It’s just been a handful of days since Artifact’s release, but the tournaments are lining up already. Kicking off Artifact's post-release esports scene is WePlay!’s Mighty Triad tournament, in which 32 invited players fight over the lion’s share of a $10,000 prize pool.
At the event in Kiev we spoke to Dota 2 personality and caster for the tournament Shannon “SUNSfan” Scotten. He shared his thoughts on Artifact’s appeal, its potential as an esport compared to other card games, and how the game’s community is shaping up.
You got into the game's private beta because of your work in Dota 2, but what got you hooked on the game?
I don't have that much card game experience. I played Hearthstone, but not a lot -- I watched more than I played. I guess the thing that really got me attached to Artifact was the lore, initially. Not that I'm into lore specifically, but I'm more familiar with the characters, you know, since I've been involved with Dota for the better part of a decade. So that got me more interested in learning about the game, and once I started playing I started to get really hooked only a couple of days in. The mechanics, the fact that it's so deep...
There are a lot of comparisons I make to Dota -- which I think is pretty fair. If we're making comparisons anyway: Dota is much harder to get into, but much more rewarding when you've invested the time. And it's not for everybody -- some people can't handle that and I understand that. But since I'm from Dota, I understand the pain that you need to go through to get to that point.
So you got into Artifact because of Dota, the same way other people might have gotten interested in Hearthstone because of its Warcraft lore?
Yeah. Not that I didn't play Warcraft or anything like that -- I was just never a WoW guy. I was heavily into Warcraft III, which is how I was introduced to the first Dota. But obviously Hearthstone has a couple of things going for it. There's the lore -- people are very interested in that. The fact that it's so casual is a huge draw as well. And it's "free to play".
That brings me to another common misconception with a lot of these games. Again - I'm gonna make a lot of comparisons to Dota and League of Legends etc. The term 'free to play' is thrown around so much... It doesn't mean the same thing. Dota is literally free to play. Anything you pay for isn't giving you an inherent advantage, especially early on when it's just cosmetics. In LoL, you just have to grind and grind to actually consider it free to play. But normally people will invest some money.
“I feel that a lot of people want to be ignorant
about what the actual [monetization] model is”
That's the thing about games like League, and I think Hearthstone to some degree too. Not only is it bringing in a huge audience, but they're investing money and time. When a new game does come out, they're less inclined to switch because they've already invested in this. They're like: "I don't want to waste what I already did." That's why Dota will never be as big as League, for example.
I think the same is true for Artifact. The $20 is a huge deterrent for a lot of people. I understand. But overall, you're paying less money than in another card game.
That's a good bridge to the next topic. Artifact's monetization is a pretty big debate. What, for example, is your view on the Expert modes being behind a paywall?
At first I was a little bit surprised that they weren't going with the aforementioned 'free-to-play' mode, but I understand it a bit better now. I thought perhaps it had something to do with botting. The fact that you're paying $20 and can play Casual Phantom Drafts for free, forever, is nice. I feel that a lot of people want to be ignorant about what the actual model is. Maybe there's a lot of people who don't quite exactly understand how it works.
"I think, technically speaking, you're paying less money
to build decks in Artifact versus other games,"
How would you explain it, then?
It depends on what you want. I personally think, especially early on, that most people want to play Draft. I could be wrong, but that's what everybody wants to watch now. Constructed is definitely not that important, which is interesting for a card game. That could definitely change in the future, when expansions come out. But yeah, you're paying $20 to get a few free packs, and obviously if you want to play the Expert mode you do need to pay money. That's just the way it is.
The market is what makes it really interesting though. It's difficult to directly compare Hearthstone's and Artifact's model because they're so vastly different. But in my experience -- and this is just one person talking -- I put way more money in Hearthstone, and I barely play it, just to get the cards I want. Whereas in Artifact you literally can just buy individual cards.
The market has a very interesting dynamic. Some cards are really expensive like Drow Ranger and Axe, but at the same time it's very early. Every uncommon and common are ridiculously cheap. Legion Commander is an amazing hero and she's super cheap. So I think, technically speaking, you're paying less money to build decks in Artifact versus other games.
That's fair, but setting aside other card games, by itself many people can think "I pay $20, and I don't even get the full game."
