Ever since the new progression system was released, a heated discussion has sparked across the entire Hearthstone community. First it was a lot of math – is the new system better or worse? Once players have reached a conclusion that Blizzard’s promise that “no player will earn less gold under the new system” wasn’t true, they became mad. And I mean really, really mad. For example, I haven’t seen Hearthstone reddit sub in such a way ever since the Blitzchung ban, and even then people got over it pretty quickly.
Over the last couple of weeks, many prominent community figures have given their opinion on it. The general consensus is that they either are against or don’t really care either way. I’ve also been sharing my opinion here and there, but usually different bits and pieces in posts, comments and on social media. But I’ve decided to organize my thoughts into one, probably too long post. I hope that at least some of you will appreciate it, even though some of my opinions don’t line up with the general Hearthstone population. (Also, sorry, I know that it’s a wall of text, but if you want to comment, please read everything first.)
Is Rewards Track Really That Bad?
So let’s start with the most basic thing. Many people portray the new progression system as literally the end of F2P Hearthstone, a terrible system where players earn half of what they did in the past. And that’s not even close to truth. While it was worse at the beginning, after changing the 6 packs into 1350 Gold, the rewards are now very similar for most of the players. Yes, it’s true that the promise of “no player earning less gold” might not hold up for everyone, and that’s not good. But for majority of players the new progression system will be roughly similar or even better than the old one. I’m mentioning it because a very common narrative is that people will have half of the packs they used to, that new rewards are straight up garbage etc. I honestly have no clue where people got that from.
Does it mean that people are getting worked up over nothing? Definitely not! There are lots of legit concerns that need to be addressed, but being overly dramatic and throwing around lots of nonfactual statements doesn’t help the cause at all. Even if we ignore all the bad calculations (and trust me, I’ve seen a lot of them), the truth is that we won’t REALLY know how good or bad is the system until Darkmoon Faire is over. Blizzard has promised extra ways to earn XP – you can trust them or not (I totally get it if you don’t), but again, we won’t be sure until it actually happens (or doesn’t). You might say that we already had events giving out more rewards under the old system and that would be correct, but we simply don’t know how the new ones will compare to them. Let’s say double XP for Quests and all activities for 2 weeks – now that would boost the progress significantly. Or we might get more events during the course of a single expansion – previously it was usually a single one per set. Will Blizzard deliver? Hard to say, but I simply can’t judge that part of the system without having more information.
With all of that out of the way, let’s get back to the main topic. Here’s the thing – the fact that new rewards system is not really worse than the old one in terms of total value doesn’t mean that it’s better. With the information we have right now, it’s somewhat of a sidegrade and if Blizzard nails the extra ways to earn XP it might turn out to be even a little better. But the problem is that the previous Hearthstone F2P progression system was bad in the first place. Players have been – rightfully so – calling it awful for years. Heck, one of my most popular articles ever was a big critique of the F2P progression THREE YEARS AGO. It was hosted on HearthHead so you can no longer find it, but here’s a reddit thread in case you’re interested. Some of the issues were fixed ever since (such as the no duplicate rule for all rarities, which is tremendously helpful), but many would still be relevant today, even under the “old system” that many people want to get back to for some reason that I can’t comprehend.
As much as I love the game, that was always one of its biggest weaknesses. It’s hard to emphasize how awful it feels when I explain people I know what I do for living, then have to immediately say that I don’t recommend Hearthstone unless they’re willing to spend a lot of money on it right away. Yep, that’s Hearthstone’s progression system. Players don’t earn enough gold, crafting cards is terribly expensive, and don’t even get started on trying out Wild for the first time with no discounts on older cards whatsoever. For all intents and purposes , new “battle pass” isn’t really better or worse – calculating that you will have 500 gold less, but instead a few more packs from expansions you might not need is really splitting hairs.
