Blizzard Abruptly Kills Heroes Of The Storm Esports, Leaving Players And Casters Fuming

The Heroes of the Storm Global Championship (HGC) grand finals took place at BlizzCon in November for the final time. (Photo: Blizzard)

Last night, Blizzard announced plans to scale down Heroes of the Storm, moving its developers to other games and putting an end to its Heroes of the Storm Global Championship (HGC) esports league.

The news came as a shock to hundreds of Heroes of the Storm players and broadcasters, many of whom say they now find themselves out of income streams with no warning.

“We are troubled by the way the announcement was made; namely the impolitic choice to use social media to share such a message that effectively ended the careers of hundreds of players, content creators, casters, production crews overnight - and broke the hearts of countless fans,” wrote Darrie, the general manager of an esports team called Method, on Twitter this morning, echoing the thoughts of many other former Heroes of the Storm players and managers.

“As someone who’s commentated Heroes of the Storm since 2015, I mostly really feel for the 200+ pro players who have lost their jobs via a blog post today,” wrote caster Wolf Schröder on Twitter late last night.

“I always loved casting Heroes, so it’s tragic to see it go so suddenly. Thanks for all the kind messages today, friends.”

Although Blizzard said in a blog post last night that Heroes of the Storm would continue to get regular updates, the death of Heroes’ burgeoning esports league has wide-ranging consequences for those supported by it.

The HGC, which launched in 2016, offered a base salary as well as prize pools to nearly 200 players. Some of those players are now fuming, in large part because of Blizzard’s lack of communication.

“Fuck you, honestly,” wrote former player Johan Lauber on Twitter last night. “Working 6 hard months with new fantastic teammates for this shit. Radio silence for weeks. I sent multiple email[s] and all i got back was that they are working on finalising the details.”

“I feel like this is unacceptable by any company to kick so many people in the arse using a blog option, after being constantly asked (since Blizzcon was over) about plans,” wrote former player Maksym “Mopsio” Szczypa on Twitter this morning.

“I wouldn’t be upset of they told me that there is an option of no HGC but at this point I wasted one month of my life and nobody will give it back. However I am grateful for opportunity to play this game competitively. I give myself some time to get back in shape in league and see if I can do well (Russian LCS for example). If not then I will pursue other career, maybe as chef.”

Chris “Tetcher” Ivermee, a British caster for Heroes, told Kotaku that he’d been making around $US4,000 ($5,569) a month during the season. He received a day rate from Blizzard that he relied upon to pay his rent and bills.

“It was my only source of income outside my stream,” he said in a Twitter message.

Ivermee, like other Heroes of the Storm casters and players, is reeling. He’s started a Patreon and said he plans to launch new initiatives with his former colleagues soon.

The reduction of Heroes of the Storm comes at the end of a year in which Blizzard has prioritised cost-cutting. As we reported last month, Blizzard has been looking to both spend less money and bolster its development teams so it can ship more games.

Under new chief financial officer Amrita Ahuja (who joined recently from Activision) and chief operating officer Armin Zerza, Blizzard has been shifting priorities. Scaling down Heroes of the Storm and axing the game’s esports league—as well as the collegiate league Heroes of the Dorm, which offered scholarship money to winners—are the latest moves in this plan.

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It’s not clear just how much support Heroes of the Storm will get in the future. When asked how many people will remain on the Heroes of the Storm development team, a Blizzard representative wouldn’t get into specifics.

“The Heroes team will continue to have a smaller but dedicated development team that will continue supporting the game with new content,” the rep told Kotaku in an email.

Former Heroes player Liam “Arcaner” Simpson had been openly wondering about Blizzard’s plans earlier this week.

“Imagine moving region, self-funded, and investing everything into HOTS then 1 year later @blizzheroes gives the cold shoulder to HGC 2019,” he wrote on Monday. “Some courtesy to players, casters and others affiliated is expected in the form of an announcement please.”

