Odinn

Is Hearthstone's Ladder Too Hardcore?

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As a purported 'casual' game - which is to say, an accessible, easy-to-understand, free-to-play game with few mechanical requirements - Hearthstone has a broad audience. The tablet and mobile platforms have only served to open the game up to even more players. With the incredible frequency of its ladder resets and the constant compression of the player base into the bottom range of that ladder, however, is the game too punishing for infrequent enjoyment?



At it's core, Hearthstone is a competitive, player versus player game. It pits two human players against each other in a format designed to determine a winner and a loser. There is no co-op, and the game's single player content is still quite thin. By its nature, that sets up a competitive environment - but competitive does not have to mean hardcore.

What does come across as punitive, however, are things like the duration of seasons, and the rank reset structure on a season-to-season basis. Blizzard's seasons in their other games last multiple months at a time - WoW PvP seasons, StarCraft seasons, Diablo Seasons - and your matchmaking rating and the presentation thereof do not get substantially reduced from one season to the next (e.g. a Platinum StarCraft player may start a subsequent season in high Gold, a few games away from where they left off, but not in Bronze).

ANT6SOZ1AZCQ1411061634681.png

Player rank distribution.


The ability to climb the Hearthstone ladder quickly is offset by the limited stars in the game's ecosystem until players generate additional stars through win streaks or by winning games against opponents at level 20 or below. Every season, even players who finished at the top of the Legend ladder are pushed back down into the bottom of the rank system, and forced to re-earn their placement every month.

In essence, there are two competing problems, and solving either one would improve the Hearthstone experience for many: Either seasons need to last longer, or the rank reset mechanic at the end of each month needs to be less punishing.

Season_new_2.jpg

The current end of season 'Bonus Stars' system.


Longer seasons will appeal to players trying to make the grind to a high rank over a period of time, particularly for players whose time is limited and cannot play the game in large bursts. StarCraft has had an average of around five seasons per year since it was released; WarCraft seasons last six months on average; Diablo seasons look to last about two months as it stands. Hearthstone's brief seasons stand in stark contrast, and make the ability to feel like you make progress limited to anyone who cannot play large quantities of games in short periods of time during a given calendar month.

The second choice would be to reduce the season-to-season rank reduction, so that players could feel like they can make gains over time by succeeding in consecutive seasons as the short monthly seasons roll by. Right now, a player who pushes hard to achieve e.g. a rank 10 finish in a season - putting them in the top 10% of all players! - will start the next season back at rank 19. A pro player could just win 17 straight games and rocket back to rank 10, but for a player whose best finish is rank 10, it's more likely to take dozens of games, if not more.

If the rank structure were to simply reduce your rank by a fixed number of ranks/stars at the end of each season, rather than counting up from the bottom of the ladder every time, players could make slow progress over time if they can't manage a massive burst of play in a single month.

Ranked_win_streak.jpg

Win streaks make some difference, but not enough for many players.


For the sake of argument, if players lost half of their stars at the end of a season, the rank 10 player would start the next season at rank 15, and while that may only be a difference of 5 games on a win streak to a strong player, it's a huge quality of life improvement for someone trying to make slower gains over time (or who simply can't play that many games!). It would feel like less of a hard reset, and more like a ladder that is indicative of your current skill at all times, not just the end of a month when you could play a sufficient number of games.

Using this system, every player would be a little further ahead at the start of the next month's season, which would also help with the early season feeling extraordinarily punishing to players as the ladder's compression forces top players back into the same rank range for matchmaking as every other player starting back near the bottom. A Legend player would start at a comfortable rank 10, distant from the players who are still newer to the game or don't have the cards or time to compete at that level.

What drawbacks are there to moving to a more casual-friendly ladder system? There are, within reason, two major issues:

uhJfBZB.jpg

The really, really pro scene.


1. The Hearthstone World Championship. As the point structure and acquisition system for the HSWC is already based around monthly seasons, adjusting that prior to BlizzCon is effectively impossible; and

2. Seasons running longer, or players starting that much higher on the ladder on a month-to-month basis, has the potential to swell the size of the Legend pool over time (as more players could conceivably reach it in a month with the larger number of stars at the start of each month).

