Sick of Conquest? A Few Ideas On How To Mix Up The Tournament Format

Do we all remember the qualifers to Blizzcon where everyone was playing Patron, Druid and Handlock? It was so bad that Blizzard even panic nerfed Warsong Commander to keep the main Blizzcon event from boring everyone to death. This is the info complied by liquid hearth about the qualifiers:

Blizzcon qualifiers decks

Right now the meta is all shaken up by LOE, but if history is any indication the meta will settle on 4-5 top decks that will be vastly over represented at every tournament. There must be a better tournament format, and I’m going to break down how to find it.

Who Wants What?

The key to finding the best format is to figure out who it should be directed toward. The order of importance is:
1) Viewers
2) Players
3) Organizers

Yes, sorry pro players, how tournaments play out is for the benefit of the audience. What do these groups want?

The audience wants to see a wide variety of decks and archetypes. If the format can bias toward matches that go long even better, everyone loves seeing a best of 5 go to match 5. Also viewers really care about what classes get played. If a format ends up with 4 strong versions of Warlock people start wanting to see Priests again even if its Zoo, Renolock, Handlock and Malylock, four decks that lead to many different kind of games.

Players care about what lets their skill shine through. They want to minimize randomness and be able to plan for the match. The more choice the format gives them, like bans or drafting, the bigger edge they can gain. Many pro players have praised the Viagame Cup format which is honestly a bit of a clusterfuck. Even with fully animated on screen help it can hard to follow what’s happening.

HouseCup2Format

The client has no tournament functionality built into it so the organizers are a larger limitation than in most games. The main concern here is that it should work for all organizers, from Blizzcon to daily online tournaments. Even Conquest struggles here because you don’t know that your opponent doesn’t have multiple Paladin decks prepared. You could have a deck teched out with 2 Hungry Crabs ready to pounce on your murloc deck in addition to your normal decklist unless players send each other screenshots. Any hidden information such as simultaneous bans require a third party client.

A Short History of Formats in Hearthstone

Last Hero Standing

Players who lose with a deck can’t use it again, players who win must keep using the same deck until they lose with it.

The main problem here is deck diversity. Back when this was popular it wasn’t uncommon to see someone win 3 times in a row with a Zoo deck. Yawn. Not only are players only bringing 3 decks but if both players bring the same deck its possible to see only 3 kinds decks in the whole match.

Also, whoever wins the first match is disproportionately favored for the series. It often works like this: Player A wins, then player B counterpicks the player A, then A counterpicks B, then B counterpicks A, then A counterpicks B for the win. Since you know what your opponent is playing its easy to counter pick them and thus the player who starts the chain is favored.

Conquest

Conquestpic25

The format we know and used to love. Combo Patron is now a defunct deck but the problem of Druid-Handlock-Patron is ready to repeat itself when the meta settles again. What is the problem? Well, if choice is not restricted players will tend to bring the best three decks. We saw some variance in the America’s Championship with people like Jab bringing Midrange Hunter, Tempo Mage and Druid to target the Druid and Handlock part of the trifecta, but that still doesn’t make a healthy format.

Conquest is a step above Last Hero Standing because viewers are more likely to see more decks being played out, no Control Warrior 3-0 snoozefests are possible, but it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Conquest with a ban

Adding a ban to the format makes it easier to target lineups and keeps one deck from warping the meta too much. However, it’s more complex than Conquest and adds the hidden information problem for organizers. Ultimately adding a ban does not increase diversity by much either.

How to Fix it?

I’ll cover 2 ways to mix up the tournament scene: a new format and ways to pick decks for any format.

NO REPEATS: A new format

Each player picks 5 decks and every game players must switch decks regardless if they win or lose. Decks can only be used once.

Pros:

            The audience gets to see between 5 to 10 different decks instead of conquest’s 3 to 6
            Also there is more diversity in the kinds of matches you will see: at most you will see any given deck played twice, once from each player

Cons:

           You can’t target lineups like you can with Conquest because you can’t abuse the hand you know your opponent will bring Handlock
           Early on in the match there is less information to outpick your opponent
           Unlike both Last Hero Standing and Conquest, NO REPEATS does not offer more information to the losing player. This makes 3-2’s less likely than in Conquest or LHS.

Shared Pool Draft

Players take turns picking one from the 9 classes. Classes cannot be repeated.

Pros:

            6 different classes are represented
           Gives players a chance to outpick their opponents
           No hidden information, can be organized over the chat easily

Cons:

           May be unbalanced in terms of who picks first (can be addressed with seeding)
           Adds significant complexity
           The ‘best’ decks will have 100% representation
           Skews the meta because certain matchups will not be represented (Zoo vs Handlock is impossible)

Lets walk through an example of Shared Pool Draft between Kudearke and myself.

9heros We are going to take turns picking from these classes in a 1-2-2-1 order

pick1

Kudearke has been reading r/competitvehs and decides to go with Raging Patrons as the first pick

pick2

I decide to go with Midrange Druid because it eats Warriors for lunch and Freeze Mage because #nofear.

pick3

Kudearke really likes weapon classes so the pick is rounded out with Rogue and Hunter.

pick4

After picking Gul’dan there are only 3 classes that won’t be played and the games are ready to start. At this point we can still be playing Conquest, Last Hero Standing or even NO REPEATS.

Shared Pool Draft now with a Ban

Similar to above, but each players gets to ban 1 class before picking.

Pros:

          8 classes are represented
           The ‘best’ decks will not be in every match
           Still no hidden information

Cons: 

Slightly more complex than Shared Pool Draft
Skews the meta because certain matchups will not be represented (Zoo vs Handlock is impossible)

The One Format to Rule Them All

The truth to all of this is that the answer is likely this: No one format should reign supreme. At least no format we have found yet. Switching formats  rewards players who are better able to adapt to new strategies and it keeps the format fresh for viewers. Alternating between formats like Conquest and other formats that encourage playing with underrepresented classes also helps showcase those classes that are at the bottom of any given meta game. Everyone loves the underdog.

The one thing we can agree on is that single elimination is dumb and even double elimination is pretty random. Can we all get behind asking for tournaments to be organized in swiss please? Hearthstone has enough RNG baked into it that out tournament formats should be trying to remove some of it, not exacerbating it.

A New Format?

If you have new ideas for formats or deck selection I’d love to hear them! Add them in the comments below or in the reddit thread.

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