With over 4000 hours put in Dota 2, I was thoroughly convinced that there was no other game, let alone a mobile game, that could bring the same amount of addictive PvP fun that Dota 2 brings to the table. But boy, was I in for a pleasant surprise!
Though this might be coming 3 years later than expected, my first experience with Brawl Stars was a little rocky and left me feeling unconvinced after its launch. Partly because I used to actively play Dota then and found the “simpler” version far less engaging than I expected it to be, and partly because the controls seemed too cumbersome. Especially with how aiming was designed and how playing the game in portrait mode felt kind of… off.
However, today after Brawl has gone through a lot of improvements and after spending a good 3000 trophies into the game I can gladly say that I couldn’t be more wrong about my initial impressions about the game and cannot seem to put my phone down!
As it is for all my deconstructions, I’d like to begin by identifying the core-loop of Brawl Stars, which is,
- Play different Modes to earn tokens,
- Use tokens to Unlock Brawl boxes.
- Open boxes to upgrade existing brawlers and unlock new ones.
The core-loop is as simple as it can be, combined with the simple, but effective combat tutorial put in-place, getting into the game is a breeze.
Given the simple core loop, Supercell also has made brilliant design decisions to make playing the different game modes easy to pick up, enough variety between the various modes and more importantly, fun!
What makes Brawl Stars fun?
The FPS,Battle Royale genre has been always been a competitive market, with no dearth of games like Counter-Strike, COD, Fortnite etc. taking the PC and console platform by storm. First, there were games like Counter-Strike, PUBG where the players customized an avatar cosmetically, and all the other variables in battle such as weapons, armor depended on the map that they were playing in.
Then there were games like Team Fortress, Overwatch and more recently Apex Legends, which took queues from MOBA’s and RPG genre and introduced characters with unique, special abilities and specific roles like tanks, healers etc. These added an additional dimension in gameplay, that added new ways of playing and picking teams (character synergy).
1. The Brawler System
Brawl Stars works on a similar concept with its Brawlers, who are characters with unique skills and roles in the game. Each brawler belongs to a category like a fighter, assassin, heavyweight or support. Brawlers come in various rarities (Common, Rare, Super Rare etc.) who are unlocked by opening Brawl Boxes, and are also unlocked by progressing in the Trophy Road (Covered later in the article).
Every brawler as a regular damage attack, and an additional “Super” which is available whenever the Brawler does a certain amount of damage. Supers are equivalent to “ultimates” in MOBA’s and can have varying functions depending on design of the Brawler.
Each brawler has its own pros and cons, has good and bad matchups and shines in particular modes over others. This inherently brings in some variety in gameplay because no single player can stick to one brawler and expect to do well in all modes, and it forces them to experiment with different brawlers in different modes.
Brawlers can be upgraded to increase ‘Power’ levels using ‘Power Points’, which in-turn increases stats like Health, DPS etc. A brawler can be upgraded to a Max power of 10, after which they are capped.
Power points are earned mostly from opening Boxes in-game and are specific to individual brawlers, i.e they do not apply to more than 1 brawler at a time. You also only get Power Points for the brawlers that are currently unlocked for you.
A big part of the game’s monetization revolves around skins for your Brawler. They can earned via various avenues in game. This is a pretty standard (and strong) monetization model for games in this genre.
Late Game Customization with Star Power
An additional mechanic added to the Power system are Star Powers, which are unlocked for specific brawlers when they reach a Power level of 9. Star Powers add a unique twist to Brawlers’ kit by changing certain attributes of their skills or DPS.
A brawler can have up to 2 Star powers unlocked, but will only be able to equip one of them per match.
Upgrading a Brawler to Power 9 is no small feat because the upgrade system is designed in such a way that the more Brawlers you unlock, the harder it gets to upgrade a specific brawler. And with 33 brawlers to unlock, you can say that upgrading all Brawlers to Power level 9 or 10 is a mammoth of a task that will take quite some time.
