The January Hearthstone preview event has become something of an annual tradition for the game. Developers show off their plans for the forthcoming year of stuff, in this case: the Ashes of Outland expansion, the new Demon Hunter class, and a Priest revamp, to a gaggle of reporters and content creators. We spoke at length with the developers at Team 5, but we also had the chance to flag down the attending pros, streamers, and casters. Here's what some of the game's smartest players had to say about the future of Hearthstone.
Octavian 'Kripparrian' Morosan
Kripp thought that if Blizzard was ever going to introduce a new class to Hearthstone, it would've been years ago, when there was a much smaller card pool available.
"I thought that ship had sailed. I think the team, at that time, was a lot more conservative about changing the game. Now they are taking some risks and trying to push out a lot more content," he says. "So they went for it and their compromise was to add a bunch of extra cards, and extra cards from the upcoming expansion. After playing it some, I think it’ll work."
Kripp also thinks the class plays like a blend of Rogue and Warlock. "I don’t know where it will end up. It might remain polarized," he says. "It might be just an aggro variant of Demon Hunter and a Control variant, or something in between." Whatever happens, you're going to see a lot of the class at launch. Kripp thinks Demon Hunter representation on day one could spike as high as 80 percent. By the end of the first week, you're gonna be pretty sick of the mirror match.
Dan "Frodan" Chou, one of the longest tenured Hearthstone casters in the scene, is primarily concerned that the Demon Hunter is fun to play, rather than if it's particularly strong from the get-go.
"I think Hearthstone has gotten to the point where we are evaluating things based off its balance, strengths and weaknesses. In the end, we just want Hearthstone to be fun again, not have complaints about staleness," he said. "I’m really glad they are trying and, ultimately, that’s a really good sign for the design team because it feels like they are trying everything, and I am much more willing to accept that and have them fail and fix it, as opposed to them being too afraid to mess up."
Like a lot of people, Frodan was initially underwhelmed by the Demon Hunter hero power. One Mana to gain one attack? That's it? But as some of the synergies manifested themselves, Illidan got a lot more interesting.
"The more you play, the better it feels and flows, which is ultimately Hearthstone’s strength," he says. "I think it’s a really good sign that they are capitalizing on what Hearthstone does best, which is the fluidity and the ease of access, and I think Demon Hunter will surprise a lot of people with how fun it is to play."
Frodan, of course, also has a unique perspective on Hearthstone's esports infrastructure. He remains synonymous with the game's competitive community, and has voiced concerns about the game's switch to YouTube from Twitch, and what that means for audience metrics.
"I can’t promise [it will be okay]. The switch to YouTube has definitely caused a lot of concern, even within the talent, because we love doing this," he says. "The players are always concerned for their future… There’s a lot of uneasiness but we are going to ignore the numbers and focus on a good product."
Brian Kibler, the crown prince of CCGs, expressed some mild concern about Blizzard adding a new class to Hearthstone. As far as he's concerned, some of the core classes themselves are already lacking an identity. Why jump the gun?
"Generally, my opinion has been that they haven’t really sorted out what the classes that exist are yet, and there are so many different ways that mechanics within Hearthstone are cut up into the different classes already, it felt like it wasn’t really a good thing for them to do," he says.
That being said, Kibler believes the Demon Hunter design is unique and well-defined, which is a philosophy he believes should be applied to the others. In particular, he notes how the Demon Hunter's core set is especially strong. "From what I've seen, most of the cards seem to be better than the average power level. That doesn’t mean Demon Hunter cards are stronger, it just means there are fewer weak ones," says Kibler. "There’s not, like, a Mind Visions."
As a foundational Hearthstone streamer, Kibler mentioned that lately, he's felt a little worried about the health of the game as Battlegrounds supplants Constructed play on Twitch. But after speaking to some developers at the event, he's feeling more relieved.
"Talking to the people at Blizzard, they are saying people still play a lot of Constructed–those numbers haven’t dropped," he says. "I think that the team has shown a willingness to do things they haven’t done before. There was a long time when it felt like they just weren’t doing that much new. There was this incredible resistance to making balance changes, there was an incredible resistance to shaking things up."
Kibler is also finally excited to play Priest again, now that the class doesn't hinge on cheesy Divine Spirit scams. "I don’t know if that sort of core, board-building strategy will necessarily be good, but it’s a better direction [than OTKs], and the statement that this is what Priest is about is really powerful."
Geoge ‘BoarControl’ Webb
BoarControl, the laconic British grandmaster, is mostly just really annoyed that Edwin VanCleef hasn't been obliterated. "I was really hoping Edwin would be moved to the Hall of Fame, or they were nerfing Edwin, or they were printing cards that kill Edwin. None of the three seems to have happened. In fact, Spellbreaker is now gone, which was a card that dealt with Edwin," he says. "People have asked me, a lot, about what I thought should be Hall of Famed. I didn’t think Leeroy would get Hall of Famed because Leeroy was fun. I enjoyed playing with Leeroy when I played him. Mind Control Tech, that one definitely needed to go. Acolyte of Pain, that was an interesting one, the card has been around for a while. I don’t really mind losing Acolyte of Pain, that card was never really any good anyway."
Rada 'RDU' Dima
RDU, another grandmaster, has been crushing Hearthstone's pro circuit for six years now. He's a little more conservative than Kripp, and estimates that on day one we'll likely see 50 percent of decks on ladder being Demon Hunters. (For the record, he predicts that Control Warrior will be an effective counter.)
RDU is one of the streamers who's become more focused on Battlegrounds of late, abandoning his Standard roots. But he doesn't see that as a long-term problem for Hearthstone. As far as he's concerned, this is all cyclical. He'll be back grinding ladder soon enough. "I think Blizzard’s goal is that when the dust settles on Battlegrounds—a little bit at least—we are going to play whatever gets content at the time," he says.
Alexandra ‘Alliestrasza’ Macpherson
Alliestrasza is happy that Illidan is finally getting justice in Hearthstone. The card in the base set is terrible; a six-mana 7/5 with some mediocre token-generating abilities that has never seen any competitive play. Finally, one of the most iconic characters in Warcraft can take his rightful place.
"I think the community will feel satisfied that Illidan is really getting the love of an entire class," she says. "Playing with Demon Hunter felt pretty strong, it’s an aggressive style and it feels like it fits with the other nine classes really well. It should be a ton of fun, I’m excited to see the community reaction."
Jeffrey 'Trump' Shih
"They did it, the mad men! They did it!" That's Trump, reacting to news that a 10th class was finally on the way. Already, he's tweaking his own Demon Hunter build, which he thinks will be pretty powerful. Expect that to be all over ladder day one.
Trump has also carved out a reputation for himself as being one of the preeminent Priest bullies. He will relentlessly mock anyone who tries to play the class. For good reason too. Playing Priest is often a very slow form of torture. However, even Trump sees a bright future for Anduin after the rework.
"I am fully in support of them revamping Priest. It looks like this set’s Priest cards are going to be very strong... I think the revamped Priest cards are also very strong," he says. "Yeah, I think the designers of the previous Priest cards had too many shackles on themselves, so they removed those shackles and now they can create very different Priest cards–things with more health, things that reward healing more. Good direction."