HCT World Championship – Between Two Hearths – The Magic Of Esports

What is the thing that makes esports so appealing to you? Why do you like being involved in it? Esports, I think, is what takes the game from just a card game that you play casually to the thing where you have these dreams of grandeur, a bigger place. What are your dreams? Can we elaborate on this? -Now things are getting interesting.

-Sure. When I first started playing card games 20, 30… Wow. 30 years ago, it was all about this hope that, “You can do better,” instead of just beating my friends who were bad.

Well… It was like, “Maybe one day if I actually can make it, “I can go play in these bigger events.” And local tournaments… My university had these tournaments in the basement run by this guy named Gary Wise. He would get us all together.

My deck was huge and terrible, but eventually, I learned from that, and I’ve had the dream of getting somewhere huge. What about you? What started you? What started me on esports, I actually qualified on accident.

I was broke at the time and I was playing ladder for fun. So, it was more just fun. I enjoyed beating my friends.

We had little practice groups where we just played eight-mans all the time. Some mini tournaments with ourselves for no prize, just because we enjoyed it. And then, I accidentally qualified through points on ladder to the Hammerstein Ballroom 2014 Americas Championship. -I remember that.

-Yeah. Then the money. If I’m totally honest with you, that was the driving force behind that. How old were you back then?

I was young. -Seventeen? Yeah.

-Seventeen years old? Going to New York to play a card tournament. I told my parents about it, and they were like, “No, that’s not real.

That’s a scam. “Don’t go to New York. There’s going to be nothing there when you land off the plane. “This is make-believe.

-“You can’t do that.” -Yeah. So, it’s really changed a lot over time, esports.

Now, people understand that, “Hey, this is really something we can do.” There’s so many more people that want to get involved in it and stuff. That’s awesome. So, nowadays, people are playing… Some awesome players here today. Who’s your favorite player in this tournament?

Who do you think is most likely to win? I think my favorite player in the tournament to win -would be Tom. -Tom, yeah. I interviewed a lot of people when I was doing a meet-and-greet.

Every single person that came by, I asked them, “Hey, who do you think is going to win the tournament?” And one guy said Tom. So, shout out to that guy. I don’t know if he’s here.

The guy that picked Tom as well as me. Hey, a little bit too soon to shout out that guy. Tom hasn’t won yet. Still, it’s cool to have someone with a similar opinion, right? Sure. Well, I get Booster Packs if Surrender wins.

-Okay. -So, we need to see -some Surrender action here. -Sure, sure.

Surrender was the most popular vote. Everyone thinks Surrender is going to win. It may be a little bit biased because Surrender was on the TV playing while I was doing this whole meet-and-greet thing.

So people were just like, “I don’t know. That guy.” Sure. Sure. Well, I’m hoping Surrender wins.

He seems like a really good guy. Even if he… He also played pretty well. What did you think about the games he played yesterday with the Priest versus Mage and the other exciting games?

There was a lot of exciting games yesterday. Even more exciting than Surrender’s games, I’d say, was the Fr0zen versus Sintolol match. It’s been all over social media and stuff.

-People hyping that one up. -Yeah. Everyone is telling me how great the Mage versus Mage was when really, Mage versus Mage never happened. It was a Mage versus Priest which stole the Death Knight, turned into Jaina and it was a Jaina mirror with one Mage and one Priest, was super exciting and really complicated. Just something you don’t really ever see in Hearthstone, which is one of the things that’s cool about high-level competition, is it brings out archetypes that you don’t normally see on ladder.

And then, when they clash, causes these situations -that most people have never seen before. -Right. Most people do not get to experience a Jaina mirror -at high-level competition.

-Right. It’s pretty crazy and cool to watch. If you’ve never practiced it, it’s very easy to make mistakes.

So, people are all over social media saying how much mistakes Fr0zen and Sintolol made during that game, but at the end of the day, it’s like, no one’s ever played that game before. Which is the coolest part about Hearthstone, is so many times you’re like, “That’s never happened.” Or, “It never happened at a tournament play before.” That’s really exciting. Yeah, I think that’s… Watching these players make great plays, or if someone thinks they screwed up sometimes you’ll have the casters or the viewers go, “Oh, my God, that was a mistake.”

Then after the tournament, you ask them. It’s like, “Hey, why did you do this play?” And they’ll have this great reason for it that none of the people watching thought of. It’s like, “Actually, we’re just way below their level.” Yeah. Those are the best.

