Today, Hearthstone Esports announced the details of the two seasons of Grandmasters for 2021. One new rule that was added raised a lot of eyebrows among the competitive community.
The winner of Playoffs from each region are given a chance to compete in the 2021 World Championship. Season 1 champions retain their invites to the World Championship if they are not Relegated in Season 2. Relegated Champions have their invites passed down to the next eligible player, in their region, from Season 1.
This rule is obviously an answer to the akwardness of having a player relegated from Grandmasters immediately before competing in the World Championship. It also removes the impression that the winner of Season 1 has no incentives to perform in Season 2. The team probably thought that it would be a rare occurence when they first drafted the program. But it happened to Feno, and then to SilverName, and here we are with this rule.
Some Hearthstone pros have taken to Twitter to criticize the new rule. Former European Grandmaster and 2017 World Championship Competitor Orange criticized the rule’s fairness, saying “my personal take is that taking away someone’s achievement and passing it to the next one isn’t really ok.” He also worries about the extra stress placed upon season 1 champions, saying “I’d just imagine myself in the shoes as s1 champion I’d probably end up more anxious for s2 than happy about my win knowing how much is on the line.” This sentiment is echoed by Americas Grandmaster and 3-time World Championship competitor bloodyface, who argues that the new rule “Replaces apathy with stress and arbitrarily makes S2 worth way more” and that the lower number of matches per season this year increases variance, making it harder to keep a spot in the Grandmasters system.
Here’s why the new rule does more harm than good.
First, it was never true that Season 1 champions could snooze through Season 2 because they already got their invite to Worlds. That is because being relegated is already a much more severe punishment than missing out on Worlds. The GM league is such a hermetic system that relegation is basically the end of any pro career unless you are a top streamer. This issue is made so much worse by the fact that the points that regulate promotions are so skewed, so bad at rewarding the most consistent players, negatively affecting the prospect of making it back in Grandmasters. For that reason, the new rule accomplishes nothing towards motivating Season 2 performance.
A common symptom of flawed competitive formats is that they create situations where players are incentivized to throw matches. In this case, if the winner of Season 1 is struggling in Season 2, and the runner up of 1 is doing reasonably well in season 2, when the latter plays against other struggling Grandmasters, they will have no reason to try to win. This is not a hypothetic scenario. Under this rule, the situation will happen where casters have to explain that this player is better off losing to increase their chance of having an invitation to the World Championship passed down to them.
The third problem is that it will sound really bad to always have the asterisk brought up when talking about Playoffs of Season 1. We will be designating a player as qualified for Worlds 2021 *unless something happens to them in Season 2. That phrase will be repeated over and over and when inevitably an invite is taken away, the fans will feel anger towards the rule instead of the normal deception with their idol’s performance. Fans want to live emotions based on the achievements and struggles of the competitors they look up to, not based on how unfair the system treats them.
There is still time to revert it.
The decision to change the rule regarding qualification for Hearthstone Worlds Championship must be reverted. The competitors themselves have expressed this opinion, but this time it is the fans saying it. From a viewer’s point of view, this change brings nothing good.