When Hearthstone was first released, I was in a Battle.net remission. It had been since Burning Crusade that I subbed to World of Warcraft, and lost interest in slogging through Diablo 3’s Torment difficulty. There wasn’t time for Blizzard in my life at that point, I was keeping plenty busy with the PS4 anyway. I remember seeing coverage about this new Free-to-Play collectable card game that Blizzard was developing, something that sort of reminded me of the card game Dominion at the time. I dabbled in Magic: The Gathering years earlier but it wasn’t anything serious, the scope of the game – and actually having to play with other human players – quickly burned me out. The notion of a streamlined Blizzard developed CCG was incredibly appealing. A universe and characters that were familiar, and best of all, no real-life interaction required.
I remember sheepishly telling my girlfriend that I had re-downloaded Battle.net to play a Blizzard game. It felt dirty, and I felt somewhat ashamed at being pulled back into Blizzard’s grip. When I first played through vanilla WoW, my relationship with the game was extremely unhealthy, culminating in a relationship ending, and eventually in dropping out of University. I don’t think it’s necessarily an uncommon experience to have a video game addiction, but when I began downloading Hearthstone, I felt like a recovering alcoholic attempting to have just a few drinks.
My girlfriend and I began to play a few games feverishly during its release. It was a challenge to try and beat her using the Warlock, which we considered the hardest class to play at the time. This lasted for a couple of weeks, while I continued to acquire more powerful legendaries and read up on deck strategies. I tried to tweak decks to be fair while not using legendaries she didn’t have, or to use some of the decks I was experimenting with. Her eventual interest in the game faded, and so did our after-dinner duels.
I kept with the game, spreading the gospel to some close friends. I found it extremely satisfying to head over to my friend’s place on a Friday to drink a couple beers and talk our way through an Arena run. Having three people discuss and debate what the next correct play should be was something special, especially when it led us to a 11-win run. My friend instagrammed a picture of the Arena key, the fruit of our labour, prompting a non-gaming friend to comment, “Does this mean you won the game?”.
I went back to University as a mature student to complete my degree, and instead of skipping class to play Warcraft, I found myself playing Hearthstone at school between classes. If I was sitting in a strategic enough place in the classroom, I even found time to play a game or two during lecture. The games were short little dopamine bursts, and plenty of time to multi-task while contemplating your next move. Being older than most of the students around me, I wasn’t exactly super excited to spend my free time socializing with others. Blizzard provided me with a refuge: a safe place to put on some chiptune music, sip my coffee, and put my efforts towards the latest Naxxramas wing.
After I graduated, I continued to play Hearthstone regularly. I had Dr. Boom in every deck, tried my best to synergize my Vol’jin. I enjoyed playing the Priest class the most, which is pretty much universally known as the worst class in the game. Most months I would constantly end within the same rank range, the 11-12 area. My highest rank was level 8, which was a complete anomaly. In some of the higher ranking matches, the dramatic change in skill would cause me anxiety. Instead of having fun, I experienced dread via climbing a ladder and potentially ranking down from 10 to 11. It felt better to just leave the game at rank 11 with no stars, instead of ranking down to 12 and needing to climb back up to the rank I lost.
I lost interest for a couple of months when The Grand Tournament was released. The joust mechanic was too RNG heavy for me, and I felt that the game suffered as a result. So I took my longest break from the game to date. I was lured back when Hearthstone went mobile, and the potential to get a quick fix when I had a moment of downtime anywhere was too hard to ignore. I had gone out to have some beers with my non-gaming friend, who had wanted to shoot some pool. In between turns, I had an arena run going, and was far more enthralled with it than the game of pool. He told me I needed to “put the fucking phone down”, and how shitty it was to hang out with someone who is multi-tasking a social engagement with some stupid game. I deleted Hearthstone off my phone pretty shortly after that.
I still play Hearthstone daily. None of my characters are golden. I still manage to get to rank 12 or so every month, but I’m content about being mediocre at the game. I’m never going to be a Kripparian or a Firebat, but I still can enjoy playing somewhat semi-casually. I’m fairly certain I will never hit legend, and that’s fine. I can keep chasing the elusive 12 wins in Arena, as I’ve never gotten past that 11-win key playing with my friends over a couple of beers. From the looks of the next expansion, Priest is still going to be the worst class in the game. I’ll keep working on what Lead Designer Ben Brode called “Quality priest decks that players haven’t discovered yet.” Whatever happens, I’m happy with ‘well played’ being just sort of averagely played.