What’s the optimal way to improve at Hearthstone?

by Den

About the author:
Den is a professional competitive player, coach, caster and content creator from France. Over the past five years, he has worked with Gamers Origin, Judge Hype, Gaming School, Crescent esports, and others. He currently represents Team beGenius. He went 5-4 in Masters Tour Arlington.

As part of my coaching duties, I’ve joined almost every French and English speaking group about Hearthstone on Facebook, which represents a pretty large community of casual players. Outside of deck discussion and legend posts, the thing I see the most is debate about the different methods that people can use to improve the game, with coaching, content consumption, among others being the most common.

That continuous debate was the inspiration for writing this article, where I’ll try to explain the different ways someone can learn the game and what are the benefits and downside of these different possibilities. 

As I have been a coach for 5 years and tried streaming and creating content on Youtube at various points during this time, my goal is in no way to try and convince you one thing is better than another. 

My goal is to explain and help everyone make his own decision on how they want to approach their progression in the game. At all times, your goals, time available and budget should be the main (if not only) criteria to make your decision on how to improve at Hearthstone. Most importantly, I believe mixing everything is the best way to approach things, and coaches and streamers will tell you to use the various websites available or to check other people’s content. 

This article will be divided into three different ways one can learn the different aspects of the game :

Unformal learning, talking with friends, jamming ladder a lot, using the different websites online, this is the way where the player has to go and find the information on its own, and has to understand it and make it their own. 

Streaming and Youtube is probably the most used way, or at least the most talked about. It has an entertaining thing to it, and it usually makes the learning process much more fun than collecting information alone. Also, videos are much more appreciated than written content nowadays and there is so much content created every day that one can spend all 24 hours of a day watching Hearthstone videos about anything in the game.

Coaching is probably the least used way, and because it is one that you have to pay for. Here, the idea is to get something tailored to the player’s needs. They will be able to pick a set time for the session, deck to be practiced, game mechanics to focus on, duration of the session, among other factors. it is a way to control many more elements of the learning process while having someone that is dedicated to you. 

Now that we know what we are talking about, let’s get started. 

Unformal learning

Learning through collecting information on your own is very rewarding when it works but can also be very tough and frustrating when it doesn’t. 

In today’s internet world, this method of learning is reasonable, and there are millions of tools that you can use to help yourself in your learning process. Analysis websites, podcasts, social media, community discords, with many more I’m not listing here. All these tools are making for an incredible source of information for players to dig in and create their understanding of the game. 

If you think about it, most of the players you are watching in big tournaments nowadays learned the game this way, because 5 or 6 years ago, that was about the only way to learn the game. 

The biggest benefit of learning on its own, at least when you are a newcomer to the game, is that you will develop your way of playing the game or a “style” that you will grow towards.  Since the information is not explained by someone, each person can have their conclusion towards it and use it to create their understanding of the game. 

This is a very important phase of the learning process to me, as, at some point, statistics and pure game knowledge usually take over if you want to be competitive, building your style can separate you from others when you will be in a very information dependant phase of your learning process. 

Even if coaching and content creators will help you get started much faster in the game and give you tools to be competitive in a matter of weeks. Being mentored or exposed to other accomplished people’s opinion so early in the learning phase usually lead to trying to copy the way the person is playing the game. 

The problem there is that card games are played with our mind, so it means that the new player would try to copy the way someone else thinks (already something extremely hard to do) without having neither the background nor the information about the game that person has. 

This situation usually leads to quick progress into very long stalling periods because the player didn’t get in the habit of developing their reactions to new situations and every time they take a step forward and has to collect new information, they have no idea what to do with it and get frustrated about the game or have to restart the process to the beginning. 

But the opposite is also very true and when done in the right way, learning on your own and developing your way of thinking can then lead to any other way of learning and making you much more effective as well. You will be able to compare your understanding of the game to the information and evaluation of the coach, the streamer, or people on social media and add their information to yours to get better at the game. 

When learning without an outside look, a lot of the time, we tend to let our rank dictate what we think of our performance. And being locked at a rank becomes the main source of frustration, because we do not advance towards our goal, but we also start questioning ourselves. 

Therefore, having the possibility to be able to gather and understand information from different sources while keeping our way of playing the game, we create a much better situation to never stale too much at a certain rank. As whenever we are blocked, we can go back to our unformal learning and collect information that will fit our situation and just add that to our already existing knowledge. 