I can understand that feeling. But at the same time, when I pay $20 for a game, that's already ridiculously cheap. I just bought a game called NBA Playgrounds; I'm a big NBA fan. It was $20, and later I found out you have to pay $20 extra to get the full list of all the players. So really it's a $40 game. In a lot of ways it's the same for Artifact, but you have the choice to play Phantom Draft. You have the choice to buy cards for a very low price to build whatever kind of deck you want to build. I think the options are wider-ranging than in any other card game that I know of. Technically you can do anything you want and you can do it for less money. I think it's just so new, that people don't understand or even want to understand it.
"...based on my experience I'm pretty confident
that Artifact will dominate the competitive scene,"
As I said before, many people invested in a game want a reason not to switch. Dota 2 was pretty big right away because the original game had a huge following. With Artifact, that's obviously not the case. I think, over time, this game will destroy every other card game. Especially in the competitive scene. We're going to look back in three years and wonder how this was even a comparison to make.
This is how I feel about Dota right now, which I think is the most competitive platform in the industry right now. The tournaments have the biggest prize pools... It's the most competitive in every aspect and the most balanced as well. The question is: How is the casual scene? I don't know the answer to that, because that's the biggest hurdle. The barrier of entry to Dota is dumb. They don't even have a tutorial in the game.
Artifact is not as deep as Dota, I think, but for a card game it's extremely deep. I'm excited to see the future. I don't know... Everything I'm saying could be horribly wrong, but based on my experience I'm pretty confident that Artifact will dominate the competitive scene.
I overheard you saying that you think every card game pro will switch to Artifact.
Yes. So, there's a difference between a pro card game player and a streamer. Sometimes the line can blur. But if you're a full-time streamer, you will stay with Hearthstone because you will stay with whatever makes you the most money. Unless you really hate the game.
Here's an example: I don't know Kripparrian well, but he's a very interesting case. I feel very strongly that he doesn't like Hearthstone very much. It could be that, or he's just sick and tired of playing it so often. But people want to see him play it. And when he switches to Artifact he gets less viewers, obviously.
So for him it's a debate between playing any game he will probably enjoy more, but get less viewers and receive less money, or play a game you're sick and tired of, but it earns more. Usually people take the money. That's not to say that's a wrong decision, because you learn in life that being economical is usually the right choice. You need to go with the money most of the time.
"I think, over time, Artifact will destroy every other card game.
Especially in the competitive scene,"
If you're a pro player who doesn't stream, or for whom streaming is just a side-thing, what's the reason to stay with Hearthstone? You're going to make less money, period. Organizations will maybe pay you around the same as an Artifact organization would once it's up and running, in theory. When it comes to tournament winnings, however, it's incomparable.
Valve seems to be going down the same road as they did with Dota in terms of tournament structure with the million dollar tournament and everything. It's just gonna create the same kind of snowball effect in terms of prize pools.
With regards to that: we've only heard about the $1 million first prize tournament so far. That doesn't say a lot yet about the further plans for Valve though.
I don't know more than that, but I assume a lot. It just looks like the same pattern as Dota had. There was a $1.6 million tournament - literally copy paste what's gonna happen. The difference is that Dota had a bigger following to start with. I'm not saying every Artifact tournament is going to be as big as Dota, but it'll ramp up to that point.
Card games are quite a niche, both in esports and games in general. Do you think Artifact will expand the niche, take it over... Or maybe a bit of both?
I think it will expand it a bit. The demographic that comes with Dota is a totally different audience. I'm the perfect representation of someone who barely played Hearthstone - that was the first card game I ever played. I didn't end up playing it as much, but I watched a lot. And now with Artifact, I'm obsessed. I think you'll find a lot of Dota players who won't necessarily switch, but at least try it and enjoy it. It really is the same experience as Dota in a lot of ways. We were talking about how a game of Artifact can be as grueling as a 60 minute Dota game. You're just thinking so much, there are so many different mechanics in the game. I think a lot of people can relate to that.
"[With Artifact, Valve has] a very different approach compared to
Riot and Blizzard: they focus on the casual people."
In what way do you think the game itself appeals to viewers?