When the announcement finally happened, he seemed resigned—and ready to move on. “No point feeling sorry for myself,” he wrote yesterday.

“I’m taking this as an opportunity to escape Blizzard esports in general. Going to enjoy my vacation in Australia, before returning to the UK to go all in on @lolesports. Going to stream my grind and hopefully I can pave out a happy future.”


Comments

    Well, this may be a lesson to everyone about the realilties of online video gaming. Don't expect support from the companies in perpetuity. Its not going to happen.

    On the one hand, its unfortunate for people that chose it as a career, thinking it'd be a long term thing.

    On the other hand, Blizzard actually getting back to releasing games sounds fantastic, as long as they look at releasing games that can be enjoyed solo as well as multiplayer.

      Yeah I'm not too sure what people were thinking, relying on a single fickle and relatively insecure income stream. HoTS was never that popular, and it hasn't been doing that great - especially in the eSports scene. Sure the way Blizzard ended it is abrupt, but I don't think anyone can honestly say they're surprised that Blizzard decided to kill a poorly performing game.

      If you relied on HoTS to pay your bills, then maybe you should have evaluated your situation with a bit more care.

        The issue here is the absolute abruptness of the cancellation. At Blizzcon there were telling everyone that things are fine and will continue, from the devs themselves. Then the silence kicked in and people were asking for updates, still nothing.

        Cut to now and they send an email with no warning. An email is a pretty shit way to end it. Even the devs weren't aware. This isn't just players affected, there is a whole host of production staff that have been offed as well.

        The bigger picture here is that anybody associated with OWL needs to be on notice. If they axe the HGC with that level of abruptness they will do the same to OWL if they think they can save a buck if it starts to drop.

        The Blizzard we all remember is dead now and it's basically head up by Activision bean counters.

        Last edited 17/12/18 10:18 am

    Lets be real, this is what happens when companies let accountants take control: scale back on liabilities, and increase output. The fact that those liabilities are in themselves great for development of the company doesn't have any relevance to most accountants. Are they making a profit here and now? Are they likely to in the immediate future? No. Cut.

    My father used to be a director at a successful tech firm in the UK, got out just as the accountants started to take over. The accountants demanded they cut back on R&D and increase production of existing lines. Within 6 years, the company was bust, as the existing products had reached the end of their life and insufficient innovations were being developed. This feels a lot like that - cutting the investment in the future for the sake of improving the bottom line now. Any goodwill Blizzard has with it's esports scene just got put on very shaky ground. Overwatch players will be waiting for the axe to fall now. Players will be hesitant to join any new leagues that eventually form for future games. HOTS might not have been the success story esports-wise they were hoping for, but cutting it in the manner and with the abruptness they did has probably done irrevocable damage to their reputation in the scene. They will struggle greatly to break back into the field in future.

      This feels a lot like that - cutting the investment in the future for the sake of improving the bottom line now
      I disagree. I feel that it's quite the opposite. HoTS was using up company resources, it never took off and after many years it still didn't look like it was going to go anywhere. Blizzard has now freed up these resources and can invest them elsewhere.

      The accountants demanded they cut back on R&D and increase production of existing lines. Within 6 years, the company was bust, as the existing products had reached the end of their life and insufficient innovations were being developed.

      Exactly... so instead of spending resources on a failed revenue source, they can now invest their resources into other areas. Perhaps developing new games/IP.

      Overwatch players will be waiting for the axe to fall now
      Not at all the same. HoTS has been unsuccessful from the beginning. Overwatch on the other hand has been a huge success. There is no reason to expect the axe to Overwatch, but the axe to HoTS, whilst abrupt, wasn't exactly surprising.

        HotS wasn't as successful as Hearthstone or Overwatch but it was profitable. Overwatch viewership went down this year and the community are pretty negative these days. I doubt they will drop it in the short term but the way Blizz hung the HotS orgs out to dry I would imagine the Overwatch orgs are feeling a bit nervous.

