Kripp on the future of Hearthstone: “They might be outpaced by an indie card game eventually”

There must be some nights when you can’t face playing more Hearthstone. How do you handle those?

That’s not really the case. It is the case that sometimes I just don’t feel like streaming, because I have a lot going in real life, or I only slept for three hours … and I’d much rather go to sleep. On those days people might have an opinion about how I feel about the game, because I express my frustrations a little more. You know… sometimes, it’s possible, that Hearthstone might be frustrating to play. When you’re sleepy and cranky you get a little bit more outraged about a given situation than you should. I try not to keep my emotions down, so it can seem like I’m not enjoying the game. But overall it’s a pretty good game.

The main criticism I’ve had lately with Arena is that there isn’t much discovery.

What do you still love about the game?

It’s just really fun to play. I mostly like the sense of discovery in any videogame. When I go into Constructed, I always have that sense of discovery. It’s often shut down, but usually after: “Oh man, this is going to be so cool, this is going to totally work”. I build the deck, face a noob, face another noob, “I’m 2-0, there might be something to this deck!”, and then I lose to Doomhammer into Rock Biter three games in a row. But there is a very big high leading up to the lows in Hearthstone.

The main criticism I’ve had lately with Arena is that there isn’t much discovery. When one class is so dominant, you’re in that hopeless situation where you have to just get that class. It’s not a reality right now for me to go and pick Priest in order to re-discover how to play Priest so I can beat Mages. That’s not possible. So that’s why I haven’t played Arena much recently. It’s still a fun experience that you crave, but after you play it through a few times it’s not as addicting as before because the sense of discovery is absent.

Doomhammer

Hearthstone's most fun and interactive weapon.

You were part of a pretty hardcore World of Warcraft raid guild. What’s your favourite war story from those days?

I’ll just throw one out there. I got recruited by Exodus, the guild I ended up staying with, raiding with, and doing famously well with. They were one of the best guilds in the world before I asked to join, and I’d only been playing World of Warcraft for a year and a bit. I was in a very small guild, but I was performing really well and had the numbers to prove it. I thought I’d take a shot and see if the best guild in the US would accept me. 

It was like six in the morning and 10 minutes after I sent my application I got a message in-game to hop on Ventrilo from the guild master of Exodus. I dunno, it was one of those experiences that all gamers seek. When the top guild in the US replies so quickly you kind of know why. It was just a really good feeling. “Hey, you’re actually pretty good at this game.” You hardly ever have that feeling in videogames, so the moments are pretty memorable when they happen.

Can you envisage a career beyond creating Hearthstone content currently? What would you like to be doing 5 or 10 years from now?

I don’t know. Hearthstone has the potential to last that long. But my experience is that either the game developer screws something up, or other games in the genre surpass it. For instance with Diablo 3 there was a huge audience for ARPGs. And Diablo 3 was a pretty good game, but people expected more, tried different games, and found that other ARPGs were more appealing to them. It’s possible that may happen with Hearthstone as well. I think Blizzard’s inability to change might be a problem in that situation. 

I’ve played a few different card games—I get approached by many companies to play their games sponsored—and almost every time they have a very good card game. The main missing ingredient is usually that they just don’t have the community aspect. But they have the game. I would say that a lot of them have more compelling mechanics, and play systems, than Hearthstone.

Kripp has experimented with playing Faeria lately.

Have you tried The Elder Scrolls: Legends? I’ve been playing a lot of that.

I haven’t tried a few of the popular ones, but in time I will. But every card game I’ve played in the last six months has surpassed Hearthstone’s mechanics in at least one aspect. I’m not going to say that they’re all better—that’s not exactly true—but certain aspects are clearly things that would make Hearthstone a better game. Faeria has a Pandora system which is like Arena, but they also have a half-Pandora system. It’s as if you’re playing Arena, but you can only get to six wins. It has a lower entry fee, and you get a free token to play it every single day. So people people play that a lot as a result. 

This system also has you draft Treasure cards that you draw at a later stage in the game, at the same time as your opponent. They’re generally like giant board clears, big removal, or other swings. So the important thing about every Faeria deck in Pandora is that it has the potential to swing the game. That just doesn’t happen in Hearthstone. If you want to swing the game you have to play Mage or Rogue. Rogue has ridiculous early game removal and Mage has Flamestrike. Now you can play every single class and hope to curve out, but you don’t have the same opportunities.

It’s honestly obvious that these other games that are coming up in the same genre are doing it better than Hearthstone. So Blizzard’s traditional inability to change their game in time might be an issue in the long run. But I think Hearthstone is in pretty good shape overall, and at least it seems they’re taking the criticism quite seriously. I think it seems reasonable to be optimistic, but they might be outpaced by an indie card game eventually. 

Batstone

In a bid to address some of the perceived issues with current competitive play, the former world champion James “Firebat” Kostesich organised his own tournament in which a number of problematic cards like Yogg-Saron and Fiery War Axe (as picked by the community) were banned. It took place on his Twitch channel on 14 September. All the players were invited pros and well-known streamers, and it averaged well over 30k viewers.

What have you made of [former world champion] Firebat organising a tournament with a banned list of cards?

I think more than anything people want change, and he’s bringing some form of change, so people are overwhelmingly positive about it. I think what he’s doing is a really cool idea. I would actually say that I am sure that the number one reason that tournament viewership is down is because the famous players in the game are generally not part of those tournaments. When viewership was high, it was because famous players were in them, which was because tournaments had a lot more invites.

Obviously, as a pro Hearthstone player, you can’t always qualify for tournaments. And the incentive to play isn’t always there, because the prize pools in Hearthstone might seem like a lot, but your chance of winning is one-in-100s. The time investment is not worth it for someone who can stream and get even a few thousand viewers, let alone tens of thousands. So the well known players are not participating, or they’re not getting anywhere. At the end of the day you have a top 16, 15 of whom nobody has ever seen before, and casters who’ve been doing it for a few months often. It’s not interesting for people.

People don’t care if it’s random. People don’t care if the players are good. They want to be entertained...

Look at tournaments like Lord of the Arena II, where we had some of the worst Hearthstone players to be streamed anywhere, and we got like 70,000 viewers. The quality of play has a complete disconnect from the viewership. People don’t care if it’s random. People don’t care if the players are good. They want to be entertained, and they want the people they know to be playing, and that’s really all there is to it.

I feel like they want different match-ups. Who wants to see more Dragon Warrior versus Zoo now?

That’s the other problem. There’s almost no class diversity. Right now there’s like two or three aggro/tempo decks that counter each other, and it’s a circle that’s very hard to break.

Or it’s Yogg Druid and whoever gets the best one wins.

I don’t mind Yogg. I think Yogg is pretty cool. I would gladly watch Forsen vs Kolento in a Yogg-only deck best of seven. That would be awesome. They need player cams and maybe microphones. I understand Blizzard wants to have a more serious esport, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have a serious esport and ridiculous RNG. And if you have the ridiculous RNG, then you have to invite the personalities more to make it a community experience. Otherwise it’s a total disconnect from what people want to see.