Hearthstone’s long-running love of RNG mechanics recently hit a tipping point with the release of TGT. RNGesus’s dramatic performance at the recent OneNationofGamer tournament, for example, far out-classed the players themselves, where lucky Unstable Portals, Spellslingers, and other high variance cards determined the games more than the skill levels of the competitors. This problem not only effects the enjoyability of Hearthstone for spectators, but also Hearthstone’s legitimacy as an esport, when compared to established games such as CS:GO and Dota 2. In fact, the term ‘esport’ itself has become a common joke among Twitch chat users in Hearthstone streams, which, I believe, marks a serious problem in Hearthstone’s viability.
Hearthstonely writer Dave Eaton recently suggested that Tournament organizers should consider banning certain problem cards, such as Unstable Portal and Piloted Shredder. Many players suggested the same solution after the ONG tournament, and banning cards would absolutely make for a simple, effective, and difficult-to-question solution to the RNG problem. However, RNG cards can still bring a great deal of fun and excitement to Hearthstone, if not for their overabundance in the meta. Instead, tournament organizers should consider another solution to Hearthstone’s randomness addiction: the introduction of formats to the mainstream tournament scene that organically limit the card pool.
Two fringe formats immediately come to mind: Challengestone and Lord of the Arena. Both formats work to not only force a variety of cards into competitive play, but also test players on a wider range of skills. Viewers have received both formats quite well in the past, with the recent Lord of the Arena competition at PAX Prime clearly demonstrating the validity of such a format. This solution would not only liven up Hearthstone’s tournament scene, but also help assuage the frustrations that viewers have towards game deciding RNG cards. Sure, those cards may still appear in these formats, but only at the discretion of the format’s new rules or randomized draft picks.
This removes what I feel to be the true problem behind Hearthstone’s wide RNG variance: not the cards themselves, but the players’ free rein to rely on these cards for all of their decks. If a competitor wants to take a safe bet on Piloted Shredder’s often beneficial effect, they can include two Shredders in each deck. Likewise, Dr. Boom’s sometimes minuscule, sometimes game-deciding bombs can make an appearance in each deck as well. As a result, viewers endure the same RNG determinations again and again, causing the rare moments when those RNG factors widely swing a game to become all the more frustrating. When Unstable Portal pulls a 6-mana Alexstraza, more viewers react with a groan rather than excitement. Viewers want to watch players decide their fates, not card after card that rely on luck.
Challengestone and LotA, on the other hand, force players to reconsider the card pool and staple RNG cards in new contexts. For example, if a player’s Lord of the Arena draft lacks a Flamewaker or Sorcerer’s Apprentice, should they risk picking an Unstable Portal and summoning a 0-mana Angry Chicken? If the Challengestone ruleset allows only class-specific minions, how do competitors craft decks in a Shredder-less meta? I don’t know the answer to these questions, and there-in lies the true excitement and skill of Hearthstone.
By working with problem cards, rather than against them, tournaments can bring the fun back to these cards and the entire tournament. If a player happens to draft a Dr. Boom or Ragnaros in their LotA picks, then that card becomes a fascinating case with equally fascinating RNG results, rather than another chance for Twitch chatters to spam ResidentSleeper.
One only needs to look at Magic: The Gathering’s Limited formats to see proof that reducing the cardpool available to players can be a great way to not only test players on a new level, but also reduce the presence of broken cards. Bringing Challengestone or Lord of the Arena to Hearthstone’s mainstream tournament scene certainly requires a great deal more risk and effort on the part of organizers than simply banning problematic cards, but it would also instill a great deal of faith in Hearthstone as an e-sport, by showcasing the true skills of its professional players and denying the overshadowing power of swingy RNG cards.