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Esports Hearthstone

Hearthstone, frustration and the 50% winrate dilemma

I sit at my desk, hunched and angry. No matter how hard I tried, a combination of bad matchups, fatigue and tilt has kept me from Legend. My home-brew Control Warrior kept coming close, but every time Legend was but a game away, Quest Rogues and Deathrattle Hunters pushed me back. Despite playing for hours on end, I was no closer to my goal than when I started. The experience felt like treading water, and was intensely frustrating. Why does playing Hearthstone at a 50% winrate feel so bad? And what can we do to improve it?

A mathematical certainty

Winning feels great, but someone always has to lose

Another Blizzard game, Overwatch, had a minor community outrage not too long ago. Players were frustrated as they felt that the matchmaking system was railroading them into a 50% winrate. Of course, this anger was misplaced. Any competitive multiplayer game with equal numbers of winners and losers must average out at a 50% winrate. People only ever do better at the expense of others, and a good matchmaking system seeks to match people equally so no one does too well by curb-stomping the less experienced or skilled.

This doesn’t bode well for Hearthstone. The game’s fundamentally random nature often makes losses extremely angst-inducing, and recent increases in the number of polarized matchups doesn’t help. For many, the joy of wins simply doesn’t match up to the pain of losses when both are equally prevalent. So what can be done?

Conditioned to expect wins?

Part of the problem is the early part of Hearthstone’s progression. Once we’ve figured out the basic mechanics and built our first “proper” deck, we tend to climb quickly. No longer distracted by all the new pretty lights and sound, we get our satisfaction with a steady drip-feed of stars as we improve our gameplay and decks.

But this advancement can’t last. At higher ranks, progression can become achingly slow as the competition gets tougher. With fewer rank-floor and new player stars inserted into the economy, and a playing field left more competitive by limited rank resets, it’s harder and harder to get the same winrate high. This leads to frustration, disillusion and rage-buying packs.

Does Ladder give us unrealistic expectations of winrate?

Finding the fun

So how can we learn to enjoy ourselves while playing, even when things aren’t going our way? One way is to refocus on why we play the game in the first place. The old Magic the Gathering player archetypes are crude, but helpful in this regard.

It’s OK to take time out from Hearthstone if you’re not having fun

Are you a ‘Timmy’, a fan of big minions and memorable moments? Try to ignore your winrate. Fall back to a rank floor, or retreat to Casual. Play a greedy, fun deck that does awesome things to your opponents. Throw in some wacky legendaries you haven’t found a home for yet. The memorable victories will more than make up for your frequent defeats.

If you’re more like a ‘Johnny’, and want to express yourself through deckbuilding and creativity, consider this the perfect opportunity to hone your lists. If you’re up against people of similar skill, your deck will be the deciding factor. This means you can fast-track your deck designing and improving by putting them against people of the same ability. Try an under-explored archetype, or put a new spin on an old classic. Who knows, you may come up with a meta-breaker.

‘Spike’s’ on the other hand, are in for a rough ride. If you’re focused on winning and mastery, not getting to win more than you lose feels bad. But it does come with an opportunity. We only grow when we’re challenged. Use the tough field as a chance to improve. Analyse your micro-meta, and refine your plays appropriately. Watch back your wins and losses and look for your misplays as well as your opponent’s. Push yourself to turn that 50% into 55%, and then to 60%. Think critically, take frequent breaks and refuse to play on autopilot.

Above all, if nothing else works, take a break. Hearthstone is a game after all, and if it’s not working for you, you may just be burnt out. Coming back in a few days with fresh eyes may improve things for you. And will likely save your wallet the pain of rage-buying packs…

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via and PlayHearthstone on Twitch

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