Is Yogg-Saron broken? Hearthstone’s most ridiculous new card is reigniting debates over one of the game’s core principles and a tenet that Blizzard has stood by for years now: RNG.
RNG, a colloquial video game acronym that stands for “random number generation” and is used to refer to any outcome that’s determined by randomized decisions rather than the player’s actions, has been a core principle of Hearthstone since it launched in 2014. Blizzard’s addictive card game takes advantage of the fact that it only exists in digital space, offering several cards that rely upon the computer’s random number generator. One card might do damage to a random minion at the end of each turn; another might execute a random spell from your library—or from the game’s entire database.
This RNG has become controversial for several reasons, and some have argued that it hurts Hearthstone as a competitive game; after all, even the most skilled player can’t account for randomness. No card has exemplified this idea more than Yogg-Saron, who was introduced in the game’s latest expansion, Whispers of the Old Gods.
Yogg-Saron’s Battlecry—the ability that executes when he’s summoned—is to “cast a random spell for each spell you’ve cast this game,” with randomly chosen targets, and if that sounds preposterous to you, you’re not alone. By summoning Yogg-Saron, a player can completely change the course of the game, depending how the RNG gods feel. Some Hexes or Mind Controls could take out an opponent’s army, and a few Fireballs aimed at an enemy player could end any match immediately. Some bad RNG could even lead to a player accidentally killing himself.
Needless to say, Yogg-Saron has triggered some debate. In an article published on The Daily Dot yesterday, pegged to a pivotal Yogg-Saron play during a Hearthstone tournament last week, writer Callum Leslie argues that this card is ruining the competitive balance of Hearthstone:
Imagine the scene: $250,000 is on the line in the Hearthstone World Championship final, and it’s two games a piece. One player is in the ascendancy, having brilliantly piloted his deck to a seemingly insurmountable position with a full board of minions, very little life lost and his opponent facing down lethal next turn. And out comes Yogg. Suddenly the game is turned on its head, and the second player wins.
What does this do for the reputation of the game? It reinforces the belief that Hearthstone is a skill-light, luck-heavy game where the players who win don’t really do anything better than anyone else. For the player that wins, it is an immediate hit to their credibility as “world champion.” They will always be the person who only won because they got lucky. And that is poison for a competitive esports career.
Other pundits have praised the power of Yogg, who has become surprisingly popular in the Hearthstone tournament scene. Red Bull’s website recently published a video compilation of Yogg’s effect on various competitive games. And some, like former Kotaku officemate Max Read, have argued that RNG is in fact what keeps Hearthstone interesting.
It’s an interesting debate, and one that will continue for as long as Hearthstone remains popular. Do RNG-heavy cards ruin Hearthstone, or are they the very point of Hearthstone? Is “competitive Hearthstone” even really all that necessary? Should Yogg-Saron be nerfed or is his ridiculous random generator working as intended?
One option: just accept Yogg-Saron as your lord and savior.