It’s the 31st of August, and I have only a few hours remaining to reach the Rank of Legend in Hearthstone. Once Thursday turns into Friday the season will reset, and it’s back to the beginning of the Ranked climb. For the past week or more, I’ve been bouncing between Ranks 3 and 5. Last night, I was able to breach Rank 2, and Legend finally feels like it’s a possibility. I’m filled with a mixture of excitement and anxiety as I try to minimize the dreadful thoughts of failure swirling in my mind. Our 7-month-old son is (thankfully) soundly asleep, and my wife has agreed to let me spend tonight chasing this goal. However, she remains bemused:
“What is this you’re trying to do?”
“The card game I play on my phone. I’ve been playing it for over two years. I’ve never been this close to Legend before. It’s something I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do.”
“Why does it matter if you’re Legend?”
“It’s an achievement. It’s something that I can check off the list, and not have to worry about it in the future. And you get a prize of sorts, so other players know that you’ve reached Legend.”
“You realize that sounds — “
“Ridiculously silly. Yes, I’m aware!”
“Well, good luck.”
My motivation to achieve Legend has numerous facets, and the most salient at this point is, “Once I do this, I’ll never HAVE to do it again.” The path to Legend is paved with experience, skill, money – and time. Time is a significant factor. There is no quick way to Legend, and even the fastest run to Legend from Rank 20 with no losses would require playing 56 games. The majority of Hearthstone games last between 5-10 minutes, so even the near-impossible 100% win-rate from Rank 20 to Legend run would take approximately seven hours to achieve.
A practical win-rate for a professional player is perhaps in the 70% range, which would be an average of 145 games and 18 hours of gameplay. Those of us mortals playing Hearthstone in the real world can hope to reach a win-rate of 60%, which means an average of 267 games from Rank 20 taking over 33 hours of gameplay. Even 60% is a strong performance, so what if you’re only able to achieve a 55% win-rate? That means you need to play an average of 451 games over 56 hours to reach Legend.
As Hootie and the Blowfish once mused, “Time, why you punish me?”
I find Hearthstone to be an enjoyable game though losing is very-much baked into the product. Even the most successful (or “broken”) decks during the past two years only achieved a 55% win-rate, meaning that they are losing 45% of the time. Above it was highlighted that a 55% win-rate requires an average of 451 games to achieve Legend from Rank 20 in Hearthstone, or approximately 56 hours of gameplay. That win-rate means that over 25 hours is spent losing games.
A useful skill in Hearthstone is learning to cope with the losses that will surely happen. Losses will be predictable at times, and others will sprout up in the most soul-crushingly, creative ways. Losing can lead to frustration and anger, which in turn interferes with our brain’s ability to solve problems. Hearthstone is a game of questions and answers between two opponents. Anything that interferes with the brain’s ability to solve problems is going to make winning a game of Hearthstone more difficult.
Since the climb to Legend requires exposure to many hours of losing games, it would be helpful to reduce the suffering that often comes with those losses. An excellent method for reducing the suffering from losing is to rely on anger management techniques. The following article details stress and anger management strategies that have been shown to be effective in clinical practice. I also review useful resources that any Hearthstone player can access to improve his or her understanding of the game. Below, I present three useful strategies for climbing to Legend in Hearthstone:
- Be mindful.
- Be prepared.
- Be proactive to deal with anger.
These strategies helped me achieve Legend for the first time on August 31st, and I even had hours to spare to bask in the glow of a shiny new Card Back.
I play the majority of Hearthstone games on my phone, typically in short spurts during the day – and often while I’m also doing something else like walking on the treadmill, eating lunch, or watching my son. I can say from experience that this is a terrible way to play the game if you want to increase your chances of winning more often to climb ranks – and also a terrible way to bond with your newborn son! Distractions take away focus from the game, and juggling any other mental or physical task takes away valuable resources that could be devoted to concentrating on the best-possible play to make each and every turn. The flip side is that climbing to Legend requires an awful amount of time, and I do not have the luxury of 30-50 hours each month to mindfully sit at my computer to play Hearthstone. However, after I broke through the logjam of Rank 3 and got into Rank 2, I started to sit at my computer to play to increase the likelihood that I would focus on one task at a time – and not be distracted by other things.
The concept of mindfulness is important, so let’s first define it. Mindfulness is “the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment.” This might sound rather simple; I assure you it is not. Consider how often you are doing two or more things at once throughout the day. Perhaps you eat breakfast while listening to the morning news or drive to work while listening to a podcast. Maybe you send a text to your spouse while in a work meeting, or check social media while waiting in a line. Or perhaps when speaking with a family member, you’re internally worrying about numerous chores that need to be completed before the weekend or else your social plans are going to be ruined. All of these common behaviors (that I certainly engage in) are examples of NOT being mindful.
