Hearthstone's Four Most-Needed Features
Hearthstone “the game” has been steadily improving and expanding since its release in March of 2014, yet Hearthstone “the game client” seems to be receiving far less updates than one might expect. Despite the fact that Hearthstone has become one of the top esports in world, the client is still missing several vital features often considered necessary in any competitive game.
In this article I’ll be analyzing Hearthstone’s four most-need features. A few of the features I’ll mention in this article would merely be a welcome addition to the game from a quality of life standpoint, while several of them I view as totally necessary for the game’s competitive integrity. As things currently stand I believe it is far too difficult for the organizers of small and online tournaments to create a compelling viewer experience, and I believe that this problem could be easily remedied by the addition of a few key features to the game client.
Hearthstone is a complex game with a massive number of potential interactions. It’s often necessary to see how something works in practice to be able truly understand it, yet the only guaranteed method for players to test out interactions is to play a custom game against themselves with two different accounts. It would be generous to describe the current Hearthstone testing method as a work-around, as it requires a player to have two Hearthstone accounts on the same server which have unlocked all the cards they need to test things out.
A dedicated sandbox mode, or a mode which would allow players to set up precise board states to test out various interactions, would be a tremendous help to both content creators and inquisitive Hearthstone players alike. I can only imagine that there would be much more compelling videos about cool interactions, hunting for lethal, and discussing the pluses and minuses of various lines if it were easier to set up these situations against a dummy player within the game client. A sandbox mode would also allow players to “goldfish” their favorite decks, a term I’m borrowing from Magic: The Gathering which refers to playing a deck against an opponent who takes no actions. It doesn’t make much sense to goldfish control decks, but it’s an incredibly useful tool for finding the correct way to pilot aggro and combo decks.
Replays/Resume from Replay
A recent debacle at the American HCT Summer Championships highlighted the tremendous need for a feature which is still shockingly absent from Hearthstone. During a quarterfinals match between Luker and Nalguidan, the game disconnected one turn before Luker would have been able to clear Nalguidan’s board and take complete control over the game. At the moment the game disconnected Luker was easily a 95% or greater favorite to win the game, yet the only thing the two players could do was start a new game where both players were on equal footing. Luker went on to lose the regame, thanks in part to the fact that he went on a massive tilt due to the unfair nature of the situation.
Given the fact that Starcraft II has the ability to resume games from replay (and that Starcraft II is a vastly more technically complex game that is also made by Blizzard) it baffles me that replays have yet to be added to Hearthstone. There is so much room for Hearthstone to grow an online tournament scene, and a startling lack of resume from replay is the biggest obstacle which stands in the way of thriving online tournament scene. I understand that the code base for every game is vastly different and that it might be much more work than the community understands to get replays added to the game, but this doesn’t change the fact that this feature should have probably existed in Hearthstone from day one.
Not only would this feature prevent disastrous “Luker” situations from occurring in the future, it would serve as an invaluable tool to players who are seeking to improve their play. Watching replays is perhaps the single most powerful tool we have for improving at Hearthstone, yet the only way to watch them is to use a third party tool such as Hearthstone Deck Tracker. Though these tools are certainly functional, they’re not nearly as effective as any Blizzard-made tool would be. A first party replay feature would drastically improve the competitive player’s quality of life while making it much easier for players to revisit and share epic moments with their friends and the community at large. The ability to resume games from replay would also afford players the ability to experiment with different lines of play against their friends which would further accelerate the learning process. The sum total of all these benefits, both competitive and noncompetitive in nature, should put replay/resume from replay at the very top of Blizzard’s to-do list.
Improved Spectator Mode
The current spectator mode for Hearthstone is a bit of a hack-job which deserves a much cleaner solution. Instead of a dedicated tournament spectator mode which is capable of displaying both player’s hands and Discover/Evolve decisions, tournament organizers must individually spectate both players and cut together live feeds from both games to be able to display all the necessary information. The current spectator mode is also prone to distracting graphical bugs which severely detract from the viewer experience. It feels as though a card gets magnified and stuck somewhere on the screen at least once per major tournament.
There is currently no way for a single spectator to view all of the information which is presented to both players despite what seems to be a very small technical barrier standing in the way of this. Though not nearly as necessary for competitive integrity as a resume from replay feature, I find it hard to believe that the amount of development time it would take to add such a feature to the game would cost Blizzard more than it would gain. The organizers of major Hearthstone tournaments are easily capable of working around the issues that are currently presented by spectator mode, but the organizers of smaller online tournaments (the same group of people who are being hampered due to the lack of a resume from replay feature) face a much greater obstacle due to the lack of a dedicated two-player spectator mode. An improved spectator mode would go a long ways towards improving the viewer experience for Hearthstone tournaments while adding both value and respect to the competitive Hearthstone scene.
Last Hero Standing and Conquest are far and away the most popular tournament formats for Hearthstone, yet there remains no way to play these tournament formats outside of going through the work of organizing it yourself. Though the lack of a dedicated tournament mode which could facilitate both Last Hero Standing and Conquest isn’t wholly necessary for managing larger tournaments, Joe T. Heathstoneplayer has to jump through a few too many hoops to practice tournament style play at home. Organizing four pre-built decklists for each player generally requires some kind of third party authority to confirm the integrity of the lists, a third party which could easily be the Hearthstone game client itself.
Though the dream would obviously be to have an entirely separate competitive ladder for tournament-style play, a far more simple feature would go a long ways for both tournament practice and the average Hearthstone viewer’s quality of life. All we really need is a tool which is capable of importing 4 decklists at a time, allows each player to select one ban, and creates games between the agreed upon decklists based on which deck was selected by each player. A running score of the current set could also be displayed somewhere on the screen during the ensuing games.
The benefits to having this style of tournament mode are very similar to the benefits of having an improved spectator mode. It would improve the viewer experience and aid the understanding of the average Hearthstone viewer while being a tremendous help to the organizers of small and online Hearthstone tournaments.