I think mostly it's getting accustomed to the things you need to look for to catch up. The first thing that comes to mind is starting to watch a stream, and it's already in the middle of the game so you have no idea what's going on. Even if you're familiar with the game. That's when you start looking at the mini-map at the top-left, you start making your patterns in your mind. You've played the game, so you know how to catch up. The first I time I played I obviously had no idea what was going on. Now that I've played a lot it literally takes me 10 seconds to catch up. It's definitely another barrier of entry, it's complex, less of a streaming game for sure.
That hurts it, of course, but I think that it'll be fine if Valve go down the path they've gone with their other games and cater to the competitive audience. The prize pools will be great, and it will extend the lifespan of the game.
It's a very different approach compared to Riot and Blizzard: they focus on the casual people. They're the ones -- not trying to be cynical here -- who are trying to make more bank. Which makes sense, they're a business. But Valve does the opposite of that. Artifact is not a casual game, at least not a first glance. Maybe in the future there will be some game modes or something like that. For now though, it's competitively focused and that'll grow itself.
Alright, time for a new topic. You're a community man, already doing Artifaction, ArtifactCinema, et cetera. What are your thoughts on the Artifact community, now?
We're talking about reddit here, because Valve pays attention to reddit more than anything else. It's an interesting mix of Dota players and card game players. They're very whiny - which is to be expected, that's the internet in general. I've spent my time in many other subreddits, and it's starting to look like the Dota subreddit. Suggestions, suggestions, suggestions.
Every thread is 'this should be this way', 'that should be this way', which is a slippery slope I don't particularly like. At the same time, I can understand a lot of frustration because of how Valve handled the beta. A lot of people didn't get in. I can relate with that, because I've been there for other games. But now the game is out so everybody should be happy? [chuckles]
It's not quite a level playing field yet because people need time to acclimate. But it's just like any sport. You learn from the best, in this case watch their streams or whatever, you'll get better much faster than they got to that level. In a couple of months you'll be on the same level, if you invest the time.
What about fellow insiders, the people in private beta?
From a talent-side: everyone from this tournament has been really great. The players... there's a split because there are a lot of inexperienced players in this tournament, and there are really experienced players. So it can be lobsided at times.
Hm, how am I going to say this in a politically correct way? There are some players that are outspoken for their dislike for the game. And that's fine, they can have that opinion, there is no right or wrong. But I think it might be skewed because they're not particularly good at the game. And I can relate, because I've been bad at games before and I didn't like them as a result -- it's just not my type of game.
This isn't a normal game. We're going back to Dota again. You have to invest the time and you get there, that is very very special. Once you're at the level of knowing what you're talking about, that's a good feeling. And we're just not there yet, because we've seen a lot of mistakes in this tournament.
“The Artifact team has been very receptive of feedback. (...) I got to talk to a lot of the developers at PAX West, and it's very cool to hear about their passion.”
Lastly, since you'd been in private beta for a long time, I imagine you gave a lot of feedback to Valve. Were they receptive?
That's a cool question, because for me there was a huge discrepancy between the Dota team and the Artifact team. The Dota team is much more closed off. Of course things have changed because people move on to other projects. But the Artifact team has been very receptive of feedback. Which has shocked me. I got to talk to a lot of the developers at PAX West, and it's very cool to hear about their passion.
Cheating Death is perhaps the one exception, maybe. That's my one criticism, I don't know why that's in the game. [Laughs] SirActionSlacks says that card is what makes the game fun for streaming which is definitely true. The highlights of people losing to Cheating Death over and over again.
Do you think the Artifact team is this receptive because the game has to catch up to many other games in the genre?
Probably to some degree, and I think they've learned a lot from past games. If you look up the beginning stages of Dota 2, there was none of it.
But you said that Dota had a large following to begin with, so arguably the developers didn't need to listen. With Artifact, that's different.
I never really thought about it that way. I guess you can say it for many games at Valve, but it's a passion project so they obviously care a lot about it. I have to think about it a bit, but you might be onto something. You're probably right. It makes sense, because it's a completely new genre for them, right? So technically, as a company, they have no experience with it. So they'll have to go back to their past games and learn from the mistakes there.
I think the biggest criticism for Valve over the last 10 years has been communication. It has been horrendous. But they've been able to survive because they've gotten a lot better, in that regard.
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