Hearthstone Session #2 -Managing Anger & Making Friends

In February, I climbed as high as Rank 4 in the Ranked ladder format in Hearthstone. It is – by far – the most success I have had on the ladder, and it likely boils down to three primary reasons. First, I am playing many more games in recent weeks, which has given me a clear sense of the current popular decks. Second, I’m learning how to best counter other popular decks while making better plays with my own cards – practice, practice, practice! Third, I was able to save up enough dust to create Archmage Antonidas, which is a Legendary card I did not possess. My Tempo Mage deck often ran out of steam in some games, and Antonidas is an excellent late-game closer.

The Tempo Mage deck is heavy on RNG (random number generator) effects. For example, the spell Unstable Portal gives the players a new minion card at a discounted mana cost. It could be ANY minion in the game. If Unstable Portal spits out a high-cost, Legendary card then suddenly I have a huge temp advantage over my opponent. However, Unstable Portal can pop out a weak minion (I’m looking at you, Stonetusk Boar!) and then the spell puts you behind your opponent. Tempo Mage decks are solid, but a few good RNG moments can make them great.

In a recent game against an opponent, I played my Tempo Mage and had one of those fortunate RNG moments. The player had two minions on the board and I had a Mana Wyrm, which is a minion that gains +1 Attack each time the player casts a spell. With only 1 Mana left, I played an Arcane Missiles, which randomly deals 3 inividiual points of damage to minions or the opposing player. Since the player had two minions (plus his character – or Face), each point of damage from Arcane Missiles had a 33.3% chance to hit a specific minion. In this case, EACH point of damage landed on the Darnassus Aspirant, which destroyed it. The chances of that happening are 33.3% x 33.3% x 33.3% = 3.7%.

The outcome was extremely fortunate because that Darnassus Aspirant gives the player an extra mana point while it remains on the board. When I played the spell, I did not expect to destroy the Aspirant, but wanted to build up the Mana Wyrm and maybe ping the minions to set up my next turn. I went on to win the game, and received a Friend Request from the opponent after it concluded. I accepted the request knowing full-well that I was likely going to receive a negative message. Sure enough…

Hearthstone Anger
The yellow text is from my opponent.

The player, Kane, decided after the win to contact me to let me know that I was extremely lucky to win the game, and that I made numerous “misplays” that were “cringe worthy.” I remained pleasant by saying, “Good game.” and tried to write back again to clarify what I misplayed because I honestly thought, “Perhaps I can learn something from this exchange.” But Kane logged out and that was the end of the interaction.

Coping with Failure

Hearthstone is a competitive game, and it has numerous qualities that can result in problematic behaviors – such as going out of one’s way to insult another player. First, the game can be played anywhere and at anytime as long as you are connected to the Internet. That means you can play on a phone or tablet on a bus, in a crowded restaurant, or while doing some business on the toilet (yuck). For that reason, it can be a  challenge to “turn off” from the game. Second, Hearthstone does not have an efficient way to report bad behavior, so often this type of thing is left unchecked. I wonder how many times Blizzard has informed a player to cease harassing opponents in this manner, so acting like a jerk after a loss seems to have no consequences. Third, the only way to communicate during the game is through one of six Emotes: Thanks, Well Played, Hello, Sorry, Oops, or Threaten. And the emotes can be used in an encouraging or taunting manner, so often most people leave them alone unless they are actively trying to troll you.

(I will be diving into the Emote system in much more depth in the future)

Hearthstone is a quick, competitive, isolating game that can result in quick runs of misfortune or running into players that specifically counter your deck. It’s not unheard of to get on a winning or losing streak of 5 or more games inside the span of about 15 minutes. Losing that quickly to a bunch of anonymous opponents certainly produces frustration, and getting “on tilt” can result in poor decision making during future games. The key is to recognize the signals that tilt is happening; the earlier you are aware of the symptoms, the easier it is to do something about it.

Kane water cooler
Kane would have been better served by taking a break from Hearthstone and getting a drink of water.

