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February Ranked Play Update: Adjustments to Star Values Per Rank

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Starting from February, climbing the lower ranks of the ladder will be easier as less stars will be required to gains ranks.

Specifically, between ranks 50 to 16 you will only need to gain 3 stars (down from 5) to earn a rank. Between ranks 15 and 11, 4 stars will be required to level up. There will be no changes from rank 10 to 1: you will still need to gain 5 stars.

Blizzard LogoBlizzard Entertainment

We’ve heard a lot of feedback about the long climb in Ranked play, so starting with the February Ranked Play season, we’re introducing a quality of life change by reducing the number of Stars required to advance in many of the Ranks!

 

Currently, every Rank has five Stars. When the February Ranked Play Season starts, each Rank will have the following number of Stars instead:

Rank Stars
Rank 50 to Rank 16 3 Stars per Rank
Rank 15 to Rank 11 4 Stars per Rank
Rank 10 to Rank 1 5 Stars per Rank

 

This will make your Ranked Play climb faster in the lower ranks, while preserving the more competitive Star values for the higher Ranks.

StarReduction_HS_EK_500x644.jpg

 

When the February Ranked Play Season begins, you will still be reset four Ranks lower than the highest Rank you achieved in the previous season, but “excess” Stars will be shed to align with the new value for the Rank you are moving to. For example, if your highest Rank in January was Rank 10 with five Stars, then when the February Season begins, you will be set to Rank 14 with four Stars. The “fifth” Star is no longer there, but you would still be at the highest value for the Rank you were moved to.

We look forward to hearing what you think! Let us know in the comments, as well as on Twitter, and Facebook.

(source)
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I apologize in advance for the long post.

I'm afraid this is only more attempt to tune a system which is flawed by design. We'll see how it goes, but I doubt this change will really help. I believe that Hearthstone's ranked play system has 3 design flaws:

  1. A player's rank is used for 2 different purposes: telling how good that player is (so that the game can match players by rank in the queue), and deciding what reward he/she will get at the end of the season.
  2. The rank is associated with the player, while the value of your game opponent is the combination of the player and the deck he/she is playing now. This means that the current rank of a player may not reflect his/her actual value, depending on which decks he/she has been playing before, and which deck he/she is playing now. I think that most players have one or two top decks with which they perform, and their other decks are for the purpose of completing specific quests, experimenting, or having fun.
  3. The standard game outcome is the exchange of a star between the loser and the winner, so in essence the ladder is a zero-sum game. However, all players start at rank 25 with 0 star, so there are no stars to trade at first.

Now, if you think of all the mechanisms Blizzard has been adding on top of the core ladder logic, you will see that they are all workarounds (sometimes cascaded) to the flaws mentioned above:

