3 Unrewarding Aspects of Hearthstone’s Ladder

Hello again, and welcome to another pleasure inducing segment penned by yours truly, with the sound purpose of invoking your curiosity and stimulating your imagination. I’ve come to realize over the years that no one, loses their boxer shorts through the sheer excitement of learning the base fundamentals of the mitochondria. However, my belief is that many of you […]

Introduction

Hello again, and welcome to another pleasure inducing segment penned by yours truly, with the sound purpose of invoking your curiosity and stimulating your imagination. I’ve come to realize over the years that no one, loses their boxer shorts through the sheer excitement of learning the base fundamentals of the mitochondria. However, my belief is that many of you do lay awake at night, unable to find rest tossing and turning; the mind feeding upon the prospect of reaching Hearthstone’s most honored ranks of Legend. Well, my friend if that’s you who am I to deny the people what they want? Sit back and strap in, as we journey together and peek behind the curtain examining the realm of the unseen.

Throughout this read, I’ll carefully point out a few reasons why Hearthstone’s imperative achievement has been so elusive for the majority of you to achieve, and the reasons may astound you. As mentioned in previous articles, I’ve  been playing Hearthstone since beta and I’ve identified three major flaws within the current system as it pertains to the ranked structure of play (AKA The Ladder).

Aspect #1: Ladder Resets

The monthly ladder resets, as it exists in the current system can be a nuisance and leaves much to be desired. If you’re like me and want to lose yourself within the leather goodness of your LA-Z-BOY recliner and play Hearthstone all day in leopard print undies, but you can’t because the fact is you probably have a real life responsibilities that cause you to have to act like an adult the majority of the day (unfortunately). With things like school, work, family, other interests or playing other games (hello, Fallout 4 I’m talking to you) a month really isn’t a whole lot of time in between resets. Even the activity of pro players’ after a reset for example mirrors your own, and the vast majority of which take their time grinding up to the Legend ranks for the same reasons I listed above.

For pro players a month between resets means less time to play against equally skilled players, and that equates to less training time between tournaments when they’re not actively practicing with their partners. It creates an extra time requirement and therein lies the problem: Time is money and not just for the professionals.

Most of us ordinary “joes” who don’t play at the professional level, can attest to the fact that getting to Legend is EXTREMELY time-consuming. Even under the best of circumstances, if you’re running a deck with a 60% win rate you’d still need over 300 games to get up and away from the bottom feeders at rank 25 to reach Legend by season’s end. We’re talking 300 effing games here, and that’s a lot! Furthermore, a deck with a 60% win rate isn’t even a bad win rate for a card game, not at all. Considering that most pro players in the Magic the Gathering circuit run decks with similar win rate percentage in that region, so it’s actually quite the achievement.

Quickly, lets take a look at the numbers and do a little math to further put this into perspective. Assuming that you’ll need a minimum of 300 games to reach the Legend ranks from rank 25, and your average match lasts right around 10 minutes, that would mean you’re spending 3,000 minutes or 50 hours of your time every month grinding away to Legend. 50 hours that’s border line insane! That’s longer than a typical full-time work week for most people, a very significant investment and sacrifice of your time. The time requirement to actually see the Legend ranks, is in my opinion the main reason why the majority of people struggle to make the achievement. Even in the lower ranks, the level of skilled players isn’t as poor as it once was in fact I’d say many of them are Legend caliber players, they just can’t afford to put in the time required to stroll into the hallowed halls of the magnificent few.

Considering the numbers above, which deck archetype would you choose to make your run with from one season to the next? Keep in mind, you’ve got a limited amount of time (one month, not counting all the time you’re involved in other facets of life that don’t involve Hearthstone) so, rolling out CONTROL WARRIOR would seem to be pretty counter productive. Having limited time and suboptimal matchmaking play against you, it’s no wonder why most players favor that malignant tumor embedded deep into the meta that is FACE HUNTER or very similar fast aggressive decks over their controlling or combo counter parts.

In the time it would take for you to finish a control match, other players will finish three matches running a WARLOCK ZOO or Face Hunter build or some other variety of an aggressive deck. If they were to win 2 out of those 3 matches and you’re able to win your single control game, you’re still behind the power curve not just in time but in win results. The point I’m trying to make here is, that even if your control build is a better deck on paper, with a significantly better win rate, it’ll always lag behind on its grind to Legend compared to that annoying Face Hunter everyone hates.

