While Hearthstone is best known for being a competitively focused card game, Blizzard has recontextualized some of its mechanics to create engaging side modes. One is Battlegrounds, which plays more similarly to Auto-Battler games like Teamfight Tactics and Mechabellum. Since this mode first emerged in 2019, it has been a 1v1 competitive experience where players try their best to win a best-of-eight tournament. At BlizzCon 2023, Blizzard unveiled Hearthstone Battlegrounds Duos, a new version of the mode that makes it as cooperative of an experience as it is a competitive one.
While this mode won’t officially come to the game until early next year, it was playable at BlizzCon 2023. Digital Trends spoke to its developers in a group Q&A at the event. During that conversation, we learned from associate Battlegrounds game designers Mitchell Loewen and Jia Dee about the mode’s origins, its parity with Battlegrounds‘ current Solos mode, and how the team ensured its design didn’t get too overwhelming for new players.
Battlegrounds is a mode where players purchase minions each round, determine their attack order and how their hero’s power will be used, and then watch the fighting play out automatically. A player loses when their health hits zero, and players keep playing until they win a best-of-eight tournament. Battlegrounds Duos adds another player into the mix, meaning people must work together to strategize and pass cards to one another as they try to become the best team of two out of a pool of eight players.
Essentially, teams want to construct their turns so their minions outlast their opponents and they can deal damage to the other team’s shared health bar. Battlegrounds Duos will have some exclusive heroes and minions and will let players communicate with a ping system that’s new to Hearthstone. As for what happens if your partner drops out mid-match, Loewen tells Digital Trends that Blizzard is exploring its options so those who don’t quit aren’t punished.
In a group Q&A, the developers revealed that the idea emerged during a hackathon, which the Hearthstone team occasionally holds to develop new ideas for the card game. It was the event’s standout creation, so Blizzard decided to go ahead and turn it into a full mode. Of course, this process is not as easy as just adding another player to a mode that already exists. Dee tells Digital Trends that there was quite a bit of experimentation in terms of how health and armor work across two players, whether players should be battling at the same time, and how passing cards between players works.
They kept it at Duos instead of attempting a Trios or Quads modes because “it’s a lot easier to strategize when you only have to factor in two boards,” according to Loewen. Ultimately, Blizzard wants Battlegrounds Duos to feel familiar to fans of this Hearthstone side mode, making it an excellent place for its players to introduce their friends to the concept.
“While we were working on Duos, we wanted to try and keep as much about the experience as possible familiar to players because there’s a whole new dynamic, considering you’re playing with another person,” Loewen tells Digital Trends. “We want to try and create an experience with as many constants as possible, so we’re keeping the same eight-player count, keeping the same general health damage system, as well as keeping very similar minion pools. It’s really important so that if you’re coming into this mode and you’re bringing some friends along, you don’t suddenly have to re-explain everything.”
Speaking of minion pools, one thing potential players might want clarified is what Battlegrounds Duo’s compatibility with already existing minions will be, considering that the mode is introducing a lot of new cards. The developers say it’s best to think of Solo Battlegrounds minions as a “subset” of what’s available in Battlegrounds Duos, which will have its own new minions and heroes with abilities that wouldn’t work in a Solos match.
“You can think of the Solo’s pool as a subset of the Duos’ pool,” Dee explained to Digital Trends. “None of the Duos exclusive minions are available in Solos, but all of the Solos minions — if we can help it — are available in Duos. That’s what it is today: same as the live pool, plus the Duos exclusive minions.”
Loewen did say that Blizzard will have the ability to ban Solo cards from Battlegrounds Duos if need be, although that probably won’t play out until the mode launches. He also teased that after launch, any updates made to the Solo version of Battlegrounds would be “reflected in Duos.” They plan to introduce more new heroes and minions to Battlegrounds Duos as well, as Dee believes that the heroes currently revealed for it “are only scratching the surface of the kind of stuff we can do.” Ultimately, the goal is to make Battlegrounds Duos a long-term mode that can get new people into both Hearthstone and this popular side mode.
“I have a lot of experience in board games — it’s where a lot of my background came from — and what I found is one of the best ways to teach people how to play any game is ‘be a friend.’ It’s one of the most effective ways to get people into that experience,” Loewen saidd. “There’s been a lot of times where, even though I work on the game and I know it inside and out, I’ve got friends, and it’s tricky to get them into it. It’s a little bit intimidating as a first-time experience. But if I can be in the game with them, we’re having this fun together, and it’s so much easier for them to learn because you get that shared enthusiasm, you get that shared excitement, and you can help each other out.”
Hearthstone is available for PC, iOS, and Android. Battlegrounds Duos will be added to the game sometime in early 2024.
Disclosure: Blizzard Entertainment paid for accommodations so that Digital Trends could attend BlizzCon 2023.
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