          The question is whether the same development resources allocated elsewhere would be more profitable. Or alternatively, whether a smaller investment can maintain the same profitability.

            I think people are missing the point. Investment in an esports scene for a company isn't about driving profit from the esports scene itself, but rather about driving exposure of the product, advertising and merchandising, and that takes long-term investment to result in a profit, and requires maintenance of the esports community in question. Whilst HOTS itself wasn't wildly successful in the way Overwatch, LoL, SC2, DOTA/DOTA2, etc, have been, it is as much about developing the community and competitive player relations to drive future efforts in esports events. Even if the product isn't hugely successful now, you're investing in it in the hope that the next competitive multiplayer game you bring out will derive the benefit of having those players and that coverage already as a part of your company's circle. By cutting that investment in such an abrupt and disruptive way, Blizzard are driving away the players and casters and so on that could have made the next Blizzard game an esports success.

            True. Cant say whether developers would be more useful on other projects but i doubt what they have done will maintain profitability. The community is in open revolt and no one wants to spend money on cosmetics in a dying game. Ramping it down slowly would have been smarter and was what alot of people in the scene were expecting.

            The sad thing is there are plenty of other MOBA developers who would kill for HotS success, but Blizz were aiming to compete with LoL and DotA and didn't come close to that so its a failure in their eyes.

          Interesting.. how do you know it was profitable?

      I get your point and don't disagree but I don't think you know what accountants do.

      They make sure the financial information is correct and may analyse financial data but it's up to the board/executives/high level managers to take that on board with non financial information to make decisions. Sure a lot of execs rely too much on financials and ask for cuts based on what the accountants provide them blindly, so if you mean those types of executives then fair enough.

    And yet this time next month we'll be reading yet another article about how esports should be a thing at the Olympics...

      Games get phased out of the Olympics too. Hell, USA was the reigning Olympic Rugby Champion for more than 90 years because they cut rugby from the Olympics in 1928.

        Sure, sports are discountinued from the Olympics all the time, if you mean only once in the last 75 years.

    “The Heroes team will continue to have a smaller but dedicated development team that will continue supporting the game with new content,” the rep told Kotaku in an email.
    As supported as SC2/D3 I'm sure...

      SC2 is still getting patched on and off tbh plus it gets co op commanders every blue moon, you can make an argument that it needs new content though

      D3 on the other hand... yea that's dead, except for the first week of a new season

        the SC crowd is actually very nervous right now because SC and SC2 were Mike Morhimes Biggest pet projects and with him stepping down and Jay Allen Brack in charge the SC community is on edge.

        Heroes of the Storm has basically been given the Diablo 3 treatment

      Starcraft 2 is being actively supported, and its viewership is growing. Additionally, there's nothing else like it in esports (apart from Starcraft: Brood War). Also, it had a vibrant pro scene before Blizzard stepped in with the WCS system and would probably have one if the WCS system ended - it'd be more precarious but it'd definitely exist.

      HotS on the other hand has to compete directly with LOL and DOTA 2 and it's just not happening. Could HotS's current viewership support any kind of pro scene? I sincerely doubt it. Also, while I'll admit that promotion of HotS was as much about boosting Blizzard's brand and prestige, but by the same token having an esport that's clearly pushing shit uphill is a bad look for Blizzard, and additionally costs a lot of money.

      If you want to say that Activision are busily murdering their golden goose... well I can't say you're wrong - but from what I've seen ending support for competitive HotS was a mercy killing.

      (if you ignore the players and casters - as Blizzard seems to have done)

    How would they like to be informed? Email? Chat? Personal phone call to every single person?

    Fact is - it's business, and your making a living off a product that was obviously not highly profitable and had to be culled.

    I feel sorry for them, but Blizzard did nothing wrong, and its part of being in the "streaming/eSports" business.

    I mean.. Did nobody see this coming? I did.. Over a year ago and was wondering why Heros was still around.