So it is clear that Star Power mechanic is targeted towards hardcore players who really want to grind Power levels on their favorite Brawler and get that extra edge in matches.
2. Session Length and Engagement
A big part of what makes Brawl Stars fun is its combat system and how well it works with the platform.
One of the biggest setbacks with games like PUBG, Fortnite is the average session length which goes well into 20+ minute mark. Not ideal for a mobile game. We can argue that the session length may not be a concern for the target demographic. But then makes it pretty much impossible for someone who is not used to the genre to pick it up and play or even someone who is interested but doesn’t have the time.
A session in Brawl Stars does not last longer than 2 minutes. It is perfect for those small breaks during the day for anyone. It doesn’t demand too much time and you can be done with a match before you know it.
Brawl Stars achieves its session engagement with more sessions/day, maybe even leading to more total session length compared to its peers since it is way easier to put in time across the day for multiple matches than spending 1 or 2 long sessions.
3. Combat made Simple!
The core combat mechanics of Brawl Stars is designed so that the player gets to experience an action-packed game within a match, without too much downtime or having to deal with unnecessary decisions.
So, how are these unnecessary decisions taken away from the player? Here a few (but effective!) ways of how Brawl Stars does it.
a. No Damage Auto-Heal
Basically, a brawler will start automatically healing whenever they stop firing or taking damage for a few seconds.
This eliminates the need for health consumables and also gives the player more reasons to take cover, not to mention increase time spent by players actually playing by reducing their total downtime during a match.
b. No weapon/gear choice
The only decision that needs to be made by the player before they start a match is picking a brawler. There is no concept of weapons, armor, etc. as all of those attributes are built into the design of the Brawler via their Skills and Power levels.
c. Design of “Super” Skills
Like I’ve mentioned before, Super skills are equivalent to Ultimates in MOBA. However unlike MOBA’s, Super skills are enabled based on Damage dealt by the brawler instead of a timer-based cooldown. This is to ensure that a player will have to actively participate in a match rather than camping/hiding until their super skills are enabled.
All these decisions come together to make a match of Brawl Stars easy to understand, simple to follow and most importantly, fun to play!
4. Variety with Modes and Maps
Brawl Stars has several modes that cycle through the game every 6 hours. There some permanent modes like Gem Grab, Showdown, Brawl Ball while some other modes are cycled like Heist and Bounty. So every 6 hours, there is always either a new mode or a new map for the player to explore and play!
Playing in these modes rewards players with tokens which are used to unlock Brawl Boxes that help player unlock and upgrade brawlers. A player can earn a max of 200 tokens per session after which there is a timer-gate that lets the player earn 20 tokens at the end of every countdown, which acts as a token grind limiter.
Ticketed Events – Ticketed events are special events that cycle through the game every weekend. There is no limit to the number of events that the player can earn from ticketed events. However, the player needs to spend a ticket to participate in the event.
Ticketed events allow a player to multiply their rewards by spending more tickets to play the event. If you’re feeling lucky, you can multiply your event reward by x10 by spending 10 tickets for a single event!
5. Ranking System
To know more about how the ranking system works in Brawl Stars, let’s take a look at Trophies and how they work, shall we?
What are Trophies?
Trophies act as “rank points’ in Brawl Stars. They are earned from playing Ranked matches (Non-ticket events). A player can earn up to 8 trophies per match depending on the outcome. A player can also lose trophies depending on their Brawler Rank. Higher the Brawler rank, more trophies you lose on defeat.
The active “Rank” of a player is the total number of trophies earned by that player.
What is a Brawler Rank?
Brawler Rank is indicative of the number of trophies earned with that unique brawler. The more trophies you earn, the higher your Brawler Rank. Brawler Ranks are used in matchmaking, where players are matched with other players whose brawlers are in a similar range of Brawler Ranks.
This is done so that whenever a player unlocks a new Brawler, they will not be matched with veteran players with high ranks and hence can learn the new Brawler without being crushed in matches.
