Going on nigh four years, Hearthstone players have asked for a tournament mode. We’ve read about it on Reddit. We’ve listened to community podcasts such as The Angry Chicken and Well, Met! clamor for it. We’ve even seen Blizzard Entertainment’s esports team encounter problems in its own Hearthstone Championship Tour events because this game lacks a dedicated tournament mode. In a press briefing Monday, we learned that the market-leading digital card game is getting tournaments.
“We’re being careful not to call it tournament mode because this is a specific implementation of tournaments,” Hearthstone game director Ben Brode said during Monday’s briefing. “I don’t think it’ll be the last implementation of a competitive format inside the game client. But I think it’s one that’s really exciting.”
Brode said they’re calling it “in-game tournaments.” When it goes into beta testing (Brode said “this summer”), the new function enables players to create tournaments using the Standard and Wild formats. These can handle Last Hero Standing and Conquest events. People join through invitations from the Battle.net friends list or codes that tournament generates. The event you set up will start at a time you set and notify players. The client will check decks to make sure they’re legal for the format and handle matchmaking throughout the tournament. It won’t handle tournament awards — that remains in the hands of event organizers. It will also have time limits to prevent no-shows and people drawing out their plays, though Brode said they’re still working on how this will work out.
In one example, he said they may give a player “Nozdormu-like 15 second turns” if they’re dragging out play, and in another, he said that if two people are competing with infinite decks, they’re be an ending point, like a tie. The game will then tell you when you’re next turn is, or you can hit ready, and if everything does so, the next round will begin shortly. Brode also noted that in-game events would use Swiss-style organization for these events.
Brode said that he sees this function being used by community groups and the Fireside Gathering program. But tournament organizers won’t be able to structure events that use card bans, special formats (like an Arena tourney), or other more sandbox-like ideas (as I asked Brode about in an earlier interview about Casual mode).
“The plan here is to expand significantly over the course of years,” Brode said. “I can definitely see that if players are asking for it, adding additional formats to that. We’re open to lots of different things. The point here is that we want to get something out this summer so that players can start playing with it and giving feedback.”
Players have been asking for a way to play in-game events since Hearthstone’s launch in 2014. But Brode thinks that what they want isn’t a full-fletched tournament mode. “What they’re really saying is that they want more opportunities for competitive Hearthstone,” he said, noting the interest in special events like the Heroic Tavern Brawl from last year. “There’s things people like about tournaments; specifically, there’s a story about them. You play the ladder over-and-over again, and it’s kinda a grind. But if you can say, ‘I won a tournament,’ that’s feels better than saying, ‘Hey, I went on a 10-game winning streak on the ladder.'”
And Hearthstone’s esports events won’t use it, either, when it launches in beta.
“This not intended for that [pro esports] audience,” Brode said. “It’s for a broader audience.”
I just hope I’ll be able to ban cards like Ultimate Infestation and my latest No. 1 hate card, Voidlord, when Blizzard launches in-game tournaments out of beta. It feels like two weeks since I encountered a Warlock that didn’t run that card in deck.