Sep 6 2016 - 7:18 pm

Every Hearthstone expansion, ranked

It seems crazy to think that in 2016 we can count the number of Hearthstone expansions on two hands
Luke Winkie
Dot Esports

It seems crazy to think that in 2016 we can count the number of Hearthstone expansions on two hands. It wasn’t long ago that the game was locked away in beta and the promise of new cards and new interactions was a far-off hypothetical. But today, we can look back on the history of Hearthstone in eras. Each expansion brought forth a unique spin on the existing meta. Sometimes it was fresh and imaginative, and sometimes it was Secret Paladin.

With that in mind, I’m ranking the Hearthstone expansions from best to worst. To judge them, I looked at each set's impact on the meta, the level innovation in card design, and how “fair” the best cards from each expansion felt to play against. (There’s a big difference between Reno Jackson and Dr. Boom, okay?). So, here is the Dot Esports list of expansions. I hope to get a few emails from some of those weird The Grand Tournament groupies out there.

1) League of Explorers

Simply put, this is the best designed expansion Blizzard has implemented into Hearthstone so far. Every one of League of Explorers’ legendaries (Reno Jackson, Sir Finley Mrrgleton, Elise Starseeker, Brann Bronzebeard, Archethief Rafaam) found their place in competitive play. That’s really hard to do! Especially considering how none of them feel broken or hamfisted. Explorers also gave us “discover,” which is maybe the most adored mechanic in the game, and a cast of interesting, forward-thinking minions like Keeper of Uldaman, Tomb Pillager, and Anyfin Can Happen. (Notice we didn’t mention Tunnel Trogg.)

But more than that, I think the cool thing about League of Explorers is how it captured Hearthstone’s spirit. It was the first expansion not to be based around a static World of Warcraft trope, and personally I’d love to see this silly little card game tell more of its own stories with the fiction in the future.

2) Whispers of the Old Gods

Maybe it’s a recency bias, but I’ve really enjoyed the metagame post-Whispers of the Old Gods. I like how Blizzard designed around specific archetypes instead of individual cards. C’Thun and his supporting cast is the most obvious example, but it’s been cool to see the different ideas inspired by N’Zoth and Y’Shaarj. Yogg-Saron is obviously a very divisive minion in pro play, but there’s no denying that his unique brand of bedlam has been thoroughly entertaining. As far as massive, 130-card injections go, I think Old Gods sits at an indelible place between the overpowered insanity of Goblins vs. Gnomes and the inertness of The Grand Tournament.

3) Curse of Naxxramas

Hearthstone’s first expansion was a lot of fun. The heroic bosses were super tough and the mechanics introduced (powerful deathrattles, Webspinner’s game-wide randomization effect) would go on to influence the game’s core design for years to come. However, Curse of Naxxramas also introduced a number of stupidly broken minions. Mad Scientist, Sludge Belcher, Haunted Creeper, Loatheb, and Death’s Bite were ubiquitous and also just… not much fun to play against. Hearthstone’s balance team has gotten smarter in the years since, which is good because it means we’ll probably avoid another Undertaker debacle.

4) Blackrock Mountain

Blackrock Mountain was a fine adventure with some interesting cards, but it’ll be mostly remembered for the rise of Patron Warrior and the eventual destruction of the charge mechanic. That’s a shame, because there’s plenty of cool ideas in the set (Lava Shock, Chromaggus, Majordomo Executus) but they were all buried in an endless sea of “HEY EVERYONE, GET IN HERE.” Also, Blackrock gave us Emperor Thaurissan which has lead to hours of hilarious, impossible combos, and the occasionally unhealthy one-turn-kill deck. What a crazy divisive expansion! Which is why it’s sitting here in the middle.

5) Goblins vs. Gnomes

Goblins vs. Gnomes offered the first major dollop of randomness into Hearthstone’s palate, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective. But also there were few cards I hated playing against more than Dr. Boom and Piloted Shredder, and I’m really happy they’ve been put out to pasture.

6) One Night in Karazhan

Obviously we’re still pretty early in the One Night in Karazhan era, so this is more of a projection than a judgement, but I have been disappointed in the lack of creativity in the card design this set. There are so many ways to make a powerful Beast Druid card, but instead we get Menagerie Warden which splats down a pile of stats with no real interaction or nuance. Purify is supposed to be a fun, weird, noncompetitive card, but silencing your own minion just isn’t that cool. There are exceptions with stuff like Ethereal Peddler and The Curator, but overall it feels like Hearthstone is lacking an inventive new mechanic like what League of Explorers brought with discover. Maybe when the next rotation happens, I guess.

7) The Grand Tournament

I’d rather play Hearthstone with a bunch of broken new cards than with an expansion that does absolutely nothing, which is why The Grand Tournament is sitting here at the bottom. Obviously Blizzard had a difficult time designing a relevant set when the game was already crowded with the overpowered likes of Goblins vs. Gnomes and Curse of Naxxramas but… man. Out of 130 new cards, maybe 12 saw long term competitive play. One of those was Mysterious Challenger, and the less said about that the better. Blizzard printed a seven mana 4/2 that didn’t do anything. It was dispiriting. Hopefully with the standard rotation we’ll never see something quite as handcuffed and inessential as The Grand Tournament ever again.

Jan 17 2017 - 11:07 pm

How to Watch the ESL Hearthstone Trinity Series: Players, Format, Times, and More

It's the biggest team league the game has seen in over a year.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Photo via Blizzard Entertainment

It's been well over a year since Hearthstone last had a major team league in the West—something fans have been crying out for. Tomorrow the wait ends, and the ESL Trinity Series begins.

