This year competitive Hearthstone started off with a new format called Specialist. Both Masters players and Grandmasters players alike didn’t take too well to it. For Season 2 of Grandmasters, the players there see a return of Conquest format but with a Shield Phase, which comes with its own set of problems. When comparing the Shield Conquest versus Specialist formats, Shield Conquest is definitely a step in the right direction. Ultimately, a multi-class format is probably the way to go, but not without improvements to where it is now.
What Happened with Specialist
Specialist introduced a single-class format for the first time in competitive Hearthstone. Blizzard thought of it as a way to welcoming more players into a competitive community. This really wasn’t the first step towards having success with that, as it was quite complicated without an in-game tournament mode. Players had to use a third-party website for all of their tournament needs as well as have Discord ready for support needs.
As was seen, there were not many players joining into the new competitive format. While there was a small percentage of players that bridged that gap, for the most part, it was all of the same players as before. The few literal class Specialists kind of got a chance to shine in the format, but whatever the best class was in the meta really ruined all the fun.
As Warrior showed, most of the decks brought to tournaments were Warrior, and the mirror would last so long that it would cause major delays. Then came Luna’s Pocket Galaxy in Mage, which dictated the entirety of Masters Tour Seoul. Who played Luna’s Pocket Galaxy first even became the determining factor in crowning a champion.
The idea that one could have somewhat of a sideboard to beat various decks that could appear was an interesting aspect. The problem though is that it was only a five-card change from the original list, in which most cases didn’t allow for an archetype shift. This meant that if you were paired into a bad matchup, you were just unlikely to win, with no real chance for your skill as a player to overcome that difference.
What’s Happening with Shield Conquest
Grandmasters players were happy to see a return of a multi-class format for Season 2. Shield Conquest allows for players to play something completely different in each matchup. This does shift some of the winning aspects to picking the right deck into the opponent’s right deck, which can still be an issue.
The biggest issue seen so far with this format is the Shield Phase itself. When you have a deck that is quite strong, like Combo Priest currently is, the deck can always be protected. This creates a situation where players are sort of forced into an almost best-of-one situation in the current best-of-three format. Both players are on average expected to win with Priest and Druid, which puts a lot of weight on the mirrors.
Also because players are only in a best-of-three, they don’t have to play all of their decks. So if you lose your first game, the guessing game of what to play in the second game can outweigh how you play that second game. This is in some ways similar to the randomness of pairings in Specialist.
We do get to see way more class variance and archetype variance in Shield Conquest. Even though one or two decks might be really strong, there are two more decks that need to be brought. This is where we get to see how players personally feel about what they think is good.
There was one other format we saw in competitive Hearthstone: Last Hero Standing. This made it so players would select a deck, and continue to play that deck until they lost with it.
This still has the problem of when one deck is too strong in a given meta, it is always played. It is even worse in this format than Conquest because it could be the only deck that sees play in a set. The positive of this format is that it somewhat helped the bad match up being the deciding factor less of a problem.
Without a doubt, best-of-three sets are way too short. Best-of-five allows all decks to be played in the current format, and let’s there be a more definitive winner. The weak matchup in a set being the deciding factor is still a problem, as we have seen in years prior. So maybe a full Conquest format, where one must win with all of their decks, isn’t the be-all and end-all of competitive Hearthstone.
Attempting to Solve Competitive Hearthstone
Maybe to try to prevent this forced bad matchup last game deck pairing, there could be some kind of five-game set rule. If a set reaches the maximum number of games, players can play with one of their decks they have already played with. This would have to exclude banned decks and Shielded decks to also avoid the “best deck in the meta” problem.
Players could also just bring more decks to help aid this. Sets can still be best-of-five, but maybe players bring five decks instead of four. This still allows decks to go potentially un-played, but creates a better opportunity for whoever was the best player in terms of skill and creative thinking on that day to win.
There also becomes a production issue with extending sets though, as there is only so much time in a day for Grandmasters. Possible solutions to this are just playing games off-stream, or having a simple live feed where the game is being spectated with no commentary or player cams.
Whatever direction Hearthstone Esports may head, the willingness of the team to change things up is the most important. We, of course, would always like to see increased commentary between Hearthstone Esports and the community. When they show that they care about improving the game, this also helps Blizzard see increased interest from a wider audience, and make Hearthstone one of the better Esports games overall.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via their official website.