I’ve heard some recent grumblings about the true viability of Hearthstone as a competitive game. And by “competitive game” I mean an esport which can be played professionally. The now-typical argument against Hearthstone as an esport goes something like this…
“Hearthstone’s extreme reliance on randomness makes it nearly impossible to assess whether a player in a pro game won through superior ability or dumb luck.”
Now, whether or not you agree with this view wholesale, if you’ve played Hearthstone you should be able to at least see where it comes from. Hearthstone is a game with a lot of randomness, which not only manifests in what cards you draw but also in how the abilities of certain cards behave.
Randomness is a big part of Hearthstone, and no one really seems to be arguing that point. What people do seem to be arguing, though, is whether or not that randomness makes Hearthstone ill-suited to professional, competitive play—and said people are more often than not pointing to professional poker to make their case.
This is where people lose me, because Hearthstone and poker are so completely different from one another that comparing them is like comparing albinos and flux capacitors.
As but just one example…
Professional poker is generally played with your standard, 52-card deck. If someone were to draw a random card from such a deck, you can predict the odds of certain cards surfacing. For instance, there are 12 face cards, so they would have a 12 in 52 chance of getting one.
That’s about 23% for those of you don’t dig fractions.
Now let’s say you fire up Hearthstone and find yourself playing against a Priest. Assuming that player goes first, what are the odds that he or she will play a minion on turn one?
You literally have no way of knowing this information.
You don’t know which cards the player has in his or her collection, which of those cards made their way into the deck your opponent is using, or whether he or she would hold back a playable turn-one minion in favor of some other strategy.
The situation for your own deck is a little better, naturally, and assuming you built a deck with a sane mana curve—and which doesn’t rely too-heavily on specific combinations. However, there’s still very little you can do if you come up dry the first two turns and your opponent’s luck runs the other way.
And that’s just talking about card draw. Again, in Hearthstone, the individual cards often have random effects. “Multi-Shot” is a Hunter card which deals 3 damage to two random enemy minions. “Deadly Shot” is another Hunter card. It destroys one random enemy minion.
You can probably see where I’m going with this.
While poker in all it’s competitive forms contains an element of randomness, that randomness is relatively constrained, well-understood, and has been mathematically accounted for in pretty much every established poker system. The random element in Hearthstone, however, is all over the place, changes from deck to deck, and is nigh-on impossible to account for in any meaningful way.
So, regardless of whether or not you believe Hearthstone‘s use of randomness makes it unsuitable for professional play, you should probably stop with the poker comparisons.