Re-Aligning The Stars? Ranked Ladder Changes
So old is out, and new is in. Or is it the other way around? Last week, Blizzard announced that the current Ranked Play system will be shortened in the February season, making it easier to climb lower ranks.
A summary of the changes, if you haven’t seen them already: instead of needing to acquire 5 stars before moving up each rank, Rank 50 (remember that?) to Rank 16 will need 3, Rank 15 to 11 needs 4 and Rank 10 to 1 takes the usual 5.
This is a rare example of a U-turn from Team 5. The incoming system is nearly identical to the old one. In March 2018, stars fell from development heaven and standardized each rank at 5 stars. Before that, it was 2 from 25 to 21, 3 for 20 to 16, 4 for 15 to 11 and finally, 5 for the last 10.
Clearly, the players aren’t the only ones tiring of the Ranked grind. The devs are keen to lubricate the climb – but why are we going back to a system that they obviously replaced for a reason?
Let’s take a look back at why today’s 5 star system (nope, no pun) came about in the first place.
My guess is that since ladder floors were introduced nearly two years ago in February 2017 – meaning that once you passed Rank 20, 15, 10, 5 and Legend, you couldn’t fall past it again that season – Ranked climbing became too forgiving. Skilled (and/or lucky) players could breeze through, riding high on a 3-win streak, and hit the upper ranks early in the month, where a relaxed time testing non-meta decks awaited – free from the fear of falling back into Shieldbearer’s earnest yet unwelcome grasp.
How could it be, you may cry, that Blizzard in its infinite wisdom would want Ranked to get even grindier? Has the relentless feed of cookie-cutter netdecks that infest every rung of the ladder not been grating enough?
It could be that the issue was hot streaks. Gaining an extra star per win after winning 3 in a row means players can really fly. The nature of RNG combined with a canny sense of metagame opportunism could make every rank between 20 and 10 smoother than Justin Trudeau’s chin.
Two stars per rank makes them seem trivial. Ranked is supposed to be hardcore, the polar opposite to the aptly named Casual mode. The climb should be long and feel epic. Yet to remove win streaks would take away an essential sense of momentum – getting faster progress for avoiding losses rewards good play and reduces player fatigue.
So the solution was to make Rank 19 equally lengthy (but obviously not as weighty) as rank 2, both needing 5 stars in order to progress. This removes some arbitrariness – why should the lower ranks be smaller when they’re already supposed to be easier? – and standardizes it all. We all love regularity. Just look at Odd Paladin! What’s more, having 5 stars per rank means players spend longer playing Ranked, which means more time spent playing the game in general. If the meta is healthy, with plenty of deck variety, more time in Ranked should be a good thing.
The reasons for the March 2018 change do make sense, then. So why are we going back to the old ways?
Well, it’s not a total reversal – 3 stars are needed from 20 to 16, rather than 2; likewise, it’s 4 for 15-10 not 3. It’s a compromise. The climb has been slowed, but it’s not the contemporary grind-fest that many of us dread. We can’t ditch Novice Engineer et al. as fast as we did in the four years between 2014 and 2018, though she isn’t nearly as needy as she was last year. It’s good.
Blizzard is pitching these changes as a “quality of life” improvement, which sounds odd considering these are quite fundamental alterations. Interestingly, their article states that it “preserv[es] the more competitive Star values for the higher Ranks.” The choice of words, particularly “competitive”, gives us an insight into the design team’s philosophy. Was the 5 star standardization meant to improve “competitiveness”?
Surely, if high-achieving players were able to leave lower ranks more quickly, it would improve the quality of matchmaking? Nobody liked getting punted back several ranks at the end of every season. Fewer stars per rank means that “correcting” your position on the ladder is easier, which makes the experience better for everyone. The reset is now concrete, at a consistent 4 ranks every season change, which helps a lot.
Regardless, the implication is that the new system equates to a reduction in competitiveness, at least in Team 5’s view. Perhaps this is one extrapolation too far, but I wonder if it’s all worth it. The developers rarely change the game, and for good reason – consistency is key, especially in card games – let alone in more systematic ways like this Ranked shakeup.
Was the grind really so bad? For me, the rank 20, 15, 10, etc. floors have proven to be the greatest improvement to Ranked mode in all my years playing. The peace of mind upon reaching your desired milestone and knowing you’re safe there regardless of all the Hunters you might encounter, is priceless. The floors are pure anti-tilt, and for that reason it was a masterstroke.
What do you think? Are you looking forward to speeding up the ranks like pre-nerf Pirate Warrior is back? Or is Ranked still your no-go zone? Let us know in the comment section below.