Dear Lifecoach: How come you left Hearthstone for Gwent?

“Dear XXX” is the first in many interviews to come, where we have an in-depth talk with an important esports figure, the first being one of the most successful Hearthstone and Gwent players to date: Lifecoach. After this year’s gamescom we had the chance to sit down with him to talk about his thoughts on CD Projekt Red, Blizzard and why he has made the decision to switch over to Gwent. 

Hi Lifecoach, thank you very much for your time! How has your time been playing with the new patch so far?

It’s a good thing to see them keeping up with what the community wants to see and reevaluate things that might not be good for the game. They seemingly try to balance out the factions a lot more now. The only thing that I don’t like, which might be due to personal preference, is that they’re changing the meaning of the cards a lot.

I think all of the factions and cards should get some flavor, a definitive way they feel. I try to view every card as a separate entity, as a character, so when they completely change the way a card works, that disrupts the way I feel about a card. As an example, John Natalis originally used to command his machines, but now he does something very different. So I have to imagine how he took up a second job or something. (laughs)

The most important thing is though that CD Projekt Red shows that they’re dedicated to the game and the community which I think they’ve shown recently.

Gwent has been around for about a year now, you won the first big Gwent tournament back in May. Do you think that CDPR is heading in the right direction with Gwent as an esport title? Especially when compared to Hearthstone?

Absolutely. They just announced a tournament tour that is worth a million dollars. Even though Gwent has about a tenth of the active player base of Hearthstone, they announce a tournament series that at least matches, if not excels the current official Hearthstone tournament tours.

Due to this, CDPR enables Gwent to have the same amount of professional players as Hearthstone, despite having a much smaller player base. They definitely have a strong focus on the competitive scene. Let’s say there are about 5 million active Hearthstone players, which we can’t even determine properly because Blizzard is very intransparent with their numbers, by only disclosing how many registered accounts there are. CDPR, on the other hand, is completely open about their numbers: You have a Ranked ladder and you see exactly where you are, how many active players there are, no ifs and buts.

Anyway, if we take this number of 5 million active Hearthstone players and consider the fact that there are about 50 professional players being able to live off the game, you have a ratio of having one professional player to 100,000 players.

We saw something similar in the case of World of Warcraft, a game also played by dozens of millions of people. But there was practically no professional scene either. I got to meet the best WoW competitive players last year at Blizzcon – ironically they were Germans as well and recognized me. I expected them to be really popular and make a lot of money, given that they were competing in this huge game, but no. According to them, that really wasn’t the case, mostly because Blizzard didn’t enable the scene to grow in the way it could’ve.

In Gwent, however, I expect there to be at least 50, maybe 100 competitive players being able to live off the game as an esport. That’s a completely different ratio where one in 10,000 people can make it. If you want to go professional in Gwent, you have a realistic shot at doing so. Hearthstone, on the other hand, is keeping you hopeful with intransparent numbers and statistics. And the fact that you have to pay money for Hearthstone in order to keep competing is very questionable from an ethical point of view as well.

For example, you need to “invest” around 500-1000 Euros a year in order to be able to compete in Hearthstone, unless you spend a lot of time playing Arena, which is a waste of your time if you want to hone your skills in a competitive format. Then you have a lot of players and organizations going “Okay, but we have a good shot at getting this money back because the RNG dictates that everyone will succeed eventually.” Which is why you see the top players at events change so frequently, because of the heavy RNG. But the thing is that due to this heavy rotation, the likelihood of actually making it is astronomical. Even a really ambitious player has a chance of one to 10,000 of making it. But to keep on chasing this dream, you have to pay 500-1000 Euros a year.

On the other hand, CDPRs philosophy is completely different. When I first switched over to Gwent it was because I liked the strategy and complexity of the game, sure. But the mentality behind the Free-2-Play-system is totally different as well. There are a lot of companies that want to maximize their investment by making the casual players pay and ignoring the competitive scene. CDPR, on the other hand, goes: We want to make a complex game and have a flourishing competitive scene which showcases our game design because you frequently see the same competitive players at tournaments, due to RNG being low and the game having a high skill ceiling.

CD Projekt Red is probably the only company that hasn’t disappointed me so far, no, that has actually excelled my expectations. Realistically speaking you usually get disappointed in your expectations, because you try to think positive and expect the best result, in which case disappointment is imminent. But if you look at CDPR and the way that Gwent has gotten progressively better as a game over the course of a few months, I’m very impressed by them.

A friend of mine recently started playing Gwent as well, and to my surprise, she has gotten quite a sizeable collection within a short period of time. Having played Hearthstone since Closed Beta and having recommended that game to several of my friends as well, it’s pretty safe to say that she wouldn’t have this kind of collection in Hearthstone so quickly.

For sure! You don’t need to pay anything to get all the cards in Gwent. Not as a casual player and especially not as a competitive player. You need to invest absolutely nothing, you get so many cards, kegs and scraps thrown at you for just playing the game, you’re essentially guaranteed that you don’t need to pay anything. It’s pretty nice.

I think you once calculated how long it takes you to collect cards in Hearthstone vs collecting cards in Gwent?

