As someone who really enjoys Hearthstone and has been playing for what feels like a long time now (Grand Tournament release), I thought I had found all the ways to experience Hearthstone. After a year of playing and learning I had finally made it to Legend on the ladder, I stumbled onto the Lightforge key in arena 4 times, I had played in Open Cups and Firesides, messed around with streaming, and played co-op with people I’d met on the internet. I really thought I’d consumed Hearthstone in just about any way you really could. This thought was wrong. Very wrong.
I’m a pretty highly competitive person by nature, and I’m sure some of my fellow Dad Legends out there are as well. I played team sports all my life and just like everyone else, eventually I turned 30 and found myself with a mortgage, a wife, and a newborn. Needless to say my number of outlets for competition is now much lower than it used to be. Then I was made aware of a Hearthstone league, Team Hearth League or THL (and its sister league the Selfless Hero League, SHL), where 5 man squads duke it out each week in a format that’s similar to team tennis (i.e. my #1 plays their #1 and all the way down). I thought to myself: I’m not terrible at this game, I’ve got an hour a week to play a best of 5 while sitting at my desk at night listening to the baby monitor, and I get to experience the thrill of competition and camaraderie of a team? This could be my jam. So I raised my hand on Twitter when I saw a captain looking for bodies and somehow found myself as the new #3 seed for The Dog House, in the SHL.
Playing in the league has quickly become one of my favorite things about Hearthstone. One thing I noticed right away is how important each team member truly is to the team. The #5 seed match (which could be people who finish somewhere between Ranks 20 and 10 on the ladder) counts every bit as much as the one between the #1 seeds, who are probably a consistent Legend players. Each player is assigned a skill rating based on either their ladder history or performance in the league. The seeds are then sorted out pretty mechanically, matching up top performers with each other, and those that are maybe struggling to hit Rank 10 against players of a similar caliber. The format for THL is the familiar Conquest style we’re all used to in Hearthstone by now, while SHL deploys the Last Hero Standing format like what’s run at Dreamhack. The way it works is that you’ll find out your opponent on Monday, get in touch with them via email and set up a time between then and Sunday to play. You both must submit 4 classes beforehand, and neither can see the others’ until they’re both submitted. Between submission and the match I’ve found it helpful to consult with teammates about ban choices and decks to bring. And this is where the fun starts, strategizing on which Warrior build to bring: Taunt or Pirates?, if I’m not banning Mage- do I put Eater of Secrets in every deck?, the other guy brings Druid every week- but is it Jade or Token? I don’t want to get 3-0’d by one deck, so what am I particularly weak to that I can ban out? These questions are the type of things that are crucial to success and the level of discussion is raised dramatically by having 5 guys giving their takes on them. I like utilizing the ViciousSyndicate.com report’s dashboard feature (if you didn’t know, you can select/deselect on here to zero in on the data you care about) to create helpful match-up charts for myself like the below as another part of my preparation arsenal.
By the weekend we’re usually rolling into Gametime- the decks are crafted and teched out, and the bans are revealed simultaneously prior to the match. Up to 5 intense matches follow – with no one allowed to spectate or help, you’re now on your own to try and bring the points home for your team. Reading the opponents’ deck choices has proven to be crucial thus far. In my very first match I was up against a THL veteran, I planned on his warrior being Pirate and was well prepared to beat it. The problem was he brought Taunt, which countered 2 of my 3 decks excellently. After he dismantled the first I had one shot – the mirror – to take it down. A battle of Ragnaros the Firelord shots from our hero powers ended up going my way and set the stage for my other deck to come through and save the series for me in a hard fought 3-2 win. My team’s #2 seed unfortunately wound up on the wrong side of a 3-2 series, and with the skill rating being dynamic we actually ended up flipping positions (promoting me to the #2 seed) for the following week as our player scores had been very close to begin with.
In my first week as a #2 seed I had a similar misread, where I planned around wiping out the opponent’s Token Druid. It was a Jade and the misread cost me the match, a 3-1 loss. I made the exact same read the next week, but left myself an out just in case. I ended up needing it as I saw another solid Jade Druid coming at me. I made one misplay with my Murloc Paladin – not pushing face with a Truesilver Champion to set up a potential top deck lethal. My draw would have won it, but I had allowed him to stabilize, taunt up, armor up, and close me out in the long game. My one solid chance to beat it was lost, and I wound up on the wrong side of a 3-1 score again. The back to back losses sent me back to the #3 seed where I belong :/
My return to the #3 position was victorious, albeit in a hard fought match. A teammate suggested an altered take to a familiar meta deck, and I made some other techs that were likely unexpected that ended up allowing each of my decks to take 1 win which was all I needed from them. An all too familiar top deck Arcanite Reaper in the 5th match sealed the series for me in a Pirate Warrior vs Silence Priest finale. So with about a month under my belt, I’ve now experienced the highs of two 3-2 wins where I could really feel like I’m contributing to the team, the lows of two poor 3-1 showings where I let the boys down, and the awkward- where I had to take a 3-0 DQ win after my opponent didn’t show for our late Sunday night match. All of this is EXACTLY what I had been missing in Hearthstone and had never realized it. It’s been a fantastic experience thus far, and I have to give a lot of credit to the THL/SHL boards for running a league that is so fun, competitive, and welcoming for new players.
The TL:DR here is that there is a Hearthstone league out there that may scratch your competitive itch if you’re anything like me – and it is welcoming for people of all skill levels. Check out www.teamhearthleague.com for so much more info as well as the facebook page.
I’m also more than happy to answer any questions as well, particularly as it relates to someone who is newer to the league. You can find me on twitter.