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Blizzard has released a set of commercials to hype up mobile versions of Hearthstone. The premise, I suppose, is to inform people Hearthstone is available on mobile platforms as well as PC, and, of course, it’s “free.”

For the moment, I am going to leave aside how ineffective the commercials are and focus on how belittling they are to the average Hearthstone player. Here is an analysis of two new Hearthstone commercials.

Commercial 1: Substitution

So, here we are in a literal arena. The crowd is chanting. A pair of the worst kind of sports play-by-play guys are letting us know it all comes down to this (no it doesn’t—details to follow). The first thing to notice is, yes, this is an Arena, as in the game type, not the venue, because the announcers let us all know the combatants in this arena, the venue not the game type, are minions no one plays in ranked Hearthstone—Blizzard forgot to finish the game, so it’s either ranked netdeck hell or Arena if you’re going to play Hearthstone at all.

A Stormwind Champion is about to “combat” with an Ogre Brute. At the moment of truth, the hapless Stormwind Champion is yanked back to his side’s starting line, I guess? Rule of Threes happens, and we discover an equally hapless person sitting on a bus trying to decide if running a Stormwind Champion into an Ogre Brute is a good idea. At the very least, this specific bit of stupidity is a neutral, as Hearthstone streamers do that kind of thing to give themselves a visual representation of the play they are about to make.

Then the hapless player in the real world changes his mind and decides to trade his Tinkmaster Overspark for the Ogre Brute. The announcers call the substitution with surprise and delight, and a cosplay gnome runs at the ogre, and both minions disappear in a cloud of dust and magic, presumably because they killed each other.

“THAT’S Hearthstone!” shrieks one of the announcers. “Play for FREE!” shrieks the other announcer. Finally the innkeeper tells us the game is Rated T for Teen, and the commercial mercifully ends. Let’s go through everything wrong with the ad.

First, why use minions no one ever plays? This is why I said we had to be in an Arena, the game type not the venue. The very least the marketing infants at Blizzard could have done is asked someone on the Hearthstone team what parts of the card set are still broken. The inclusion of Tinkmaster Overspark is an indication the script for this commercial was written pre-Tinkmaster nerf when everyone was playing it.  Tinkmaster is the only service to fans of the game in either commercial.

Second, the metaphor is completely wrong. Hearthstone isn’t a cardified version of an arena; rather, Hearthstone is a cardified pet battle. You have a deck full of pets that instantaneously slap fight, repeat ad infinitum. Eventually, someone is reduced to 0 hit points due to lack of pets to play and the game ends. There is nothing at stake in a game of Hearthstone, except right before Rank 20, and right before making Legend rank. Every other star to earn, game to play, and card to play is another on a countably infinite slog toward the false promise of the Hearthstone World Championship.  Yes, the Hearthstone experience is that shallow.

The goal, of course, is to get the player to give up on the dream of Free-to-Play as quickly as possible, in favor of overspending on card packs to netdeck the current meta. I know in a strict sense Hearthstone is in fact free to play, but it is the most predatory variety of intellectual dishonesty to use F2P in a commercial.

The third problem I have with this commercial is the announcers. I’m going to say this as calmly as I can: A KIDDIE POOL SHALLOW CCG WITH AN INCOMPLETE FEATURE SET THAT’S A CESSPIT OF NETDECKING DOUCHEBAGGERY IS NOT A SPORT!!

But if we have to compare literal Hearthstone to a sport, then that sport is boxing or MMA. What we don’t do is take a pair of network football announcers, give them the impossible-to-not-gag-at voice of Day 9 and parade them out to do literal play-by-play of a Hearthstone turn. A dodgeball metaphor would have been more apropos than what was done in this commercial. A substitution from Stormwind Champion to Tinkmaster would look much better without the goofy, missing Survivor playing in the background entrance of Tinkmaster. If he is just there, primed to attack, while the hapless real world player does his “funny,” it’s at least a more valid representation of what’s happening on the screen while playing the game version of the same fight.

Oh, and one more thing. The announcer says, at the top of the commercial, “And it all comes down to this…” Except it doesn’t. This combat will not decide the game at all. In fact, of all the deviations from what the Hearthstone experience is really like, this one is the most insulting. The player being attacked is at 28 HPs, and the player attacking is at 22. It is turn 6—Stormwind Champion was totally Mage Portaled, except the player attacking is a Priest, so Mind Games, then.

I’m also curious about which minion Tinkmaster polymorphed. How dare I focus on the details? I just think if one is going to pimp an experience as opposite of what the experience really is, then one ought to get the onscreen details of their experience correct.  Riddle me this: Why couldn’t Blizzard just use footage of streamers doing cool things in game as an advertisement? Because no streamer ever looks like they’re having fun. Now there’s an indictment.

Super high standards for a multi-billion dollar enterprise, I know.

Commercial 2: The Post-Game Press Conference

I keep thinking to myself, “At some point, someone with a baseline level of intelligence will get into marketing, and my children won’t have to suffer the blight of terrible commercials.” A foolish thought, I know; however, hope springs eternal.

The second commercial is a continuation of the first where the Orge Brute is supposed to be giving a post-game press conference about the Arena match (Ogre Brute never gives a post-game press conference about ranked, because no one plays him—he’s that bad). The Rule of Threes applies again, as the Ogre gives two very ogre-like response to questions about learning something (he didn’t, because he’s a stupid ogre) and how he feels hungry (because all stupid ogres do is eat, apparently), and follows those up with an answer to a third question that amounts to the canned response of every post-game presser ever.

Oh those quirky marketing people. Someone get me some fine mahogany, so I can slam my head into it (Author’s note: If you’re going to headesk, headdesk in style with the finest wood desks.)

There’s not a lot to criticize in this spot beyond the stench the first commercial passes on to this one, because they’re a series. It would have been far better to get the post game reaction of the Hunter instead of the Ogre, since the Hunter has agency. In game, the Ogre Brute just stands there like an idiot until he’s told to do something only on the Brute’s controller’s term, because a shallow CCG is shallow. So, again, the metaphor is totally and irrevocably busted.

I realize these are Blizzard marketing people, so it’s no surprise to me that Hearthstone, CCGs, and sports are among the topics they don’t know anything about. This spot feels like someone worked really hard on the concept and then handed it over to people who didn’t believe in the concept and half-assed the production of both spots.

We couldn’t get a press conference commercial paying homage to Allen Iverson? The Ogre up there fielding a question about going back to Practice mode? Not even one, “We talkin’ ‘bout practice! Not the game. Not the game. Practice!”

This stuff writes itself. Apparently marketing people with knowledge are too expensive for Blizzard? I just don’t get it.

Mission: Insult Our Fans

I’m well aware people who already playing and paying for Hearthstone are not the audience for this commercial. Inattentive parents with young children and stupid people are the audience for this commercial. I just find the goal of the commercial to be somewhat counter-intuitive. If everything about your game is designed to beat people into surrendering the F2P model in favor of overspending on card packs and adventures, then why not just show footage from the Hearthstone Invitational and World Championship and delude people into thinking they can play Hearthstone competitively at the professional level immediately?

Further, there are enough people out there with knowledge of sports and press conferences to get a subtler joke than either of these commercials trots out. If this commercial is a representation of the Hearthstone community, then what must civilians think about us if this is the kind of thing we want advertised about our online CCG?

It says to me, “Blizzard thinks you’re really dumb.”

Todd Wohling

A long time ago on an Intellivision far, far away my gaming journey started with Lock n' Chase, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons The Cloudy Mountain, and Night Stalker. I earned both a BS-Physics and a BS-Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Today I spend most of my time on PC. I left a career of 14 years in aerospace in Colorado, so I could immigrate to Norway.