The pros of a Pro League
With the ever-increasing complaints regarding the current implementation of the HCT ranging from the low expected value and the insane grind to the problematic nature of the qualifiers’ on-site locales, it’s likely that Team 5 is going to change the format again of Hearthstone’s premiere competition for 2018. Who knows, it might feature something Blizzard has been historically good at: implementing and adapting a different game’s solution to a particular problem. Gwent’s Pro League seems like a perfect candidate to draw inspiration from – something like that would make the gameplay experience a lot better for both competitive and casual players.
It’s not worth it to go pro
Probably the biggest issue with competitive Hearthstone currently, from the players’ perspective, is that it is simply not worth to participate unless you get an extremely good HCT result. It’s already bad enough how the “highest earners” from tournament play have all gained a high portion of their winnings from a single HCT event, but there’s even more to it than that.
To quote n0blord, one of the few people who qualified for all six prelims, “If you ever ask a seasoned competitive Hearthstone player how to get into the scene, most will reply with a short answer: don’t do it.” He proceeds to outline a catalog of issues in an extremely detailed way in a Reddit post, concluding that a third of the players who qualify for the preliminaries don’t even manage to break even.
It’s possible that a solution is already available if the developers are willing to, erm, “borrow” it from a competitor: Gwent’s Pro League is a season-based competitive mode for the best players of the game, essentially functioning as a separate ladder for wannabe professionals, rewarding so-called Crown Points that determine participants of the official GWENT tournaments.
Something like this would alleviate many of the issues with the current ladder system in Hearthstone without forcing the developers to fundamentally change their approach. If, say, every player who finishes in the top 1000 legend spots in a given month would gain access to a completely separate ladder, then not only would it be easier to create separate solutions for serious competitors without breaking the regular gameplay – in fact, it could also double as a sort of soft-PTR server –, it would also greatly benefit the casual players as well.
Consider this: instead of making good tournament performances the cornerstone of the qualification to the World Championship – which is, you know, also a tournament – the ladder experience has now been “hijacked” by players whose main interest (be it regarding to prizes or fame) lie in tournaments, leaving nothing for those who are not particularly interested in that scene. What incentive do you have to climb past rank 5 (or even rank 20, you could argue) unless you want that elusive Legend cardback and the HCT points for the top 100 finish?
This is the point where you pretty much need to go big or go home. Do you want to delve into the tournament scene and grind extreme amounts for a few extra percentage points or get stuck in a limbo, getting low-hundred legend ranks month after month for no reason?
Fun for the whole family
Having a professional ladder as a completely separate entity would not only benefit the serious competitors, but it would also improve the experience for the casual player base. Resets wouldn’t have to be so harsh as they simply don’t climb that far. It would likely also reduce ladder anxiety and the infamous issue of players with golden portraits and full meta decks camping out at rank 20. Giving good performers on the “regular ladder” a small bonus similar to the current ranked chests would help the F2P experience as well. Say, how about a miserly 500 dust to those who finish in the top 500 of the ladder now that it’s clean of professional players?
With the ever-increasing disconnect between Hearthstone’s fun and casual roots and an oddly driven, poorly supported competitive scene, a split like this seems like an easily implementable and logical solution. No one loses out on anything, and people who want to play with Menagerie Hunter would run into less Jade Druids – meaning both sides will have just a little bit more fun.
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