On Saturday I ran a Hearthstone tournament – The Gosu Cup. It was the not only my first event of any kind, but it was also the first Hearthstone tournament in the world to the new ‘Duel’ format, devised by Kevin ‘Odinn’ Hovdestad.
‘Duel’ is a format where players have one deck, for only one class, for the whole tournament. Before facing their opponent they may use a sideboard of 10 cards to alter their deck.
So how did it go, and what did people make of the new format?
Quite simply, it went really well and people loved it!
I had exhausted myself stressing out about the event and its preparations, but on the day everything was fine. In fact, it all went brilliantly.
So allow me to give you a little breakdown of the whole event, from the venue to the new format. I hope that what you find this an interesting and useful read, whether you too are planning your first event, or want to see what competitive Hearthstone could really do with “Duel”.
MadLab did so much to help us! Last minute, when we could no longer be in their main building, they put us next door in a space that was perfect. A lot of people said they really liked it.
We were directly above bar, but had no issue with noise on a very busy Saturday night. The space, “the Terrace”, is normally used for hot-desking, so we had all the tables and chairs we could need. There were a couple of high, bar-like tables which were fixed in place, but this didn’t bother the players at all.
But, let’s get to the important part: the internet.
I don’t know what speed it was, but it was fast. Apart from one drop of connection for barely a minute (which almost gave me a heartattack), we never had a single problem. The connection was so good in fact, that while we waited for matches to finish we would be watching the live streams from Dreamhack Winter.
However, the router was on the other side of the wall inside MadLab’s main building. So to make sure we had absolutely the best signal possible for our event, they wrapped it up in a plastic bag and duct taped it to the outside of the window. This may sound ridiculous, but it worked!
The one drop we had in connection the whole day, did cause two players to get disconnected from their match, but they were happy with the result as the game was already over as far as they were concerned.
Having air conditioning and complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits just made the venue even better, and added to its relaxed and sociable nature. The only downsides were that both the lights and A/C could only be accessed by the bar staff downstairs, which meant pestering them on a busy Saturday night.
The lights were also a little dim, even on their highest setting, but once the sun went down and we lit the jar candles, it really started to feel like a ‘Fireside Gathering’. As for size, we probably couldn’t have accommodated many more people than we had without it feeling cramped, but for the numbers we had, it worked out perfectly.
We had 17 sign-ups for the tournament. 1 called in sick and 2 didn’t show up, so we started with 14 players for our Swiss bracket.
In a Swiss tournament, each player is pitted against someone with the same score as them, over the course of several rounds. This format is often used in games like Chess and Magic: the Gathering. I settled on 4 rounds, each a Best of 3 games. The top player would get a buy into the Grand Finals, while the top four below him would play a quick run of Single Elimination to determine who would be the other finalist.
I decided that giving the top scoring player immediate first place wasn’t particularly exciting for spectators, or a lot of fun for the players who were so close to the same score. However, I’m not sure how Chris “Fire” Smith felt about having victory snatched from him by Alexander “Raven” Baguley!
‘Fire’ hadn’t dropped a single game with his Miracle Rogue deck until the Grand Finals. ‘Raven’ had seen defeat before then, but clawed his way into the Grand Finals
As per the “Duel” format we were showcasing today, each player had one deck, of one class, for the entire tournament. However, in addition to this they had a sideboard of 10 cards. Before they played their opponent, each player was required to tell his opponent his class, but nothing more. Both players would then given a brief period to make alteration to their deck using their sideboard.
In order to prevent the use of cards which were not part of a player’s pre-registered decklist and sideboard, our team of Admins from the University of Manchester’s Esports Society diligently checked decks and periodic intervals, and before key matches like the Grand Finals.
The finals themselves were one of the closest games I’ve ever seen in Hearthstone. A match a piece, it was still anybody’s game. After an impressive round of board clearing and doing what Miracle rogue does best, Fire slammed down a 12/12 Edwin VanCleef. But alas, it fell prey to a Freezing Trap from “Raven’s” Hunter, and he surprised ‘Fire’ and everybody else with a Ragnaros play! A blast to the face, and it was “Fire’s” turn to do what he could to save himself, it came down to a 50/50 chance, but one more fireball from Ragnaros and the game was over in “Raven’s” favour.
Feedback on the Swiss format and “Duel”
I overheard people saying that they liked playing a Swiss tournament. Having paid to the enter the tournament, people seemed to feel like they really got their value for money, instead of being knocked out in the first round.
This was great for me to hear as an organiser, as I made a financial loss on the event. Now I know that I can charge just a little bit more, without hurting people’s sense of value for money.
From a less financial point of view, I really feel like a swiss format was better for the players and for the whole atmosphere of the event. Getting knocked out in the first round sucks, but with Swiss, even if you lose every single round you least you get to play four rounds of games, and that’s really what anybody wants: to make friends and play games!
I think the swiss format even made the event more sociable. For four rounds it was never anybody’s last game, they were all still here for the love of the game. People were moving around, chatting to each other and getting know to know each other, and because of the “Duel” format, people got to know each other by their decks as well. There was always a long wait after each round for the one Control Warrior to finish her game.
It felt quite special to really be doing a world’s first, running a Hearthstone tournament in “Duel”. I would’ve loved to have streamed it, but sadly we didn’t have equipment capable of doing so. It pains me that spectators mode is only a couple of weeks away!
There was an air of experimentation with this new format. A few players had chosen their deck based on what they thought everybody else would pick. People said that it had more deck-building strategy to it. Although one person did say they got a little bored playing the same class all day.
One player suggested that it might be better if in the first game both competitors played their deck without any alterations, and then could use the sideboard in their second and third games.
While that might allow one player to build a counter to what he now knows is his opponent’s strategy, it would also allow the other to player to counter what he suspected his adversary would do. However, knowing this other player could plan around the plan that he knew his opponent would be planning around!
It could create some very interesting mind games, or get very silly.
Overall the new format was well received, and people had fun it. However, there is a clear suggestion that a couple of small alterations to “Duel” are need to be make it perfect.
People had a great time, and there was a lively, friendly atmosphere. If the event organiser himself had an absolutely blast, then people must’ve had a good time. This may have been partly due to the informal nature of the tournament and its aim at experimentation, but it was also due to the new format we tried to today, and in part, it was down to the venue itself I think.
I’m also really pleased that people had fun with the Gimmick Deck Challenge, where players were given a ridiculous constraint to play under. After the Swiss bracket, I couldn’t stop some players from creating a little mini-tournament between themselves under the challenge “You must use your Hero Power every turn”!
If I were to run another event, I might return to the same venue, but only if I was expecting about the same number of people. The “Duel” system went down well, and people enjoyed focusing on one strategy, however, some tweaks would be needed for the next tournament to use this format. Perhaps small adjustments as to when sideboarding happens is the only alteration it needs. Whatever format for Hearthstone your want to use though, running a Swiss bracket was immensely popular with everyone.So what’s next?
It was really encouraging how many people asked me if I was going to be running another event. The answer is I would definitely like to, however I am keen to move to California in the new year. So depending on how long that takes to become a reality, affects whether I would run another event.
Either way, I will definitely wait to see what changes Goblins Vs. Gnomes brings to Hearthstone, and see what we can be done with Spectators mode when it is released. I like the idea of live-streaming an online league for a number of weeks, which would lead up to another event in Manchester.
A huge thank you to everyone at the Univeristy of Manchester Esports Society who brought their expertise to the event, to MadLab for helping me through think and thin to get a venue, and to Razer who so generously gave us a wonderful stack of prizes.
But most of all, thank you to all the players who came to the event and supported me! I hope to see you all again next time.