Hearthstone’s ladder system has been overdue for a big revamp for a while now. A poor new player experience, inconsistent matchmaking and a long monthly slog were continual problems. Rank floors at 5, 10 and 15 alleviated this, but only partially. Now though, a bevy of changes promise to provide long term solutions to these issues. Though they won’t come into effect until March, they should be a more forgiving silent director of our Hearthstone experiences.
The progression problem
The main problems identified by players can be split into two categories: grind at the high level, and matchmaking for newer players. Solving them isn’t easy; Blizzard have to balance them against the value of the sense of progression that climbing brings. A stagnant ladder would have little grind and good matchmaking, but little progression. But too much mobility leads to frustration, as happens now.
Hitting high ranks or legend now puts you back to rank 16 at the start of a season. If you don’t start grinding rank straight away, this can leave you cleaving a path through newer or less serious players in order to even get close to the rank you achieved last season. This is bad for everyone. Legend players have a long slog of grinding through autopilot matchups, and newer players get farmed. And due to the high compression of players at the top of the ladder, every lucky streak pushes them far beyond what their collection and experience is capable of defeating.
Room to play
The changes seek to strike this balance better. The first and most immediate is to increase the number of stars per rank. This gives newer players more “breathing room”, as there is less of a sudden transition from ranks 25-21 and 20+. What’s more, there will be more space for newer or more casual players from ranks 20-15, improving matchmaking further.
Since Hearthstone is an inherently varied game, bad luck can currently easily put new and veteran players together. A string of bad luck on one end, and a series of good fortune on the other, and suddenly a new player’s Free to play Mage can face up against an all-golden Kazakus Priest. Increasing the numbers of stars per rank increases the distance between disparate decks and skill levels, meaning better matchmaking for all at lower ranks.
Of course, this has the side-effect of increasing the grind to hit a certain rank, but this is where the second change comes in.
Less of a reset
At the end of each month, players will no longer be reset more if they climbed higher. Now, players will simply be reset by 4 ranks; so if you hit rank 3, you’d start at rank 7, and so on. This massively reduces the grind-load to hit legend each season, as well as improving matchmaking further. The changes are most notable for pro or consistent legend players. Pro player Stanislav “Stancifka” Cifka posted a good breakdown of how it will impact pros on the /r/Hearthstone subreddit. He’s hopeful it will reduce the grind and encourage play across more servers.
But this isn’t just good for Legend or high-rank players. It’s also beneficial to the more casual or newer players that otherwise need to be farmed from rank 16 onward in order to allow them to regain their rank. In keeping top players confined to rank 5 and up, there’ll be fewer unfair matches against those far more experienced with far bigger collections. While the raw stars to reach a given rank will increase, the overall play experience will get far better; especially as stronger players begin sticking at rank 4 and up.
A meta shift?
One unexpected impact the ladder alterations may have is a shift in the metagame. One perennial problem has been the rewarding of fast games (think Aggro decks) over slow. This is exacerbated by the requirement of Legend players to grind through low-ranked opponents every month. What’s more, the need to take advantage of winstreaks means Aggro gets even further benefit, as a middling winrate with fast games can still get you stars faster as you ride the winstreak variance.
With less of a reset, and with legend players left at a rank with no winstreaks at the start of a season, Aggro is less favoured early on. This could lead to more promotion and play of interesting midrange or control decks, and an overall more balanced metagame.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via Hearthstone.gamepedia.com.
To continue enjoying great content from your favorite writers, please contribute to our Patreon account! Every little bit counts. We greatly appreciate all of your amazing support! #TGHPatreon