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Blizzard Entertainment has struck back against Hearthstone botters. They've banned "several thousand" accounts that used third-party programs to automate gameplay in the collectible card game.

"These accounts will be banned until 2015. As we’ve stated, fair play is at the core of the Hearthstone experience, and cheating and botting will not be tolerated," Blizzard said today.

These botting programs allow players to earn gold for their account while they're not actually playing. This gold, acquired through wins or completing daily quests, can then be used to buy card packs or Arena passes. An automated program also helps these players achieve otherwise time-intensive goals like racking up 500 wins for Golden Cards. They could cut down on the time and effort they need to expend on these pursuits just by having a bot play for them while they sleep.

You'd think that bots would perform horribly in competitive matches. However, they can be surprisingly effective in spite of the occasional stupid mistakes. Here's a video of pro player Trump getting beaten by one in the past month:

Blizzard community manager Christina Sims said on Twitter that these accounts' earnings won't be removed. However, if they're caught botting again, the punishment will be steeper.

"We’re committed to creating a fun and rewarding environment for our players, and we will continue to closely monitor activities within Hearthstone and take appropriate action against cheating in any form, as outlined in our Terms of Use. From this point on, accounts found to be cheating will be permanently closed without warning."

The fact that Hearthstone is free-to-play probably encouraged some of this behavior, too. If you've spent zero money on the game and you don't have any other Blizzard titles attached to your account, you really didn't have anything to lose by botting. Worst case scenario, you'd just have to open a new account and start over. Hopefully Blizzard will be quick on the draw with banning any future bot accounts created following this initial wave of bans.

Hearthstone is days away from the end of its October season. Players who reach Rank 20 before then will receive a special Hallow's End card back for their collection. Shortly after the start of the new season, Blizzard will hold the first-ever World Championship for the game at BlizzCon 2014.

During BlizzCon, they may announce a release date for the Android tablet version of the game. They recently confirmed that the game will hit that platform by the end of the year. During that same announcement, they revealed that the smartphone release has been delayed to 2015.

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