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Hearthstone battle pass upsets players with “pay to win” changes

A new Hearthstone battle pass adding unique rewards for Battlegrounds season 2 upsets players of the free-to-play card game with rewards considered pay to win

Hearthstone battle pass ads pay to win - Excitatron 3000 tossing gold coins into the air

A new Hearthstone battle pass that adds a separate rewards track for Battlegrounds season 2 has been slammed by some prominent players of the card game for rewards included in its paid tier that they describe as “pay to win.” The change means that players can no longer get Battlegrounds Perks with their earned in-game gold, leaving some free-to-play players are feeling left out in the cold. The new update also introduces Runestones, an intermediary currency, which has also been met with generally negative reception.

The Battlegrounds season 2 update introduces a distinct progression track to its battle pass, which includes the usual mix of rewards for free and paid tiers. Usually everything in the Hearthstone battle pass is cosmetic, and most of the rewards included in the Battlegrounds tier also fall into that same category. However, it also notably locks the ability to choose from four heroes instead of two behind a real-money paywall.

Previously, players would be offered a choice of four heroes at the start of a run instead of the usual two if they had access to Battlegrounds Perks – these were previously included in the Tavern Pass, which was available for 2500 in-game gold or $19.99 USD. Now, players no longer have a way to access this benefit as a completely free player, instead having to buy them with real money through Hearthstone’s new ‘Runestones’ – an intermediary currency being introduced to the game that can be purchased with real money.

YouTuber Zeddy released a video denouncing the new battle pass as “predatory” and saying that he will no longer be playing the mode. He points to the community tier lists for heroes in the mode, noting that hero balancing in the mode is all over the place and that only two of the available heroes in Battlegrounds are considered to be in the top tier. Zeddy points out how dramatically the extra two slots increase your chance of getting one of the higher-rated options.

A post in 2020 exploring the benefits of the extra two hero picks through simulations estimated that players can expect an average 5.06% additional win rate with the choice of four heroes instead of just two. YouTuber Old Guardian digs into the statistics in light of the new announcement and estimates that players can expect a “better than average” hero offered to them 22-25% more often depending on a player’s level of play – at the top 1% rating, four heroes offers an 86% chance compared to a 62% chance with only two.

Hearthstone features lead Chadd Nervig stated on Twitter (via Dot Esports) that “Aside from the Battlegrounds season pass, everything currently purchasable with gold still will be, and we have no plans to change that.” This has done little to appease fans of the mode, who have previously praised Battlegrounds for being Hearthstone’s most accessible format for players who didn’t want to spend money.

In the announcement post, Blizzard addresses that players can no longer gain access to Perks using gold, saying, “This change will allow us to continue to support and make content for the Growing Battlegrounds community” and adding that the team is “committed to maintaining hero and gameplay balance so that the choice from four heroes is more about optionality than power.” Nevertheless, many players are lamenting that the Battlegrounds mode is no longer ‘truly free-to-play’ in the same way it used to be.

Several threads on the game’s subreddit have sprung up since the announcement, expressing disappointment in the decision. Some users say they feel Blizzard’s post “puts the blame on players for not shelling out enough money towards the mode.” Others note that the hero restriction affects both casual and competitive players – “Competitive players would not want to be at a disadvantage, casual players want to pick the hero they think is cool.” With some players saying this change is leaving them considering quitting, Blizzard is left with a decision about whether to offer them an alternative way to access the additional heroes feature or simply cut their losses.