The beta for Hearthstone Battlegrounds, Blizzard’s new Hearthstone-adjacent auto-battler, is here, and some fans are upset about the way Blizzard has gone about monetizing the game so far. The Hearthstone Battlegrounds pay-to-win accusations are based on a particular requirement for being able to choose between a greater number of heroes at the start of the match. We’ll go over what this requirement is and why fans are accusing the game of being pay-to-win.
What is the Hearthstone Battlegrounds bonus content system?
Now that the Hearthstone Battlegrounds beta is here, players are getting the first hands-on look at a “bonus content” system Blizzard first outlined in their “Introducing Hearthstone Battlegrounds” blog post earlier this month. While Battlegrounds is free-to-play, Blizzard has implemented a bonus content system that requires players to obtain card packs from the most recent Hearthstone expansion in order to access additional features. Right now, despite it not being out yet, Descent of Dragons counts as the “most recent” expansion. Players can’t open the packs yet, but they can still acquire them and leave them in their inventories until the expansion launches.
When they obtain 10 packs, players unlock a bonus statistics page, detailing things like Battlegrounds minions destroyed, first place finishes, and more. At 30, players get access to Battlegrounds-themed emotes for use during matches. The part that’s upsetting fans, however, is what’s unlocked at 20 packs: the ability to choose from three heroes at the start of a match instead of just two. Each of Battlegrounds’ 24 heroes has a unique ability that has the potential to greatly impact a match. As time goes on, certain heroes are likely to dominate the meta, so having a third choice could allow players a significant advantage over players with only two.
Is the Hearthstone Battlegrounds bonus content system pay-to-win?
While Hearthstone card packs can be earned in-game without spending real money via in-game quests, gold, and events. For example, we were able to earn three Descent of Dragons card packs by quickly completing three quests, simply conceding two Battlegrounds games and five Hearthstone “Play” mode games. Quests that reward packs for the upcoming expansion are limited, however (we ran out of them after earning those three packs), so it could take players quite a while to earn packs naturally. On top of this, Descent of Dragons packs aren’t available for purchase with gold before the expansion releases, meaning players’ only practical way of getting 20 packs before the expansion launches is to buy the 60-pack Descent of Dragons pre-purchase bundle for $49.99.
But the main reason all of this is irking players like Reddit user thatnorthernmonkeyy11 is that the Hearthstone card packs required to earn Battlegrounds bonus content have nothing to do with Battlegrounds. If you are interested only in Battlegrounds, you’d still have to either play a bunch of Hearthstone’s main modes to earn packs or just shell out the money for them so you can carry on playing Battlegrounds. This effectively creates a paywall to have the best Battlegrounds experience — a “grindwall” that encourages players to just pay money to get over it.
Complicating things further is the “most recent expansion” language. Blizzard’s blog post does not clarify if this is the case, but the wording seems to indicate that players will have to fulfill the 20-pack requirement again once Hearthstone’s next expansion is made available. If this is the case, it’s not clear if the bonus rewards will reset once the newest expansion is up for pre-purchase or once it actually launches. If Descent of Dragons is anything to go on, however, a pre-purchase reset is more likely.
While players have argued that Hearthstone itself has been pay-to-win for some time, with players feeling encouraged to purchase packs in order to form meta decks, thatnorthernmonkey11 points out that this is the first auto-battler from a major developer to include this kind of gameplay-affecting pseudo-paywall. Most others, like League of Legends auto-battler Teamfight Tactics, have cosmetic-only microtransactions, like hero skins or board skins.