Hearthstone’s limited format has attracted a small but hyper-loyal competitive community across the years who continuously tried to raise their averages and score high finishes on the leaderboards despite basically no official competitive events or recognition for their efforts. Recently, the dedicated Modes team has started to make moves to change the format, and with this, came the revamped official Arena leaderboard. In many ways, it served as one step forward, two steps back. The current iteration doesn’t serve the most competitive players well and introduced issues that even the past leaderboard rulesets were able to account for.
New Leaderboard: Not the Same as the Old Leaderboard
It is curious that the Modes team opted to bring back the old form of the Arena leaderboard after implementing the live system. The original Arena leaderboard simply took the highest win percentage throughout the month (a single month, you’ll note) of accounts with a minimum of 30 runs. Kripp topped the North American charts with an average of 7.78 wins across 37 runs in the first month.
This system was later tweaked to track your best 30 consecutive runs as the seasons were eventually extended from a single month. This offered players the opportunity (sort of) to keep on playing for fun after “locking in” a strong enough streak, or the chance to experiment at the start of the season before getting their tryhard pants on.
This system remained unchanged until recently, but it was clearly a low-priority affair for the devs as updates kept getting delayed and the lengths of the seasons weren’t clearly communicated to the players. The latest iteration, courtesy of the dedicated Modes team led my Matt London, features a variation of the original leaderboard design, with all runs counting – to some extent.
Questions about the new Hearthstone Arena leaderboard? This thread has you covered: pic.twitter.com/QAROxvqysL
— Matt London (@themattlondon) February 14, 2023
In addition, the leaderboards are now live, just like with the other main formats of the game (though Duels remains curiously absent), and all player records are visible, not just the top 200. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that regular players don’t even know about the existence of this leaderboard and its precise rules have to be tracked down from a Twitter thread.
Content creators looking to lock in a relevant 31st or 32nd run have no idea about their expected average unless they have a calculator at hand – and in almost all cases, the optimal decision is to create a brand new account and start again when things go wrong. This also lets them benefit from the small edge provided by the “kiddie pool”, the system seeding you into a lower bracket on your early runs for a better new player experience.
Even if you had a good set of runs, you need a new account. What, you’re just going to keep on playing and ruin your average for the season?
There’s also the issue that the system weighs earlier runs heavier than later ones. A player with a streak of 30 6-win runs followed by 30 8-win runs will have a lower average than someone who had a streak or 8-wins to start out and followed it up by 30 6-win runs. This is far from optimal. Ideally, you would also want to create a system where the impact of draft (and class selection) highrolls can be reduced, and 30 runs are honestly not enough for that. Those getting many Mages and Hunters offered in the current metagame have a head start on the competition before a single game is played.
With all that in mind, here’s a suggestion for adjusting the leaderboard format for something that better serves committed players, doesn’t disincentivize them from continuing to play (and would also make Arena content just a bit more interesting). It would require a minor in-client change, which is likely a nonstarter, but from a gameplay perspective, it would be a very natural and straightforward upgrade.
Let Players Select Whether Their Next Run Will Count for the Leaderboard
This simple change would solve almost all of the issues with the Arena leaderboard. The same way you can (technically) play casual mode in other formats, you should be able to continue to play the mode without ruining your rank.
The consecutive nature of the runs doesn’t add much to the challenge or the experience. Clocking in 30 high-focus runs will be a grind no matter how you slice it. However, this would allow players to maintain just one account, test other classes or have some non-tryhard runs during their broadcast without having to create separate accounts. This also solves the major issue where players high up the leaderboard are actively disincentivized from playing after scoring a good 30-run streak.
Needless to say, “locking in” your run for the leaderboard would have to happen before you see the class selection screen. Perhaps the Heroic Brawliseum UI elements could be repurposed for something like this. As long as this is technically feasible, almost all problems with the Arena leaderboard would be resolved overnight – this means the rest of the suggestions are just a cherry on top.
Require a 12-Win Run To Unlock the Leaderboard
From a player perspective, this would simply make Arena match the gameplay experience of Constructed: climb the ladder to open up a new, marginally more competitive affair with an adjusted scoring system. This way, the Lightforge Key would actually unlock something, and you could easily add a token to the Arena rewards to represent your success.
Back when Ranked Hearthstone was bigger on Twitch, the race to Legend was always a cool part of the early-season experience. Right now, getting on the Arena leaderboard early offers no distinction, except dubious ones about rerolling and tanking your average in the process. Requiring a 12-win run before you can embark on your 30-run quest for the season would actually make finishing early a bigger accomplishment, while also further disincentivizing the creation of dummy accounts.
Setting this requirement at the start of each new rotation would breathe a bit of fresh air into the race for the leaderboard, adding more reasons to tune in early on and different aspects to compete for.
30-Best Instead of 30-Consecutive – But With a Twist
Having to recalculate fractional averages makes it difficult to figure out how your leaderboard is going and it takes a lot of joy out of the speculation when players join a channel to follow in on the action. The current system heavily disincentivizes you from continuing to play once you have a streak of 30 good runs, but the previous iteration also provided little room to improve your record.
Let’s take the aforementioned leaderboard features into account: average players don’t know much about it and its ruleset is opaque and arcane. If we’re taking these as features, not bugs, how about a system that is easier to track and offers a bit of decision-making over the current implementation?
How could we reward continued good performance while also providing diminishing returns for runs beyond 30? Instead of subtraction, let’s try addition. After your 30 runs are done, you can then improve on your worst results – but at a cost. The first try is on the house – but after that, you need to do an extra run for a chance to try again. Then two. Then three. For the runs in-between, the “make this run count for the leaderboard” button is grayed out. Essentially, you will need to dedicate more and more playtime for marginal improvements – but in a positive way that is available to all players without having to create extra accounts. All without a guarantee of success, for you do need to perform well and actually improve on your worst run in the existing set.
Without a doubt, players will always try to optimize their results when there’s something on the line, no matter how small it is – but these changes would almost entirely eliminate the current wrinkles of the Arena system, add new content creation incentives and make the experience more interesting to participate in and to watch overall.
I like all these ideas except the last one, which I hate. It basically rewards people who play more rather than those who play better. It’s already difficult for most players to even get 30 runs in to make it to the leaderboard. If they then have to play even more just to be able to keep up with those who have the time to get more runs in, you’d basically kill the whole thing for the vast majority of the playerbase.