by Darius Matuschak / @DariusExMachina
Artwork by Blizzard Entertainment
I’m really excited for the new Hearthstone expansion. I really am. So far, it encompasses all the things I love about this card game: A beautiful design, innovative ideas and mechanics that are only possible in a digital card game. But nonetheless, I am disappointed. Disappointed at the fact that the new Un’Goro mechanics show that Hearthstone has no future as an esport, despite me defending its status as an esport since release. And I’m disappointed to be reminded that Team 5 does not care either.
A few days ago, one of Hearthstone’s most proficient players left us. In an emotional, yet well mannered VLOG, Lifecoach told us how Hearthstone felt like a coin flip, which was especially infuriating when compared to card games like Gwent. “No more RNG!” he said and took his hat to leave the competitive Hearthstone ladder for good. And I will join him on his way.
So what are the issues about the new mechanics you might ask? How can I properly judge them after barely seeing any examples? Let me be clear about this: I don’t care whether a mechanic is going to be overpowered or horrible. I care whether it promotes a healthy competitive game design. But both Quest and Adapt don’t. Let’s start with the lesser of two evils: Quest.
Quest isn’t that big of an issue, because it might promote having more than one or two deck types within a class. There’s a big emphasis on “might” here though, as Whispers of the Old Gods has shown us: Either the deck that is focused around a certain boss monster is so strong, that it dominates and outclasses all its class’ variants (i.e. Yogg Mage vs Tempo Mage or N’Zoth Paladin vs Control Paladin) or it’s too weak to be relevant for the meta game (looking at you Y’Shaarj). Finding a decent middle ground like with C’Thun was never one of Team 5’s strengths, and the fact that they persist to take this path is either a sign of confidence or idiocy. Despite being skeptical however, I would say that there’s at least a chance this mechanic might turn out to be well balanced and encourages more variants within the classes. In the worst case scenario, we’ll find ourselves playing against the same Quest-themed decks like it’s the WotoG meta all over again, or never seeing them in competitive play at all. That, to be fair, isn’t much worse than the current Hearthstone metagame, so it’s not that bad. I just don’t have high hopes for it, given how Team 5 has failed to implement similar deckbuilding-methods in the past.
Now we have to talk about the real perpetrator however: Adapt.
Let me be clear about this mechanic: If it turns out to be a strong mechanic or the cards that utilize this mechanic are absurdly overpowered, we’ll see one of the most toxic competitive environments Hearthstone has seen so far. You want to know why? I got four letters for you: R. N. G.
RNG never is and never has been a good mechanic for any competitive game, especially when the outcome can be so decisive as in the case of Hearthstone. It’s one of the most prominent reasons as to why many professional players have left Blizzard’s card game for other alternatives, but apparently Team 5 doesn’t care. And granted, RNG is awesome as a marketing tool and to make the game fun for casual players. I really enjoy playing with RNG when I’m on my way from Rank 20-15. When I was grinding for Legend though? Not so much.
So why is Adapt bad? You do get to chose your ability, it’s not just random like with Babbling Book… Right? Yes, it’s not as horrible as Babbling Book or certain other cards, but it’s barely any better than Spare Parts from the GvG expansion: Yes you get to chose your buff, but only one out of three. With seven other buffs remaining, the chance of you missing the buff you need is pretty damn high. In fact, you only have a 33% chance of hitting the buff you need. Whether you’ll be offered a Taunt or a +3 Attack rather than a Windfury or a Deathrattle effect will decide tournaments if these cards pop off. It’s GvG all over again, just slightly less bad because you technically get a choice. A choice that remains to be a fraud however, as the chance of you getting the choice you want stays at 33%. It's an illusion of choice.
Adapt essentially is a worse version of Discover. Discover was a great mechanic that needed a bit less RNG than it originally had. Think Kazakus, which is a card that only dominates the meta because it does what Discover was supposed to do: Giving you clever options that you can (most of the time) bank on, rather than flipping a coin. If Adapt would always offer the same three options all the time it’d have great potential for a healthy competitive environment. But Blizzard instead intends to the way of the “fun RNG” they pulled with GvG. The key difference between this and GvG though, is that GvG was Team 5’s first proper expansion. This is their fifth.
Even if Quest or Adapt won’t dominate the metagame, they highlight a very sad fact: Team 5 is unable to learn from their mistakes. Even if these new mechanics might be fun, they won't create a healthy competitive environment, quite the opposite. Quest will, most likely, promote a stale meta whereas Adapt promotes even more RNG. These are the two key reasons as to why many pros, including Lifecoach, are leaving the scene. Team 5 is either unable or unwilling to learn from their mistakes. Which is fine for the casual game! But it shows that Hearthstone has no future as an esport, given that its creators clearly don't care for the competitive side of things.
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