Perhaps an oversimplification of practicing mindfulness is to 1) be aware of what you’re doing, and 2) do one thing at a time. For example, if you are eating a bowl of cereal, then eat a bowl of cereal without doing anything else. Savor the cereal. What is the texture of the cereal pieces as they hit your tongue? What flavors are being activated in your brain? How cool does the milk feel in your mouth? How loud are the crunching sounds of the cereal when ground up by your teeth? Bring all of your focus and attention to eating cereal, and it will enhance the experience.
The same is true for playing Hearthstone!
Eliminate other distractions and be aware of all aspects of playing the game. What deck do you want to play? What decisions are you making during the game’s Mulligan phase, and why are you making them? What are your options on Turn 1? How does your play on Turn 2 set up your Turn 3? What play is your opponent likely to make on Turn 4? What deck might your opponent be playing? What are your win conditions this game? What are your opponent’s win conditions this game? Asking and answering these questions for yourself while playing is an excellent way to stay focused on the game, and minimize the risk of mentally juggling other activities unrelated to the game.
When I started playing Hearthstone years ago, I considered it to be a casual game that I could play on my iPad from time to time. A close friend wanted me to get into Magic: The Gathering, and my compromise was trying a few digital card games. For several months, we settled on SolForge. It was a good time for a few months, though we both tired of the gameplay and our perception of needing to spend more and more money to remain competitive. I slowly came back to Hearthstone, and like any endeavor or hobby I find myself invested in – I started to research how to improve my performance.
Around this time, I wrote an article about the benefits and consequences of readily-available resources to watch how competitive and professional Hearthstone players approach the game. It can be intimidating as a novice player to watch videos through YouTube and Twitch and see decks, combinations, and plays that feel over your head. While overwhelming, it also motivated me to improve my understanding of the game because the game itself was entertaining – and let’s be honest, it feels great to win. The graphic below, which is by no means exhaustive, lists the Hearthstone players and resources that I have used over the years to learn about the game.
I realize the list of people to follow on Twitter above is not that useful without live links! I’m not going to link to all of them, but since I have the opportunity to play favorites on the blog, here are the folks I would highly suggest you follow first: @blisterguy, @bmkibler, @DisguisedToast, @firebat, @HS_Orange, @HS_Purple, @G2Thijs, @KremePuffHS, @Kripparrian, @liquid_hsdog, @LiquidSavjz, @NRGAmnesiac, @PG_rayC, @TehlHS, @TempoEloise, @ZachODR. Everyone listed in the graphic is a great resource and typically approachable if you have questions, not to mention there are many other talented players and content creators not listed. My apologies if I’m leaving anyone vital out!
While learning to play Hearthstone more successfully, I started to set short-term goals for myself. It is useful to set short-term goals so there is something tangible to work toward. My first goal was simply to gain comfort playing in Ranked matches; for the longest time I stayed in the Casual mode while dabbling in Arena. It was a big step to commit to playing Ranked games all the time. My second goal was to achieve Rank 20, which awards a new Card Back each season. Getting to Rank 20 the first time felt wonderful, and soon became an easy thing to accomplish each season.
As I slowly gained ranks each season, my anxiety would increase because I was worried about losing my progress. Within the last year, Hearthstone made changes to Ranked play so there are certain Ranks you cannot fall below once you achieve them. For example, if you achieve Rank 15 and lose the next 100 games, then you would still be Rank 15 at the end of the season. This change eliminated some of the anxiety of climbing ranks. When I was able to get to Rank 5, Legend felt quite close, though I was educated that Rank 5 is the more-accurately described as the half-way point to Legend. The path from Rank 5 to Legend is a grind because win streaks are inactive, and each rank requires six wins to clear. Remember and respect this if you are trying to achieve Legend for the first time – there is a great amount of work to do once you hit Rank 5!
As you play the game more competitively, rely on community-generated content to improve your understanding of the Game. Training videos on Hearthstone are available on YouTube and numerous Hearthstone podcasts are published weekly, both of which offer excellent advice for both novices and experienced players. Find a streamer or two that is fun to watch, and pay attention to their thought process as they play the game. Talented streamers will typically talk out loud about their decision-making process, and there is a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be mined while watching them play.
