There has been too much Hearthstone news, lately, for me to keep up with. Like, literally:
I catch a podcast on the way in to work, and they discuss something interesting I want to hit on; I get some Twitter updates during breaks at work and they include major announcements; I get home and there’s two mainstream media stories that would dovetail perfectly into funny Hearthstone quips; and when I finally sit down to write, I realize that I need to clear the three dailies that I’ve allowed to pile up or, more interestingly, there’s a new position on the Blizzard job board for me to apply to. All the while, these stories pile up like Trump’s empty press-conference folders. (Zing! Got one mainstream reference in).
All of that is to say that the quick run-down–my attempt at stemming the tide–is all you get from me right now on a few subjects. If you want more on those, please let me know so I can either write something up or help you track down some news on it.
I. Some Quick-Hits Hearthstone News
A. HCT date confirmation, expansion date speculation
Whooo! HCT in paradise! However, as cool as that is, it does not really affect me or the vast majority of Hearthstone players (though, my buddy GreenRanger and I threw around some ideas about how the show might go differently there than in previous locations). The more interesting point, for the rest of us, is the timing of the event (late March).
As we are all aware, Mean Streets of Gadgetzan launched at the start of December 2016. That means there will be just about four months between the launch and the HCT tournament. We already know (suspect?) that the new system is we will get two expansions and one adventure per year, so we can probably expect new content every 12/3=4 months! As such, new content will be “due” around the time of the HCT. Blizzard will not release new content right before a major tournament, for three reasons: 1) we have not had an HCT in the current meta, and they have stated they want a different meta for each HCT (and, it appears, vice-versa); 2) it makes sense for a meta to culminate in an HCT tournament, instead of start with one; 3) in order to preserve and grow the integrity of Hearthstone as a viable esport, they would want the games to be based on skill and preparation, not the uncertainty of a brand new meta (I would hope they learned from making nerfs go live right before major tournaments); and 4) from a business standpoint, they can keep the hype train going longer if we have HCT hype and then new-set hype, instead of having them step on each others’ toes.
THEREFORE, it seems pretty likely that the next expansion (and therefore the next standard rotation) will happen pretty soon after March 26, 2017–my guess is they announce it during the HCT tournament, spoil a card or two between matches, and then release during the week of April 3. This seems to: fit the “schedule,” maximize hype, give the winter HCT tournament more weight, and give players the maximum amount of time to play with the new meta before the next HCT tournament.
B. Some player/team roster change
Three days ago, Counter Logic Gaming (CLG)–a large esports organization, fielding teams in several of the most popular esports games–announced that they were starting a Hearthstone team (announcement here). They picked up some of the former Na’Vi players (Xixo, Hoej, and Surrender), and, with that, look to be immediate contenders. I think Xixo’s the overall best player in the game and the other two certainly aren’t slackers, either.
C. Yet more big money in esports (including Hearthstone)
Yet more money and mainstream “legitimacy” (for lack of a better word) coming into esports! Check out the Robot Congress podcast, a few episodes back, for a little more on traditional sports involvement in esports–it’s not just Mark Cuban and Rick Fox. This time, it’s the Miami Heat and, in a move that got me pretty pumped, they announced their new acquisition on the official Miami Heat twitter, thereby all but ensuring a massive, new market for esports!
Although the guys pictured in the tweet are part of the LoL team (or something, I don’t know–I’m also not sure how I managed to make my screenshot blurry…), the Misfits actually recently acquired a talented young Hearthstone team of GeorgeC, Stancifka, and Pokrovac! Anyone who even casually follows the pro scene knows GeorgeC (one of just a few baby-phenoms dominating the game) and Stancifka another big name in the scene. I don’t know Pokrovac, but he looks to be just as young as GeorgeC, and I doubt they would sign him if that were the only similarity between them (here’s an announcement about the Hearthstone team specifically).
D. Elon Musk is a Gamer and Blizzard fan
Two days ago, king-nerd, billionaire, and Tesla Motors CEO, Elon Musk, talked a bit about games taking the place of traditional sports, the importance of good story-telling in games, and his love for Blizzard games, specifically Overwatch and Hearthstone (article and video here). Me, too, Elon!
E. Pavel embraces the meme
Pavel embraced the meme and posted a picture of his birthday cake–a Paveling Book–to his Twitter. It’s nice he’s being a good sport about a lot of arguably-unwarranted criticism, criticism that has legitimately threatened to overshadow the fact that he is the 2016 World Champion of Hearthstone. Best of luck in 2017, Pavel–not that he needs help in the RNG department (Aha! RNG joke within the comment about how the RNG jokes aren’t warranted! So meta.)
F. 1600 Dust pauper challenge
In “local” news: my buddies at the 1600 Dust podcast got an idea from a listener/follower to do some sort of pauper format competition. It appeared to get more traction than they were expecting, and it’s looking like it might become a formal event.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, “pauper” (meaning, a very poor person) is a budget format. It has been around forever in Magic: the Gathering, and various versions of it have been proposed for Hearthstone (including in my last post). When the 1600 Dust guys were talking about it, they wanted to do Wild card sets, basics and commons only. I didn’t catch any discussion of match format (Conquest, Last Hero Standing, Strike, etc.) or number of games, but I think that’s because the guys initially thought it’d just be a few casual games between friends. Hopefully something comes of this, and if it does, I’ll damn sure: a) want to be a part of it; and b) post decklists and recaps and all that here.
