Blizzard's massively popular digital trading card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, released its third expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods, in April.
The expansion contained 134 new cards, and brought with it the launch of the Standard and Wild formats in Play mode. The Standard format was a prelude to taking Hearthstone to more competitive levels, as it limits the cards that users can place in their decks, fostering a more dynamic, balanced and ever-shifting metagame.
One card in Whispers of the Old Gods, however, is once again bringing up a core element of Hearthstone into debate.
Yogg-Saron, one of the Old Gods represented in the expansion alongside C'Thun, N'Zoth and Y'Shaarj, is a 10-cost 7/5 minion with a Battlecry ability that casts a random spell for each spell that the player has cast for each game. In addition to the spells being randomly picked, spells that require targets will also be choosing their targets randomly.
Yogg-Saron utilizes Hearthstone's RNG, or random number generation, which has been a core principle of the game since it was launched two years ago. Because Hearthstone comes only in digital form, it can take advantage of RNG for some cards, such as those that deal damage to a random target or those that summon random minions.
The usage of RNG has been controversial, as it is said to be hurting Hearthstone as a competitive game by placing a huge amount of importance on luck over skill. No matter how skilled a player is, critics claim that a lucky result from an RNG card could swing a match towards the other player's favor.
When Yogg-Saron was first revealed, players thought that it would be too gimmicky to see competitive play. While it was a cool card that often led to hilarious and crazy scenarios, its power level was thought to be limited due to its reliance on RNG.
It would seem that the power of Yogg-Saron was underestimated. To illustrate, last week at a pro qualifier match for the $30,000 Trusilver Championship, Haiyun "Eloise" Tang was at nine life with nothing on the board against the four minions of her opponent. By summoning Yogg-Saron, the board was cleared and she gained eight life back, which is a swing in board state that allowed her to go on to win the series.
With such situations and the rising popularity of Yogg-Saron, Hearthstone could be billed as a game that focuses heavily on luck instead of skill, which would detract players from the game's competitive side. No matter how skilled a player is, an opponent summoning Yogg-Saron will still likely lead to a game loss.
The debate of whether Yogg-Saron, or RNG in general, is hurting competitive Hearthstone will continue for as long as the popularity of the digital trading card game remains. The question, however, is if Hearthstone was meant to be a competitive game in the first place, as opposed to being a casual title.
Is competitive Hearthstone really necessary, which may require a reworking of the title's RNG element? Or does RNG, and its poster child Yogg-Saron, capture the playful and casual spirit of the game? You decide.