The Story So Far…
There is a budding competitive scene to Hex, as many frequent readers of FiveShards are aware. Just at IEM Katowice, Gameforge and HEX Entertainment announced a $100,000 USD prize money tournament. When this will take place is yet to be revealed, but the competitors who earn a chance to compete will do so at Hex Entertainment headquarters for a live championship final.
In the meantime, signs of Hex’s expanding competitive scene abound. Official Hex VIP tournaments have good turnout with a few hundred players taking part. The latest large tournament attempt on the test server on March 6th had about 750 players signed up. On the community-run side, there are currently two standard constructed series going on: the HexTechs.tv Open Series and the FiveShards Shard Series.
Of course, none of this happened overnight. Lacking an existing compiled history of competitive Hex, I’ve decided to attempt creating one here—going back through time from the release of Alpha to where we are now in March of 2015 with the announcement of a $100k tornamemt.
Kickstarter Promises and Early Alpha
During the Kickstarter, it is clear that Hex aims to have a serious competitive TCG scene. Cryptozoic’s history with WoW:TCG gives a lot of weight to the promise of Hex being able to provide a stable competitive TCG environment, evolving meta with new set releases, and enough players to keep the game going. The announcement of plans to have Hex Con, a yet-to-be-realized weekend convention in Las Vegas, builds up excitement for the future of competitive play.
With the release of a playable game with Alpha in September 2013, a community begins to form around the official forums, Twitch.tv streams, fansites, and the /r/hextcg subreddit. Players start forming guilds, groups, and teams to build decks and explore the meta. The skill ceiling seems to be high enough for serious competitive play, and as Hex TCG as a computer game makes progress and matures, players start to look for meaningful standard constructed competition outside of the in-game matchmaking.
In November 2013, community member Soldack creates the 1st Tournament of Streamers, inviting any interested Twitch streamers to participate. The tournament is shoutcasted by Soldack, and begins showing the community a glimpse of Hex as an eSport. Even in an alpha state, Hex has enough polish for viewers to see its potential as a spectator game. Board state is mostly understandable to viewers, and the addition of a commentator furthers the viewability of the matches.
The prize on the line for taking first place includes playing against Cory Jones, the CEO of Cyptozoic and Hex Entertainment, on the official Hex TCG stream live on Twitch. This is the first tangible gesture from the developer supporting community-run competitions. Soldack starts a 2nd Tournament of Streamers in December of 2013 but hands organizational duties to John Tatta, the winner of the first tournament.
First Tournament Series and eSport Teasers
John Tatta is at this point still an active community member as one of the founders of HexTCGPro fansite and guild, and co-creator of the 2 Turns Ahead podcast. In early 2014, he takes the Tournament of Streamers and opens it up to all players, forming the HexTCGPro Challenge Series. The series lasts from January 2014 to September 2014, including 5 open tournament events and an invitational tournament with the top 32 players in attendance. 336 total players participate in the series which spreads across the alpha and closed beta stages of Hex. The final match ends in a prize split, with Wurtil taking first place glory and handing the free flight to Hex Con to the 2nd place runner up Sereaphim. The grand prize is sponsored by HexColin, a producer-level backer of Hex that continues to support community events by generously contributing to prize pools. This is likely the biggest prize given out related to Hex so far; though we’ll come back to HexColin in a moment.
Unfortunately, HexTCGPro and John Tatta’s involvement in the community drops off after the first and only season of the Challenge Series. The series was competitive, consistent, and had top prizes that players wanted to win—reasons which it was shaping up to be the de facto venue for competitive play. Their website receives what is to be its final update on November 5th, 2014, and its decline leaves a void in in the large tournament scene.
After the Challenge Series concludes in September 2014, Hex Entertainment begins holding official VIP constructed tournaments every other month. Players who had subscribed to the no-longer-available VIP membership can pay 500 platinum ($5 USD) to enter a 128-player tournament to potentially earn alternate art cards. These alternate art cards are only generated during VIP events, meaning that there will be a strictly limited number of these cards in existence. Because of their scarcity, these cards routinely sell for ~$40 USD on the auction house the weekend they become available. Three VIP constructed events take place in the next six months: September and November 2014, and January 2015 (with a March 2015 event planned the weekend following this article’s posting.) The tournament is a 4-round swiss, with the decks achieving a 4-0 record posted on the official Hex website. This glimpse of the meta is exposed to a large part of the community, and its effects can be seen in card prices on the auction house and in other tournaments. VIP tournaments will end at some point as existing subscriptions expire, while the expectation is that the new qualifying events for the $100,000 championship will take their place.