I genuinely hoped that the new progression system will be more friendly to new / F2P player – that we’ll be able to see more rewards than we did in the past, that it will be easier to get into the game without having to drop $100 to simply get started. Again, being the same is not good enough. It’s the bare minimum the new system should be. Or wait, even that is not true. It should give MORE rewards given that…
Mini-Sets Are Coming Soon
Yep, that’s right. While we still don’t have enough details, we know that 35 cards, mini-sets will drop mid-expansion, the first coming in probably around 6-7 weeks. All the cards will be added to the Darkmoon Faire packs. Even if we assume that they will mostly contain Commons & Rares, with maybe a couple of Epics and a single Legendary, it will still take at least 20-30 extra packs to get the new cards, and that’s already a lot. And I don’t even want to think what will happen if mini-sets will have the regular “adventure” distribution with 4-5 Legendaries… oh the horror.
Of course, it’s not like the mini-sets don’t have their advantages. Mid-expansion point is usually when the meta is getting more stale – new expansion hype wears off, fresh decks are already tested & optimized, one or two balance updates have been released… and the game gets more and more boring. Releasing more content, adding more cards is always shaking things up. Even if the meta doesn’t change a lot, it will take at least a couple of weeks to test everything, and then we’re again closer to the new expansion’s announcement + reveal season, and the whole cycle starts again.
I like the idea behind mini sets, more content is great, but I do realize that I’m speaking from the perspective of a hardcore player, someone who is invested into the game, who knows the entire meta, owns most of the cards, pre-orders every expansion and so on. But this is not necessarily the case for majority of casual players. For many, a single expansion every 4 months is already too much to keep up with. In order for them to not be overwhelming in terms of F2P progression, either we need to get MORE rewards from the progression system (which puts us back to the previous point), or at the very least the rarity distribution of mini-sets needs to be skewed HEAVILY towards Commons & Rares, ideally with no Legendaries at all (e.g. 22 Commons, 10 Rares, 3 Epics).
But you know what the perfect solution would be? Making the mini-sets free. Pipe dream, I know, but it would solve everything – more hardcore players would still have their mid-expansion shake up that keeps them busy, but at the same time it wouldn’t impact the hard-earned gold reserves of the rest. And let’s not kid ourselves – it wouldn’t be some generous move from Blizzard. It would essentially mean that nothing changes in terms of total price of the game, because all 135 cards from the main expansion would still need to be unpacked.
How To Make It Better
Many people ask themselves a question – how to fix the new system? The most common answer is “duh, give players more rewards”, but I honestly don’t think that’s the only solution. Like yes, we SHOULD get more rewards, but there are a few other problems with the rewards track. Luckily, I don’t think that the new rewards system is flawed at the very base level, an opinion I’ve seen circulating on reddit (yeah, another bad take). I’ll be completely honest – I like the “Battle Pass” way of progressing, I like earning XP for different tasks and then turning it into rewards, it just feels fun. I also enjoy the fact that you get XP based on the length of game and not win / loss – this way you get the same amount of XP no matter what kind of deck you play (meta, meme, slow, fast). And from what I’ve gathered, many players share the same opinion. But it also has some clear downsides.
I think that the biggest problem with putting ALL of the rewards on the track is a lack of instant gratification. After all, we’re all playing games to have fun, and getting rewards for the “work” we put into a game is a big part of the fun. But with the new system, if you’re a more casual player and you’re around Level 40, you might be playing the game for DAYS before seeing any rewards. Even if the total number of rewards is the same, it just feels bad to keep playing the game for, in the worst case scenario, an entire week before getting rewarded. And I know a good way to kill two birds with one stone. Imagine if Quests gave some extra rewards on top of XP. And I’m not talking about 60 Gold like the old ones. Let’s say they gave players smaller amounts of Gold or Dust (e.g. 20), maybe some random Rare cards, weeklies could have slightly bigger rewards, maybe the biggest 2500 XP could give a random Epic card on top of the XP. This would both add more rewards in general AND add more “instant” rewards so players can feel like they earn something outside of the occasional level up reward. Those instant rewards would also fix those annoying situations where players are 10-20 Gold short from doing something (e.g. buying a pack, starting Heroic Duels) and then they have to wait for days for more Gold on the track.