Additionally, since the players’ actual rank is a sum total of all trophies earned across all brawlers, it is easier for players to grid Trophies with a newer brawler because of the simpler matches compared to spamming 1 high-rank brawler and being matched with ‘better’ players.
The Trophy Road
The trophy road is the progression system that tracks the total trophies collected by a player. In the trophy road, a player can unlock new brawlers, earn boxes, coins among other things in chronological order.
There are several milestones at which these rewards are earned and these milestones are categorized into minor (every 100-200 trophies with small rewards) and major (every 1000 trophies) milestones for a reasonable reward frequency. (At least 2 minor rewards per day for a fairly active player who plays 3-4 sessions).
Trophy Road Seasons
Every 2 weeks, a Trophy Road season ends and a new one begins. At the end of every season, each brawler with more than 550 trophies will lose some of their trophies above 550. However, they are compensated with Star Points based on the total trophy amount, so more trophies means a bigger reward.
Though I’m not entirely sure as to why this exists, I would assume this would be to place a max cap on how much trophies a brawler can hold to help with matchmaking for the elder players with maxed out brawlers.
6. Brawl Box System
The Brawl Stars chest system is particularly interesting because it takes certain queues from Clash Royale, but also departs from it in other aspects.
Let’s start by understanding how the chest system works, and then trying to identify some advantages and disadvantages of the said system.
Here is a summary of how the Chest system works,
- Chests in Brawl Stars are called Brawl Boxes.
- There are 3 types of Brawl Boxes. Brawl Box, Big Box, and Mega Boxes.
- Players can open Brawl Boxes with tokens earned from playing matches (including ticketed events).
- The player can open a Big Box for every 10 ‘Star Tokens’ collected. A Star Token is earned whenever a player wins for the first time in a new event (Mode or Map).
- Brawl Boxes can also be opened directly when they are earned by progressing through the ‘Trophy Road’ feature or when they are purchased directly from the store
- Additionally, there are Mega-Boxes that are available only in the Trophy Road or for purchase via Gems.
The difference between a Regular, Big, and Mega box is the number of items you can get from opening each box.
Advantages of this system (Compared to Clash Royale)
Engagement Focused Mechanics
- In Brawl Stars, the opening of chests is directly linked to actual gameplay. In order to be able to unlock a chest, a player needs to keep playing and accumulating tokens.
- The lack of any timers to unlock chest ensures that the player is making active progress to unlocking a chest from actual gameplay rather than a wait timer.
- Since the player gets tokens regardless of the game outcome, they make progress (albeit slower) even when they lose matches.
Shortcomings of this System (As Compared to Clash Royale)
One Chest At A Time (Of the same type)
- Players can grind towards unlocking only 1 chest (of the same type) at a time. They cannot progress towards the second chest until they grind the tokens required to open the first one.
No Progress During Downtime (Passive)
- A player will only be able to unlock 2-4 chests on an average based on their session activity.
- Since the unlock system is purely dependant on player actually playing, there is no passive progress taking place that a player can look forward to an unlocked chest during their next app visit.
7. Currencies and Consumables
A quick look at the currencies and consumables available in Brawl Stars along with their sources and sinks, which are quite a few I must say!
|Brawler Rank Up|
|Player Level Up|
|Tokens (Star).||First win of a new Mode/Map||Big Boxes|
|Coins (Soft Currency)||Brawl Boxes, Trophy Road, Store Visit (Once per day)||Currency for Brawler Upgrade (If the player has enough Power Points)|
|Tickets (Soft Currency)||Brawl Boxes, Trophy Road, Store Visit (Once per day)||Ticket Events|
|Gems (Hard Currency)||In App Purchase, Brawl Boxes||Brawler Skins, Consumables|
|Star Points (Soft Currency)||Brawler Rank Up (Rank10+)||Brawler Skins, Brawl Boxes|
|Power Points (Brawler Upgrade)||Brawl Boxes, Trophy Road, Coin Purchase from Store, Store Visit (Once per day)||Pre-req for Brawler Upgrade|
|Experience Points (Level Progression)||Brawl Matches, Star Player||–|
|Token Doubler (Consumable)||Gem Purchase, Brawl Boxes, Store Visit (Once per day)||
To encourage players to visit the Store at least once per day, Brawls Stars gives players 1 free random reward every 24 hours. In this endeavour, I must say I have sunk gems on one of their several store offers (It was a 1400 token doubler).