Eight trios, flying the banners of some of the biggest franchises in esports, will compete in best-of-11 matches until Mar. 2. The top teams will advance to a live finals at the ESL studios in California, with $75,000 up for grabs for the winning team.

This is a big moment for Hearthstone esports. After growth slowed in 2016, this league could get 2017 off to a big start as the major players in the scene attempt to stabilize and consolidate their positions.

Here's everything you need to know about the league, the teams involved, and how the matches will play out.

What is the format?

For each match, the teams will submit nine decks—one for each class in the game. Each team will ban out two of their opponent's decks, leaving seven decks from which the teams pick a final lineup of six.

The teams then play a best-of-11 match in the Last Hero Standing format—once a deck loses a game it is locked for the rest of the match, and you lose when you have no decks left. Unlike the Archon Team League Championships where each player was assigned a couple of decks to play, all six players will be playing every game of every series. They will do so with open communication, which viewers will be tuned in to throughout the broadcast.

The format requires a huge amount of strategy, deckbuilding skill, and team work. The teams will have to argue out each individual play, make their move within the short timeframe of a turn, and try not to fall out in the process. Matches will be long, and real-life fatigue will play a part.

How will the league be broadcast?

The broadcasts will be presented from ESL's studios in Burbank, California, with TJ Sanders and Brian Kibler slated to call the action.

The players themselves will be playing from home, adding another level of difficulty to the communication, until the league reaches its final stages.

The matches will be played on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting tomorrow, with two matches per day. Games will start at 1pm ET (10am PT) for the duration of the seven week season and will be aired on ESL's Hearthstone Twitch channel.

Who are the teams?

The lineup features some of the biggest brands in esports. Two Hearthstone world champions, over a dozen tournament winners, and some wildcards too.

G2 Esports are easily the favorites to win it all. The trio of Dima "Rdu" Radu, Thijs Molendijk, and Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy is the most decorated in the game, with the Archon Team League Championships title also under their belt. The weight of expectation is firmly upon this European trio.

Although the team is relatively new, having just brought on a third member in time for the league, Alliance will be one of the teams to watch. The Swedish organization picked up a trio of players to represent the team and their country in three-time major winner Jon "Orange" Westberg, 2015 world champion Sebastian "Ostkaka" Engwall, and consistent journeyman Harald "Powder" Gimre.

Virtus Pro will be a force to be reckoned with. After starting out as rivals at the 2016 European Winter Championship, Artem "DrHippi" Kravets, Ole "Naiman" Batyrbekov, and Raphael "BunnyHoppor" Peltzer have formed a formidable unit. The team has been represented in countless major tournaments this year, with DrHippi finishing second in the world championship.

CompLexity will be looking to turn potential and underdog determination into results. Jan "SuperJJ" Janssen was impressively consistent throughout 2016, but did not win a major title. Simon "Crane" Raunholst has long been considered one of the best minds in the game but he has also not borne this out with results, while perennial prospect Tugay "MrYagut" Evsan will be looking to show just why he was so highly touted for so long.

The only all-American lineup in the tournament, Luminosity Gaming will also be hoping to live up to their billing. Branded a U.S. "super team" when they were formed last year, DreamHack Austin winner Keaton "Chakki" Gill and the experienced Paul "Zalae" Nemeth will be partnered by top young talent Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang.

The experienced but somewhat out-of-favor hand of Peter "Gaara" Stevanovic will look to guide Tempo Storm's young prospects David "JustSaiyan" Shan and Victor "Vlps" Lopez to success, while the veteran Team Liquid trio of David "Dog" Caero, Jeffrey "Sjow" Brusi, and Yevhenii "Neirea" Shumilin will aim to prove the value of experience.

Speaking of veterans, 2014 world champion James "Firebat" Kostesich, early leader Cong "StrifeCro" Shu, and 2014 World Esports Championship winner Andrew "TidesofTime" Biessener will round out the lineup for Cloud9. With Firebat having casted more than competed in 2016, StrifeCro having made just the odd appearance and TidesofTime having spent the past two years struggling with whether or not he loved the game anymore, this lineup will now have to deliver on a big stage.

Though 2017 is only a few weeks old, the ESL Trinity Series promises to be one of the most entertaining and competitive events of the year. The players will be tested to the limits of their skills—and Hearthstone fans will finally have another team league to get invested in.

Jan 15 2017 - 10:59 pm

Staz bests Orange in WESG Hearthstone final

It's the first major win for an SEA player.
Callum Leslie
Weekend Editor, Dot Esports.
Screengrab via Starladder_HS_en/Twitch

At the first major Hearthstone event of 2017, Euneil “Staz” Javinaz bested European star Jon "Orange" Westberg to win his first title—and the first for his region.

Staz and Orange went the full seven games in the stunning final set, trading games back and forth before Staz eventually came out on top 4-3. The final game was a grinding affair, a Reno Mage mirror that played over close to an hour.

Representing the South East Asia region, Staz is the first player from that region to win a major title.

Staz reached the final after beating out a pair of Europeans—Orange's countryman Elliot "Fluffy" Karlsson and the impressive Raphael "BunnyHoppor" Peltzer—arguably having the toughest road through the bracket stage.

Orange's run was no easy feat either as he had to take out Sebastian "Xixo" Bentert, one of the most successful players of 2016 playing in his first tournament since joining Counter Logic Gaming.

The loss meant that Orange was unable to string together back to back major victories, after winning his second Seat Story Cup title in December.

For his victory Staz takes home a whopping $150,000, one of the largest prizes ever awarded in Hearthstone. For second place Orange will have to make do with $70,000.