Hearthstone's auto-battler mode Battlegrounds remains popular, even among players who don't bother with regular Hearthstone. On August 30 Blizzard will launch Season 2 of Battlegrounds, which will add quest mechanics and two new heroes, but it's also going to bring some things players are less excited about: premium currency and a premium rewards track to go with it.
Real-money purchases in the Hearthstone shop will be phased out in favor of a virtual currency called Runestones, though as Blizzard's FAQ notes, "Some products, like Pre-Purchase Bundles, the Hearthstone Tavern Pass, and Packs (purchasing more than one at a time) will be able to be purchased with money or Runestones." Typically, premium currencies are sold in amounts that don't correspond directly to the cost of items in the shop, meaning customers have to buy more than they want. Blizzard says some Runestone bundles will be sold in "quantities that correspond to our major products (like the Battlegrounds Season Pass)", though that leaves the question of what count as minor products unanswered.
Chadd Nervig, Hearthstone features lead, tried to reassure players on Twitter by explaining the actual prices in the shop wouldn't be changing, and said, "We've chosen Runestone bundle sizes to exactly match the top selling products, and minimize wasted Runestones." He also explained that having a premium currency makes it easier to "offer smaller products for sale, like individual BG skins or emotes", presumably because of how the cut Apple and other storeowners take on each purchase works out.
What players seem most upset about is that the Battlegrounds season pass will give buyers access to a premium tier of its reward track. While everything else on that track is cosmetic, the first reward is two additional hero slots, which will not be obtainable any other way. (Previously it was something you could buy with in-game gold earned through play.) Players who don't fork out for the season pass will be stuck choosing from two random heroes, while those who pay will get to choose from four.
"We're committed to maintaining hero and gameplay balance so that the choice from four heroes is more about optionality than power", Blizzard says, to which players reply with a hollow laugh. Battlegrounds' heroes are considered wildly unbalanced, with Ysera and Heistbaron Togwaggle sitting way up high in the current meta. As streamer Old Guardian breaks down, with two heroes to choose from you'll get access to a better-than-average pick 62% of the time, while with four heroes to choose from your odds go up to 86%.
Streamer and Hearthstone beta tester Zeddy delivered a nine-minute rant declaring the change to be predatory. "I fricking knew this was going to happen," he says, "because it's Blizzard. That when they introduce a new monetization system it's going to be greedy, it's going to be predatory, and they're gonna try and be underhanded about it." He says that before this Battlegrounds was "the most free-to-play-friendly mode they've ever done", and that by selling extra hero slots Blizzard will "make it the only true pay-to-win mode in Hearthstone."
Given the backlash to Diablo Immortal's microtransactions, you might have expected Blizzard to be a bit cautious about the way it rolls out changes to the monetization of Hearthstone and Battlegrounds, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Instead, it's jumped right into the premium currency quagmire and the community isn't happy about it. Though at least the memes are pretty good.