The former rules out longer seasons in the short term, but not forever; the latter feels like a fairly hollow complaint about exclusivity (oh no, Legend is now 0.75% of players instead of 0.5%!). Season length isn't a major concern for Blizzard, as how long a season runs or how many stars a player starts with has limited impact on things like volume of microtransactions or number of games played. At a worst case scenario, a player who quit playing while at Legend today would receive only one card back (the following month) before their account would slip below the Rank 20 threshold; under the new system, a discontinuing player would be able to get three card backs, despite not playing the consecutive seasons (in theory).

Having said that, a simple stop gap - such as requiring a player to gain at least one rank per season to receive a card back - would eliminate that concern, if that bothered Blizzard or the community. A Legend player who isn't playing earning a couple of extra card backs doesn't seem much cause for concern, though.

Would longer seasons or a softer monthly reset improve your Hearthstone experience? Does it appeal to you more than the current system? Are you happy with the status quo? Let us know what you think.

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I'm unsure on this at the moment.

 

When I play for a decent amount of time each month (few evenings for a few hours) I can reach around rank 10 / 9.  Last month was rank 7 month before that rank 11.

 

Now while I would prefer a slightly longer season so I dont have to go from rank 19/18 to 10 again I'm not sure if that extra time would actually allow me to improve my overall rank.

 

As I'm more of a casual player I probably wouldn't play any more or less than I do now - which is play a LOT in the last week of the season to see if I can get up that extra rank.

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What a great post!

 

I am a that kind of guy you refer to. I have limited time to play and even if I am a casual player I still wanna try to climb the rank and beat my own record. But it seems hopeless with the reset time that is today. 

 

To adress the problem I would say that give more stars back so you don't have to start so far back again would be the best thing. 

Because even if you make the season it is still a to big drawback for a casual player like me starting at the top again. Even if the season is one month longer my game time can look really different that time and I might have smaller amount of time to play week to week so the punishment is just as hard when the reset comes.

 

Snake

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I'd like a season to be longer in order to be able to get a golden hero.

Right now in a month 500 wins are insane, that means 17 wins per day.

I'd like that to not get reset, to just achieve 500 wins in ranked.

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It's strange, with only a few days left in the Season, I still run into prior legendary players (recognized on cardback) around Rank 12-14. Before that, a week ago maybe, LE players around Rank 15-18. Now knowing how much this game counts an RNG, I still ask myself following question: If I were a new player to hearthstone and I meet these before mentioned players again and again while trying to climb the ladder, would I continue to play hearthstone or is it too frustating?

Because like written in this detailed analysis, one does meet legendary players, or players with complete deck sets in lower parts of the ladder, because they also have to work themselves back up the ladder.

So, maybe the current system is not just frustrating for the players who make legend, but also for those poor souls who start the game and try to compete and the only thing on their side is maybe some good RNG because you can't get pro decks for free from the start.

Will the current system scare off "new blood" and frustrate "old blood" to give up the climb?

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I agree that longer seasons would be helpful, but I also think that there needs to be another "milestone" point added to the ladder climb (grind). 

 

Right now, if you are a casual player like myself, once you get to Rank 20 and reach that point where if you lose, you don't lose any stars and go down in rank, you have earned the card back for that season and the prospect of having to win enough to get all the way to Legend is daunting.  There needs to be some other incentive between Rank 20 to get the card back and earning the Legend rank.

 

The highest rank I have ever reached is Rank 13.  It doesn't seem to matter if I'm playing recommended decks from the Icy Veins decklists or trying my own creative ideas -- I lose way more often than I win and since I'm going to be knocked back so much when the season resets, if I have a good run of luck and get to somewhere past Rank 15, knowing there is no way with my limited time to play I'm going to make it all the way to Legend, I just stop playing ranked and switch to Casual or Arena until the season resets.  This is because the few times I tried to "press my luck" I ended up sliding back down to where I spend most of my time in the Rank 20 - Rank 16 range.

 

Now, if there was another incentive, say for example, once I reached Rank 10 then I didn't lose stars below that rank point for the rest of the season, I would be motivated to push to Rank 10 to reach that milestone, even if I didn't expect to be able to make it to Legend rank in that season.  The idea of having a good streak of luck (or maybe even investing more time and actually gettting more skilled enough to compete at higher ranks) and reaching up into the single digit ranks only to slide back down into my familiar teen ranks when my luck turns (or my skill fails me) is demoralizing.

