Hearthstone is a phenomenon. For eight years, Blizzard’s digital card game has been one of the definitive titles of its genre. Multiple Hearthstone killers have come and failed, and the game remains one of Blizzard’s top products.
But how popular, exactly, is Hearthstone eight years after its release? Blizzard themselves really amped up the hype in a recent article, where they claim that Murder at Castle Nathria is “one of the most popular Hearthstone expansions in years” and that it launched “to historically high levels of engagement.” That is one hefty claim, and as you might expect, it may find it difficult to withstand closer scrutiny. However, determining exactly how popular Hearthstone is in 2022 is not a simple task. Let’s go on a journey to find out as much as we can!
Finding official data on the performance of any individual part of Activision Blizzard is a nightmare. The company reports performance down to the business unit level: Activision, Blizzard, and King. So, we can separate between Blizzard games and Candy Crush, but finding out the performance of Hearthstone compared to World of Warcraft or Diablo is far less obvious.
Overall, Blizzard’s trajectory has been going down for years. Covid brought a temporary bump and a new market that opened up with Diablo Immortal brought another bump, the durability of which is yet unknown. Regardless, Blizzard has lost roughly half of its players in five years.
Hearthstone peaked in 2017. Knights of the Frozen Throne was the best-performing expansion of the game, and the monthly user peak seems to have been either that or the previous Journey to Un’Goro. The latest overall player count we have is from Q3/2018 when Hearthstone passed 100 million registered players. In 2020, Hearthstone had 23.5 million players over the course of the year.
After years of not warranting a mention in the financial reports, Hearthstone has recently experienced some growth. The growth statements can be confusing, as they typically compare different things. For example, we know that Voyage to the Sunken City from 2022 was more popular than the previous rotation expansion Forged in the Barrens from 2021. We also know that Forged in the Barrens was more popular than Madness at the Darkmoon Faire, but as the first expansion of the year is typically more popular than others, that does not actually tell us much. We do not know how any of these expansions compare to 2020’s Ashes of Outland, another rotation expansion. We also know that United in Stormwind was less successful than the expansions before and after it, but there is very little visibility into Ashes of Outland and the years before that.
My best guess? Hearthstone peaked in 2017, has been in a slow decline since, and has been stabilizing overall over the past two years with some expansions failing (like United in Stormwind) and others succeeding (like Voyage to the Sunken City).
Here are the main mentions of Hearthstone in Activision Blizzard’s quarterly reports:
- Q2/2022: Hearthstone grew year-on-year, Blizzard revenues $401 million, Blizzard monthly active users 27 million
- Q1/2022: Hearthstone not mentioned, Blizzard revenues $274 million, Blizzard monthly active users 22 million
- Q4/2021: Hearthstone grew year-on-year, Blizzard revenues $419 million, Blizzard monthly active users 24 million
- Q3/2021: Hearthstone stable year-on-year, Blizzard revenues $493 million, Blizzard monthly active users 26 million
- Q2/2021: Forged in the Barrens and Madness at the Darkmoon Faire delivered expansion-on-expansion growth, Blizzard revenues $433 million, Blizzard monthly active users 26 million
- Q1/2021: Good expectations for Forged in the Barrens, Blizzard revenues $483 million, Blizzard monthly active users 27 million
- Q4/2020: Hearthstone not mentioned, Blizzard revenues $579 million, Blizzard monthly active users 29 million
- Q3/2020: Hearthstone not mentioned, Blizzard revenues $411 million, Blizzard monthly active users 30 million
- Q2/2020: Hearthstone not mentioned, Blizzard revenues $461 million, Blizzard monthly active users 32 million
- Q1/2020: Hearthstone not mentioned, Blizzard revenues $452 million, Blizzard monthly active users 32 million
- Q3/2018: Hearthstone passed 100 million registered players; lower revenues due to tough competition
- Q3/2017: Knights of the Frozen Throne the best-performing expansion until that point, Blizzard monthly active users 42 million
- Q2/2017: Hearthstone’s all-time record monthly active users thanks to Journey to Un’Goro, Blizzard monthly active users 46 million
We can turn to third-party metrics to try to evaluate the game’s popularity. Notably, it is possible to use Google Trends to analyze the popularity of various topics, like Hearthstone. Turning the trends graph into a table per expansion looks like this:
Web search does not fully correlate to what we know about Hearthstone’s player numbers and financial success. Journey to Un’Goro and Knights of the Frozen Throne are clear outliers from the downward trend, but they are not the peak of Hearthstone’s web search. This makes sense when you think about how existing players do not necessarily seek out more information about the game online, although you would expect at least some of them to keep looking for decks and ideas.
We know United in Stormwind was grim, and it indeed marks the low point in sustained popularity: people were searching for Hearthstone mid-expansion the least when United in Stormwind was current content. Interestingly enough, the second-lowest point is the current Murder at Castle Nathria. Castle Nathria launched to considerable interest, but the drop in interest during this expansion has been sharp.
Google Trends also enables examining the popularity of Hearthstone topic on Youtube search.
On Youtube search, interest in Hearthstone initially fell faster than on web search, but it has been rather stable for a couple of years now. As people subscribe to Youtube content creators, they have less need to search for Hearthstone because they already have direct access to Hearthstone content. Journey to Un’Goro and Ashes of Outland are two clear peaks that go against the general trend here. Currently, interest in Hearthstone on Youtube is at an all-time low.
Another lens through which we can examine Hearthstone’s popularity is its viewership on Twitch. TwitchTracker does not go back far enough to see the beginning of Hearthstone, as we only have average concurrent viewership data starting from Journey to Un’Goro.
The same overall trend of a slow decline is visible in these numbers as well and Hearthstone viewership on Twitch is currently at an all-time low. Regardless, it is the most popular digital card game on Twitch.
Comparison to Competitors
While Hearthstone is the most-viewed digital card game on Twitch, and it is the most popular fully digital card game, it is not the most popular trading card game.
Hearthstone’s original competitor, Magic: The Gathering, might not be as big in the digital space, but it is far bigger than Hearthstone when you take physical cards into account. In fact, Magic is on its way to making $1 billion this year. That is more than half of Blizzard’s entire revenue, which includes World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Overwatch in addition to Hearthstone. Magic is also growing, unlike Hearthstone, even though some of this growth has come from more aggressive monetization over the past years.
But the biggest trading card game of them all is not Magic. It is Yu-Gi-Oh! Konami’s Digital Entertainment segment, whose top product is Yu-Gi-Oh, had revenues of $1.7 billion in 2021. Whether Yu-Gi-Oh is a bigger digital game than Hearthstone is uncertain, but it is certainly a bigger card game overall.
Fully digital competitors, like Legends of Runeterra, are nowhere close to Hearthstone’s level in popularity or revenue. The latest entrant is Ben Brode’s new Marvel Snap, the performance of which remains to be seen. If you want to give it a go, we have a guide to Marvel Snap for Hearthstone players right here on Hearthstone Top Decks. So far, it does not look like a Hearthstone killer either.
How Popular Is Hearthstone in 2022?
Hearthstone peaked in 2017. Since then, the game has been on a downward trajectory, but it shows signs of stabilizing over the past year and a half. The game is still played by millions of people around the world, and most likely more than 20 million people will play at least one game of Hearthstone this year. This is based on the year 2020 player numbers and the stabilization of revenues according to the financial reports since then.
On Twitch, the game attracts one-third of its peak viewership, but that is still enough to make it the most-viewed digital card game and a top-25 game overall.
In other words, Hearthstone is still pretty damn popular in 2022.