For a game that prides itself on creativity and diversity of gameplay, Hearthstone’s tournaments can look a bit samey. While there are notable exceptions, such as the History of Hearthstone, almost all tournaments are set in Standard with no additional card restrictions. What’s more, most major tournaments (like the all-dominant HCT) follow the same Best of Five, Conquest, one ban format. Now, this format is popular for a reason. But it’s worth considering the many downsides. So what’s the cost of Conquest?
Punishing the specialists
One key problem with traditional Conquest formats is how heavily it punishes decks with polarized matchups against multiple deck archetypes. In the Conquest format, each deck has to win for you to claim victory. This means that a recurring and popular strategy is to “hard-target” certain archetypes or decks.
The biggest losers from this are the Control decks. Including even a single Control deck can leave you massively vulnerable to anti-control lineups. You can see this in the HCT Fall finals, where despite high-performance of Control decks across ladder, we only saw a total of four Control decks out of 64: equal to the number of Quest Rogues alone.
By rewarding generalist decks, even diverse metas can get reduced down to a mere handful of more versatile archetypes. This reduces the variety and entertainment value of tournaments, as viewers watch the same matchups over and over.
A deckbuilding deficit
Some of the best and most interesting tournaments happen immediately after an expansion release. These are great because an unstable meta means a wide variety of decks. And new, exciting, unrefined decks make for great viewing quality.
The downside is that the fresh experience is fleeting, and often lost in the general new-expansion hype. When the meta settles, things start to stagnate. But there is a way around this. Tournaments that have unique, specific card ban lists (or even potentially certain WIld inclusions) can create the same flurry of deckbuilding fun. By rejecting the same standard monotony, it can give viewers a unique experience. Just look at Firebat’s Batstone, and the vastly different gameplay generated from only a few card bans.
Downtime and matchup RNG
Two intertwined issues are that of matchup RNG and downtime. Because there are at most five games, most possible matchups in a best of five Conquest simply won’t occur. This means that many games can be decided almost entirely by getting unlucky in your matchups. In a competitive format, this is obviously undesirable.
This is linked to the high amounts of downtime. Without complicated scheduling, the intense sessions of 1-on-1 matches are interspersed with long periods of little to no action. With so few games per match, this can leave the content to downtime ratio skewed. Increasing the number of matches can lead to lengthier tournaments overall, but less RNG dependent games and a higher ratio of play to break.
Support the quirky tournaments
Of course, we shouldn’t abandon best of 5 conquest. It’s the standard for a reason, and it reliably produces close, interesting and fair competitive games. What we should do, however, is support and create tournaments to provide alternative and more varied gameplay. Especially when late-expansion fatigue sets in, this can be a vital breath of fresh air on a stale meta.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com.