II. LOTS of News From the Devs!
A. Undervaluing and bullying the devs
For reasons that I don’t fully understand, the Hearthstone subreddit is a terrible, hateful place that, maybe a few weeks ago now, decided to go on a rampage. I gave up on the toxic Hearthstone subreddit a while ago, so I’m not 100% sure what it was about, but I believe a major point was the Small-Time Buccaneer/Patches v. Kazakus meta. Another major theme was that people wanted more dev contact (though, as a lifelong gamer, I am still flabbergasted by the community’s entitlement on this front–it’s as if we’re not aware that we have the most communicative devs I have ever ecen ).
Anyway, either in response to that or because, y’know, he’s a normal guy trying to spread good will with the community, designer Dean “Iksar” Ayala reached out to the twitterverse and asked the community what we wanted from Hearthstone in 2017. There was some productive discussion in his original thread and on a few of the podcasts I listen to. But then there were d-bags who used the opportunity to attack Iksar and the rest of the team.
Iksar stopped responding after attacks like this one, which sucked, but I felt better after my tweet to this a-hole.
A few days later, again, possibly in response to all the above, Papa Bear Ben Brode opened up a bit about the process in his “dev insight” videos (link to text of Reddit post, plus adorable picture of his shanty “Developer Insights” setup). Please read the post, if you haven’t yet done so, because the post is adorable and it makes me want to hug Ben, and it brings me the kind of joy I got from his video response to the Purify debacle. It really highlights how much this man and this team truly love our game and our community. Sadly, he specifically states with what I have long suspected: all the community’s harassment of the “faces” of the dev team has dissuaded the team from talking to us more.
It’s not just Iksar who stopped talking to us right after some Twitter harassment. Remember Zerina? Memes and abuse (“fun and interactive” came from her, so a lot of abuse went to her) appear to have killed that wonderful pixie’s presence online: I don’t see her posting on Hearthstone stuff any more and her twitter and instagram are now private. These are prominent members of our community and we are beating them down to the point that they no longer want to be part of it.
B. Tons of dev face-time in the past few weeks
Starting on or around January 9th, Brode came back from his 2-month-long paternity leave and came out swinging. He responded to a ton of tweets (compiled here) about the standard rotation and related issues of evergreen nerfs, “moving” evergreen cards to wild, and general card power levels. Contrary to what some people think, he pointed out that the “evergreen” sets are the most powerful (at least in terms of number of cards used competitively), and discussed the pros and cons of the various means of the competing interests involved in the standard rotation process. Overall, he appeared to have taken a positive message from the Reddit outrage–that we want to see more of the dev team–and to that, I credit him massively.
At the same time, PC Gamer’s Tim Clark sent his “wish list” for 2017 to Iksar and lead-producer Yong Woo. Some of Tim’s requests (all of which can be found here) were pretty common, but most of them were pretty pointed and somewhat original. Woo immediately responded they were actively working on some of Tim’s concerns, including the bloated size of the game file (especially on Android).
Then, just earlier today, IGN finished up a fairly extensive, and super interesting two-part interview with Principal/Senior Game Designer Mike Donais (part 1, part 2). Part 1 discussed how Mean Streets has been positive for the game by many measures (including class diversity), but how it fell short in a few ways (specifically, the power of buccaneer/patches and kazakus disproportionately shaping the meta). He then told us a bit about the development of buccaneer, including how it “slipped through the cracks”: major factors were a short deadline and succumbing to the game design fallacy that once the card had been “nerfed” once, it must have been good enough to ship. He also hit us with the whopper that the anticipated ladder revamp–as far as he knows–is not even close to being implemented.
Part 2 discussed the development of the three crime families. To my surprise, he said that Jade Lotus was developed early and not significantly changed (the surprise here being that the Jade Lotus classes seemed, to a lot of players, to not really have much in common and to instead just be the “leftover” classes). Not so surprisingly, he said “Jade” is not expected to see additional cards or direct buffs in future sets, because it is part of the specific Mean Streets “feel,” but he pointed out that it could be indirectly buffed through cards that affect battlecry and/or deathrattle. They also discussed the prevalence of Jade cards in arena, a topic that my buddy GreenRanger and other arena players were really interested in.
Next they discussed the creation of the Grimy Goons “weapon smuggling” mechanic, and how Paladin and Hunter can be poised to make comebacks into the meta. He specifically said that he feels there is already potential for Paladin that does not appear to have been tapped (don’t say “Unicorn Paladin”!), and how Hunter seems to just be missing a 2-drop weapon so that it could take advantage of pirates itself (something I’ve noticed and pointed out, which is why Hunter is actually solid right now in Wild, where you have access to Glaivezooka).
They then discussed Kabal and how it was initially slated to be very different from the present iteration–focusing on alternative mana costs–and the creation of Kazakus. He also reiterated the sentiment that I had heard elsewhere (maybe from Ben Brode?) that part of the reason they made Dragons so strong in this set was because the Black Rock Mountain dragons were never as strong as they wanted and would soon thereafter rotate anyway, so they could push the archetype hard with a smaller downside if they took it too far. Finally, hit us with the shocker that additional “Highlander”/”Reno” effect cards are not expected to be created in any sets soon. This is an interesting decision because it means that a lot of the Kabal’s power is likely to go away with the rotation of Reno Jackson.
Finally, the interview ended with some examples and discussion on early card designs that didn’t make it into the set, which is a fun, alternative peak into the design team’s process.
C. Dev Q&A stream tomorrow!
Finally, the big announcement (and the reason why I spent way too much time on this article today instead of over the weekend) is tomorrow, at 9:00 Pacific time, we are getting a Designer Insights live Q&A! This seems to be a continuation of Brode’s positive response to the Reddit tantrum by giving us yet more dev contact. Follow this link to find the stream tomorrow and to find out how you can submit your questions to be answered at that time.
Make sure to check in after the Q&A tomorrow, because I might be compelled to write an update based on what we hear. Thanks for reading, everyone!