Another problem is sort of related to the previous one – how the XP required to level up ramps up. Of course, I completely ignore the first 10 or so levels, because they can be completed incredibly quickly. But even from level 10 to 20, maybe a bit further, it doesn’t feel that bad. Things start to get really bad around 30, and straight up terrible after 40. Having to earn 8-9k XP for a single level up is THE WORST, I can’t imagine how bad it will feel after getting there. Again, even if it doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, how the system “feels” is also important. I think that not only levels should have roughly the same amount of XP requirement without ramping up so much, but also it would be nice to have more common level ups with smaller rewards. For example, if the normal rewards track went from 1 to 100 instead of 1 to 50 – even if we would get the same total rewards, leveling up twice as often would feel way better. However, this is not as necessary as the previous one – having those extra Quest rewards would somewhat fill that downtime.
XP being tied to game length is also a problem. While in theory the system is amazing because it lets you play all kinds of decks while still getting the same rewards, it leads to some poor behavior from players. While I haven’t played against someone like that yet, I’ve seen reports of some people roping every turn or AFKing in Battlegrounds just to grind XP. To be fair, you shouldn’t get fooled by the social media posts you see about it – it’s not a something you run into commonly. Still, it not being common doesn’t excuse it in any way and Blizzard should work on some way to fight against that. Maybe it would be a good time to finally implement a working report function – something that is long overdue given how many toxic friend requests + messages people get after games. And I’m not saying that we should straight up ban people who “abuse” the new system by AFKing, but punishments like making them gain no XP from gameplay for a week or something similar would probably deter people from this annoying behavior.
And finally, while not directly related to the progression system itself, there are many other ways to make the game cheaper that players have asked for ages. One of the ideas I always liked most is updating the crafting system. Because let’s be honest – the current one was created a long time ago, back when Classic was the only set (besides Basic, which is free), total amount of cards was only a fraction of what we have right now and the entire game’s economy was different. For example, having to disenchant four Legendaries just to craft a single one is a terrible deal. 1:2 ratio would be way more understandable. Heck, even 1:3 would be way better than what we have right now. Of course, same thing goes for lower rarities. Additionally, there should be some kind of discount on the cards from Wild-only expansions. As the game ages, more and more expansions will be Wild-only, and the pool of available cards in the format will increase. Making Wild cards cheaper would encourage new players to try the format. It’s even more important now that you can use Wild cards in Duels – crafting old cards at full price just to play them in Duels feels bad.
And those are just some of the solutions. Both the new progression system and the entire F2P experience in Hearthstone can be improved quite easily in many different ways. Trust me, it’s not a lost cause. The game is not dead, F2P players don’t have to quit just yet. The truth is that things have been going in the right direction – slowly, but still. Just this year we’ve got a full no duplicate protection and free decks for new / returning players (some of which are really strong meta decks with multiple expensive cards) – those were great ideas which genuinely helped players. But we don’t want to wait another year before Blizzard comes up with more solutions, the problem of increasing cost of the game is urgent, with mini sets coming very soon. Competition is not sleeping, and the truth is that Hearthstone’s progression system is way worse than in competing games like LoR or Gwent. There’s still time to improve it, but the clock is ticking – the longer they ignore the problem, the more players will quit. And no one wants that, right?
P.S. I’ve only focused on F2P progress here. Another common complain is that spending real money doesn’t give players enough value, e.g. they could buy a full AAA game for $60, but in Hearthstone they only get a small part of the expansion. Those are also very valid concerns, but it’s a topic for another article – this one is already getting too long.