Stop playing Hearthstone. When you realize that the frustration level from playing the game is ramping up, it is time to take a break from playing. Since Hearthstone is such an easy game to play – accessible from anywhere – it can be a challenge to put it down. Trust me, I’ve been there OFTEN. “I’m just going to play until I win one game or move up one more Rank.” You can talk yourself into any number of scenarios that keeps you on your tablet, phone, or computer. Turn the game off, and come back later when you’ve had a chance to relax.

Relax. Our nervous system is a wondrous thing. When we become frustrated and anger, our nervous system lights up and engages systems throughout our body. We sweat, our heart rate and blood pressure increase, and our breathing becomes more shallow – just to name a few. Our nervous system does this because our brain perceives a threat, and it is mobilizing resources to respond to the threat. In this case, the threat is failure at Hearthstone. Our brain does not make the distinction that the Hearthstone threat is different from other threats such as a loose bear rampaging through the front door and trying to eat us. We have to actively do something to help our nervous system slow down.

One excellent relaxation strategy is to practice deep breathing. It sounds simple, yet it’s not and takes dedication to master. When we slow down our breathing, it sends to signal to the brain that we are no longer in danger, and thus the brain responds by slowing down our heart rate and easing the tension in our muscles. There are many videos available online that help to teach proper deep breathing techniques including the video below.

Minimize distractions. A great thing about Hearthstone is how accessible it is to play. The downside is that you could be playing Hearthstone while also trying to accomplish something else – such as talking with your significant other, or working on a blog post (not that I’m talking from experience or anything!). The more activities we try to multitask, the more poorly we execute all of them. If you find yourself getting frustrated while playing Hearthstone, check to see how many other things you’re doing at the same time. Perhaps you’re reading or listening to the news, or responding to an email. Maybe you’re also having a conversation or waiting in line at the bank or drug store. The more distractions you have, the more likely you’ll be to make mistakes while playing, which will lead to more frustration and anger.

Move! Exercise is one of the best stress management tools we have as human beings. Hearthstone is very much a sedentary activity; I have mixed this up by playing on my phone while I walk on the treadmill each morning. I’m usually able to get in a few games while walking 30-40 minutes before going to work each morning. Even when I get on a bad run and suffer some losses, my mind and body have the release of exercise to deal with any frustration that results. If you’re not up for combining Hearthstone with a treadmill or exercise bike, then take a break from the game and do something active to relieve stress. Walk the dog, take a lap around a local mall or Target, go to the gym. By the time you are finished with the physical activity, your body and mind will likely be in a better place to focus on Hearthstone.

When In Doubt

Don’t be a dick. If you are playing Hearthstone and go against a player who wins in a clever, cruel, or even lucky manner, then DO NOT send that player a Friend Request so you can attempt to extract some revenge through nasty statements. It is not good for you, the opponent, or the overall health of the Hearthstone community. If you’re getting on tilt, then use the strategies above to “chill out” for a bit before continuing to play.

Also, do not be afraid to use the Friend Request feature to learn more about the game you just played and expand your community. It is good to have others to spectate and learn from. I have reached out to opponents after interesting games (win or lose) and passed along a, “Good game” or “Hey, that was a neat deck. Thanks for the game.” It has led to some brief interactions that were pleasant. I try to keep the mindset that I want to learn something new about Hearthstone in each game that I play. Perhaps it will be learning of a new mistake that I make, or seeing a new deck synergy in action for the first time. Be willing to learn from your opponent rather than seeing them as just another person that is in your way on the path to victory!

The video below features me talking about some of the psychological research on the link between online gaming and aggression. It features gameplay that shows me trying to pilot a Secret Paladin deck – if you can’t beat’em, then join’em! At the end of the video, I demonstrate that interactions through the Friend Request feature with a random opponent do not need to be painful.

How do you deal with frustration when playing Hearthstone? And how do you interact with  your opponents?


Author: The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.

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