In that way, unformal learning is the most important, and most effective when paired with other ways of learning and something every player should go through when starting the game, even for a small period. And even if it is frustrating to feel like we’re not progressing.

Content consumption

The reason why I separated unformal learning from content consumption is the human aspect. When you are collecting information on a website, studying stats, or checking the various decklists of a tournament to find ideas, there is nobody that tells you what they think about it. And it makes a huge difference to have someone’s opinion on the information or not. 

I’ll start with the two biggest benefits of content consumption. The first one is it makes learning more fun, more enjoyable than going through raw data alone. Even in school, most people would rather study with friends than alone, and having fun is still a key part of learning, especially when we’re not playing to be a pro-player. 

The second great thing about this is the fact that we feel we’re not alone, we have someone to join, a community to be part of and this is a very strong attachment to the game. How many people have stopped the game but kept on watching their favorite streamer and eventually launched the game again? 

Another very good thing about content is the fact that it became developed enough so you can choose who and what to watch, and make your list of people that you learn from for different reasons. This is a way for example to avoid one of the problems I listed in the previous section that is trying to think the same way as someone else. 

The content world of Hearthstone is a very good way to get attached to the game and to create a strong link to it, which is very important to be involved in our learning process. And there are so many talented creators nowadays that everyone can find one or several that will fit their liking. 

This way of learning also represents a way to get very fast into practical things, which is something that most people have an easier time with. Watching someone else play and talk about what is doing is usually much easier to relate to our own gaming experience than stats on a website or figuring out how does a deck that you only have the list could work. And most people usually need to play with that information in their mind to make the connexions, well, in content creation, the connexions are given to you by the streamer. 

Probably the best thing about content, and the reason why I push all my students to watch streams, youtube videos, or just browse social media reading opinions about the game, is the fact that it is constantly content being created. You can watch streams, videos, or read meta-analysis from pro-players 24/7 without ever getting to the end of it. 

Unformal learning and coaching will require a lot of brainpower to be effective. Whether it is going through raw data or spending time with a coach that will push you and make you invested in the thinking process. Well, the lighter tone of streaming and youtube videos and the fact that they are always available for you to use make that resource very valuable. Whether you are tired, don’t feel like playing, not in the mood for tryhard but still want to get exposed to the game and gather information, you can just turn on a stream and relax in front of it, and that will still get some results if done consistently. 

The downsides of this now are double, the first one is the one I talked about in the unformal learning part, being exposed too early or too often to the same person can lead to copying the way that person approaches the game. But the second part is usually what I’m most careful about and that’s the situation the streamer is in. 

First, a streamer or a Youtuber does not have to teach people as a primary goal, even educational streamers (while they do a very good job and several of them inspire me daily) still have one goal above them all if content creation is their job: views. It is very important for the viewer that is trying to learn from them that the person you are watching is trying to grow an audience, build a community and that, even though you will learn a lot while watching them, your learning is not his priority. A streamer has to entertain, control, and offer their creation to a wide variety of people at the same time. And because of that, it’s almost impossible to find a stream that will fill all your learning needs (which is easily compensated by the number of streamers out there, the reason that can also help in absorbing the way someone’s think bias). 

Second, most successful streamers are top legend players, and while this is a guarantee that they are good players and that what they say is valuable information, not even 1% of their audience plays at that level. The metagame, the way people approach the game, the general logic and thinking processes are different from what these top players are showing on stream.

There are times where being exposed to the highest level of play while not having sound fundamentals can lead to misconception or trying to copy high legend thing at a lower rank. And just like some decks are only performing at the legend ranks, some game concepts are only relevant if the player mastered the basics first. 

The fun and deep connexions that the content creation learning can create makes it probably the best way to learn overall. But it does require some experience and being able to stand back on what we can take from what the entertainer is offering. I feel that average to very good players can use content creation to a great extends as they already developed their opinion, but newcomers or people struggling with basic cardgame concepts can be misleading and would need a more tailored experience. 

Coaching

The main thing about coaching is that it is a resource that you have to pay for with money and time, while the two other methods are only time-consuming. The thing for coaching to be worth the money you’re putting into it, it’s that it has to make you much better in much less time than the two other methods. Otherwise, you’re just paying for nothing since you could invest time in another way to learn the game. 

