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Esports Hearthstone

We need more counterplay, not less RNG

RNG

While this statement is seemingly self-evident, there’s a good argument to be made regarding how little the needle would have to be pushed back in order for competitive and tryharding players to have a little more fun in Hearthstone. All this without losing its casual and fun core. After all, that’s what the game used to be like in Classic and it was a smashing success – with a different kind of RNG than what we’re used to today.

Roll the dice

There are three factors to consider when you’re discussing RNG elements: its immediacy, impact and window of counterplay. There is an inherent random aspect of every game of Hearthstone you play, the order of cards in your deck. It’s rarely going to decide the outcome on its own though. It takes time to unfold and allows both players to adjust their plans accordingly, whether by drawing more cards or switching to a more aggressive strategy.

Both Elises and cards like Manic Soulcaster rely on this effect and are generally not a source of frustration as you play. If you go closer to the middle of the scale, you’ll find cards like Manic Soulcaster and Cabalist’s Tome. Both generators of random resources that take a while to resolve. A Shaman’s totem roll is obviously on the other end of the scale.

Their impact is easy to understand – so is the fact that it kept increasing with regards to the RNG elements introduced to the game as time went on. Back in Classic, Nat Pagle’s extra card draw was a source of consternation in the pro scene (and it has been duly nerfed!), GvG gave us the Boom Bots and Unstable Portal, which still gave you some time to fight back but could quickly decide the game on the spot, and the situation’s been getting worse ever since.

It’s no wonder that the term “highroll” hasn’t been popularized by the community until the era of Midrange Shaman, that was perhaps the first deck where relatively unlikely but very powerful outcomes. Just think of all the totem rolls for that coveted spellpower bonus – would regularly change the game on their own. Tuskarr Totemic was perhaps the biggest culprit at the time, but the phenomenon quickly got worse as time went on. Barnes, Prince Keleseth, Patches… the list of merry men goes on.

In terms of the game’s current state, perhaps it’s the window of counterplay that is the biggest issue. Given enough tools, a good player will be able to shine through despite an unfortunate roll or two in most games. We’re sorely lacking these tools. You can’t inject cards into a Highlander deck in Standard and there also aren’t enough control tools to extend the game against a Keleseth-Patches monstrosity to starve them of cards. You also usually just lose when a crucial Crackle didn’t roll at least 4 like you could reasonably expect. The game is just too fast to leave a minion (or a player) alive like that and live to tell the tale.

Slinging

While the increased variance obviously means that the better player has less influence on an individual game, this isn’t the only consideration with regards to skill shining through. Hearthstone needn’t be turned into chess in order to provide a better experience for everyone.

The lack of interaction on your opponent’s turn coupled with the extremely highroll-y archetypes currently popular in the game greatly diminishes the number of meaningful decisions in the game. Not to mention the fact that a crucial part of the game has been essentially trivialized as time went on. It’s also a clear design choice that higher variance cards are outperforming their regular counterparts – just think of Piloted Sky Golem versus Cairne Bloodhoof in the old days or a Tempo Rogue deck without Keleseth now.

There’s also the fact that the wide availability of netdecks and arena drafting tools greatly diminished the skill requirements of the part of the game that takes place before you start the match. While this is certainly not something the developers can directly counteract – apart from perhaps reverting to closed decks for official tournaments, even if the players on stream lose some edge –, but their design choices could certainly steer the game towards a state like Classic, where highroll-y RNG cards were still genuinely fun, but not powerful enough to play. See: Gelbin Mekkatorque.

Unfortunately, Recruit also doesn’t seem like a mechanic that lends itself to skillful game-making decisions – based on the initial impressions, it seems like something that will provide more of a challenge on the deckbuilding side of things, meaning it will likely not provide a challenge at all for most of the playerbase.

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via hearthstone.gamepedia.com.

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