Harassment Is Not A Solution
And finally, maybe the most important matter of them all. I know that 2020 has been rough, BUT GOD DAMN, some people need to calm down. Remember that it’s not a matter of life and death. We’re talking about a flawed progression system released a few weeks ago in a video game. Something that ultimately is not that important, something that can easily be fixed and frankly something that we don’t even have all the information on yet. I’m not saying that the current outrage isn’t justified – I totally get why people are angry. But ever since the entire drama around Battle Pass, some people have gotten completely irrational, badmouthing devs everywhere they can (including their personal social media accounts) and even started jumping at streamers simply because they – I kid you not – didn’t have an opinion about the whole thing. If you’re one of those people – this section is targeted at you.
Let’s start with the devs. HS devs have NOTHING to do with the new progression system. They are here to design and implement stuff, they aren’t responsible for exact numbers. Tuning XP gains & monetization scheme isn’t their job. If you want to be mad, be mad at the higher-ups who are actually responsible, not at designers or community managers who had no saying just like you and me. I know that it’s easier to lash out at the devs, because they’re the faces of Hearthstone you know, because they show themselves on social media etc. Some exec who only cares about the money and wants to make everything as greedy as possible is not such an easy target. But what do you think will happen if you send devs threats and insult them? What exactly will change? It’s like going to the store and unleashing your rage at the cashier because the product you want to buy costs too much. They’re just working there and don’t dictate the prices.
Then the streamers. There’s been a lot of praise for those who voiced their opinion about the new system and “joined” the protests – which is great great. I honestly think that it’s quite brave to speak up – even if they aren’t directly employed by Blizzard, a worse relationship might make a significant impact on their livelihood (e.g. not getting invited to tournaments such as the latest Darkmoon Duel-fest, which in turn means a lot less money). If they want to stand with the community – more power to them. But some people are simply trying to force every streamer and popular community figure to join them. And the key word is “force”. Spamming social media, starting witch hunts, sending hateful emails just because X said that he doesn’t care about the progression system or Y mentioned that he doesn’t mind it. HE DOESN’T MIND IT? HOW DARE HE! HE’S LITERALLY A BLIZZARD’S DOG!
Heck no. Streamers are entitled to have their own opinion. Even if you don’t agree with it, just be respectful. They don’t owe you anything, most have worked hard to get where they are, so please stop trying to ruin their lives over something so petty. Streaming is literally their job, many of them aren’t playing the game as a hobby or to have fun. Most of them are just trying to avoid the drama, because mixing job with a drama is NEVER a good thing, and now they’re getting caught in the middle against their will. Which is – frankly – the worst outcome for both sides. Streamers now fear that if they don’t “join” the protests then the community will actively plot against them (yes, I’ve seen calls to “cancel” a certain streamer, I’m serious), and the community is simply barking at the wrong tree. Antagonizing popular figures, and thus often their fanbase, will have the exact opposite effect. If some people threatened to “cancel” me, I would seriously consider doing the exact thing they don’t want me to do out of spite (yes, that’s petty, but we’re all only human).
And one last thing – please, please, PLEASE don’t compare those protest to fighting for basic human rights (such as suffragist movements). I’ve seen it at least a few times and such comparisons have been at the very least in bad taste and often straight up disrespectful. I know that everyone wants to be a part of something bigger, but that’s just not it. If you really want to make a difference, if you promised to not spend money on Hearthstone again, instead use that money and donate to some charity.
tl;dr: New progression system is not nearly as bad as people think it is. It’s comparable to the old system, but since te old system was terrible to start with, the new system should also be improved. How Blizzard handles mini-sets will make a massive impact on the F2P progression – ideally they should be free, but that’s more of a pipe dream. Lack of rewards is not the only problem with the new system, and there are a few ways to fix it. The best one I came up with is tying small, extra rewards (Gold/Dust/single cards) to Daily / Weekly Quests will both add more value to it and fix the problem of having to wait too long to see any rewards at later levels. And finally – people harassing devs & streamers thinking that it will somehow help are idiots doing more harm than good.
Okay, that was a long post. I think that I covered everything I had in mind, but if you have any questions or just want to argue, feel free to leave a comment. I’m sure that many of you will disagree with some of my takes, and I don’t mind if you try to change my mind.