Hearthstone is a game of various skill sets. Watching professional players engage in the game is an excellent way to learn skills about actual gameplay: When should I trade minions? When should I get aggressive? When should I hold back? What is the best play each turn? It took me quite some time to realize that it may not be the best decision to play a 3-Mana minion just because I have 3 Mana. Learning how to manage your Mana, your cards, and the specific game board each turn takes time. The more often you run into specific game boards and situations, the more prepared you’ll be for maximizing your chances of making plays that will result in a win. Give yourself a chance to learn the best strategies for managing each game state. And be willing to treat every game – win or lose – as a learning experience. Consider how different decisions could have resulted in different outcomes.
One of the most substantial mental leaps for me in becoming a more-competitive player was being willing to accept that my behavior was contributing to losses. When you can look past, or get through, the inherent randomness of Hearthstone (ALL HAIL YOGG!), you begin to understand that there are important decisions to make each and every turn to maximize the chance of winning a game. Yes, some games seem to be won and lost by random chance – and that can be infuriating – but staying in a mindset that games are “just luck” prevents you from learning strategies to improve skills needed to succeed.
Another pair of related skills in Hearthstone is knowing how to build a successful deck and understanding the current state of the meta. I acknowledge that deck building is not my strong suit, so I have relied on other resources to learn what decks are performing well – and why. During my gradual shift from playing casually to competitively, I became aware of additional resources through Twitter and Reddit. I started to follow professional players who would often post decklists, and try to learn those decks. This enhanced my knowledge of what it takes to build a comprehensive and competitive deck. Then around the summer of 2016, I became aware of Vicious Syndicate, which is a resource any Hearthstone player interested in improving her game should consume.
Vicious Syndicate immediately appealed to me because it seemed to be operated by a bunch of academic nerds like myself. Their articles had more polish and rigor than other sites that cater to Hearthstone fans. The articles also contained scientifically-sound data analysis of the game instead of conjecture and opinion. I have had the pleasure of communicating with members of Vicious Syndicate through the interview podcast series that I host. I first spoke to Felix Mak, and he educated me about how the team collects data on Hearthstone. Several months later, I spoke to Tzachi Zach about the methods for analyzing the data that is received from players. And most recently I spoke to Ohad Zach about how the Hearthstone meta reports are written each week.
I have no financial stake in saying this – if you like playing Hearthstone, and want to improve your understanding of the game to win more often, then the articles and weekly reports by Vicious Syndicate are a must read! Between the analysis available on Vicious Syndicate and the thriving community of Hearthstone players on social media, it is easier than ever to learn about what decks are currently successful – and why. Once you find a deck that you can afford to build and learn to play, it’s then a matter of investing the time to learn the deck and improve your plays.
I was able to do this. You can do this as well!
Be Proactive to Deal with Anger
Returning to my climb to Legend on August 31st, I was enjoying a streak of wins to advance through Rank 1 when a buzzer from the dyer inserted itself into the tense quiet of my basement. During the play session, I was proactively dealing with anxiety and anger. Between each game, I stood up and took some deep breathes – or took a brief lap around the basement. The buzzer from the dryer reminded me that I also had clothes to fold, which I thoughtfully did between games.
Why was I doing this?
Because everyone gets angry, and Hearthstone almost seems designed to add fuel to the fire that is our nervous system reacting to a threat. I posted an article and video several years ago detailing some factors about Hearthstone that result in anger explosions in the form of mean-spirited Friend Requests after games. There are moments in the game that are incredibly frustrating, such as when you get negative results from a random outcome, draw poorly, or when your opponent purposely plays slowly. Personally, I get annoyed by specific deck types like Freeze Mage, which feels like an utter waste of time to play against.
(I’ll spare you my rant about Freeze and Quest Mages….)
Back to August 31st, the last match to move on to the next rank in Hearthstone is often called The Final Boss. The first time I got to The Final Boss to reach Legend that night, it was a Freeze Mage. My heart sank! I took a big, deep breath and focused as best I could on the game. Try as a I may, I lost that match – and worried that it would be the beginning of a losing streak. Instead of plowing forward with the next match, I stopped playing – and I folded some laundry.
I slowed down my breathing in an attempt to reset my nervous system. After a few minutes of that, I sat back down at the computer and queued up the next match. I won the next game, and then beat The Final Boss v.2 to achieve Legend.
Following up on the earlier discussion about the time required to achieve Legend, I am not sure how many games it took me in August. I only have the statistics that Hearthstone provides to players through a summary email (pictured below). One of the delays in publishing this article since August is I have been in contact with Hearthstone staff to learn if I could get additional statistics from August; I was informed that the only statistics they could provide are in the email that was already sent.
