Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft has been infiltrated by bots. While every online game has some amount of players using automated programs assist in gathering gold or loot, Blizzard's wildly successful take on the collectible card game has had a severe uptick of bot activity in recent weeks. Players have estimated as much as one in three matches put them against a bot. The company has assured fans it is working on a solution, but until then the community has to wade through a sea of A.I. routines. Even our own Chatty community has cried foul.
In short, Hearthstone has a bot problem. Here's how to solve it.
Why Does It Matter?
A recent straw poll on the widely-used Hearthstone subreddit found that 10% of respondants, almost 4,000 people, admitted to using bots. Though the audience of enthusiasts isn't a representative sample of the larger playing population, it's still a staggering figure that shows just how widespread the problem can be.
In fact, the issue has become such a topic of discussion in the Hearthstone community that bot users themselves are starting to feel paranoid. One of the more popular botting forums regularly has threads pop up expressing concern about the subject getting too much attention, or fearing a coming wave of bans. The mods have requested information regarding bans, presumably to suss out Blizzard's discovery methods. Many of the most prolific streamers and pro-players have talked about bots when they encounter them.
Bot use is prevalent for a number of reasons. Blizzard set many of its most valued rewards behind goals that require heavy play. Aside from the standard daily quests, players can earn up to 100 gold per day from standard wins. At 10 gold per 3 wins, that requires 30 wins every day to reach the cap. That's a serious time investment for even the best of players. Botters can easily set their routines to gather these wins while they sleep or go to work, and use the gathered gold to buy a pack per day. This effectively rewards them for a practice that frustrates the rest of the player base.
On another level, the botting problem compromises the integrity of the game itself. Hearthstone's rewards are meant to be rarities. Having a Gold hero portrait is meant to signify a devoted player who has put in his time, but nowadays it's become one of the telltale signs that someone is using a bot. The gold gathered from bot matches earns more gold and dust to get rare cards, making their use less significant. Worst of all, bots are decent at climbing the ladder, which means that Ranked play has become swamped with bots well into the end of each season as their owners attempt to ride the wave toward Legendary ranks. The resulting environment has effectively pushed some of the game's most ardent fans away from Ranked until the problem has been solved.
How to Spot a Bot
Bots can be very efficient players. Unlike humans, they always know precisely what is left in their deck, and can calculate the odds of drawing a needed card next turn in a flash. Plus, because the bot development community is itself part of the Hearthstone player base, it often can and does attempt to erase the giveaways of bot use. However, a few telltale signs are still common, based primarily on the types of strategies bots rely upon.
First and foremost, most bots rely on decks full of cheap minions that can flood the battlefield to make for favorable trades against your minions, and to attack your hero. This "Zoo" strategy is common among human players too, since it's the most straight-forward way to understand the principles of card-trading and value, and a good Zoo deck is competitive even at higher ranks of play.
Warlock and Shaman are the most common decks among bots, since their hero powers lend themselves to Zoo strategies. The Warlock's constant card draw and the Shaman power that produces a randomized, cheap totem, are easy ways to flood the battlefield at a low cost. Warlocks will often stick with the low-cost minions, while more advanced Shaman bots might use the occasional stronger minion or spell. In both cases, if the hero has a gold portrait, that's a warning sign.
But how do you tell if it's a bot or just a very experienced Warlock or Shaman player? For one, you won't often see the arrows that signify where a player is considering an attack or buff. Since the routines immediately produce results on their chosen minion, a visual signifier meant to show a human player is thinking doesn't come into play. Occasionally a bot will produce strange arrows that point in the wrong direction, like at their own hero power. There is no reason for a human player to do this.
Bots also often have a rhythmic play style. Minions attack out of order, while human players tend to go from one side to another. They also take short pauses of equal length between attacks. They prioritize their goals and play in the same basic order: remove your threats, attack your face, play any additional minions for next turn. Finally, bots do not concede matches even if you have them dead to rights.
Thanks to the relatively simple strategies exercised by bots, though, certain weaknesses can be exploited. Zoo decks are naturally weak against another type of common deck: Control. Control decks have a steadier curve and more high-level minions, and the early phases are focused on removal. If you create a Control deck that can effectively deal with the early rush of a Zoo deck, you'll be safely insulated until you can break out heartier bodies that their zoo will have a difficult time taking down.
Secret can also be confusing to bots. Secrets were the unwanted stepchild of Hearthstone until the Curse of Naxxramas expansion, but the Mad Scientist brought them back in a big way. Even the best bots will have to spend resources testing for what type of secret you could have on the board, and some of them like the Hunter's Explosive Trap will effectively remove most of the low-health minions. Secret-based Mages and Hunters are also popular in the meta-game, so these types of decks would serve double-duty against bots and as a decent play against human opponents too.
Finally, if you can't beat them, join them. Don't buy a bot, but use their strategies against them. Even pro players use Zoo decks because of their utility. If you construct a good Zoo deck of your own, you can pit it against the cold, calculating efficiency of a bot. This is one of the more difficult methods, since bots are optimized for this purpose, but if you play smartly and remove their minions quickly, you stand a chance of beating them on their own turf.