Blizzard has announced a new Hearthstone Masters Tour with the first event to be held at the LINQ Hotel in Las Vegas in mid-June. Participants will compete for a prize pool of $250,000.
In tandem with this announcement, the company behind the popular online collectible card game revealed a new competitive format for Hearthstone called Specialist. This format will debut in the Masters Qualifiers Rounds occurring throughout the months of March and April and will be implemented also in the Masters Tour: Las Vegas contest at the LINQ.
The Masters Tour: Las Vegas event will take place June 14 -16. To pertain to the opulent theme of Vegas, Hearthstone Masters will have a prize pool of $250,000 with a top prize of $50,000. One-third of the entrants will walk away with some cash in hand.
The event will take place in the LINQ Hotel. Unfortunately, players that make it into the Las Vegas event will be responsible for their own travel and accommodations although there is a special block room rate for Masters Tour attendees. Competitors will also have to bring their own devices, which will be hooked into an offline LAN.
The first day will feature a series of Swiss rounds, and all contenders with four or more wins will return for more Swiss pairs the following day. Eight survivors will then proceed to the finals on day three, which will be single-elimination brackets. All matches will be best-of-three with the exception of the finals, which will be best-of-five.
Organizers expect more than 300 people to play in the Masters Tour: Las Vegas tournament.
The new Specialist format will be the first of its kind to require participants to play best-of-three series. Players will have to come to the table with three decks of the same class. Each must designate which of their decks are primary, secondary, and tertiary. The secondary and tertiary decks can have up to five cards that are different than the primary one.
For the first game of the set, players will start off the with their primary deck. For each of the subsequent games, players have the option to stick with the main deck or to swap over to their secondary or tertiary decks. Each player must make their deck selections without knowing the choice made by the opponent.
This arrangement was undoubtedly influenced by the sideboard mechanic common in other trading card games, like Magic: The Gathering. It enables gamers to flexibly adjust against deck archetypes that they would otherwise have no hope of prevailing against.
The first player to win two games will win the best-of-three series. This marks a difference from the two previous competitive Hearthstone formats, Last Hero Standing and Conquest, which usually featured best-three-of-five matches. These formats also required the construction of multiple classes of decks as opposed to Specialist wherein all three decks are the same class.
The Masters Qualifiers represent a way for the average player to participate in the Masters Tour: Las Vegas event. Qualifying rounds will be held throughout March and April, hosted online by Battlefy.
The Masters Qualifiers will feature Swiss brackets with single-elimination playoffs, and the winner of each qualifier will secure their seat at the LINQ for the Masters Tour Event. The victor and others who place highly in a Masters Qualifier will also be rewarded with packs of Hearthstone cards.
There are about 30 online Qualifiers for this Masters Tour event. Each will send a single participant on to the Masters Tour: Las Vegas tournament.
While Masters Qualifiers represent perhaps the most straightforward way for members of the public to satellite their way to the Masters Tour festivities in Las Vegas, there are plenty of other avenues for achieving this feat.
By entering a Standard Ranked Play Ladder, you can obtain entry into the competition at the LINQ Hotel. The top 200 at the end of each ladder month will be able to play in a Ranked Ladder Qualifier, and the top four finishers will gain entry to Masters Tour: Las Vegas. A further benefit is that you'll have the opportunity to practice the Specialist format in your Ladder matches in preparation for the big event.
Some third-party tournaments give you the opportunity to receive an invitation, and you can also pick one up at the China Gold series. One could also finish out the Year of the Raven (ends in April) with at least 120 Hearthstone competitive points and get invited to Masters Tour: Las Vegas.
Hearthstone made its first appearance in the competitive scene on June 14, 2014 at DreamHack Sweden. Later that year, 16 players were invited to participate in the Hearthstone World Championship held at Blizzard's annual BlizzCon. It was played using the best-of-five Last Hero Format with the USA's very own James “Firebat” Kostesich emerging victorious.
The competitive scene continued on, and in 2015, a series of Blizzard-sanctioned tournaments known as the Hearthstone Championship Tour was introduced. Throughout the HCT series, participating players were to accumulate points based on of their placings in order to be eligible to play in the Hearthstone World Championship.
In the following years, Blizzard announced sanctioned regional and playoffs tournaments, giving players opportunities to accumulate more points.
Over the years of Hearthstone esports, there were two formats that were implemented in both the Hearthstone Championship Tour and World Championship. Last Hero Standing was the first format to be played. Soon after, we would see the Last Hero Standing format be replaced by the Conquest format in the 2015 HCT.
Now, the new Specialist rules are set to displace Conquest. The 2019 World Championship in April will be held in Conquest, but after this, Specialist will become the ruleset employed in most Hearthstone events.
There are mixed feelings when it comes to Specialist becoming the primary format after the conclusion of the Hearthstone World Championship series. Players have grown accustomed to the Conquest format where players are required to have four deck lists, each from a different class.
The lack of field testing for Specialist provides some mystery as to how greatly the meta will shift and brings the question of how balanced this format will end up being. Some speculate that the number of cards needed to be different are hardly sufficient to change the polarizing match-ups between the decks in the current meta. Along with being restricted to only one class, the trio of decks you bring are required to have 25 out of the 30 cards the same.
Here's a post from a popular Hearthstone community forum wherein a player questions the wisdom of switching to Specialist without sufficient testing being performed on the format:
Another issue to bring to light is that Blizzard is relying on an outside website called Battlefy to run the Masters Qualifiers. Although Battlefy has hosted tournaments for other online competitive games in the past, it is perceived by many that Blizzard may be cutting corners with a lack of attention to their qualifier rounds and potentially dodging a once-promised tournament mode in the base game.
On the bright side, the Specialist format allows players to focus on a single deck type or class as they're making the climb on the ranked ladder. Having to build up to four decks, each having to be from a different class, can induce strain – even more so when a tournament is looming around the corner.
With the requirement of having 25 cards in common throughout a player's competitive deck lineup, we may see a more consistent testing ground on the Hearthstone online ladder. Online has always been a great way for pros and tournament-goers to practice their latest deck recipes, and many speculate that the Specialist format will improve this trait even further.
Overall, most are pleased with the news announced by Blizzard and the company's continuing efforts to create a vibrant, evolving playing space for Hearthstone:
Beyond the Masters Tour: Las Vegas stop scheduled for June, there are plans to have an event in the Asia-Pacific region in August and another in Europe in October. The venues and dates for these occasions have not yet been announced.
In addition, Blizzard has teased something called “Hearthstone GrandMasters.” Details on Hearthstone GrandMasters are a bit skimpy at the moment, but it has been stated that one of the ways to be invited is by achieving “consistent top finishes” in the Masters Tour contests.
As we mentioned before, we're not sure what the Specialist format has in store regarding changes to the meta and deck building strategies. We look forward to seeing what kind of impact Specialist will have on the Hearthstone competitive scene. Hearthstone developers are always looking to mix it up and keep things fresh with new formats and balance patches, and we expect Specialist to continue this trend.
Whether you're a newbie in Hearthstone or a veteran player, you might be interested in jumping into the world of poker too. Much as with Hearthstone, it can be played online, and the prize pools up for grabs in major poker events put Hearthstone to shame.
If you're a resident of the United States, take a look at our USA offshore poker guide for information on the best sites.
We've prepared a similar page covering Canadian online poker for our neighbors to the north. And Australians can educate themselves about this topic with our list of top Aussie-friendly poker operators.