  1. Moving down every player by 4 ranks every month. This avoids that people get a top reward at the end of the month without playing, only because they reached a top rank previously. This is how they tried to address problem #1. However it has the drawback that rankings have no real meaning except at the end of each month. A player who is very active during the first half of the month could have the same rank on 15th of that month as a player who is only active during the second half of that month, while they had a 4-rank difference at the beginning of the month, and may have a 4-rank difference again at the end of the month. Of course this is an extreme example, but this illustrates how the monthly -4 rank demotion adds significant variance to the ranking system. This is bad because a ranking system used for the purpose of matching opponents needs to be stable.
  2. Preventing all players from ever getting lower than rank 25, and players who ever reached rank 15 from ever getting lower than rank 20. This is how they mitigate the monthly -4 rank demotion, to avoid that top players who take a break end up in the same ladder zone as less skilled players. However it has the drawback of creating a funnel effect around ranks 25 and 20, making it hard to get out of them.
  3. Adding milestones at ranks 15, 10 and 5, below which you can't fall once you have reached them, for the current month only. This is how they mitigate the funnel effect mentioned before: if you manage to extract yourself from the rank 20 funnel and reach rank 15, then you are safe for the season. Unfortunately, the side effect of this is to create a new funnel at rank 15, and then again at ranks 10 and 5. This breaks the smoothness and stability of the ranking system once more. This mitigation, and the previous one, are also a way to workaround problem #2, as players can then use their top decks to climb up to the next milestone, and then they can use their weaker decks without risking to fall down. However, there is no guarantee that their weaker decks will be good enough to win a game at higher ranks, so depending on the quests they need to complete, they may have to play in casual mode anyway.
  4. Generating stars, so that players can exchange them later. This is the only way to address problem #3 and get the ball rolling. There are only 3 cases when stars are being generated: when losing a game below rank 20 (your opponent gets 1 star, but you don't lose any); when losing a game but you are not allowed to drop to a lower rank because of the rank 20/15/10/5 milestones mentioned above (your opponent gets 1 star but you don't lose any); and on winning streaks below rank 5 (you get 2 or 3 stars but your opponent only loses 1). This means that star generation is essentially random (you can't predict how many stars will be generated during a month) but also not evenly distributed: the milestone ranks mentioned earlier (20/15/10/5), in addition to ranks 25-21, are where most stars are being generated every month. If you are playing in ranks 19-16, for example, you are only exchanging stars with your opponents, except on winning streaks (which are the exception, not the rule). This is what makes it very difficult to get out of this zone and reach rank 15. I've never been there, but I believe that getting from rank 15 to rank 14 should be a lot easier than getting from rank 16 to rank 15. Players at rank 15 are generating stars for each other, so if they play enough, some of them will inevitably have enough stars to reach rank 14. Note that workaround #1 is destroying a massive amount of stars at the beginning of each month. How many stars are destroyed is not deterministic, because each player's new rank is based on his/her best rank and stars during the previous month, rather than his/her current rank and stars. At the maximum, 20 stars were destroyed for each player (that will change with the upcoming update). If players generate more stars than are destroyed on average, then the average player rank is improving. If players generate fewer stars than are destroyed on average, then the average player rank is degrading. And nobody has any control over that. Apparently Blizzard is trying hard to fine-tune the system so as to stabilize this, but it looks like a fool's game to me.

I know that I am not the first one to object to the ladder system as it is implemented, and I doubt I will be the last, but for a change, instead of only complaining, let me emit a few suggestions of how I would try to fix the problems if I was in charge:

  • Problem #1 can be solved by dissociating the rank and the season's end reward. Blizzard took a first step in that direction, by giving the season's card back to all players winning 5 games during the month, independently of their rank. I believe that the same should be applied to the other rewards. Ranks should not be touched at the beginning of the month. Instead, a player's rank should define the best reward they can obtain. In order to actually obtain all of it, they have to be active. This would be similar to how corporate bonus works in most companies. With the current system, you basically must win 20 more games than you lose in order to get back to your original rank. I'm not sure how many games people need to play in order to achieve this on average, but maybe requiring a total of 30 or 40 victories to get the full season reward would make sense. If you only do half of that, you get half of the reward (implementation details obviously need to be given some more thoughts, as giving players half-cards wouldn't be exactly convenient 😉). And if you do nothing, you get nothing, even if you have a top rank. This approach would give more stability to the ranking system, and a player's rank would actually mean something, no matter if it is the beginning or the end of the season.
  • Problem #2 is harder to solve completely. Decks can change at any time, so you can't associate a rank with a deck directly. However you could attribute to each player one rank per class, instead of a single rank for all classes. This first approximation may be good enough. A player's overall rank (as used to determine the season's end reward) would be his/her best rank among all classes.
  • Problem #3 is the hardest of all, because it requires an in-depth change of the ladder system. I'm afraid that the only way to solve it is to go away from the star-based system altogether, and turn to an Elo rating system. This implies a lot of changes though, and I'm not sure if Blizzard will ever take the plunge.
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