      It's in reference to the people who are paid directly by Blizzard as part of the HOTS ecosystem, not those who are just seeking to compete or associated support staff. Those people - as in any company - would have appreciated some notice privately before it was posted publicly.

      Every player and the many orgs involved were in a contract with Blizzard and were directly paid by Blizzard. Effectively they are in a business relationship. They have direct contacts within Blizzard and the abrupt cancellation one month before the new season was very unprofessional. They could have cancelled it at Blizzcon and it would have been way more fairer to the players and orgs.

      Imagine you are fired from your job.

      Expect instead of telling you.
      They send out a newsletter to everyone saying you are fired.

      That's what happened with HoTS.

      Esports isn't just the players.

    So in the world of vidya games, where tittles and their popularity come and go like any fashion, people expected it to last forever?

      Curious where you got that impression because I'm seeing people complaining about the abrupt announcement and lack of warning given, not that they expected it to last forever.
      Considering preparations, time and money had already gone in to the next year and that the decision wouldn't have been decided as hastily as the announcement, I think it's completely legitimate that they are annoyed.
      It even says in the article that some of the people tried to open dialogue with Blizzard over some time and received nothing in return, I think it's fair to say it was on the agenda while these folks were trying to find out if it was worth putting in the time, money and effort, it's not like Blizzard suddenly went tits up forcing and forced their hand.
      Sounds to me like they squeezed all they could and then cut off the hand.

        yep even more so as there were play offs done in later october to get teams sorted out for now cancelled 2019 HCG, Add to that Heroes of Dorm was also pretty awesome event as a way to get funds for your UNI/ College without having to be a Pro

    I guess they gotta find another game to try and get paid to play. It's a tough gig to turn what for most is a leisure activity into a paid pastime. But they got the reflexes and the gear, they just need to turn their attention to the next title.

    I'm surprised that people can make a living streaming an unpopular game. Truly the amount of money in this industry is just staggering.

      That's true, many will bounce back and I imagine many prob played other games too.

      In saying that though, it's not really as simple as that, there is a lot of training and practice involved. If one ball sport went tits up it wouldn't be easy to transition to another without exceptional raw talent or a high profile just because both require athleticism.
      You would also have to enter various ladders at the bottom unless you have an existing presence.

      I have a mate who competes in Australian Esports and he spends nearly all his time playing Street Fighter, If he were to move on to another fighting game, it would require more than just a controller, you have to learn the systems, find characters that suit your style, learn the other characters to know how combat them and enter the amateur events to build a reputation long before a team would consider signing you up.

        Totally. I actually play fighting games as well, especially street fighter. So I know exactly what you're talking about and agree. But they don't have a choice. If they want to keep making a living doing what they're doing, then they need to adapt or die. It's just evolution in fast forward :D

          I agree but there is two parties involved here and evolving is something they both need to do.
          It's no secret that once things start turning sour it's always the teams and players that seem to get the raw deal and almost everyone expects them to act like professional athletes in an industry that doesnt want to act like professional sporting organisations. (Yet demands to be respected as a sport)

            That's an interesting point man. I was kinda thinking of it as the bat and ball belonging to blizzard, so when they go home, everyone else needs to find a new game and tough luck. Whereas I think you're saying they have a responsibility to the scene they've created?

            You know what? I think that's a good point. If they take care of their fans now, they would be accruing a heck of a lot of good will from them.

            Soooo... what do you think should happen?

    As a Dota fan, I was so keen for HOT's when it was first announced. Then I tried it and was like "wait... is this it?". Felt like a way slower, easier, dumbed down version of a moba. I'm surprised it lasted this long tbh.

    Capping off a terrible year in picking what Blizzard’s fans actually want. So many big studios pushing the ‘we care about our community’ line while not backing it up with any tangible care for anything other than profits.

    Their game, they're not beholden to anyone. Get a real job hippies! :P

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