The returning player experience is a series of special quests and encounters designed to help players return to Hearthstone who have been away for a long time. A returning player is defined as someone who has not logged into Hearthstone for 120 consecutive days.
Upon logging in, the player will be prompted to collect upon a free pre-made 30-card deck. Next, the player battles in the Return of the Hero challenge, which awards three free Classic packs. Finally, two follow-up quests award the player with three Classic packs each. In total, the returning player receives 9 free Classic packs and a pre-assembled deck of 30 free cards.
- "I prepared three quests to get you going. Here's the first!" - The Innkeeper
Upon logging in, the player is prompted to select a class to claim their free 30-card deck. This deck will take up a deck slot, provided the player has a free deck slot open. The full list of free decks is found here: Free deck for new and returning players (as of July 30, 2020). If the player previously owned cards from the new free deck, they will still get duplicates of that card from the new free deck.
Next, the returning player is greeted with a special message from the innkeeper, welcoming them back to the game. The innkeeper then guides the player into the Return of the Hero challenge, the subject of the first quest. Set within an interface similar to that used for Class Challenges, the challenge comprises a series of three special matches between the player and the AI-controlled innkeeper. Each match has fixed heroes and decks for both the player and the AI.
The Return of the Hero challenge cannot be skipped and must be completed by players before they can return to the regular game. Once the player has defeated all three opponents, they are returned to the main menu, from where they are able to continue playing the game normally.
Upon arriving at the main menu, the player may be provided with a Standard format "Innkeeper's Deck" automatically assembled from the player's collection. This could have some connection to the relative number of Standard or Wild format decks the player already has saved. The player is then given the first of two follow-up quests: "Ready for Action", requiring the player to play 30 cards in Play mode. Despite the description, it is also possible to complete this quest in Tavern Brawl mode. Once completed, this quest is followed by "Back in the Game!", which requires the player to deal 100 damage to enemy heroes.
These quests appear to take the place of the regular daily quests until they are completed. The quests the player had before going inactive are removed, even if they can no longer be obtained afterwards (such as the Gadgetzan intro quests).
The returning player experience is intended to encourage returning players to successfully start playing the game again. In 2017 Game Director Ben Brode stated that "Something like 25% of [returning] players came back and then left again before playing a game". However, following changes - such as the introduction of the returning player experience - this number has been significantly reduced.
Returning players are a reason often cited for maintaining game consistency, specifically regarding changing cards or rotating sets out of Standard format. However, Ben Brode states "I don't think we've ever made a decision at the expense of current players exclusively because of returning players", adding "Part of the reason to keep them in mind is that it helps us find solutions that are good for everyone. ... We just take them into account."
- Patch 22.214.171.124613 (2020-07-30):
- Free decks for new and returning players updated on July 30. (Decklists here).
- Returning players no longer need to complete the returning player experience to claim their free deck.
- Patch 126.96.36.199222 (2020-03-26):
- Patch 188.8.131.5281 (2016-10-20): Added.
- Blizzard Entertainment (July 30, 2020). 18.0 Patch Notes. Retrieved on 2020-08-01.
- Kerfluffle (July 28, 2020). UPDATED FREE DECK FOR NEW AND RETURNING PLAYERS. Blizzard forums. Retrieved on 2020-08-02.
- Ben Brode on Twitter. (2016-10-21).
- cmdylux on reddit. (2020-03-24).
- Tested by User:jerodast between 2017-04-30 and 2017-05-08. Went through returning player experience on multiple regions. The ones where all decks had cards that had moved to Wild format had a deck made by the Innkeeper; the one where two of the decks were legal in Standard format was told "You've got some standard decks, but you can always create more in your collection." and did not have a deck made for it.
- Tested by User:jerodast on 2017-04-30.
- Ben Brode on Twitter. (2017-01-14).
- Ben Brode on reddit. (2017-02-16).