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The making of Hearthstone Battlegrounds: 'We wanted a mode that didn't feel as polarizing'

(Image credit: Blizzard)

Does the fact that the players don’t need a card collection make Battlegrounds easier to balance? By which I mean, you're free to make decisions without factoring that people might have paid to craft the card you want to change.

CK: Yeah, it definitely does, but people get really attached to particular strategies or heroes they enjoy. So we have to be careful of shaking things up to much too much and ruining the experience they’ve grown to love. 

The new expansion, Descent of Dragons, launches on 5th of December. In a hypothetical situation that a week later 80% of playtime was still being spent in Battlegrounds, would that be a problem for Hearthstone? Wouldn’t Blizzard's accountants freak out?

MD: The thing about Hearthstone, in general, is that we like you to play the way you enjoy most. Some people like Arena, some people play PvE, some prefer casual, ranked, or wild… And some people play Battlegrounds. Whichever way you find most fun, we want to support you enjoying that.

But I need to buy a lot of card packs to play Descent of Dragons and I need to pay some money or gold up front to play Arena, whereas with Battlegrounds the barrier to entry is very low. It’s 20 packs to get the three hero choices and the emotes, and I don’t have to bother with those. If Battlegrounds becomes the default mode, wouldn’t that be an issue for Hearthstone’s financial health?

MD: I think if everybody was playing Battlegrounds exclusively we could figure out some system to let people who love our game gives us money. There are plenty of games out there that work on that system. We’d have to think about that and figure it out.

I don’t find myself getting as annoyed with losing in Battlegrounds as I do with the regular ladder. In some ways it's an even more random experience, but I still find it more relaxing. Do you feel the same, and if so why is that? 

CK: Yeah. When we set out to make Battlegrounds one of the big reasons was that we felt like we could make a mode that didn’t feel as polarizing. [Editor's note: The interview originally misquoted Kou as saying that the developers wanted to make a mode that didn't feel as "pulverizing." Blizzard has clarified that the actual word he used was "polarizing."] I think it doesn’t feel as bad losing for a couple of different reasons, one of which is that there are eight people in a game. Sometimes you’ll lose, but you might be in sixth and say “I didn’t come last, I’m improving”. 

Another thing is that there are all these exciting little moments in the game where you are anticipating your next turn, so there comes a point where you are so excited to get through combat because you feel like you’re just about to turn the corner. Sometimes when you lose you’ll feel like you were almost there. I think the combination of all of those things helps the game feel not as frustrating to lose and makes you want to jump right back in. 

It's definitely less polarising. I play on iPad sometimes and the older mobile devices can suffer in terms of performance. Are there plans to overhaul Hearthstone’s code to make those platforms have an easier time?

MD: Yeah, we actually have a bunch of different initiatives and teams looking to increase mobile performance. Some people are looking at specific animations, speeding them up or turning them off. Other people are looking at the back-end CPU problems and improving how our code is written to use less CPU. Every month or two we will make some improvements in that space and hopefully make it a better experience for everyone.

Am I right in thinking Poison is going to be one of the animations you look to shorten? 

MD: Yeah, we are adjusting the Poison animation in, I think, January.

Lightfang Enforcer

(Image credit: Blizzard)

One of 10 minions created especially for the Battlegrounds mode, Lightfang is sought after for 'menagerie' comps which rely on buffing multiple tribes.

Connor, can you give me any examples of weird hero powers that you tried that didn’t work out or stuff you are still thinking of implementing?

CK: One of the first hero powers we actually designed and had to change was Putricide’s. It used to give Poison to your leftmost minion. We actually played with that for a very long time. It was super cool because you could throw down your Cave Hydra and get guaranteed value. As we kept playing internally, and people got better and better, we found other things you could do with it, like getting a golden Kaboom Bot, putting poison on it, and then using Baron Rivendare to kill your opponent’s entire board. So we had to redesign that. 

It's pleasing to see cards than never had time to shine in Standard, like Junkbot, become some of the most powerful minions in Battlegrounds. Are there other effects from the main Hearthstone mode that might be incorporated down the line? I’m thinking of things like healing or introducing spells to the experience.

CK: One of the most fun things about designing on Battlegrounds, in general, is that there is so much unexplored space. So there’s definitely room for effects like that, and any new keywords or minions that we add to Hearthstone. We will evaluate it as we go. We are really happy with the core stuff we have landed on and we don’t want to change it too drastically and scare people away by making it very complicated, but we always want to explore new options.

Mike, have you been happy to see a number of high profile content creators come back to the game? 

MD: Yeah, it’s awesome. A lot of those guys I’ve enjoyed watching, and many of them I am also friends with—like Savjz, dog, and Hafu have all come back after different types of lapses and just enjoying the game. Also, the team in general have been feeling really good because of all the positive feedback that has been coming our way from different people. Like, they love the game, they can’t stop playing. Y'know, it’s 3am and they are supposed to be somewhere and they are just playing Battlegrounds instead. The positive vibe has just been super for us.

Looking for more Battlegrounds? Check out our profile of Bob, the breakout NPC superstar of 2019 here. We've also got a complete guide to all the mode's minions and tavern tiers to help you decide when to upgrade and re-roll. Good luck finding those Lightfangs!

As an inveterate Hearthstone addict, Tim spends most of his time trying to explain why all Priest players are degenerates. The rest of his day is spent playing Destiny 2. Seriously, he's on it right now.