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HearthstoneJun 14, 2017 4:00 pm CT

Could a tournament mode work in Hearthstone?

Tournament mode has been an oft-requested feature in Hearthstone. So what isn’t in the game yet? The issue is that there isn’t a consensus on what the scope of a tournament mode would be, but Game Director Ben Brode took to Reddit to lay out his thoughts on the challenges of a tournament mode.

Let’s break down the post, covering tournament mode as well as the features that would help with quality of life issues for both players and tournament organizers. If you want to know how a tournament mode might work in Hearthstone, check out my thoughts below.

Originally Posted by Ben Brode (Official Post)

I want to expand a bit on the first answer (I love twitter, but sometimes 140 just don’t cut it).

I think there are 4 major weaknesses to our current ranked system: (1) Top end players have to grind too much to get fun matches each month. (2) Low end players have very little progression: just a few wins and then they get “stuck” at rank 20-17. This is the vast majority of active players. (3) New players who enter ranked get crushed hard (after a pretty good experience in Casual). (4) Doing the same thing over and over again each month feels like a ‘grind’.

I think we can do all that (hopefully – this stuff is difficult to predict without live testing). The hardest to hit is number 4, since progression is fun, but the more you have, the more ‘grindy’ it feels. I actually think that things like a potential Tournament mode could help with that even more than any specific change to ranked.

So, Tournament: I think there are a couple specific ‘fantasies’ related to playing in a Hearthstone tournament. Put another way: What is fun about tournaments? I think different players have different things that draw them. For me, for example, one of the things I enjoy is going to a venue, meeting my IRL opponent, and sharing a tense battle with him or her. Then I like to go over and check on my buds, to see how we’re doing as a group against the crowd. We have a lot of people attending Fireside Gatherings each month (and running tournaments), it’d be nice if we could make that process better in the client.

There’s also a strong desire to have the ability to compete for glory against other players from the comfort of your home. Hearthstone is by its nature a competitive 1v1 experience, so Tournaments would need to offer something above and beyond what we’re already doing. If you want a “packaged” experience, where at the end you are crowned a winner, Heroic Brawl and Arena actually get part of the way there, although they don’t feel like they fit the whole fantasy that people are missing.

There’s, I think, two ‘obvious’ tournament mode implementations that we had considered recently.

(1) Pump a bunch of players into a bracket. Wait for all players to finish, then start the next round. Repeat until there is a winner. Upside: Clear tournament fantasy. Downside: Long waits between rounds. Need to clear a day to play, but you might be out in the first round (really variable time commitment)

(2) If you’re familiar with the development of Arena (and if you’re not, here’s a very old video going through it ), it’s basically a story of us trying to solve the problem from the first approach in an 8-player bracket. The result is a competitive, asynchronous event. Heroic Brawl is essentially the version of tournaments that can be done asynchronously online.

Now, I think 1 is only really ok for in-person events, and we already have 2 and for some reason it doesn’t feel like it’s scratching that “tournament” itch. So we’ve been exploring some crazier ideas. :)

We’ve been reading threads about ‘tournament mode’ here and other places (and in different languages) that range back years, scouring comments and trying to get a full picture of what we think the community (which isn’t a single entity, but lots of individuals with different perspectives) will enjoy. I always enjoy reading and discussing what people want from tournaments in Hearthstone, so please keep it up!

An aside: When I make comments like this, detailing our philosophy and confirming what is or is not in our plans, I often read responses like “pr talk” or “says nothing”. We do have the option of only doing communication in the form of announcements, but we’d be communicating a lot less, and not here on Reddit. I love talking with the community. I think it’s healthy to vet our ideas and get feedback on them before we commit to any specific implementation. But I think the expectation needs to be that it’s a conversation, and we’re explaining where we’re at and our thoughts, not announcing specific changes. Looking forward to reading your thoughts!

Must-have tournament mode features

{PB}Match history. While Blizzard continues plan out tournament mode, I’m still a strong proponent of a Match History option. It’s a solid bridge feature to add on behalf of players. Having to screenshot the victory screen after every game is a hassle. What happens if you accidentally click out of it and forget? Now you open yourself up a to a potential game dispute. I shouldn’t have to use a desktop video capture program to record my matches as insurance. Of the potential features to add, this should be a priority.

Class selection. In Shadowverse, players have the ability to challenge players to a Conquest-style match. In the challenge screen, you can pick and designate the decks for the match. The game will track the results of your set with your opponent and gray out any decks you’ve already won with so you know what’s unavailable. Instead of having to rely on third-party sites to handle class selection and deck bans, having the option to do so within Hearthstone will alleviate headaches. No more having to deal with players “accidentally” picking the Hunter deck which just happened to have a Flare in it. Not only does Shadowverse have recent matches showing when they were played or the results, there are also actual replays.

Match replays. While replays would be a nice bonus, it isn’t as crucial as the above two.