At one point, I had a sweet 15-game winning streak, and it took me 184 wins to achieve Legend. I know it took 184 because I did not play another game once I hit Legend. My win rate against Hunter was close to 80%, but I likely did not face many Hunters during the season as those decks were not performing well in the meta. I wish I had more information to share about how many losses I had during August along with other statistics. I believe it’s fair the say the most games I could have played in Ranked that month was 368, which would amount to a 50% win-rate. The total number of games I played is most-likely between 280 (65% win rate; 35 hours of gameplay) and 330 (55% win-rate; 41 hours of gameplay).
It is a separate topic, but I find the lack of data through official Hearthstone channels to be unacceptable – especially since other games by Blizzard (e.g., Overwatch, Heroes of the Storm) have comprehensive personal statistics built into the game. I hope the team working on Hearthstone is planning to enhance the statistics available to players. The lack of meaningful statistics to players is even more glaring since they promote competitive tournaments and the eSports’ nature of Hearthstone so often.
One tangible thing limiting players from learning more about their performance is Hearthstone does not offer any tools to help players monitor how they are doing in the game. How does my deck perform against Jade Druid? What is my winning percentage with Mage? How many times have I lost with Warlock? To answer any of these questions, players are forced to rely on third-party programs like Track-O-Bot and Hearthstone Deck Tracker to record their wins and losses. An additional limitation is that these programs are not compatible (to my knowledge) with playing Hearthstone through a mobile device. The only reason I have the 11-4 data above is because I was mindfully sitting at my PC playing during the final games n the way to Legend. It is frustratingly ironic that they promote Hearthstone as a serious eSport, and yet I cannot learn how many losses I had during the month of August.
Any type of anger and frustration can be an impediment to climbing ranks in Hearthstone. Had I not been proactive in dealing with my frustration and anger, I may have spiraled into a losing streak — and still be wondering if I’ll ever have a season where I’ll achieve Legend. Anger is a natural reaction, though it becomes a problem when it is:
- Expressed inappropriately
- Experienced too frequently
- Felt too intensely
People, places, and things can trigger anger for all of us. Knowing your triggers is an excellent component of learning to cope with anger successfully. For example, I knew that a loss to Freeze Mage could “set me off” so I focused on playing the best game I could, and when I lost – I took a break from the game. I knew I needed that to reset.
Another component of coping with anger is to monitor the warning signs of rising anger. Warning signs can be physical, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive. Physical warning signs involve the way our body responds when we become angry. Examples include a faster heart rate, tightness in our chest, or feeling hot and flushed. These warning signs can warn us that our anger is escalating, and it gives us a choice to do something about it before the anger gets out of control.
Behavioral warning signs involve the behaviors we display when we get angry, which could be demonstrated by clenching our fists, throwing something, slamming a door, or raising our voice. One prominent joke in Hearthstone is that some players are especially “salty.” Prominent professionals and popular streamers will go on rants at times about results they find unsavory or unfair. It can be easy to allow this type of frustration and escalation into your routine of playing Hearthstone. It is better to monitor these signs of anger, and do something about it rather than let it affect your ability to enjoy and succeed at the game.
Emotional warning signs involve other feelings that occur along with our anger. For example, when playing Hearthstone, getting angry can also spark other negative emotions like impatience. An example of this is when an opponent “ropes” each turn, meaning they purposely use all the time allotted to slow down the game. This behavior is infuriating because time is such an important commodity to me, and my emotional response clouds my ability to make correct plays. The impatience often results in playing faster than I normally would, and that is a good way to make mistakes.
Cognitive warning signs are thoughts that we have in response to an event that makes us angry based upon how we view the event and how we think things should be. There are a variety of unhelpful thinking styles that can result in increased negativity and poor performance. Taking a step back to monitor all of the warning signs can help prevent the irritation of losing a game from turning into an angry outburst.
It may seem like an outburst of anger is a simple on-off process, though it is most helpful to consider all three phases of anger.
- Escalation: In this phase, warning signs of anger begin to show including physical, behavioral, emotional, or cognitive (thoughts). As anger rises, he or she is more likely to reach a point of explosion.
- Explosion: In this phase, anger explodes. The person loses control, and is verbally or physically aggressive. This typically results in the person doing something they later regret, such as yelling or destroying property.
- Post-Explosion: In the final phase of anger, the person experiences the negative consequences of the explosion, which could problems with friends or family, or feelings of guilt, shame, and regret.
