Hearthstone

The fallout of Hearthstone’s best (or worst) championship final

The curtains were drawn on the Hearthstone Championship Tour in Taipei with the most memorable final we’ve ever seen in the game. With one player filling their deck with random Legendary cards from turn seven onwards and his opponent hoping to find enough answers and their own resource-generating card, it was completely uncharted territory.

Both players had to navigate a complicated labyrinth of seemingly endless number of possibilities at the tail end of a two-hour series – however, many were soured on the randomness of the experience, and no matter how high the level of gameplay was, there’s a point where the disconnect between the game they played on their way to the final and the one that decided the world champion is too big for its own good.

There’s a plethora of memes about Hearthstone’s supposed randomness. It’s competitive coin-flipping, pure RNG, throwing up gameplay scenarios you couldn’t prepare for due to “random cards”. And yet, top players’ win-rates were higher than ever last year, and the winner of the HCT final was the player widely considered to be the best in the world.

Design-wise, the “random” elements make a lot of sense as well. Unlike Magic, Hearthstone doesn’t have randomness built into mana acquisition and you can choose to keep or mulligan individual cards from your hand instead of having to throw them all back.

These elements – coupled with the game’s 30-card deck size and the hero powers that let you make use of your mana even when you don’t have anything to play –, allow for very consistent gameplay strategies, which isn’t necessarily a pure positive in a game like this. (In fact, two Legendary minions were prematurely rotated to the evergreen format because of how reliable they made their respective gameplay strategies, pushing out almost every other archetype from the metagame.)

Consequently, the designers decided to introduce resource generation as a way to create unique gameplay states and made sure that these cards are powerful enough to see competitive play.

There are problems with professional Hearthstone, but they’re outside the game, not inside of it. The scene has always been incredibly top-heavy and the official events regularly feature high-variance formats with low sample size due to broadcasting or other logistical concerns. This year, a new three-tiered system was introduced with a massive invitational circuit on the top of it all and a measly three big tournaments throughout the entire year with open qualifiers to all.

The Blizzard-sanctioned circuit keeps changing every year and playing Hearthstone professionally remains a very risky proposition. It is also essentially impossible to make bank without establishing yourself as a streamer.

Thijs is one of the biggest Hearthstone streamers in the world. Credit: Helena Kristiansson

Looking at the big picture, there’s a lot to be concerned about competitive Hearthstone, and holistically, there’s reason to be annoyed by how that one incredible game ended up deciding the world champion after the series progressed to 2-2 in a best-of-five match, especially after Viper missed a strong line that would have likely meant a win in the first game, giving Hunterace a chance to climb back into the series.

That doesn’t mean that a chaotic yet excellently played game would have somehow made either player an undeserved winner: it’s that the best Hearthstone player in the world should never come down to a single game.

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