On paper, coaching solves all the problems from the two other ways of learning the game, except taking the thought process of someone, but a good coach should be aware of that bias and help you overcome it. 

A coach should be able to direct and help you through the different resources available in unformal coaching, as they know which information is important for you to take the next step, and also how to use it in your approach of the game. Compared to a streamer, a coach should taylor the sessions to your needs and should put you in situations that were created for you to get better at. 

So, in theory, a coach should be a mix of unformal learning and content creation that are specifically designed to your needs. And that leads to you ending a session with more information and more targeted practice, you should also get leads to work on your own and a better idea of how to use the other resources available to better your thinking process. 

In this definition, coaching is basically what is called a “pay to accelerate”, which means pay to achieve your goal faster (If any coach ever tells you that they are pay to win, ask them if you can get refunded if you loose with their advice, they should change their mind fairly quickly). 

Now two big problems come with coaching and make people doubting the interest of getting a coach understandable. 

First, a lot of coaches out there are closer to very good players sharing their information against money than building a real learning process for their student. And that leads to sessions where they are not trying to understand the person thought process but more pushing everything they know about the game, leaving the student with the task of picking up as much as possible. The student then has the feeling that they’re getting what they want during the session, as they’re climbing much faster than usual, but once the coach is gone, there isn’t much left, and the rank goes back to what it was before. This can give a fairly bad opinion of coaching, and rightfully so as this makes coaching fall exactly in the category of not gaining much time compared to the money invested, making it a bad investment.

The same criticism can be made for impatient students that ask for coaching because they are stalling in the game, and they do not come to us to get better, but just expect to go up in rank and only judge the session based on the climb, not on the information they got from it. Most of the time, this comes from the frustration of not getting better while using content and informal learning. So what they need would be some guidance as to how to use these resources, but the frustration grew so much that the focus has totally changed when they get to coaching. This usually leads to a biased opinion about coaching and can lead to reading stuff like “I paid XX to only climb 2 ranks, this sucks”. I’m sorry, paying with the sole goal of climbing ranks is called boosting, not coaching. 

The second problem, and the one that usually refrains people from trying paid coaching, is the fact that it’s pretty hard to know what you’re getting into. 90% of people asking for coaching are not involved in the competitive communities, they don’t follow social media and such. So when they look at a platform and see the list of coaches, they usually just take the cheapest or the one with the most hours. 

Most of the time, the way to get to know someone is to check their work, but in the case of a coach, that means getting in a session and maybe paying to see what they’re worth. And it’s normal for someone to get attracted by a content creator who puts everything they have in his content, so you can have an honest opinion about the person’s work for free and pretty fast. The best and most reliable way, in my opinion, is to reach out and talk with the coach or check their social media or interviews to see if you can connect with the way they talk or their opinions. 

To conclude this part, I’ll finish with what is the most important trait of a good coach, and probably what will make your money worth investing in that learning way: psychology. 

Since the coach is working with you during the session, they should pick up on things that are not directly Hearthstone related. For example, trust issues, panic attacks when the ropes burn, the speed at which you collect information during a turn, how much information you can store before you can’t remember everything… 

There are tons of skills that make you a better player and that a website or a content creator will ever have the chance to see, and therefore, never have the chance to help you work on. And these things are what makes investing in coaching worth your money as getting better on those traits will make you progress much faster. 

So to conclude this article, I don’t think there is a particular better way to learn the game, all three ways are valid, and mixing them is probably the best way to become complete players eventually. 

Everyone has different needs and will react differently to what they get from each way. To me, Hearthstone is an information-based game where we make choices based on the information we have. And all the three ways I talked about in this article will lead to you gathering said information. 

The main criteria to judge how you want to learn should be your goals, the time you want to invest in those, and your budget. Someone with not much time but money to invest in the game should direct himself to coach as it will net them the better results. Someone with tons of time but a limited budget should watch a lot of content and read metagame snapshots as much as possible. And there is an endless amount of combinations in between these two possibilities where a coach can help you get more out of you reads and streams, while a streamer might be entertaining you enough so that you enjoy learning with them much more than with a coach. 

So if I would have one advice as to how to choose your learning methods, do it the same way you would play Hearthstone: gather information, make a choice, and reevaluate the possibilities and find what fits you. 

Edited by NPH SnakeFawdz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s