Saturday, October 18, 2014

What is Casual?

Not that long ago, players on Magic Online used to argue about the question, what is casual? There was an entire "room" on the online client named the "Casual Room," and so players would argue about what kind of decks were and were not appropriate for play in that room.

Of course, in that setting, Casual didn't have anything to do with the power level or expense of the decklist, or the attitude of the player. No, Casual simply meant that games didn't affect your rating (of course, unless it was a sanctioned game, this was true for games in other rooms as well). Eventually, this room was renamed the "Just For Fun" room, and this seemed to end most of the arguments.

Fast-forward several years, and Hearthstone enters the digital gaming world. It features only four different gaming modes, and one of those is called Casual. And I, like many others, have complained about the numerous players who seem to be playing tournament-caliber decks in this gaming mode. But as it turns out, once again Casual means something very different. Here's what I recently learned about this gaming mode:

Every time you play a game in Casual mode, the game attempts to pair you against a Casual opponent of equal skill. But how does it know who is such an opponent? As it turns out, you have a hidden MMR (Matchmaking Rank) that is updated with every game you play in this mode. This rating is completely invisible and is not affected by anything else, including the cards in your deck or your rating in other modes of the game.

Further, depending on the pool of players also seeking a Casual game at the same time, you could easily end of paired against an opponent with a much higher or lower MMR than you, if such a match is the closest that is available. 

In this sense, it's not even Casual in the way that Wizards of the Coast defines casual. It is ranked play - it's just that neither you or your opponent can see the ranking. Frankly, I'd just as soon they take a page from Magic Online and just call it something else.

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