC Esports, Twitch drops, BlizzCon, and more
I still play a ton of this game, strictly Quick Match. I love that I just pick the hero that seems fun today and go. Sometimes the matches are horseshit because of team comp but I think they're enforcing more strict rules soon (i.e. mandatory healer and tank). The competitive scene seems so-so but it makes no difference to me as long as they keep up the development pace.