You might laugh. How could Gwent – a standalone free-to-play title cobbled together from a mini-game in The Witcher 3 – ever make it as an esport?
I mean, it’s easy to see Gwent developer CD Projekt RED’s reasoning: if Hearthstone can manage it, why can they not take something that already has a following, and look to build a competitive scene around it?
There’s already a $100,000 tournament, after all, and while that’s a little on the nose – we get it, you want to make an esport – it’s at the very least acknowledge of CDPR’s intention, and it’ll have Hearthstone pros sitting up and taking notice.
And you know what, Gwent is building up quite a fanbase already. The recently released beta is getting players into the systems, and while there are still questions around whether it could take on Hearthstone (CDPR don’t quite have Blizzard’s financial backing) there’s every chance it could become quite a significant threat to the Heathstone pro scene.
So here’s why Gwent could be a proper challenger to Hearthstone’s card game crown:
It’s the bugbear of so many Hearthstone players. Whether you’re still playing, or have metaphorically flipped the table, there are no doubt countless times you’ve suffered at the hands of a random number generator.
And of course there are those that argue that good deck building and an understanding of what both yourself and your opponent has access to will help you overcome that, and that’s certainly true – to an extent. There’s a reason some pro players have a much higher success rate than others, after all.
But there are also those times where even the very best players have missed out simply because they hand a poor string of cards that were preceded by their opponent’s lucky set that gave them an advantage. It makes tactical play so impossible when a Mage can Discover the only card that can turn the game – from an entirely different class.
Hearthstone is a game that simplifies the CCG, and for that reason its reliance on RNG is at once thrilling and frustrating. Gwent provides a more strategic, thoughtful approach – one that doesn’t necessarily rely too heavily on randomisation.
It’s a tough one to call, though: on one hand the randomisation can lead to exciting moments while watching, and methodical, strategic play can often lead a game being won – and therefore drawn out – before either players know it. It’s a matter of preference, and not one that can be a safe pick here.
The way that Gwent is designed means that you’ll get much longer games than you might see in Hearthstone. The three-round system means that even if you’ve built up some tempo, there’s some opportunity for your opponent to counter that with relative success.
In Hearthstone – especially in the current meta – it’s aggro decks that tend to rule the roost. Builds that flush the board with Murlocs is one of the current flavours du jour, and certain classes are particularly well built for aggro play.
That can be frustrating to play and it can be frustrating to watch, because it’s a case of rushing out anything – everything – without any real concern or thought.
And yes, of course there are counters to this in Hearthstone and yes, of course there is a lot of deck building flexibility in the game, but Gwent inherently is built to allow for your deck to be played before.
The limitations on more valuable cards, for example, requires a greater focus in deck building. It means that you won’t suffer because your deck wasn’t able to reach fruition. Gwent is the equivalent of letting it all hang out, and that liberation means there’s a greater sense of strategy about the game.
This isn’t to say that Hearthstone doesn’t require intuitive decision making at all steps of the game, but there just seems to be a lot more personal control over the result of a game of Gwent that Hearthstone still seems to suffer from.
Pros are giving Gwent some love
It’s not been available as an open beta for too long, but naturally Hearthstone pro players are keen on giving it a go. There are a lot of concerns around the esports scene for Hearthstone, and while it’s one of the only strategy/CCGs that can provide real winnings it still seems to waver at times.
Even YouTube stars – such as Kripp – who exclusively built their channels off a love of and deep understanding of Hearthstone have been talking about how good a game Gwent is, and how they’re considering giving it some serious time.
That’s not the be-all and end-all to any esports opportunities for Gwent, of course, but if it can get the backing of some solid competitive and well-known players then they will naturally bring with them their respective fanbases, too. More people means more competition.
More than anything, it’ll give CDPR an roster of players and with that an opportunity to build a more regular and consistent set of tournaments, a season of games that is really integral to maintaining a successful esport.
A consoling hand
It might seem like a little bit of a simple way the two are competing, but frankly it’s always been strange that Blizzard has still yet to bring Hearthstone over to console. Console interfaces have come a long way since the likes of Warcraft II made it onto PS1, and it’s not like there’s really that much about Hearthstone that would struggle with an analogue stick setup.
Especially since it’s not like it’s a particularly time-sensitive game. It’s turn-based!
So by sheer virtue of the fact that Gwent is already coming to PS4 and Xbox One is something of an advantage. Gwent can take on Hearthstone on the PC, of course, and it’s already got something of a following to kickstart that.
But on console it will be practically uncontested. It’ll be a tougher game to convince console players to take it up – those fellows have an inherent resistance to free-to-play and anything 2D – but if it can get a solid following then it will only grow from there.
Hearthstone’s entry to iOS apps is definitely a step in the right direction, but one seemingly better to serve a casual gaming audience, rather than the more hardcore gamers of PC and console.
On the contrary, Gwent offers cross-platform play between PC and Xbox One, so there’s no reason the scene can’t thrive on one or the other. Simply put: it just gives a larger pool of potential players for Gwent to target that Hearthstone seems to be snubbing its nose at.
For as much as we are all huge fans of Blizzard’s games – when was the last time they made an actual dud title? – let’s face it, they’re not the most adaptable of developers.
That’s not a criticism, really. There’s some value in being selective about the feedback you’re receiving, it keeps the game core to Blizzard’s ideals and that means there’s a solid gameplay that is not weakened or watered down at the behest of listening to customers too much.
But there are some things that players have been requesting of Hearthstone for years that just don’t seem to be making any progress, if they’re ever going to be included at all.
CDPR has to fight harder for it, and it’s going to take that feedback more seriously. That’s not to say that Gwent will become the everyman’s card game, that it will become some abhorrent mess simply because they took on too much feedback. But it does mean that features or elements of the game that CDPR once considered holy may well be tweaked – or even changed completely – if they see enough feedback to suggest it.