The Year of the Mammoth isn’t just bringing card rotations and a new expansion. It’s also making a fundamental change to the way the the Ladder system operates, by introducing Ranked floors. Ranked floors act as a “lock”, or minimum on how far you can fall back down after losing streaks.
Similar to how Rank 20 and the Legend Ranks prevent you falling too far, there will be similar stops at ranks 15, 10, and 5. Since so much of Hearthstone’s play takes place in Ranked mode, any change to incentives is sure to have a major impact. But will it be positive?
More Fun Decks
Ranked can often feel like an unrelenting assault. Climbing, or even not falling, requires consistent play with a “meta” deck once you get into the higher ranks. As such, there is little room for experimentation. Since losing is punished so harshly, you are heavily discouraged from playing anything other than tried-and-tested Ladder staples.
This can make Ladder feel intensely predictable and monotonous after a while. You’ll often queue into identical deck after identical deck, playing the same openers and the same combos over and over. This hardly makes for fun and diverse gameplay.
Ranked floors might help switch up the deck variation. By preventing losses from being too punishing to your rank once you hit a certain level, then it becomes less disheartening to experiment. If you don’t drop stars, that silly Murloc Hunter or Blood Warrior that the meta’s not right for might be more tempting. As well as often being more entertaining to play, more variety in opponents will help spice up the ladder experience and make the game more exciting.
There is a price for this, however. As anyone who’s fallen to the lower ranks of Legend or taken a trip into Casual can confirm, it’s often far harder to win with the highly-tuned anti-aggro Control decks that often succeed at high Ladder or Legend rank.
As people care less about win-rate, decks tend to get “greedy”; more focused on long-term value. For many people, fun decks means decks packed with big impressive threats; and none of those boring AOEs, early board presence, or lifegain. This can pose a problem for the slow decks that tend to struggle against those that are filled with absurd amounts of value.
The end result then might be an effective buff to aggro, as the anti-aggro control decks struggle to make it past the greedy fun-lovers. As aggro already tends to be over-represented on Ladder due to game speed or deck cost, this could further funnel players into aggressive playstyles, to the detriment of diversity. Not only that, but it will also encourage anti-control decks like Jade Druid to prey on the “fun” slow decks, which will in turn reward more aggro.
Hearthstone’s economy can be thought of as a pool of stars, divided amongst the players. Stars are generated in two ways; bonus stars from winning multiple games in a row; and when a player who can’t drop rank loses. Currently, that means that only winstreaks, Legend players, and Rank 20 players add stars to the system. However, Ranked floors will add huge numbers of star generators to the system. At every rank one is implemented. There are a huge number of players at ranks 15, 10, and 5 at any given moment, and all of them will soon be helping their opponents rank up faster.
So what does this mean? Essentially, getting to the rank you want will become easier. Rank resets will become less painful, and you’ll have to spend less time each month playing to get that cardback and golden cards. Considering the massive time investment required to get to certain ranks (especially Legend), this is a definite improvement for those who have less time to play.
Less Legendary Legend
However, making ranking easier does have its downsides. For one, if everyone finds it easier to rank up, previously considerable achievements may be devalued. Currently, hitting Legend, especially with a homebrew or non-meta deck, was impressive. Doing so would often warrant attracting attention and a degree of prestige. The Legend cardback has proliferated greatly since its introduction, but it still commands a degree of prestige.
With the proposed changes, it may be possible for almost anyone to hit legend with a degree of dedication. Note that making it easier to hit Legend has an exponential effect; more Legend players means more stars generated as they lose to those on numbered ranks. In short, Legend may no longer be worthy of note though.
While some may see this as an improvement, it is lamentable that “Legend” will no longer require any where near a “Legendary” level of skill.
No More Ladder Anxiety?
Like reaching a save-point in a tough game, buying insurance, or guaranteeing a passing grade in an educational course, there’s something intensely relieving about mitigating the consequences of disaster. Hitting Legend is rewarding not only due to the achievement, but also the guarantee that you won’t fall out of Legend, regardless of how many loses you get.
Many players report feelings of “Ladder Anxiety”, where the stakes of ladder and the threat of losing hard-earned stars make Ranked play too intense to be pleasant. The result of this can be stressful play, tilt, misplays, or simply avoiding ranked altogether.
If players feel like they have less to lose if it all goes awry, it might help them relax, focus on playing, and have an overall better experience.
A Promising Start
Whatever the impact on ladder, it’s incredibly refreshing and promising to see the devs trying out solutions to the problems people have had with ladder for years. Even if Ranked floors don’t fulfill their stated goals, experimentation with different solutions is far more encouraging and potentially fruitful than previous non-communication and inactivity.
This could pave the way for other changes, like increased monthly stars, longer seasons, or altered rewards. The current situation is so stale that almost any alteration is necessary. Whatever happens, the Year of The Mammoth is looking like a good year for positive changes and dev communication.
Title image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment