Q: One of the main new mechanics introduced in The League of Explorers expansion pack for Hearthstone is “Discover”. Can you please explain how the mechanic works?
Eric Dodds: The skill side of it is that when you are presented with three random cards, picking the right card for the right moment for where you are in your mana curve, for what opponent you're playing, and for what you think the meta says that they're likely to have in their deck. You know – do I think they're going to have weapons or not? Are they likely to have counter secrets? Or are they likely to be light secrets? Should I choose one of those counters as they pop up?
If I'm at three mana when I discover something and there's a kinda-mediocre four-mana minion and Ragnaros there, which one should I go for? I don't know – maybe I need to survive to turn eight! Where the skill comes in is making the right choice, so it's a lot like picking the right card when you're playing Arena. It's randomness modified by the skill of the user to make the right choice.
Q: There's no other restriction? It will go all the way back to the base set of cards?
Eric Dodds: It does not care!
Q: Is that particular mechanic modifiable for tournament play? Or will it always work the same, no matter where you encounter it?
Eric Dodds: It always works the same, no matter where it is.
Q: The Golden Monkey quest seems to have been well-received. Do you see people using it in competitive play, or is it mainly just intended for adventure?
Eric Dodds: The thing that's kinda fun for us when we put out cards is that we actually don't know for sure what's going to see competitive play or not. The Golden Monkey definitely is the heart of this style of adventure because it's all about exploring. It's about saying, "OK, I've dropped Elise Starseeker." Both players know we're on the clock. The map is out there and, as soon as the map gets found, we're really close – have we found this thing? It's a fun mechanic.
Whether it gets played in Tournament play, it's a strong card. I mean, if you do find the Golden Monkey in time, it is definitely going to change the nature of the game. Since it's mostly going to be Legendaries and Legendaries are generally better late-game, it's going to make sure that all of those one, two, and three drops are no longer pulled and you're pulling Legendaries.
I can't tell you whether it's going to be played in competitive play. Heck, I mean I wouldn't have been surprised if there were new surprises even if we hadn't announced League of Explorers with people exploring the metagame. I was surprised when, in the Final Eight, we saw a strong Shaman player in the Hearthstone World Championships, where the Shaman is generally dismissed by a lot of players as "oh, that's not a strong class", so...
Q: That's interesting because I've read a lot of Shaman players complaining about their class. Do you think that's more an interpretation issue on their part, or is there genuinely something about the Shaman class that needs to be looked at?
Eric Dodds: I don't think there's anything fundamentally problematic about the Shaman class. In fact, again, there was a Shaman deck in the Final Eight, and it was certainly the totem / bloodlust / thunderbluff valiant (the one from The Grand Tournament, the one who gives all of your totems +2 attack). It was that style of deck, which is a little bit different, which I thought was cool.
We're always adding new cards, and I think that there's going to be some potentially interesting Murloc decks after League of Explorers. We're always exploring that space. I think the Shaman is a great class, and we're just going to keep adding stuff to it.
Q: Are you seeing any particular strategies – Secret Paladins, Trap Hunters, and so on – shaking out as players advance to the finals?
Eric Dodds: So far it's been pretty cool. When we were at the Final Eight, all nine classes were represented in decks people were bringing. I haven't looked myself but I'm told now that we're down to the Final Four, there are seven of the nine classes still left [Note: Ostkaka ultimately won the US$100,000 top prize at the BlizzCon World Championship 2015 competition.] There's a lot of power in just about every class, and the fact that every class was viable in the Final Eight – and these are the very best players in the world, thinking these are good classes – to me says that pretty much all doors are open.
Q: Speaking of classes, I assume the Priest will be able to take the Golden Monkey if their opponent gets it in their hand?
Eric Dodds: With thoughtsteal, the Priest might be able to do that... I think there's going to be some pretty fun and crazy moments with Golden Monkey and Priests I agree.
Q: Was it a deliberate decision not to draw from the WoW lore specifically when creating this expansion?
Eric Dodds: Originally, when we looked at the game, we thought that a lot of the players that were playing Hearthstone were going to be World of Warcraft players, and we wanted to make sure we were giving them locations and events and raids and whatever they knew. As we've gone on, we've noticed that a significant number of Hearthstone players have no idea what World of Warcraft is. They've never played it before. That's part of it – we're now drawing from both sides. We're drawing from World of Warcraft players, and we're also taking players who play Hearthstone and they're discovering this cool world from the opposite direction. From the beginning, we've had the idea that we want to own this and take World of Warcraft or take the Warcraft world in slightly different directions.
You even saw that with The Grand Tournament, where the idea was there's the Argent Tournament, which WoW players know, and if you project that into the future, maybe it's a more light-hearted, fun thing and so we just sort of projected that forward. We're definitely planning on continuing to expand the Warcraft universe – partially by touching things that WoW has done but also partially by going our own way.
Q: Is there a reasonable chance we might see some of the LoE characters in the new World of Warcraft expansion?
Eric Dodds: It would not shock me whatsoever [laughs]. We certainly have a meeting every few months where we talk to the WoW team and let them know what we're doing and they let us know what they're doing, so... if we want to, we can take what the other side is doing and play with it and certainly we have had no problems doing that. We've taken Naxxramas and Kel'Thuzad and had a lot of fun with it, or taken some of those old characters and... I would be shocked if they don't do some of the same. But who knows? I mean, they're their own group.
Q: The new level shown at BlizzCon, where your only goal is to survive a certain number of rounds, was an interesting twist on the base game. Are we going to see some other new stuff as LoE rolls out?
Eric Dodds: Sure! That mechanic itself, we expand on it a little. Later on in one of the later wings, there is a mission where you're escaping a bunch of Troggs in a mine cart. You have to survive until the cart reaches the bottom of Uldaman, and you aren't actually playing with your own deck – you're playing with specific cards where you're either trying to accelerate, or throw a bomb, or throw a dummy out on the tracks behind you. It's a similar mechanic, but we're also having a lot of very themed and fun cards that let you make the right choices. You're not building your own deck, but it's still strategically tricky.
Q: The release date announcement was very clever and genuinely funny, but the cynical side of me suggests there might be a business reason for the way in which LoE was announced so close to its release date. Am I reading too much into that?
Eric Dodds: It isn't typical Blizzard but one thing I can say is that Hearthstone... we do things a little bit differently. We've been releasing a lot of content very quickly, we have our crazy Tavern Brawl where we're just experimenting and trying all kinds of crazy stuff. As far as the release date goes, certainly one thing that impacted it is that we wanted to make sure, as this releases over a number of weeks, it's not great if the release is say over Christmas. Nobody's in the office if something goes wrong or there's a problem. In fact, that's actually exactly why we will not have a wing releasing during Thanksgiving here – because there aren't that many people around, and we want to make sure there are always people around to support it.
Q: With expansions being worked on in parallel, is there much communication between teams about making sure that mechanics introduced by one expansion (like Discovery or Joust) are built upon or augmented by following expansions? Or is each expansion intended to stand entirely alone?
Eric Dodds: Right now, we're just exploring the space. We don't have an intention to have two or three things that are related to each other directly. We do relate things a lot indirectly, in that we'll go, "Hey, Blackrock Mountain had dragons; let's keep putting some more dragons out there to let people keep building on that." That was one of the interesting things that happened in that we did a little bit of that, and dragon priest really got big after The Grand Tournament came out, even though that was just building on some of the stuff from Blackrock Mountain. We like doing themes like that, but at this point we're just exploring everything Warcraft has to offer, and there's an awful lot of space for us to explore there.