So, now that you’re in person in a tournament… Before, when you were 17, you hadn’t been to tournaments in person. What do you think the big differences are? The big differences going to a tournament in person is you get to meet everybody, which is really cool.

You have all these online friends that you game with. You can only have 200 people on your friends list, which is a bummer. -Blizzard, you should work on that. -Yeah. But you get to meet all those people and get introduced to them, and pair the face and name together, which is always really interesting. You have the stage pressure when you’re playing, which totally shapes the game.

If you’ve never done that before, it’s very nerve-wracking. You kind of want to pee yourself a little bit, and you try and hold that back, and you maybe make some mistakes on stage for sure, and everyone has to deal with that. So, in that environment, people play differently.

Another thing that’s really impactful for these high-level tournaments is you can’t use all of your aids that you normally use at home. All of these players, generally speaking, at home, nowadays, they have either notes they take, like, they get a notebook, they write stuff down, they have deck trackers which track all the cards being played and how long they’ve been held in the hand and the likelihood that they’re all these different things and keeps track of what Secrets are happening. Some people have multiple different deck trackers going on at different times to do different things.

So, there’s all these tools that you can use at home that you cannot use in tournaments. So, it really shapes the landscape and makes it… You’re nervous, you have no support. I think it’s way more fun and it’s way more raw competition. What do you like about coming to events and being in person?

I like meeting the players, I like hanging out with the players, I like meeting all the different spectator guys. Like, yesterday, I was just greeting and talking to people and asking them what they’ve been doing, I met this one girl who ran 100 Fireside Gatherings -in the last 100 weeks. -Holy smoke. -That’s amazing. -That’s a lot. -Yeah.

-Yeah. A hundred Fireside Gatherings! I once tried my hand at running some tournaments and it is a lot of work. I did BatStone and BatStone #2… I remember those.

Those were awesome. I even tried running an open cup once. The open cups were a disaster.

-There’s so many people to manage. -Right. I don’t know how those tournament organizers do it.

It is crazy. Yeah, I think as Hearthstone matures, people will learn what are the basic things you’d need to do in your tournament, like get your decks prepared ahead of time, and stay in your seat when your round is going to start, things like that. Those are things that people just don’t really understand until they play one or two tournaments. Yeah. I think the real magic of esports is the fact that people are willing to run these Fireside Gatherings, and a lot of times, they’re just non-profit.

They’re willing to put in a couple of their weekends -or 100 of their weekends… -Yeah. …to run these tournaments just because they love the game, because they love creating an experience for people and having fun. Yeah. Makes sense.

So, at this event, speaking of which, what is your favorite moment that you’ve had, not including the actual games? All right. At the event, outside the games, I think my favorite moment was actually on this stage when we were doing the headbands game with the cards -with… You were there.

-Yeah, the game show. Yeah, Thijs was there, Ben Brode. That was a lot of fun. Just beating Ben Brode was great. He’s very cocky.

He thinks he’s so good at this. -We took him down. -Yeah. Me and Firebat were teammates earlier. You can catch that on YouTube when they put up the VODs for that. That’ll be awesome.

What about here in Amsterdam? Did you see anything cool in Amsterdam, taste any good food, go to any cool restaurants? I’ve been to a lot of really cool restaurants. I went with some of the Blizzard EU guys. They took me to this fancy French place. I didn’t even know it was a restaurant when we were looking for it.

It’s one of those hole-in-the-wall places where the sign’s not lit up and it’s real hidden. I was like, “Where are you guys taking us?” It’s super fancy inside. We ordered food. I ordered ribs. I only got four ribs.

I was like, “This would not fly in America.” That is not a lot of food. But it was great food, but not a lot.

-But I really enjoyed it. -Cool. Learned all about fancy wine and stuff like that from those guys.

So, that was really cool, going out to eat there. -We’ve done karaoke twice. -Sweet.

So, we got a ton of players, a ton of influencers together, and they recorded me singing and dancing and put it on YouTube. -Oh, my God. -So that’s great.

That was fun to wake up to in the morning. What song were you performing for us? I think I did Bohemian Rhapsody. It’s like seven minutes long, so a good way to kill your voice, but yeah… Awesome, awesome.

I’ll have to check that out. Let’s see, what other questions have we got here for you? Wait, what have you done? Have you been doing the karaoke? You go out partying? You seem like a big partier.

You got the hair. -Yeah, yeah. -Yeah? I don’t want to talk too much about that here. You a metalhead or something?

