Blizzard's major overhaul of Hearthstone's ranked system (opens in new tab) introduced new leagues, a heavier focus on MMR, and a fresh approach to star bonuses, which combined enabled players to climb faster than was possible previously. End of season rewards also feel more generous now, potentially awarding multiple packs from the latest expansion, rather than the previously underwhelming bundle of golden cards and dust. It's no surprise that these adjustments—alongside a shiny new expansion and a powerful new class—are encouraging players to grind the ladder. However, it's crazy that there were nearly ten times the number of Legend players in April (opens in new tab)than there were in March (opens in new tab).
As reported by Hearthstone Top Decks (opens in new tab), the number of players that managed to climb to Legend last month was stratospherically higher than in previous months. This is true across Standard and Wild play in all tracked regions. To put this into perspective, over 100,000 Standard players achieved Legend rank in China. The phenomenon can be attributed to a number of factors. While it's unclear what had the largest impact overall, I think it's fair to assume that Demon Hunter's dominance throughout April also played a big role in the surge.
Introducing a new class to a six year old game is bound to turn heads. No doubt this coaxed players to dip back in, but it's Demon Hunter's power level that truly impacted the ease and speed with which players were able to climb. The presence of a fast, relatively easy to play deck (think Pirate Rogue or Galakrond Shaman at the height of their power) has always seen players rocket to higher than usual ladder placements.
Demon Hunter was so strong, that April saw Blizzard roll out two balance patches in quick succession, and I wouldn't be surprised if Altruis the Outcast is adjusted once more in the future. But it's still probably the class to pick if you're looking to hit Legend this month, as evidenced by the stats on HSReplay.net (opens in new tab).
The new focus on MMR and frequent rank floors also make it less punishing to climb, because you're able to frequently lock in progress. Over the weekend I managed to cruise from Bronze 10 to Platinum 10 using decks with a combined average winrate of roughly 40%. Switching from a deck with a respectable 52% winrate to a build that struggled against practically every matchup slowed me down, but—compared to the old ranking system—I wasn't hurt anywhere near as heavily for dropping my win streak.
The new star bonuses boost you when you're on a roll, so a comeback after a slump incentivises resilience. Couple this new structure with Demon Hunter's authority in the opening weeks of the expansion, and those early elevated winrates translate to more high-ranked players by the end of the month. Of course, I'm not saying that Demon Hunter transformed lower tier players into Legend material, but reaching that level is significantly easier now. Legend feels more within reach than before.
This being the first month the new system was in effect also meant additional rewards to tempt players to try it. For instance, if you were able to hit Legend, there was a free classic legendary card waiting for you. I felt more inclined to continue climbing over the course of the month, simply because every five ranks marked a new rank floor that gave me a treat. Being reminded of the rewards I was earning as I progressed was also a good motivator to continue queuing. With the coronavirus having disrupted my work commute, I've also found more time to play in the evenings.
It'll be interesting to see how the next few months compare to April's abnormally high number of Legend players. As the new Ranked system beds in and we push away from the volatile meta that a new expansion always stirs, I think the Legend numbers will remain higher than those recorded in the old system. That said, I predict they'll settle below the spike we saw in April. News of more players reaching Legend will likely spur on a few people to try to grind their way to the top this month, too. This news has put the wind back in my sails after my bumpy ascent to Platinum over the weekend with Highlander and Dragon Mage.