Tournament history. Spellweaver is another CCG that can be found on Steam. It has built in tournament functionality. You can signup for an upcoming event of your choice. As you get paired up, you can choose what deck to bring and ban. The client displays the current round results and tournament records down to player match win percentages.

Envisioning a Hearthstone tournament mode 

Heroic Tavern Brawls did scratch some of the competitive itch, but don’t take care of it entirely. When the accepted competitive environment is a best of 5 with a ban, that’s what players look forward to. These Brawls were limited to just one deck for the entirety of your run. A tournament mode needs to be a best of X format in order to minimize variance. Best of 5’s are optimal, but can take significantly longer. Best of 3’s would a compromise between variance and time management.

Tournament players walk in with a specific mindset. Not only they create their own tournament lineup, they have to factor in bans. Instead of including Harrison Jones and Bloodsail Corsairs, a player could simply just ban Warrior (or whatever weapon class).

In this reply, Ben addresses the huge time variance between getting eliminated and going undefeated in a tournament:

Originally Posted by Ben Brode (Official Post)

If you have 64 people in a tournament, and one of the matches goes long, the other 62 people have to wait. If you say, look, the max time is 45 minutes for a best 2-of-3, then players who finish their games in 10 minutes total still have to wait at their computers, wondering when the next round will start. Best, in systems like this, to just have rounds start at consistent times, like “every 45 minutes” or something, so you know how much time you have to go to the bathroom or get food.

Even then, this doesn’t address the issue of variable time commitments. If you scrub out in the first round, your total time commitment was 10-45 minutes. If you win the (64 person, single-elim) tournament, your total time commitment was 4.5 hours. 10-270 minutes is huge variance. You have to set aside 270 minutes in case you win, but your play session ending in 10 minutes makes you feel bad for clearing plans on your Saturday to commit to a tournament.

because tournament mode isn’t designed for mobile

A lot of people have echoed this sentiment, but I just don’t see how that’s necessarily true. It’s not inherently more challenging to the system to be able to support it. It would presumably depend on the UI requirements, but that’s pretty hard to nail down without knowing how the system would work.

If you get eliminated in a single-elimination tournament, your day is over. If you’re winning, then you’ve obviously invested several hours. This can be addressed by using a Swiss format, where instead of a variable time, you’re committing to 4.5 hours of play — and anyone that makes playoffs can stick around for another 2-3 hours. In fact, add a little popup or overlay to alert players when the current round is down to the last two matches so that everyone waiting is aware that the next round could be starting soon.

And as far as time commitments,  I’d like to see the option for a turbo mode where the animations are accelerated. Some of the effects in game take a long time to get through. If they could be sped up by half, that might help reduce how long matches take. If we do that, now we can shorten the rope timer a little. Players often have to rope out because sequencing actions queue up a ridiculous amount of animations. Normally, players have plenty of time to think about what moves they want to make and it shouldn’t take an eternity to decide that. More often than not, there are strictly obvious plays but some tournament competitors like to rope out just to psychologically annoy their opponent and put them on tilt.

For a tournament, disconnect timers would have to be much more forgiving. I would double the idle time in the event of a system crash. In my Fireside tournaments, I’ve seen players bring two devices for Hearthstone (such as a laptop and tablet) in case their primary device crashes in the middle of a game so they can reconnect quickly.

Once a tournament gets to the top 8 finalists, playoffs can be tricky. It could be handled in an asynchronous format like in Arena. If you achieve a 4-0 or 3-1 result in your tournament pool, you could be entered into a bracket with players from other pools who have qualified, which may not consist exclusively of players in your original pool due to time constraints. The downside for players is that they don’t get to draw upon their existing knowledge of what cards or decks their opponents used during the group stage.

Alternatively, tournament mode could just forgo playoffs entirely and go with the best record in the Swiss group stage.

With regards to incentives, Heroic Tavern Brawls had a scaling reward system in place. This could be applied to an in-game tournament mode to help mitigate players dropping out. I would implement scaling rewards like dust, gold, or random cards based on player performance during that tournament, similar to the current . Arena. At my Fireside events, I like to include a bad beat pot. Casinos offered you a prize if your hand of 4 Jacks or higher get beat by a stronger four of a kind, straight flush, or royal flush. I made it a habit of offering the player who went 0-4 a small consolation prized if they stayed in the event as a token of appreciation.

What would tournament mode look like?

Here is Magic Online’s tournament browser.

The game shows upcoming Featured Tournaments in addition to other formats. Imagine being able to choose and filter from Standard or Wild tournaments. You could even host a customized event with your own sets like Goblins vs Gnomes, The Grand Tournament, and Meme Mean Streets of Gadgetzan. Read more about Magic Online’s tournament system to see how a good tournament system could work.

Tournament mode can work in Hearthstone. It may seem limited to a certain percentage of the competitive player base, but Ben believes Blizzard can deliver a tournament mode that is really fun, and very accessible.

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