I don’t know. -When I was young… -Okay. I went to a lot of concerts like Metallica and Def Leppard, but now that I’m a mature old man, we went on a canal cruise on a covered boat. -Was that good?

-Yeah, it was pretty good. I might actually do that later because I got the girlfriend here and she’s been wanting to do that. So, if that’s good, I might have to check that out. Yeah, canal cruise is pretty good. You learn about the history and you get to see the town, and you avoid all the traffic because you’re in a boat.

There you go. It’s just been raining every day though, hasn’t it? -Some days, yeah. -Yeah. We actually had hail when I was on the canal cruise.

-Okay. -It was pretty sweet. But it’s covered though, so it’s not too bad. -Yeah, it was totally fine. -Yeah, yeah.

It’s covered in see-through plastic. Sure, sure. Yeah, Amsterdam is really cool. It’s one of the most fun cities I’ve been to for a Hearthstone tournament. Yeah, I think the dream of Amsterdam, the idea of Amsterdam, is really great.

The walking around and seeing all the old buildings is something you’ll never see where I live, in Irvine. And seeing the stone… This building especially is amazing. It feels like a little castle-type building with stained glass and stuff like that. It’s really sweet. Yeah, it’s almost like a church or something.

Feels like you should pray to RNGesus before every match. Absolutely, absolutely. So, I noticed… Let’s go back to Hearthstone for a little bit.

Sure, sure. Enough with the boats. There’s a couple Mage decks here and I haven’t seen that much Mage on ladder. What do you think about the two Mage decks that are here? Right.

I’ve been quoted a lot on my analysis of the Mages. I thought they weren’t going to perform very well and I’ve been very surprised. -Both of the Mage decks did amazing. -Yeah. Both for Sintolol and Fr0zen.

Mage, actually, was only taken out by the other Mage lineup, -which is pretty crazy. -Amazing. I think the Mage was really the sleeper of the entire metagame. Because prior to this tournament, no one was playing Mage anywhere. There was no Mage on ladder, there was no Mage in open cups until the lineups got announced, then people started finally playing Mage.

It’s pretty crazy, this late in a metagame. -Right. -And especially going into a high-stakes tournament, for someone to be like, “I’m going to just pull out something completely new “that no one’s currently doing.” So, really big shout out to Sintolol and Fr0zen for being able to find that, utilize it, and they’re getting rewarded for it. Yeah, I feel like we’ll see more Mage on ladder, especially since they had success. Fr0zen had five three-mana spells in his Big Spell Mage.

He had two Ice Blocks, he had another Secret, -he had two Arcane Intellect. -He got pretty lucky with some of those Dragon’s Furies. He had a few 25-percenters to hit a seven, and he needed a seven or he was dead. I think he did that twice versus Sintolol to be able to clinch it.

You’ve got to get a little lucky, too. It’s not all just pure skill, so you’ve got to balance the both, but taking risks and bringing cool lineups is something that can really bring your edge over the top, and it’s something not enough people do. So many people in big tournaments, they want to play it safe, they want to play standard stuff. So it’s really cool. I think that when Fr0zen does something like that, he knows that if he doesn’t make this play, he’s just going to lose anyway, so he makes the play to win. He wants to take the risk.

He wants first, or he doesn’t mind anything else. He’s going to take the risky lineup, and we saw that before in the Last Call for points last year. There was a big Last Call tournament and the winner goes to qualify to Worlds. He brought Control Warrior, Control Paladin, Control Mage, and Control something else. Everyone was like, “That is the weirdest lineup we have ever seen.” And he immediately went 0-3.

So he toned it back a little bit for this one, and I think he’s really started to find the balance. But he’s one of the only players that really experiments aggressively with that stuff. So he has the most experience, I’d say, with bringing what I would call “streamer decks” to tournaments. Right, right. A little bit more fun to watch. -Yeah.

-Some cool stuff going on. I’ve always been a fan of the Control decks myself. Do you tend more Aggro, or Control, or just whatever’s good? Usually just whatever’s good, which has been Aggro for a really long time in my experience.

Especially when it comes to ladder proportions, Aggro is almost always better because it’s, one, faster, and… -Yep. -Yeah. I like being the one asking the questions when I play Hearthstone. I want to be able to build my board and have you have to deal with it. I like that feeling of being in control.

So I play Aggro to feel like I’m in control, which is kind of odd because you’d think Control decks would feel in control. But, Aggro, you get to choose how you build your board, and Control, all you have to do is choose how to answer it, which, you don’t really get a choice. It’s just whatever happens to work at the time.

