Why Blizzard is investing big into Heroes of the Dorm

Blizzard’s annual Heroes of the Dorm collegiate league has run for three years, and Blizzard collegiate esports division Tespa has distributed over $800,000 in scholarship prizing in 2017 alone. While the league has not garnered the same attention in the esports space as other games, Blizzard has continued to put substantial time and resources into the tournament.

Speaking to Yahoo Esports in a series of interviews, various Blizzard staff explained why the developer was investing into the collegiate esports space.

“We wanted to come up with something that was really cool and a really cool way to celebrate [Heroes of the Storm] that spotlighted one of the coolest elements of the community…the collegiate community,” said Tespa president & co-founder Adam Rosen. “All of these students are just so eager to play and build these communities that essentially bring esports to life in their local area.”

Blizzard’s interest in the space stems from the notion that habits developed in college will carry over to later on in life.

“One of the things that we’ve learned about the collegiate space is that in college is when you develop habits that last the rest of your life,” explained head of Heroes of the Storm esports Sam Braithwaite. “Your hobbies, your friends, those are usually the [things and] friends that you keep forever… college is the place where you get your friends and you guys do activities together. So if we’re able to hit people on the college campuses that are trying to grow and grab their friends to play, that right there is success.

University of Texas-Arlington won Heroes of the Dorm 2017. (Blizzard)

“It’s an acquisition tool,” Braithwaite said. “Most esports are used as a retention tool to provide that level of service for your most engaged fans, as well as your competitors. But for collegiate and for Heroes of the Dorm, there’s different goals than your normal esports programs.”

“We look at reach, we look at non-endemic brands and outlets that are talking about Heroes of the Dorm and looking at esports because of that… one of the things that we’re trying to do right now in the college space is to develop an industry that is self-sufficient,” said Rosen.

Heroes of the Dorm was broadcast on Facebook Live this year, a move away from Blizzard’s previous partnership with ESPN.

“Facebook does give us that ability to reach users, especially across the world, that we wouldn’t have been able to do before. We’re seeing engagement levels rise across all of our pick ‘em challenges, our bracket challenges,” Braithwaite said of the change in platform.

Furthermore, Blizzard hopes that reaching out via Facebook taps into an audience who may not necessarily be core gamers themselves, but be interested in participating in adjacent activities.

“Similar to March Madness. I don’t watch basketball. Never watched a college basketball game in my life. But I’ve made a bracket every single year. And that’s what it’s all about, it’s about getting somebody to think about and talk about something that they normally don’t.”

This sentiment was echoed by Rosen, who explained that Heroes of the Dorm’s collegiate esports had the advantage of benefiting from the existing names of the colleges. While viewers may not necessarily know the names of individual players on teams, they would perhaps identify with a rivalry between “household names” University of Kentucky and Louisiana State University.

“For a lot of people, they might give it a chance because they have some sort of affiliation with LSU or Kentucky… We think that generation a lot of motion or buzz around an event like this, we can get people who weren’t otherwise talking about esports to take a look and say, ‘Oh wow, what’s going on here is actually pretty cool.’ And I think that has rippling effects throughout the industry. You have these more mainstream audiences and mainstream outlets who had before rejected esports before… who are playing closer attention,” Rosen said.

Blizzard recently announced a new character for the Heroes of the Storm roster. We got hands-on with cyborg ninja Genji, check out our breakdown of how he plays in the game.