Blizzcon 2015 – Insights from the Hearthstone Fireside Chat

Find out what Blizzard's Hearthstone team had to say about official Tournament support, Mysterious Challenger nerfing, extra deck slots, and much more!

The 2nd day of Blizzcon 2015 kicked off with a Fireside Chat, a Q&A panel about all things Hearthstone. There were many good questions and the developers were very open and candid with their answers.

What follows is my report on the panel, with commentary where appropriate


The Big Picture Behind Tavern Brawl

Before the Q&A, the developers made a short presentation about Tavern Brawl. They affirmed that the main reason for Brawl’s existence was threefold:

  1. Have an activity on a weekly slot, VS the daily quests and monthly ladder.
  2. Have a testing ground for new concepts, mechanics and modes.
  3. Give players a chance to try out cards they didn’t own and heroes they weren’t used to.

Up until now, they had subdivided Brawls into three categories:

  1. Brawls where you use totally premade decks, sometimes with exclusive cards.
  2. Brawls where you pick a hero and use a premade / random deck.
  3. Brawls where you craft your own deck considering a special mechanic.

To this set, they added last week a fourth type, the cooperative Brawl.

The developers then revealed that they listen intently to feedback and that despite pockets of criticism, the brunt of the feedback has been positive for every Brawl event. However, they also pay close attention to metrics, and discovered that the most popular Brawl was, by a good margin, “Randemonion”, a type-2 Brawl.

Ragnaros the Firelord

They then stressed that this doesn’t mean that they will do less of the other types of Brawl, because overall response is balanced. Instead, they will keep working on tweaking them and even adding some new types of Brawl. Next week we will be able to experience an example of tweaking: the first ever Brawl, Ragnaros VS Nefarian, will be making a return, with a slight nerf to Nefarian in order to even the playground.

Next in their plans is a Brawl showcasing the new League of Explorers mechanic, Discover. After getting your starting hand, you won’t draw cards – instead, every turn you will be able to pick between three randomly generated cards that will either be neutral or belong to your class.

Luís says:

“It’s clear that Brawl is a very important part of Blizzard’s plan for the game, and they kept going back to it as the Q&A went on, stressing that mostly anything is possible with Brawl and its importance as a testing bed for new concepts. Almost as a side thought, they let slip that their plan is to have content drops for Hearthstone roughly every four months.”

About RNG

Blizzard says that they have been tuning the RNG component of mechanics as the game evolves, and that at the moment they feel that the sweet spot are cards that have a RNG element but always provide some value: examples were the fan-favorite piloted-shredder and the less-favored but still used webspinner, where you always get at least some value for your mana and the RNG effect is an interesting extra.

They also consider that a certain amount of RNG is good because it forces players to think about and take into account the odds of optimal and sub-par scenarios, something that top players take the time to calculate.

About Accessibility for New Players

When confronted about the growing lack of accessibility for new players, often faced with a big investment to get the adventure-specific cards and opponents with huge card pools, Blizzard recognized a problem and revealed to be seriously looking for solutions, and in fact the development team has one person looking full-time into that specific problem.

At this point in time, they pointed to Brawl as a way to – on most weeks – even the playing field and accelerate collection-building, and they also revealed that new players are actually put for an undisclosed number of games in a matchmaking pool that only includes other new players.

About Communication on Co-Op

The greatest piece of feedback from the latest Tavern Brawl was the player desire to communicate in a more specific manner with their partner.

The developers once again recognized early on that this was a problem, and that’s why they decided to award the booster just for participation, instead of the usual win. At the same time, they are pleased to notice that the co-op experienced has had a big effect on promoting socialization, with people often adding their partner after a loss, and actually using emotes with sincerity.

They don’t have an answer at the moment; they are considering an option to add the partner as a friend at the start of the fight.