If the whole board dies to Defile, great. If the whole board dies to Hellfire, great. But as the Aggro player, I feel like you can establish your board better and do things that can make it harder for your opponent to interact with you. You get to choose your all-in timings and your push timings better. We saw some great games earlier.

JasonZhou had some really great Aggro Druid games where he was able to identify key moments where he used Savage Roar, where normally, people just develop their board, and just pushing damage in certain spots and doing things gives your “brainless Aggro decks,” people call them, the ability to play around removal or make removal less effective. So, I’m a big fan of Aggro, and a big fan of overthinking Aggro to no end. Yeah. One thing I’ve noticed a lot is, when a player is explaining his moves, he’s making all these decisions that you normally wouldn’t think about, right? People talk about Aggro being easy to play, but at the pro level, Aggro has more depth.

People are making these plays that you wouldn’t expect. They’re playing around cards, they’re playing the odds. They’re not just making random decisions or going all in.

-They’re very calculated. -Right. There’s a time and place for everything.

There’s a time and place to think about playing around nothing and go all in. Sure, that happens all the time with Aggro, which is why it gets the bad stereotype. There’s also a time where you’re like, “I can play around everything and win this game.” I’ve won from this position, and a lot of times, people will go all in in that spot and lose. So, it’s interesting how you can gain percentage points here and there by navigating it correctly.

Another deck that I saw here that wasn’t very popular on ladder is the Paladin deck. We saw lots of stats saying Paladin has a high win rate. What do you think is really going on with Paladin? The way that it works in tournaments, and the reason why tournaments are so much different than ladder, is because you don’t bring one deck. On ladder you bring one deck.

So you often are bringing Priest or Warlock because those are the highest-performing decks, which then Paladin gets lumped in there as pretty well-performing because it’s about 51%, 52% in both of those matchups. If you add in the Spellbreaker tech, you bring your Warlock percentage up, you bring your Priest down, but just generally, Paladin does really well versus those two decks. It does good versus the Mages, which, Mage is an Aggro deck that’s floating around the top 200 because it does well versus Priest and Warlock. So, Paladin’s got great matchups overall in that spectrum. You look at the lineups here, people go, “Priest, Warlock,” which is great, those are the things you want to have with Paladin, but you want to be banning those. You want to ban either the Priest or the Warlock because across the board, those are the decks with the best win rate.

So one of those has to go. If one of those are going, then you look at their other two decks, there’s something like maybe Mage, maybe Rogue, Aggro Druid. Paladin’s bad versus all of that stuff. So, it’s terrible versus all these tier two decks that are segueing in because they’re more powerful due to the fact that you get to ban a deck, due to the fact that you get to remove Priest or Warlock. Tier two decks suddenly become kind of okay. That ban makes Paladin slightly worse, and Paladin now is going to go up against Rogue and Aggro Druid.

Paladin loses to both Rogue and Aggro Druid, and is only half-favorable versus either Priest or Warlock. So, it just doesn’t fit with the ban strategy of banning Priest or Warlock. I think, honestly, Hoej bringing Paladin was a huge mistake. I looked at that on the lineups and I was like, “Yeah, Paladin’s great on win rate alone, “but the way that it works out with how you want to ban “is going to bring those percentages way down.”

I don’t like it at all. Is that too much Paladin? No, it makes sense. When you see these decisions, people are like, “Hey, his decks look good.” But hearing Firebat’s explanation puts a lot more knowledge into why all these decks were chosen and the repercussions, and why some did better than others. Certainly, I’m excited about seeing Fr0zen’s Mage deck do well.

He’s still in. Excited to see Surrender do well. I do have one more question for you.

Okay. I was wondering how far you think we can throw these cards. I think we could probably get just past the cameraman, right? It’s a long shot. All right, I go first? -Sure.

-All right. All right, this is going to be… You go… All right, fine. This is going to be embarrassing. I might get it like two feet.

Yeah? I like your throwing style. All right, all right, all right. Beat it. All right. You’re leaning forward, too.

-Okay. -Not bad, not bad. There we go. Now I got the technique down. -Oh, shit.

-You’re not going to beat that one. Oh, my God. I think you beat it. Close enough.

I’ll take it. That one almost went backwards. All right, here we go. This is my final one, so this one’s a big deal. All right.

All right. For the world championship. Okay.

-No… -Wow. -Not this year, not this year. -Not this year. All right, my last one.

Wow! That was impressive. That was a good one. All right.

Thank you guys very much. Hope you enjoyed that. Yeah.

That was esports.