Yes, I know there are very complicated studies regarding this, but in my opinion, there’s a much easier way: You look at how much money you’d need to spend to get a full collection of cards, keeping pack/keg ratios in mind. Then you calculate how many hours you’d need to play in order to achieve that complete collection by calculating your “hourly wage” so to speak.

In Hearthstone you’d need to spend around 1000 Euros to get a complete collection. In Gwent, you’d need about 600-700 Euros. So this is roughly the same and maybe one day you’ll need to spend 1000 Euros in Gwent as well to get a complete collection. But here comes the big difference:

In Hearthstone, your hourly wage is basically 50-70 cents. So to get a complete Hearthstone collection you’d need to spend 1000-2000 hours playing a year. Therefore, you’d need to spend about three to six hours a day playing Hearthstone for a complete collection.

In Gwent, your hourly wage is about three to four Euros. In order to get a complete collection, you’d need to play about 150 hours playing a year. Therefore, you’d need to spend less than half an hour a day playing Gwent to get a complete collection.

This discrepancy between the two games is really huge in my opinion. CDPR goes “Hey, you keep playing our game and love it? Have some free stuff!” and meanwhile Blizzard goes “Hey, you keep playing our game and love it? Please pay us more money!”. This is why the competitive Hearthstone scene isn’t in a healthy state. And I don’t know the casual scene much, and maybe the casual players don’t want everyone to have an easy access to all the cards, so they can spend more money and brag about their cards. I don’t like that. But that’s why I chose a game where everyone who plays an hour can get all the cards, which I think is great.

Back when you decided to quit Hearthstone and switch over to Gwent eventually, you recently visited Team 5 at Blizzard, the team behind Hearthstone. I remember a lot of people in the Hearthstone community, including myself, to be very surprised by your decision, because that visit was viewed as the final chance to fix things between Blizzard and the competitive scene. The fact that you decided to quit right after speaking with the devs got a lot of the competitive scene nervous and thinking. What happened back then and why were they unable to convince you to stay with Hearthstone?

Well, it comes down to what I mentioned earlier regarding expectations. My expectation going there was for them to fix the game on a competitive level, to make it so that Hearthstone could be taken seriously as an esport again. The game had been devolving so much from a competitive standpoint for about one-and-a-half years at that point.

Every new expansion, every time they decided to nerf cards, every new release was done at the expense of the competitive scene. And not just by a little bit but by a great margin. We saw more RNG, less skill-heavy gameplay, barely anything was nerfed but when it was nerfed, the nerf happened because the card was too skill-heavy.

What annoyed me was them continuously baiting us as well, by promising they’d listen to us and fix the game. If they would’ve been open about this and would’ve gone “Okay guys, we want to make a popular game and don’t care about the competitive scene, but if you do play our game, you’ll get a lot of viewers on Twitch”, then that would’ve been okay. Everyone would’ve known where they were at. I personally would’ve been able to quit a lot earlier then as well.

Instead, they went “No guys, your competitive perspective on the game is important and we care about you”. So you keep your good will and keep on playing. Then more bad news and unhealthy cards come around, more of them and even more of them. Eventually, I just lost hope.

So from my perspective, there are three ways to fix a situation which you are unhappy with:

  1. Live with it
  2. Leave it
  3. Change it

Over the course of my life, I learned that living with something that is bothering me just doesn’t work for me. So I have the other two options of either leaving or changing the thing that is bugging me. Because I have a good friend working at Blizzard I reached out to them and ended up visiting them in California.

I got to see a few cards of the new expansion back then so I gave them my input on what I’d keep away or at least change. I only suggested two changes, even though there were more suggestions I should’ve made, and even those weren’t considered. Maybe the person in charge wanted to set an example, but I felt really disillusioned after that experience. It was obvious to me that I shouldn’t have any hope for the future of competitive HS.

Then the first big Gwent tournament came around, which I was invited to by CDPR as a potential competitor. I was a bit surprised to see that they had offered a 100k $ prize pool, given that the game wasn’t made by an AAA-studio and still in Closed Beta. So I decided to play it for a day, play it for another one and on the third day I was completely hooked. It has such nice strategic depth.

The thing is that almost every card game utilizes curve and snowball, meaning you can very easily get snowballed to death. So when you can’t compensate your skill with a bit of luck when it comes to snowballing successfully, you’re going to have a bad time. That’s not something you have in Gwent. When you’re playing extremely well, even against good players, you can win 90% of your games. Luck exists in Gwent, but there are so many factors that limit this factor heavily. The fact that you draw 10 cards at the start of the game, that you mulligan so many cards and at the beginning of each round, and the game itself, where you can always optimize your plays for a few points more.

Is there anything you’d like to tell the Gwent community and what more can we expect from you in the future?

I’m just really excited for the future. The fact that CDPR went with the Multi-faction ladder system, that we worked on together, which is very nice to see. Usually, there are two factions that are a lot stronger than the others, so all you see on the ladder would be those two factions. For example, if Monster and Skellige are really strong, you’d only play Monster vs Skellige, Monster vs Monster, Skellige vs Monster and Skellige vs Skellige. But now with competitors having to play at least four factions, the number of matchups increases to 16, 25 even.

I’m just not getting tired of the game and I hope no one else is either.

Thank you very much for your time!