Recently in the competitive Hearthstone scene, the new “Specialist format” has been the cause of a lot of controversies. From the moment the Specialist format was announced by Blizzard back in February, many players expressed their concern for the impact the Specialist format would have on the scene. The Hearthstone Grandmasters later this month will be using this new format, so solving these issues should be a priority for the Hearthstone esports team.
For those unfamiliar with what the Specialist format is, it is quite simple. Each player has three decks. You start with a 30-card deck; let’s call it “deck one.” Deck two and deck three can each be up to 5 cards different than deck one. Each series you play, you start out with deck one for the first match, after which you are free to pick any of the decks for the remaining matches. The matches played in the Grandmasters league, as well as in the qualification cups, will use the best-of-three format.
While at first many of the negatives were written off due to the oppressiveness of the Hunter class at the time, the format worked alright for the open cup system we have played with over the last few weeks.
However, following this weekend’s Hall of Heroes tournament, which was the first major showcase of the Specialist format, many people expressed their concerns once again. The event was very difficult to watch as 10 out of the 12 invited players brought the same deck, Tempo Rogue. While the lists were slightly different from each other, the stream was basically three days of Rogues playing mirror matches. The viewers and casters both did not seem to enjoy the event — which is why I’m writing this.
Hearthstone has always had an issue with one deck simply being stronger than other decks during an expansion. This is something that will happen in every card game, especially one that tries to balance nine separate classes with unique cards. However, it has been more problematic in Hearthstone compared to other online card games due to the philosophy of the developer team in trying to change and balance as few cards as possible. The reason they state for this philosophy is that they want the card game to feel as close to a real card game as possible.
With Hearthstone Grandmasters starting in less than two weeks, something has to change. Some of the pro players participating in the Grandmasters league have expressed their concerns for this same issue. At this point in time, Rogue is simply stronger than any other deck available in this expansion. And in a format like Specialist, this advantage of deck strength that Rogue has is just pressed ever further as the cards Rogue can tech against its bad matchups. Meanwhile, decks that are built to be good against Rogue already use all the tools they need for the matchup and can’t further improve their deck against the Rogue class.
To prevent Hearthstone Grandmasters from turning out the same way as the Hall of Heroes event, a repetitive and uninteresting series of Rogue mirrors, I believe there are some simple solutions.
I want to clarify — I think the Specialist format works for the open cups used to qualify for Hearthstone’s LAN events. There are many issues with the way these open cups are set up; however, that is not the point of today’s post. I’m simply aiming to provide a solution to the issue Hearthstone Grandmasters faces right now before Hearthstone esports becomes even more of a joke than it has been in the past.
Sometimes the best solution is the easiest one. A possibility is the introduction of card bans for Grandmasters, a concept that has been around for a very long time in other card games. My preference would go towards banning certain Rogue cards like Preparation or Raiding Party that cause Rogue to be as oppressive as it is. Also, I would like to see certain problematic cards like Archivist Elysianna removed from the tournament scene, as they lengthen the tournament rounds an unreasonable amount.
The main focus of Hearthstone Grandmasters is to make Hearthstone esports more entertaining to watch. A possibility for class diversity would be a type of lotto system. Players are assigned a number of 1-9 each week (a week in advance?) corresponding to one of the nine classes in Hearthstone. This would create a large variety of different matchups that would come up throughout the streaming days. Also, it would inspire players watching to try out and play with new decks or classes that would normally not be showcased at the competitive level of play.
A different implementation of this could be that the players get to choose which class they wish to play. However, they would not be able to choose a class again for a certain period of time. This would allow players to avoid playing the classes with no competitive builds if this were to occur in the meta.
I do not believe my suggestions would fix the issues surrounding the Specialist format entirely. These changes, however, would be a large improvement on the watch-ability of the league. Then in the upcoming months, we can work towards finding a better format for the competitive Hearthstone scene. What do you think the Hearthstone esports team should do to fix the Specialist format? Let us know.
I’m Arend Zijdenbos, from the Netherlands. Gamer for as long as I can remember. My current focus is further improving at esports journalism. Currently, I write for Daily Esports and PCInvasion. For more of me, find me on twitter @Azijdenbos.