 

So bottom line, in addition to longer seasons and maybe changing how the ranks are adjusted between seasons, I would really like to see another milestone point around Rank 10 that I could shoot for and, if I achieved it, not have to worry about sliding all the way back down to the bottom of Rank 20 for that particular season, at least.

 

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Because like written in this detailed analysis, one does meet legendary players, or players with complete deck sets in lower parts of the ladder, because they also have to work themselves back up the ladder.

This is a similar concept to the Do LFR early in the week when the better raiders are in getting legendary stone/runes rather than the altfest of later in the week.

 

I think the 1 month length is good and should stay. If you were to take a 2 week break from the internet you could come back and only have 2 weeks to wait for a new season rather than have to wait potentially longer.

 

I do like the idea of more bonus stars so that you can build week on week. This would allow an avenue much like extending a heroic Garrosh lockout in SoO. The extra bonus stars could scale with rank so that the earlier levels give more bonus stars and the later levels provide less. IE a rank 1 will drop perhaps to rank 10, but a rank 10 may drop to rank 12, or something to the effect. This will force players to still earn the legendary status but not punish the time poor/newer players in to the 20 to 15 grind each week.

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Interesting post.
I can see you're looking at the ladder from the view of a more "casual" gamer, those guys who generally finish the season rank 10-15. 

Let me give some perspective from a player who spends the majority of the season in the "death bracket" i.e. rank 1-5. 

I feel the season is too short. Unless you're exceptionally skilled,or very lucky, grinding to legend is extremely time consuming. Even a player who is able to win 55% of his games vs the top 2% of the player pool (a top 1% player?) would require ~250 games to get from rank 5 to legend. That's a ton of games in a single month, only to hit legend in the final week (if you're lucky) and then start the process over again. Additionally, while grinding to legend, you're forced into using your top decks, using a novelty deck for a bit of fun, or an unproven deck in ranked mode, can cost you a few days of grinding very quickly.

 

In that respect, I'd prefer a longer season, 2 months seems fair.

 

As for the reduction in stars, I somewhat actually like being dropped down the ranks. For me, getting from rank 16 to 10 is a matter of a quick session, yet the start of the season gives me an opportunity to spend the first week or so trying out all the decks I wanted to to play but without the risk. Any reduction in stars doesn't really help, as the hard work isn't getting from level X to 5...it's getting from 5 to legend.

I understand this isn't necessarily pitched at my demographic, but just thought I'd throw my 2c in anyways. 

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Let me give some perspective from a player who spends the majority of the season in the "death bracket" i.e. rank 1-5.

Some nice thoughts here.

 

Maybe we need a ranked practice option or something to the effect.

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I like the idea of having any incentive / cut off point at like level 10 as Malys mentioned.

 

Would something like this even be doable? It would have a major impact on the levels ofc.  For someone who spends a fair percentage of my hearthstone time getting from rank 18-10 it would be great to know once I've reached this milestone I wouldn't risk going back up to 13/14 (its happened too many times :P).

 

As rank 10 is so far away from legend it shouldnt impact too much on the top players, and and arguably its a mile away from new players as well.

 

What do you think Odinn?

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This ia bit stupid that such system promotes only those who spend much time on the game. Let's be honest, reaching higher ranks isn't a matter of skill or deck - it's a matter of time. Those who can play every day and aren't extremely bad (and have reasonable decks) will be climbing higher and easier than those who are better, but play less. System should promote better players over players with no life outside the game. Even the best player sometimes meets very bad match-up (Warrior or Rouge for Freeze Mage for example - ugh), therefore even the best deck doesn't guarantee faster climbing. You want to climb - you have to play much, that's all. And this stupid, because HS is commonly described as skillful game, but in the end time is much more important factor.

