Blizzard have launched Hearthstone's new Battlegrounds mode into open beta for everyone, following a week of early access for the moneybags. Though the name "Battlegrounds" suggests battle royale, this mode is following a newer craze, Auto Chess. Like the Dota 2 mode and those it inspired, players build and upgrade an army of units then send them into battles against a rotating lineup of other players' armies. Except this time it's with Hearthstone cards rather then wee MOBA wizards.
In the usual Auto Chess way, we start out building an army of scrubs bought from the tavern, then upgrade units to higher tiers by merging three identical units, and gain access to even better units by putting cash into upgrading the tavern. Eight players build armies and arrange units on their boards, then a fight plays out against someone's board. Hearthstone Battlegrounds also has you pick one hero unit, who gives unique bonuses to your side.
If you've played Dota Auto Chess, Dota Underlords, or LoL's Teamfight Tactics, you get it: this is broadly that but Hearthstone. If not, our Matt tried to explain what 'auto battlers' are and why they're actually quite fun.
Hearthstone remains free-to-play through the Battle.net client. Battlegrounds is free too, though players who buy packs of Hearthstone cards will get perks in Battlegrounds. While most are just nice bonuses, like detailed stats on your play and the ability to use emotes, one seems a distinct advantage: giving players an extra hero to pick from at the start of matches. Not nice, that.
Blizzard announced Battlegrounds at BlizzCon this month, shortly after a disappointing apology from the company's president over how they handled banning Hearthstone pro Chung "Blitzchung" Ng Wai for his pro-Hong Kong message in a post-match interview. Even Blizzard vice president Jeff Kaplan thinks they've gone too far.