Luís says:

“This is no surprise to me – over the years I switched my game playing to almost 100% co-op because I have found that it brings out the best in people that would often be unpleasant in a competitive scenario. While I think the mode needs a lot of refinement – over and above better communication – I am glad it exists and that overall feedback to Blizzard is positive.”

About The Antichrist (Mysterious Challenger)

The development team admitted to purposely upping the value of mysterious-challenger because they felt that Paladin Secrets were underperforming and underused, and it was simpler to create more synergies than buffing the cards.

They then stressed that, while they were looking at it closely, they have raw data proving that there are actually very effective counter decks that are currently undervalued and underplayed, and it’s up to the player base to discover them.

Luís says:

“The developers looked very serious and matter-of-fact when stating their belief that there are enough counters to Secret Paladin, leading me to believe that, at least in the short term, the deck is safe from a nerf. Their words about the counters were that “most (players) haven’t discovered them”, and this ties nicely with their comments on policing the meta in response to a later question.”

About Minion Types

A decent amount of Murloc cards made their way into the latest adventure, and the developers said that they wanted a “peaks and valleys” approach to minion types – they will keep dropping cards of a certain type so that people that like playing with the theme will have new things to try out, but they don’t feel like constantly adding to any singular type.

About Tournament Modes

Blizzard is aware that a big chunk of the player base wants to see better support for tournaments. They say that it’s a very complex subject, and that they talk a lot about it internally, but are still unsure about many things, among which are costs, formats and rewards.

They stated that their next step will be to consult with the Starcraft II team and try to tap into their e-Sports experience, and that any new mode would possibly be trialed in Tavern Brawl.

Later, they stated that they have some “pretty radical” stuff waiting in the wings on this subject, and they might not be far from announcing it.

Luís says:

“To me, this is developer-speak saying that either: a) tournaments are the next thing on their agenda, but they don’t want to commit before testing is finished because they might still delay the feature or b) they have it ready but don’t want to steal the spotlight from the Adventure. Or perhaps it’s a little bit of A and a little bit of B. One thing, however, is clear: it’s being worked on.”

About UI and Quality of Life Updates

Extra deck slots are coming! Hurrah!

Blizzard is also looking into ways to make quests more visible, for example placing a marker next to the characters you could use to complete a quest.

UI in general is something they are constantly looking into, but it’s a non-trivial matter as they have several different platforms to consider.

About Influencing the Meta

The developers flatly stated that they don’t create cards with the meta in mind. Their chief concern when creating new cards is that there are no game-breaking or interactivity-disabling combos, and those are the cards that they will tweak later if deemed necessary.

They trust the meta to police itself as long as they create enough variety of cards to keep several deck archetypes viable, and no card or combo un-counterable. They stressed that a healthy meta has a good ebb and flow of deck archetypes and that their data proves this to be the case, even if some individual’s empirical experience might disagree.

Luis says:

“Complimenting what they said before regarding the mysterious-challenger, it seems obvious that Blizzard is very cautious about intervening in the meta, insisting it capable of self-policing, and remaining adamant that the data they have points to a healthy meta.”

About Keywords and Mechanics

Blizzard looks at mechanics and keywords from previous sets on a case-by-case basis to see if it should be added to or not. They don’t feel obliged to keep adding a certain mechanic to new cards just to keep it current. They will do new cards with the mechanic if they feel it was under-explored and fits a theme.

Luís says:

“Sounds reasonable. Exactly the case with Deathrattle in Naxxramas.”

The State of The Game

While I had been a bit disappointed that the previous day’s panel had “only” been a reveal of all the new cards, this Fireside Chat delivered in spades.

We can take way that Brawl will be an increasingly important mode going forward, and we can use it to gauge what Blizzard might do next in the way of new mechanics and features; we got a commitment to finding a solution for tournaments; and we saw a firm refusal on the developer’s’ part to mess with the metagame, stating a firm, data-driven belief that it is healthy and varied enough to police itself.

What do you make of Blizzard’s statements? Share with us in the comments!