Consequently, the current ladder system works against control and other equally slow archetypes and seems to favor aggressive builds which is why the current meta is so inundated with cancerous aggressive style decks. Should you decide to go ahead with that control build, do so at your own risk and remember that deck better have a much higher win rate than normal if you want to compete against players who are running more time efficient aggro style decks.

Aspect #2: Ladder Rewards

At the moment, at the start of each season players receive bonus stars for reaching those higher ranks of constructed play based upon where they placed the season prior. While this particular reward (if we can call it that) at least in the general sense, is actually a good aspect of constructed play, the way its applied is utterly useless. The problem is, these stars mean very little because you can still get matched against rank 20’s and lower.

Now, if the top 200 or so players would begin the season in Legend rank already (or significantly close to it), and the legend ranks below that threshold started at rank 5, the system would reward players for ranking high on the ladder and in doing so, make it worth their time. Besides the Legendary card back (which is pretty sweet, I have to admit) there really isn’t any other relevant reward for climbing and grinding away those 300 or so games every month.

I know, I know what your thinking I’m forgetting about that rather recent addition of the treasure chest filled with various goodies, whose riches are contingent upon rank. I’ll admit, those spoils do offer some minor compensation in the form of Arcane Dust, golden cards, lumps of gold, as well as those rather meaningless stars we already discussed. I just feel that after dedicating no less 50 hours of my life to one singular agenda, Blizzard would look to sweeten the pot a little bit more. Maybe provide me with an overly powerful Legendary minion that changes from season to season, that is an exclusive little perk available only to those platinum ranks. Or maybe a booster pack filled solely with Legendaries, or significant discounts on future expansion adventures–some tangible reward for dedicating so much time and effort to a singular cause that sets apart those players who reach those legendary ranks over the casual gamer.

I’m going to throw in another bone here, for no charge just because I’m a nice guy. As a side note the seasonal card back offered to every walk of life who can reach rank 20 by season’s end also carries less meaning (in my opinion). Rank 20? I mean really? The newest of newbies can reach rank 20 in under 30 days blindfolded! I’m not arguing that the seasonal card back should be awarded solely to Legend players, but what I am saying is when such shiny toys are given away to litterally EVERYONE, they lose their luster. I spent 8 years of my life in the military, having served my country with honor distintiction through combat deployments and great personal sacrafice. I don’t bring that up to drop my resume, toot my own horn, pat myself on the back, or fish for accolades–especially on this platform. However, I say it to bring up a point. While I was in, I noticed toward the end of my career certain medals and awards of distinction were beginning to be dished out for the most mundane of achievements. In the process, they carried less meaning and ended up overshadowing people and their achievements who truly did deserve it. To cement my point no one does it better than Dash from Disney’s The Incredibles: “If everyone is special, no one is.”

There is also an additional flaw within the nature of the Legend rank itself. The whole point behind those upper echelon ranks where the top dogs exists in the first place, is to differentiate between the best of the best; a ranking structure set aside specifically for the most elite. However, the reality is that thousands of Hearthstone players reach those legend ranks every season, which is a number you can hardly call elite anymore, even if it remains a relatively minor part of the Hearthstone community. It’s been a minute since I’ve played StarCraft 2, but when I was pretty absorbed in it, the top 200 players of each region would play in their very own Grand Master League. I’m not sure if it is still played that way to this day, but that’s what I’d call elite! Reaching Grandmaster is the recognition of one’s elite skill set, an achievement set aside specifically for the Crème de la crème of each region. In comparison, the Hearthstone Legend feels less special somehow, simultaneously underwhelming and under rewarding.

Now, understand I’m not belittling anyone who has been able to make this ultimate Hearthstone achievement. In fact, if you have been able to accomplish the Legend feat I congratulate you, it’s definitely something to be proud of. However, the simple fact is (like it or not), time dedication is the bigger factor in being considered elite than actual skill–at least as it pertains to Hearthstone anyway. This cold hard truth, is a testament to the flawed constructed laddering system, and shows that it is anything but well designed. The problem here is, players benefit from playing a helluva lot of games, rather than demonstrating they have a higher win rate (although some players in best case scenarios do have both), and in doing so would leave no question regarding the elite level of their skills. It just seems to me, that with such fundamental flaws it hardly seems like an appropriate system that should be used in a competitive environment like the ladder, especially in an ever-growing esport scene.

