Last week we talked about how HPL was an awesomely produced league, but sadly didn’t achieve the success it could have. This week, I’ll look into the changes that I’d suggest to make HPL more approachable to the current Hearthstone audience.
1.- It’s Time to Get Casual
Most people don’t really watch Hearthstone to stand in awe at the immense skill of its players. Unlike games like Starcraft 2, Counter Strike: Global Offensive, DOTA, or Fighting Games in General, Hearthstone doesn’t have sick micro, 360 no scopes, or any of the flashy stuff that makes you go “I’d never be able to do this in a million years”. Hearthstone is a thinking’s man game, and thinking is a skill that tends to be heavily overlooked. Sure, a lot of skill is required to be able to compete at the highest level; but the game also requires a lot of luck. Presenting Hearthstone as a hardcore competition is a legitimate challenge, and its no coincidence that “Hearthstone eSports” is a meme in itself.
Presenting Hearthstone with the seriousness of the early days of HPL season 1 will always be a hard sell to the casual Hearthstone audience. History proves that most viewers prefer a lighter production that put heavy emphasis on the players and their personalities. People who are watching Hearthstone heavily enjoy references to the community, you could say it’s all about the dank memes.
As for HPL, I wouldn’t expect them, nor would I advice them, to go full Kappa (never go full Kappa). I’d keep PVP Live’s standards of professionalism, while adjusting the content to be more casual friendly. I’d love to see more additional content focused in the players, profiles, interviews, and even sketches, where the players don’t necessarily talk about the games, but their lives.
Additionally, I’d drop most of the current emphasis in advanced stats. Instead of trying to make them a core part of the experience, I’d instead sprinkle some interesting stats here and there to spice things up. Don’t go over the stats before each series in a formulaic fashion, just reserve the stat talk for those times where your data techs discover really interesting information. Taking a less-is-more approach regarding to stats would help the pacing of the event a lot, and I feel would overall improve the watching experience in a big way.
Maybe even start working on a different set of stats that are more truthful to Hearthstone experience?
2.- League Format
a 16-man Round Robin sure provided us with a lot of matches, but how much is too much? When you have to play 16 matches, every individual match becomes less important. There’s no urgency to watch the show, I could certainly see how some people would decided to skip most of the regular season and just watch the playoffs. Maybe the time investment to watch the full league will be too much, and that would end up scaring some people away.
The HPL audience never hit critical mass during season 1, or at least it wasn’t able to sustain long enough for their production to become “a thing” in the community. I’d think that the long term prospect of the company would be better served by focusing their energies into a less ambitious format that allows them to be recognized as a mayor player in Hearthstone eSports.
PVP Live is a brand that is still trying to find its place on the Hearthstone scene, and I don’t think that they can afford to spread themselves thin. Sure, the 16 man Round Robin provided us over 2 months worth of matches, and in the long run the viewing numbers did add up. But you still have to consider that PVP Live might be better off pooling their resources into a shorter season, with higher stakes, and bigger names, which is a ties up nicely with the next point.
3.- Popularity is Key
This cannot be stressed enough, Hearthstone is not in a place where it’s a game that’s popular by the high competitive level that it possesses. Hearthstone is a hugely popular game, because its highly accessible, easy to play, and rather funny. Hearthstone has amassed a huge community, and its streaming scene has taken off greatly. It’s no suprise either, its turn based nature makes it a lot easier to actually interact with chat and for players to be proactive broadcasters. The thing is, the Hearthstone eSport scene isn’t really well developed yet, and at times feels more like just an extension of the streaming scene. Very often we see players complain about the heavy emphasis on Randomness, the Ranked Play system that Hearthstone employs is highly criticized, and this years Blizzcon Qualifier phase has also come under heavy fire.
Sure, we’d love to turn the tide and make sure that the Hearthstone scene is as professional and serious as it could be, but in order to do that, you need to condition the audience. And to be able to influence the audience, you have to get big first. To get big, you need to play by the rules that they are already on place, even if you plan on re-writing them later. The number one rule in current Hearthstone is that popularity is key, if you put players with big stream followings in your tournament, you will get more viewers.
The thing is, PVP Live is going to be hard pressed to have really popular players commit to the grueling schedule of a 16 man round robin, so they will have to figure something up in that regard. Good thing that we just suggested to change up the League Format!
4.- Superiority by Contrast
HPL as a whole felt like something completely isolated from the usual Hearthstone scene. While very good, most of the players weren’t that well known. The casters weren’t the usual mix of popular streamers and high level players, The format was new, you get the deal. I won’t go into specifics here because we already talked about how HPL was bringing too much change, too quickly. The thing is, HPL was a bit of a bubble, and without the usual elements as a comparison, it was very easy to dismiss it as a subpar product.
Recently we got the opportunity to see Tannon Grace cast some ATLC matches during the live finale, and actually seeing him perform side-to-side with some of the usual casters was probably an eye-opening experience. Tannon showed everyone that he’s actually a very good caster, perhaps even better than most. I believe that PVP Live is overall producing a product that is vastly superior in quality to the average Hearthstone broadcast, and I believe that the best way to evidence that is by using the current scene as a base.
Try to invite some of the more well known players to show that the lesser known ones can be just as good, get some guest casters with a lot of experience so we can see first hand how good Tannon and Nathan actually are. I believe that getting the right mix of old and new is the key factor in evolving the Hearthstone scene, and PVP Live has all the tools to speed-up that process.
5.- Those Damned Breaks!
I love the HPL match format where players can play any deck at any time, and I understand that you need to give the players time to actually change up their decks, but the breaks on HPL are just way too long. On top of the meme worthy standard 2 minute break with the countdown, HPL routinely had its caasters talk about the previous match for about 2 minutes, and then after the break had at least a 30 second introduction to the next match.
I looked at some vods, and while I didn’t take the time to make a detailed study, I’d say a estimated 5 minutes between matches sounds pretty accurate. It shouldn’t take you 150 minutes just to broadcast two best of five series. Reacting to a match afterwards is fine, but going on and on about something we just saw isn’t the really the most compelling kind content. “The” Tannon Grace and ThatsAdmirable are pretty good casters, but the pacing of the event is doing them no favors. Once again less is more, you gotta be concise, brief but comprehensive, get the event moving along and let us enjoy the high level Hearthstone competition that you provide.
I’d love to see the countdown break be reduced to a minute and be used mostly for the advertising space, I’d love the transitions from one match to another be a lot smoother and waaaaay shorter. It will take some work, but I think that devoting a bigger percent of your airtime to content that your audience actually enjoys is probably the biggest improvement HPL can do heading into a second season.
That’s what I’d change for a second season of HPL, but what would YOU do? Use the comment section below to share what you liked and disliked from HPL season one! PVP Live has shown itself to be very receptive to constructive criticism, perhaps you can be the one to inspire change!
If you want to read more about PVPLive’s HPL, just click here! Also, PVPLive has a brand new video on their Youtube channel. It might not be as good as their hilarious Teaser for the Live HPL finale, but its well worth a watch.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter @DannieRay23, see you around!