Hearthstone’s spectator mode is a big step forward

Yesterday, Blizzard dropped a surprise on fans of Hearthstone when it released cards from its first full expansion into the game's Arena mode

Image via Blizzard

Yesterday, Blizzard dropped a surprise on fans of Hearthstone when it released cards from its first full expansion into the game’s Arena mode. But lost in the hubbub over that announcement was another release that could have just much influence over the game in the long-run: spectator mode.

With a stroke, this new feature dramatically increases the capacity for Hearthstone to be a social experience, even as it blows open opportunities for both professional and amateur tournaments.

Suddenly, you can now quickly and easily share something crazy happening in your game with a friend. Has your opponent just played Deathwing? Do you have the most insane starting hand ever? Message a friend to let them know and within seconds they can be watching it unfold. They can jump in just to see one play or spectate a whole game, and you can actually even invite them to spectate and your friend will get a notification.

It’s also a boon for small but growing part of the community: coaches. Pro Hearthstone coaches have been selling their services for a while now, and the spectator mode means that any player can have someone watch their games and give them tips no matter how poor their Internet or if they are not playing on a computer. It also means that if you want to get some advice from a friend on your deck choices on your lines of play with a new class, they can easily do that.

Perhaps the most significant part of spectator mode–and the reason fans have long asked for it–is that it makes it infinitely easier to stream a tournament or competitive game. While the Hearthstone tournament scene has grown rapidly this year, streaming both sides of a game required quite a lot of technical and fiddly setup. Now if both players in a match are on your friends list you can spectate both sides, including the mulligan phase and all card draws.

This is incredibly easy to do from just one client, and requires nothing extra on the part of the competitors. It should bring about an explosion in tournaments in 2015, creating an increasingly varied landscape for the audience and pro players alike.

From a user perspective, the observer mode is implemented pretty much perfectly, though there are some graphical issues once you are observing both players. The first and most obvious: The hand of the second player you observe is inverted, as if they were sitting on the other side of the table.

This might make the board seem more realistic, you can’t know which cards the top player holds unless you’re an expert in the game’s art. You can, of course, hover your mouse over the cards to see a larger version appear upright. But it would have been nice to have both hands the right way round at all times.

As the spectator, you have almost total independence to hover over and highlight any card or part of the board you wish, including the game tracker on the left of the board. The only drawback comes when the spectator attempts to hover over a card in a player’s hand while that player is hovering over another. The two animations conflict and it can create graphical glitches. Similarly, when viewing both hands, cards in those hands can sometimes glitch through each other. Coldlight Oracle, which draws two cards for each player simultaneously, also led to some clipping.

Overall, apart from some graphical complaints, spectator made has been implemented very well indeed. It ticks all the boxes of that players and tournament organizers asked for and adds a significant amount of functionality to the game. Jumping in and out of games could hardly be easier, and the ability to allow and deny spectators has been well balanced.

Between 120 new cards and a well implemented spectator mode it is an exciting time to be a Hearthstone player, and the game looks to have a bright future heading into 2015.