After the publication of full Hearthstone's 23.2 Patch Notes and a separate write-up on the upcoming Three New Game Features, Blizzard has left us with one more unexpected piece of information - in-depth Developer Insights on Hearthstone Battlegrounds, shared in the form of a forum post. 

Current Lead Designer for the game mode, John McIntyre, took to the stage to show interesting data from the Battlegrounds Buddies meta, talk about Hero balance at large, and explain some of the relevant design philosophies from the team. It's definitely a good read! 

You might actually better recognize John McIntyre as being the set lead for Madness at the Darkmoon Faire - he had this thing for finishing one favorite catchphrase. With further appearances on the developer insights video for that expansion, as well as taking part in the final card reveal livestream alongside Kripparrian (remember when those were a thing?). Of course things have notably changed since then - what with Team 5's restructuring into more dedicated groups focused on particular game modes and other aspects - but the man clearly has some experience at this. 

The timing of such post isn't accidental either, seeing as we have a larger Battlegrounds shake-up set to arrive very soon. The Buddies system has been around for almost 4 months, and the game is bound to feel very different once more after its exit. 

It's been a while since we've have seen any sort of official data of this kind (invaluable Tian Ding still being missed), so hopefully this is a sign of things to come: 

Developer Insights: Battlegrounds Balance

Quote From John McIntyre

The following is being posted on behalf of John McIntyre, Hearthstone Battlegrounds Lead Designer:

Hello tavern-goers, as we wrap up the current Battlegrounds Buddies patch and prepare for the upcoming Rise of the Naga Battlegrounds Season, I want to share some data from this past patch and explain some of our design philosophies when it comes to designing and balancing heroes.

First, let’s look at the overall active* player mmr distribution right now:

  • The top 50% of players have reached 5700 mmr
  • The top 25% of players have reached 6500 mmr
  • The top 10% of players have reached 7000 mmr
  • Congratulations to the top 1% of players who have reached 8300 mmr

I also want to share the top* 10 performing heroes for all players since the last balance patch (in alphabetical order):

  • Cariel Roame
  • Chenvaala
  • Fungalmancer Flurgl
  • George the Fallen
  • Ini Stormcoil
  • Lord Jaraxxus
  • Millificent Manastorm
  • Patches the Pirate
  • Tavish Stormpike
  • Ysera

Now, let’s compare that list to the top 10 heroes for our top 1% of players during the same period (again, in alphabetical order):

  • Aranna Starseeker
  • Fungalmancer Flurgl
  • George the Fallen
  • King Mukla
  • Maiev Shadowsong
  • Sir Finley Mrrgglton
  • Mutanus the Devourer
  • Trade Prince Gallywix
  • Vol’jin
  • Zephrys, the Great

One of the reasons I am sharing this information is to show that there isn’t a universal hero ranking that applies to all players. Heroes perform differently depending on player skill and engagement with the mode. A lot of players find success with minion-type focused heroes because they provide a clear direction, but those same heroes don’t perform as well for our most competitive players. Even two players of the same skill level will find success with different heroes because they push different playstyles. The takeaway here is that players shouldn’t feel obligated to pick only the heroes that work best for the top 1% of players but should instead experiment with different heroes to see what performs best for their skill bracket, level of engagement with the game, and play style.

One of the goals with hero balance is to keep hero diversity high by making sure that heroes are kept in an appropriate band of power. We look at all skill levels when trying to identify which heroes need a nerf or a buff. That’s why we sometimes adjust a hero that is over- or underperforming for newer players, even if those same issues aren’t seen by our most competitive players.

With this in mind, what happens if a hero is too weak for one group of players but can’t be buffed because then it’d be too strong for other players? This was a design challenge we faced with Shudderwock after the launch of Buddies. Shudderwock repeats all the Battlecries you’ve triggered this game. Most players’ strategy with this hero is to buy lots of Battlecry minions and then use their hero power as late as possible to copy a bunch of Battlecry effects. However, top players use a different strategy. They mostly buy Battlecry minions that summon other minions, then they repeat those effects with the hero power for triple rewards. That strategy is harder to execute, but more powerful. Shudderwock needed a buff for the majority of players, but we didn’t want our changes to have a large impact on top players. Our design change was for the Buddy to give +2/+2 to the Battlecry minions it adds to the shop. This helped keep players alive when they were buying many different types of Battlecry minions, but didn’t have as large of an impact for the players looking to buy the one or two specific Battlecry minions.

I hope that example helps show how, even though not all individual balance changes are for every player, we do balance for every player. As a final note, nerfs are a higher priority than buffs because a hero being too strong warps games more than a hero being too weak.

With Rise of the Naga we expect a big meta shake-up and we’re excited to see what you all make of it! As this new meta develops, we’ll be applying the same balance philosophy when it comes to assessing player feedback and looking at data.

I hope this was informative and I’ll see you in the Tavern,

John McIntyre

Hearthstone Battlegrounds Lead Designer


Active*: Played at least 5 games in the last 20 days. It is late into the season so mmr is at its highest right now. Since we’re only looking at the last 20 days, this excludes players that play the new content and stop playing after a few weeks, which means this population is more engaged in BGs.

Top*: Simply put, the highest average placements since the most recent balance update.

Quote From John McIntyre
Nice to see this kind of info. I selfishly would like a chart of the MMR curve so I could know more exactly where I land at 7600.

Because I had a meeting end early, top 4%!

Player Rating Distribution and Best Heroes

Surprised at any of these numbers or the differences between the top performing heroes for the general audience and hardcore players? It must be quite tricky to settle on the right balance calls with so many moving pieces. The last time we had a chance to look into anything of the sort, it was during the dreaded Diablo meta:

We actually have some historical data on Hearthstone Battlegrounds Rating Distribution to compare to, as it was provided by Blizzard back in the day: 

However, let's also note that true direct comparisons across different years aren't really possible, as there have been some changes and adjustments as to how the whole thing operates across such varied data points: 

Not to mention there being fewer tribes, heroes, and keywords back in the day, no Armor System, no damage cap, no official esports competition pushing the most dedicated players to grind more heavily than ever before and keep reaching new heights, or even the extensive amount of cosmetic features. Oh, and the game mode has even managed to eventually lose its "eternal" Beta tag and survive the departure of its original creator. It's certainly been a journey, and it doesn't seem like Battlegrounds are done evolving.

If the game mode is close to your heart and you happen to enter the Twitterverse at least occasionally, there is usually someone or something worth checking out: 

Quote From Gallon
HEY! Are you a fan of Battlegrounds? Be sure to follow

for great insight into the mode!

Or you can just count on us to keep track of these things. Enjoy the imminent arrival of the Naga! And make sure to protect Bob while at it.