So, What Can Be Better?
All said and done, there still are a couple of niggles that need to be sorted which I felt will make the Brawl Star experience even better. Some of them being,
Improved matchmaking while playing with friends – In the time I spent playing Brawl Stars, I have played Solo, with 2 people and even 3 people at a time and I felt that the matchmaking experience was the best when I played alone. Why?
This was considering the fact that in my party, one of the teammates had a much higher Brawler rank, with which the expectation is that a player from the enemy team would be of similar capacity. But no, I have often observed that in such situations, all 3 members of the other team were in the same capacity as my teammate, which meant the total power of the enemy team was much higher than mine. Basically, all those games were stomps was made it difficult to play unless my teammate has a brawler with a similar trophy count like mine.
“Smurfing” by hoarding Boxes – Another problem I faced while solo-queuing is that I often encountered brawlers who had low trophies, but unusually high power.
Since there is no max cap on the number of unopened boxes a player can keep in their inventory, a player can hoard all their Boxes while opening one type of Brawl box to unlock an Epic/Legendary brawler and hoard the other.
Ideally, all the other brawlers would already be maxed out in Power so the strategy is when the new brawler is unlocked, one can start opening the Big Boxes, knowing they will get PowerPoints only for that newly unlocked brawler, making it possible for that brawler to have close to no trophies but much higher power.
Since players are matched according to the trophy level on their individual brawler, it is quite possible that you might end up being matched against a boosted brawler with low trophies, where in fact it might be a player with over 10k trophies, which I must say is a frustrating experience.
Where is the Battle Pass? – It is highly likely that the lack of a Battle Pass in Brawl Stars was an intentional decision by Supercell, especially when its seen so much success in their other games. A battle pass with unique and/or upgradeable skins like Fortnite purchasable with gems seems like a no-brainer to me.
Is a Battle Pass in the works? or will Brawl Stars never see a Battle Pass? I guess that is something only time (or someone from Supercell) can tell.
Coming to the big question in this article, what makes Brawl Stars fun? Summarizing what we’ve read so far, it would be…
- Brawler System – A variety of Brawlers with unique skills and skins.
- Session Length – Ideal session length for mobile making it easy to pick up and drop.
- Simple Combat – Fun and simplfied combat made possible by great design decisions.
- Gameplay Variety – Different modes and maps to engage the player and get them coming back, reinforced with the concept of ‘Star Tokens’.
- Ranking System – A well-designed Ranking and Matchmaking system allowing new/casual players to have enjoyable matches while providing a challenge to the hardcore players.
- Brawl Chest System – A chest system designed to make players play actively to unlock brawlers and upgrades instead of relying on timers completely.
- Several Currencies to Grind – With a multitude of currencies that have interdependent and independent functions, Brawl Stars has made sure content is locked behind multiple currencies to prevent single currency grinding and inflation.
All in all, Brawl Stars is an amazing game. One of the best I’ve ever played and the best brawler-style game on mobile.
With Brawl Stars joining the ranks of the other Clash games in the e-sports scene, I feel the game is only going to get bigger and some minor inconveniences in the matchmaking aside, it is clear that Brawl Stars is here to stay!
Update: If you are reading this today. You might be wondering.. but wait, there IS a Brawl Pass! This is malarkey! Well, if you head on over HERE . You will find all the information you need about the Brawl Pass! See you on the other side!