It seems like “eSports” has become the latest cashflow-driving buzzword you can build your empire around these days. Last week, Blizzard, the developer behind the smash hit digital trading card game, Heathstone, dropped a massive announcement regarding organized play for 2019. This coming Thursday, Wizards of the Coast, the developer behind the world’s most successful collectible card game, Magic: the Gathering, will be making an eSports announcement related to their new digital platform, Magic: the Gathering Arena.

This is a crucial moment for MTG Arena as Hearthstone is widely viewed as the number one digital card game in the eSports world. When Chris Cocks took over running Wizards of the Coast he had a clear goal to create a premier digital Magic experience that could compete with Hearthstone. This is a goal that long eluded MTG Online but could very well be within the reach of MTG Arena.

This isn’t exactly a hot take. It’s no secret that Hearthstone is numero uno in the hearts and minds of digital CCG fans and that MTG Arena is gunning for that spot. Ultimately though it’s all going to come down to how successful either platform is at building a thriving community around competitive play which is where these major eSports announcements come in.

Before we dive into the announcements, it’s also worth noting that Blizzard and Wizards of the Coast find themselves in hot water when it comes to competitive play and that 2019 could be a make-or-break year for both company’s organized play divisions. There’s your hot take. If 2019 isn’t a roaring success for either game, heads will roll.

For Blizzard, success as an eSport is long overdue when it comes to Hearthstone. Even their own property, Overwatch, which has been around for a much shorter time, has managed to build a very successful competitive league where fans can engage their favorite teams and players. Hearthstone has struggled to build a structure for organized play that fans can follow and has failed to deliver features like a spectator mode for their game.

For Wizards of the Coast, after 25 years of dominating the paper card game industry and 20 years of MTG Online failing to meet expectations, the powers that be are putting all their eggs into the MTG Arena basket. And, to be honest, it’s worked out pretty well. MTG Arena is, dare I say, fun to play. Sure it’s a pain to build collections and you’re forced to just play Standard, recent drafts, or a few quirky formats (e.g. not-Commander, a.k.a. Singleton), but it’s actually a fun experience playing Magic and it translates to viewer numbers as seen on Twitch.

That said, Wizards has made it clear that 2019 is a transitional year for organized play both with their premiere paper tournament series, the Pro Tour, and with whatever eSports announcement they plan on making this week. 2018 ended on a sour note when Gerry Thompson boycotted the World Championship calling attention to a lot of the flaws in the Pro Tour (flaws that Hearthstone shares by the way). If MTG Arena gets competitive play and it falls short of expectations, it won’t matter how much fun the platform is.

So here we are. The stage is set. The gauntlet has been thrown. Hearthstone is getting a completely redesigned organized play/eSport structure in 2019. MTG Arena is getting its first crack at the eSport world in 2019. It’s not quite the Thunderdome but here’s your triple-hot take for the week: two successful digital card games will enter the eSports world in 2019 but only one will walk out alive.

It’s going to be Hearthstone. Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to like and subscribe and follow us on Twitter for giveaways.

Okay, let’s quickly go back to the announcement Blizzard made last week and look at the problems they’re trying to solve:

  • The HCT system can be challenging to follow
  • The HCT system isn’t accessible to new players
  • The HCT system is unsustainable for pros

If that all sounds familiar it’s because you can replace “HCT system” for “MTG Pro Tour” and be looking at a list of problems Wizards of the Coast is also facing. Don’t believe me? Explain every way to qualify for the Pro Tour in 100 words or less. I’ll wait.

Blizzard is stream-lining their competitive play into three simple-to-understand tiers:

  • Qualifiers open to all players which will award invitations to…
  • Live Global Tournaments held 3x in 2019 awarding cash prizes and invitations to…
  • Premier Play, a seasonal round-robin online competition featuring the best of the best

Compare that just to how the Magic Online Championship Series is structured. I won’t even try to describe it here because the article linked requires 15 minutes to read, multiple diagrams and tables, and possibly a Ph.D. in quantum physics. Sure, at the end of the day you just have to play MTG Online and be relatively successful and have a shot at the Pro Tour, but the path to get there is pretty convoluted.

And that’s just MOCS in 2019. Let’s not get started on things like SCG Open invitations, Dreamhack, yet-to-be-announced invitations, and that’s without scraping the surface of Wizards of the Coast’s own paper system of PTQs, Grand Prix’s, pro points (which can come from this thing called Nationals) and so on and so on.

So this week, on Thursday, Wizards will make some announcement about competitive play for 2019 for MTG Arena. How will it stand up to Blizzard’s announcement about Hearthstone? Blizzard is making clear attempts to make the system easier for fans and pros alike. Will Wizards be able to achieve the same?

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.