What We Learned From the Artifact Preview Tournament

With Artifact’s release almost upon us, and pre-orders going live on Steam, Valve decided to hype up the game by broadcasting a pre-release invitational event on their own streaming platform. Its draft-based nature didn’t help us grasp what the eventual constructed meta may look like, but the Artifact Preview Tournament, hosted by Beyond The Summit, was by far our most comprehensive look at the game to date. Here’s a list of observations we took away from the broadcasts!

Artifact Preview Tournament 2
Source: Beyond The Summit

It’s geared toward high-level competition

This was just an appetizer for things to come. But even this small snippet clarified that Artifact is intended as “the Dota 2 of card games.” It will likely occupy the same hardcore niche as Valve’s aforementioned MOBA.

The list of features are staggering for a game that hasn’t even been released yet. There’s a built-in deck tracker and external deck-building options. There’s even a perfectly functional tournament mode for both constructed and draft-based modes.

This heavy emphasis on the competitive experience, coupled with a price model much closer to traditional card games than free-to-play grind-fests, seems smart. It sets the title up to storm a market no other digital card games have tried to occupy with such determination. Even this draft-based event showed there are a head-spinning number of decisions in any given game of Artifact: a salivating prospect for those of us who’d like to believe that RNG is the only thing holding back our quests for world domination.

Beyond The Summit
Artifact commentators Fwosh (left) and Swim (right)

Despite smooth graphics, broadcasting needs work

Artifact’s visuals and broadcasting tools are incredibly robust. Even so, day one of the Artifact Preview Tournament was surprisingly lackluster to watch. Closed beta participants flew through turns at incredible speed, while commentators described their actions as if audiences already knew the game.

That wasn’t great. Besides being very complicated, Artifact is still in closed beta. It’s not officially open to the public until Nov. 28. So it wasn’t easy for a novice to follow the proceedings. It felt designed for people that had read about the cards and mechanics online.

And the commentary wasn’t just convoluted. It was exceptionally dry.

Even the fastest,  most complicated game can be fun to watch with a hype person giving you the very broad strokes of a match. Valve’s own Dota 2 is a great example. Artifact’s commentators—some of them drafted from tournament players—clearly knew this game very well. But the event truly suffered from a lack of good color commentary. If Valve can’t fill that gap, it may well become a barrier to Artifact’s success on Twitch (and, of course, Steam.tv) in the long run.

Sure, these issues are fixable issues. But it’s concerning that such front-facing problems slipped by the people responsible for the invitational. The second day of the broadcast thankfully began with a beginner-friendly explanation. Yet that initial experience was unreasonably geared toward the people who are already part of some inner circle.

Speaking of which…

Lifecoach Artifact
Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy

Familiar faces dominate Artifact, but that won’t last

For those of us following other major digital card games, the Preview Tournament was a who’s who of veterans. And their expertise clearly translated even into the more complicated game. The battle between Gwent champ Lifecoach and Hearthstone star Dane was perhaps the highlight of the whole show. It’s actually sort of ludicrous fact that they are already competitive monsters in Artifact.

Complications and dominations aside, closed beta participants’ supposed advantage over newcomers, which has worried some fans, seems exaggerated. At least in the long run.

Any card game developer can testify that their private R&D sessions never truly replicate a massive audience picking apart every facet of a game at once. It’s pretty much guaranteed that our common understanding of Artifact will accelerate very quickly once we actually get our hands on the game. Keep in mind that many of these top-tier competitors will spread their knowledge as content creators—especially with the robust broadcaster tools lowering that barrier to entry. That will only make it easier for dedicated players to catch up.

The learning curve is also logarithmic, rather than linear. So it’s always easier to catch up by learning the basics than to inch past the highest levels of the competition. Although Artifact’s complexity might open up more avenues to the top.

I’d still be shocked if the current card game elite monopolize the top rankings by the time the first large, Valve-sponsored event rolls around. The real question is how the wider tournament circuit will shake out. Hearthstone’s competitive landscape is seriously hampered by everything falling under the Hearthstone Championship tour—basically setting up a single annual event that has a large enough prize pool worth competing for.

Valve has a somewhat similar history. Dota 2 has a very open competitive scene, but rounds it out with a yearly multi-million dollar tournament. The prize pool is so huge that some players ignore month-to-month tournaments in favor of preparing for the big payout. Since Artifact is actively gunning for a community of try-hards, its developers can’t afford to make the same mistake.