At this point, Hex Entertainment has not yet held a large official competitive tournament in the way the Challenge Series did. Cory Jones states in an interview with Cirouss—one of the top Hex streamers on Twitch—that he is aiming to have official eSport-level competitive events with real cash prizes up for grabs. (@1:10:00 http://www.twitch.tv/cirouss/c/5774737)
Community Tournaments Filling the Void
Fansite HexTechs.tv starts holding tournaments of their own, starting with two “one-off” tournaments in July and November 2014. The number of participants do not quite match the HTP Challenge Series, but are successful enough to continue as a regular series. The Open Series starts in January 2015, with the first season to run until June 2015. For the series they have decided to require a 500 platinum entry fee to allow for the tournament to be self-sustaining with 100% of it going towards prize support.
Five Shards starts in November 2014, with a number of contributors that had connections to HexTCGPro. Among them are Michael “Zubrin” Allen, William “GPrime” Gabriel, and Nikolas “Pentachills” Podrasky.
As the story goes, Pentachills—an active Hex Streamer—kept hassling playgroup member Zubrin to help co-found a new tournament series. Not wanting to do anything halfway, Zubrin decides a partner website would be needed to support the tournaments and begins work on starting a new Hex website. Other FiveShards contributors-to-be including GPrime, Future, and Kroan signal that they’d rather compete in the tournament than run it, and so a division between organizers and players is made to avoid a conflict of interest. Zubrin and Pentachills would administrate the tournament series, with clear separation between them those who wanted to participate. Zubrin finally agrees to organize and judge for events, and Pentachills would be hosting the stream and providing commentary.
The prize pool for the Blood Cup—the first cup in the Shard Series—is provided by numerous community members with Pentachills fronting a large portion himself. He and Jason “Juzamjedi” Barnett co-host the tournament on Twitch.tv/fiveshards. This is the first competitive event to include the newly-released Set 2: Shattered Destiny. However, looking ahead, the Shard Series organizers want to continue holding free-entry tournaments and still provide a meaningful prize pool. They decide to reach out to the community for sponsors, and manage to find support for all five Season One tournaments as well as the Fate Cup Invitational months ahead of time.
The Diamond Cup in January 2015 is sponsored by me, Tecnophi, and I also decide to get involved by running the livestream of the tournament on Twitch (I would like to think that I added some value to the production and organizational side of the the event). This allows Pentachills and Juzamjedi to focus more on shoutcasting. For February 2015, the Ruby Cup is sponsored by “Rise of the Dead Prince”, a fantasy novel written by Brian A. Hurd. A friend of the author, Starcry, wanted to promote his friend’s novel and decides this is an outlet to do so. He provides a substantial amount of prizes: approximately $1,000 in booster packs and cards.
HexColin continues to be involved in the community and sponsors the FiveShards Sapphire Cup in March 2015. Colin provides $500 USD as prize money for the top 4 players on top of the approximately $500 USD in booster packs and primal packs, making the Season One Sapphire Cup the first real-money tournament in Hex history. For the Wild Cup in April 2015, the Dragonborn—Juzamjedi’s guild—emerge as sponsors, and the format will be unified team constructed. This will be the first time in Hex such a format is attempted on this scale.
Looking Forward (Speculation and Expectations)
Community-run tournaments are facing an uncertain future. As the player base increases the way the tournaments are run may have to change, yet broadcasting quality will improve as more content producers enter the scene. As Hex game development matures and new features added more tournament-hosting options may become available. Tournaments directly and indirectly will be competing for players with each other as well as official events. Things will not remain unchanged.
However, official Hex events have conflicted with community events in the past, and it is likely to happen again. In VIP tournaments and other in-game events, official tournaments can award special items such as alternate art cards to participants and top performers. These exclusive bonuses are always a strong incentive for participation, where that is the only chance players will have to attain those rewards. When faced with running into official events, community organizers occasionally decide to move dates in hopes of improving participation numbers. The Blood Cup in December was delayed due to official Set 2 release celebration events on the original planned date. HexTechs.tv have shifted a number of their Open Series tournaments due to test server events as well.
On the official side of things, more details from Gameforge were released giving a bit more information on what the qualifying process will be like for the $100k tournament series. Players will need 10 points from “ranked duels” to qualify for any of the 12 free large tournaments that lead up to the final event. Putting the barrier to entry at 10 points serves a purpose similar to the system that MOBA games employ, where players must first “level up” in order to access to the main competitive mode of play. This sets a certain level of skill to be expected from the qualifying events, while giving players a taste of what competitive play will be like.
With the expected increase in players with PvE Arena released—and the announced $100,000 prize pool—I expect that official tournaments will be held sooner rather than later. New players entering the game at this point do not have access to VIP tournaments, and I doubt they will be without an official large tournament event for too long.
And that is where we are now.