Aspect #3: Matchmaking

In the current system, a win will reward you with a star (on non Legend ranks), regardless of whether your opponent was better or worse. If player “A” began a new season with 10-0 stats, while player “B” had gone 2-8, we can safely conclude (at least for the purposes of this example) that player “A” is clearly the better player. If those two individuals were pitted against one another on the regular ladder however, those stats are void and irrelevant because the winner will still gain a star and the loser will have one of his existing stars subtracted (not counting win streak bonuses of course).

After the system scans for your “old room-mate” or for a “mouth breather” eventually you’ll sit across from your opponent who will be someone ranked somewhere around your level. However, because the ranks themselves don’t count for anything, you’ll start your match and never know what truly matters: your opponents skill level and/or his/her win rate. Instead, what will be displayed is his rank and of course the number of stars you have, which serve no purpose whatsoever except as a cosmetic decoration to make everything look pretty. At fault here is this “star per win” system that can easily match you up against an opponent who could potentially have (for better or worse) a HUGE  difference is actual skill level. Additionally, the problem here also is the win streak bonus stars, which allow players to rank up to rank 5 with a (theoretically) less than 50% win rate.

Within the Legend ranks matchmaking, and rank advancement change altogether, and skill becomes a much more relevant factor. Recently a couple of pro players, (Trump among them) were in agreement that the range of players a person is matched up against is truly a very mixed bag and the pool is larger than it should be, including hundreds of numerical rank differences. This further proves my point, that even in Legend ranks the numerical value assigned to it isn’t at all an accurate display of actual skill level.

An additional flaw, and one that is widely criticized are the matches between players on the Legend ladder against those who are on the ranked rungs between 5-1. In those particular matches the player who has reached Legend is almost always the player who is more disadvantaged, because should he/she come up on the losing end of those matches he/she will most certainly fall from grace dropping a lot of ranks, while on the other hand a win will almost earn him/her nothing in comparison. The win/lose ratio in the Legend ranks is ridiculous, because a player loses dozens of ranks just because of that solitary loss suffered along the way. It just seems inappropriate to me, that after slaving away in excess of 300 games such a penalty exists for players who are considered elite.

It doesn’t make sense that those higher skilled players who make Legend with regularity are forced to play against weaker players for a long period of time before they reach a point where they can actually start competing with players who are on their level. This is problematic not just for those individuals who made the grind to Legend, but also for the lesser skilled guys toward the bottom of the barrel. In the current system, what chance do those weaker skilled players have to make a significant climb from season to season, when they are outmatched and out gunned the majority of the month? It stands to reason that from season to season the exact same people are making Legend, and the exact same people are bottoming out at the same rank every month.

Players I’ve spoken with who strive and dedicate themselves to making Legend every month, feel frustrated and often take extended breaks from Hearthstone altogether based on this reasoning. I realize that making Legend isn’t an entitlement, and there are certain people out there for a variety of reasons who will never make it. However, each season should be a clean slate giving every player an equal opportunity to be considered elite. That cannot and will not happen as long as the unfair matchmaking system continues to be in place.

Conclusion

As in any game (and in every aspect of life), the quickest most efficient way to get better is to play with other players who are on a similar skill threshold or even a bit beyond. However, in the current system it takes entirely too long for those higher ranked players to grasp onto a rung on the ladder where they are able to do just that. Consequently, making your way through the grind every season, taking efficiency into account, in reality is a waste of time.

I say if your someone whose end state is reaching Legend, do not lose heart or become disappointed with the conclusion of every season if you fail. In many ways your failure is not at all a direct reflection of your skill, or lack thereof. The majority of the time your inability to achieve your Legend goals, isn’t tied to the fact (well not entirely at least), that your missing a couple of Legendary minions needed to mirror image that net deck you’ve been eyeballing. It’s not because you exist on the low-end slowly making additions to your card manager a game at a time, because you’re a free-to-play player on a budget. It doesn’t correlate to being a lousy, sucky player either. Most of the factors hindering you are actually completely out of your control in the first place, meaning it’s the system that is flawed not you.

In previous articles that I’ve written, (SHAMAN: OVERLOADED WITH OVERLOAD) I’ve addressed problems as I see them, but I’ve also offered up some alternatives to right the ship. With this article, I have similarly put in my two cents worth of advice, but I did so more indirectly than I have in previous writings. Instead, what I’d like to see are some of your ideas, your comments and feedback on what game developers could do to make constructed play more rewarding and also presenting some solutions to tackle the problems that currently hinder players in constructed play.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed another journey as my ride along buddy in the passenger seat, taking in all the sights and sounds as we traveled through another region of wonderland. Until next time!