 

Another thing is that earlier ladder used to be like that: higher rank means better opponents. Nowadays you can meet golden Paladin with all golden cards at rank 19! It happened to my friend yesterday, I watched that game. What does potentially legendary player do at rank 19 at the end of the format? And obviously it isn't just a random example, ranks 15-18 are full of Mech Mages, Mech Shamans, Warriors, Oil Rouges, Face Hunters and other potentially tier 1 decks. Add to this people who simply farm gold, because it's obviously still easier to win at rank 18 than at rank 5, so on every stage of the ladder you basically meet the same decks, while the idea behind the ladder is obviously that each step forward means bigger challenge. Right now challenge starts above rank 20  and you can meet both noobs and pros at rank 19 at rank 10 with identical frequency.

 

Obviously "casual" mode in HS is basically nonexistent, because people hav no problems with playing complete tiers 1 there as well. HS is currently very unfriendly for starting players and it's 50%-50% due to both terrible community, where pro players have nothing against crashing unexprienced players and system unable to make ladder effective and consistent with its idea, also promoting time over skill.

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As a "more casual player" of Heartstone, i actually love the current system,

 

strenghts i see in it:

 

1. it gives me an incentive to play each month and see how far i can get.

 

(I usualy stop when i realise i am hitting a "wall" and cant make any more progress,

with the monthly reset it is nice, that i can see my progress from month to month, as i finish each season

a bit better then the one before)

 

If the seasons would last longer, i had less reason to play, if i for example hit rank 13 and start bouncing back and forth between 13 and 14, i usualy leave it be for the current season, and try my luck next season again, to reach 12, usualy works out quite well, with a two month season (or even 6) i had no reason to play again untill season change after reaching my

mark for the current season.

 

2. It gives a regular feeling of beeing rewarded for playing, with a cardback at the end of each month, another reason to

keep playing every so often, with longer seasons, again, there would be something missing which keeps me to come back now.

 

The mentioned drawbacks of the current system, are something i really do not feel at all,

it is suggested, that it might feel unfair for new/casual players to be matched up against top of the notch players every Month, as the ladder resets, but, are you REALLY aware of who you are matched against?

 

Personaly i hardly am, yeah sometimes i see a "golden hero" but to be honest, names? I Hardly even look at names

most of the time, so i could not tell if i ever had been matched against someone who was "way above my league"

all i can tell is, i played against better players and lost, and i played against worse players and won.

 

But i find, hardstone makes it hard, to tell if your opponent ist "super leet" or just "Slightly better" then you are.

 

So, i dont find any frustration there.

 

 

Something else i would think, could end up beeing a problem is, there are "infinite Stars" you can earn.

 

What i mean is, an ELO based system, has a finite number of "Points" to go arround, each player starts with x points

and what he gains, someone else loses in the progress.

 

But Stars in the Heartstone system, are not "traded" on a 1:1 base, if i have a streak, i gain 2+ Stars each win,

but my opponents only lose 1 so, given a long enough season, you would push people up and up the ladder,

without their skill really improving, ending up with the same Situation, where players are faced against much better opponents,

no?

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I heard about this discussion on the "Well Met" podcast, and I have some thoughts.  I should note that I've had two fairly successful (from my perspective, anyway) ranked runs to rank 5 and 7 in the last few months with a few weeks break in between each to play other things, work, etc.  I consider myself a very casual player, as I play most often during downtime at work or laying in bed at night on a tablet.

 

1) I like the monthly turnaround.  I like the "tabula rasa" feeling of having a fresh start every month.  I feel like anything longer than that would cause more burnout from players stuck at certain ranks.  For example, this season for whatever reason, I just can't bust through rank 5.  I've been bouncing between 5 and 8.  But come May 1, I'll be just as excited to try again.  It's like the first Saturday of college football season happens every month with all the teams trying to crack the Top 25.

 

2) I would *really* like to see some kind of reward (gold or dust would be sufficient) for achieving certain ranks.  They do this in arena already.  There should be some kind of similar reward for reaching a certain tier of the ladder.  Card backs are nice but not very fulfilling for me.  Maybe a swanky card back for reaching rank 10 would at least give me some sort of status relative to my peers.

 

Anyway, I really enjoy the podcast relative to its peers.  A lot more strategy discussion.  Doesn't sound as much like a load of friendly nerds talking about whatever happens to enter into their head.  Keep it up.

 

-aph0

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