The three stages move us all away from the following thought process, “I was going along fine, but when I lost that game because my opponent drew the perfect card, I just got mad and pounded my fist against the table.” It is more likely that the player here showed numerous warning signs of anger before the explosion. The earlier in the escalation phase we can notice the warning signs piling up, the easier it is to do something about it to prevent an explosion.
Fortunately, there are effective tools to manage anger. Behavioral tools are activities or exercises that can be used to prevent yourself from getting angry or to reduce anger that is already present. The following are behavioral tools:
- Timeout – simply leave a situation that is provoking anger. For example, if playing Hearthstone is creating too much tension and negative emotion, then acknowledge that, and take a break from the game.
- Deep Breathing – one of the quickest ways to relax your body. Long, slow, deep breaths relax our nervous system, and engage our brain’s ability to naturally slow down our heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension.
Muscle Relaxation – since most people’s muscles get tense when they are angry, it is a good exercise to manually relax your muscles. One way to accomplish this is by pairing the deep breathing with alternating tensing/flexing and relaxing of muscle groups. Clench muscles on an inhale, and relax muscles on an exhale.
Cognitive tools are based on the concept that how we think about a situation affects how we feel about the situation. Cognitive tools are another set of actions you can take to reduce or prevent anger. Earlier, I mentioned how our brain can engage in unhelpful thinking styles. For example, a loss in Hearthstone can trigger anger and disappointment, in addition to negative thoughts that can spiral out of control. Here is a list of the some of the most prevalent unhelpful thinking styles followed by examples of how they can manifest while playing Hearthstone:
- All or Nothing: when people see things only in extremes – people or events are one thing or another (e.g., all good or all bad, right or wrong)
- Catastrophizing: when people exaggerate the importance or impact of things, making them appear worse than they might be
- Overgeneralizing: when a negative event is seen as one, in a never-ending pattern, or series, of similar negative events
- Fortune-telling: when a person predicts that things will turn out badly and is convinced of this, before the event happens
- Mind-reading: when a person assumes that other people are thinking negatively about them when there is no actual evidence for this
- Blaming/Externalization: when a person blames others for being the main cause of negative events, without considering how they themselves may have contributed to what happened
- Personalization: when people see themselves as the cause of a negative event for which, in fact, they were not responsible
Two useful cognitive tool for managing anger are Thought Stopping and Self-Talk. The purpose of Thought Stopping is to interrupt your thoughts when your anger and unhelpful thinking styles are escalating. In the heat of the moment, you stop your unhelpful thoughts with a simple self-command. You say something to yourself that will stop you from getting angrier.
Self-Talk is another tool that can be used as part of Thought Stopping or before entering a high-risk situation. Self-Talk can be statements, phrases, or reminders that counteract unhelpful or negative thoughts. And example of a Self-Talk strategy would be writing, “I’m a good person win or lose” on a Post-It Note and sticking it to the desk where you play Hearthstone. This note would serve as a visual reminder that your mood and sense of well-being do not need to be tied to the results of the game.
Summary (The TL;DR Version)
Achieving Legend in Hearthstone takes time; it is not something a new player should expect to achieve anytime soon. I played more-or-less daily for over two years before reaching Legend for the first time this summer. Set realistic short-term goals instead of focusing on the Legend Rank right away; chop the journey to Legend into smaller pieces. Understand that Rank 5 is only the halfway mark to Legend! And remember that a win-rate of 60% is truly excellent, and that still results in losing 40% of the time. Accept that losing games is part of the Hearthstone experience.
To improve your skill in the game, learn how to mindfully play Hearthstone without other distractions. Consider your options each turn, and learn from wins and losses. Use available resources to learn about successful decks and the current shape of the meta game. Follow a variety of professionals players on Twitter, tune in to streams on Twitch of players you enjoy, listen to Hearthstone podcasts, and watch videos on YouTube. Treat the weekly Data Reaper Report from Vicious Syndicate as an essential document to consume! The data analysis and writing will increase your knowledge of the game.
Proactively deal with the anxiety and anger that comes from attempting to climb ranks in Hearthstone. Consider using third-party programs to track your performance as meaningful statistics about gameplay are not available through Hearthstone itself. Monitor the warning signs of anger, and understand your specific triggers for anger. Engage in behavioral and cognitive coping strategies to minimize the negative affects anger can have on your performance in Hearthstone. These strategies include:
- Deep Breathing
- Muscle Relaxation
- Thought Stopping
I created a PowerPoint presentation for the anger management section of this article, which you can download here: Managing Anger in Hearthstone.