It’s been years since I seriously competed in an event. The last one I can remember was for Halo 3 at MLG Anaheim 2009. I had forgotten everything which made me love eSports in the first place — the thrill of experiencing intense competition. Sure I had done other sports in middle/high school, but there is nothing quite like the indigestible feeling that the entire world is watching you play versus the best. It’s like a burning thirst which can be quenched by victory alone. Desire to win is not enough and losing will ignite the flame even more. The worst part about this bloodlust for glory is that once you taste it, you want to feel that again. That’s what gives me the drive to compete…or used to drive me.I had lost much of this feeling over time as my priorities shifted into commentary, production, and behind-the-scenes busy work. Casting still has some performance pressures, but usually get many chances to prove yourself throughout a tournament. Even better, you have the wonderful luxury of even correcting a mistake by simply explaining what you meant or having a co-caster playfully banter to pull you out of a hole. There is rarely such an opportunity as a player. Missing your chance means you stand in the background celebration pictures clapping for someone else who took your trophy. It sucks. I hate that feeling. It’s often said that many greats have a stronger hatred for losing than a love for winning. I identify with this sentiment completely.
So I stuck with commentary. I was better at talking than playing and after five years or so, I still love doing it.
However, for one magical weekend, I decided to give competing at SeatStory a second try where the atmosphere is laidback and very player-friendly. You always get a chance to go to the couch and talk about what you were doing or what you were trying to accomplish. It’s one of the best events to do it.
As a caster, you naturally are a people pleaser meaning you are extra vulnerable to the heavy criticisms. It’s extremely rare for a caster to successfully take the mic off and step into the player booth. Usually it’s the other way around! But Hearthstone is one of those games where anyone can win. I’ve hit as high as top 10 legend before and won some practice series against teammates so I knew I had at least a little bit of good stuff, but boy was I not prepared for what happened at all.
There will be two parts: the background of competing in the event and the lessons I’ve learned from it.
Part 1: Competing in SSC4
A Mysterious Challenger Appears
Originally, I was going to SeatStory 4 was a caster. At SSC3, I played for fun, but that was because we were trying to go all-out for the event. EVERY personality was there, Kripptosis was re-united for a BlizzCon rematch, and we even had mexican themed fiestas for kicks. Because of the ridiculous 11-week event schedule leading up to SSC4, I felt underpracticed and preferred not to play.
However, Reynad last-secondly couldn’t go to Seatstory cup 4 and TakeTV were somewhat in a panic. Many of the most popular players and personalities weren’t coming. Out of the top streamers, Kripp, Forsen, Amaz, Trump, and now Reynoodle decided against attending. Not to mention other tournament staples like StrifeCro, Savjz, Kolento, and Lifecoach opted out as well.
To make things worse, those who cancelled at the 11th hour (Reynad, Tides, etc) had their flights paid for and were some of the highest profiled names to compete in the event. So it wasn’t exactly easy for TakeTV to fly in someone else. When I was talking to them, the morale seemed low. The TakeTV team were going to invite a couple locals to compete, but I offered to play in the event again as another special guest appearance. It was 12 hours before my flight. Crap, I gotta submit my decks!
Forged By The Flame That Was SSC3
I think this SeatStory truly demonstrated to me the power of a team in Hearthstone first-hand. I messaged everyone on T/S asking for last minute preparation. Eloise was the first to talk to me about decks. She is one of the players I trust the most for tournament preparation and she is actually a big tryhard when it comes to Hearthstone competitions.
Back when I first met her and she wasn’t on Tempo Storm yet, Eloise was the one who introduced me to Patron Warrior back when BRM first came out. She gave me a list by fuoliver which I ended up bringing into to Seatstory 3. In fact, I was the only person out of 32 players to bring Patron Warrior to the tournament. Most people (except Kripp and Zalae iirc) at that event laughed at me when I told them I had patron in my lineup. This even includes my practice partner, the Seatstory 2 champ Savjz, and my teammates on Tempo LOL!
“Man it will be so funny if you win even one game with that deck”
“Yeah…this list is definitely bad”
Actually, that’s not entirely true…Reynad told me he thought my Patron Warrior list was very good except Emperor Thaurissan should be taken out for something else. Almost spot on, but not quite! 😛 Quite ironic how much the deck back then looks a lot like today’s modern version of Patron Warrior post-warsong nerf.
So now that I was playing SSC4, Eloise recommended I stop trying to do Tempo Storm things like playing “fancy” stuff to impress the fans and players. “Take it seriously and you can win” was what she told me. Well, that’s the general message…as you can imagine there were a few memes and Reynad insults thrown into the mix.
I vividly remembered the embarrassing defeat I suffered to Lothar trying to bring decks like Control Priest and OTK Warlock…and so I reluctantly agreed with her plan. At first, we wanted to bring Ostkaka/Firebat/Thijs lineup of Freeze Mage, Oil Rogue, and Aggro Druid with a fourth deck to pad weaknesses. We settled on bringing a more proactive lineup instead with Secrets Paladin, Hybrid Hunter, Midrange Druid, and Control Warrior. Sweep potential is a big deal in Last Hero Standing so I had faith in being able to 3-0 with any deck with the added bonus of the lineup having a good mixture of playstyles that can answer any combo of decks.
So as I building my decks on the plane wi-fi, I happened to ask Justsaiyan a question about a couple of tech choices. Didn’t expect much of an answer since it was pretty late, but he immediately responded with long, in depth explanations which were some of the smartest things I’ve heard from a HS player. He then asked to look at my decks and gave me lots of corrections with tweaks like playing 2 Blessing of Kings and Owl in Paladin as well as intelligently teching my Control Warrior for the meta.
I think I ended up swapping in 2 taskmasters and 1 maiden before submission. It was a debate on how greedy I wanted to be versus mirror or aggro.
Gaara would then look at my lists and explain to me what my best strategies are in LHS which are to prioritize banning Patron Warrior. I wasn’t even considering banning Warrior because I had Druid and Paladin, but it was the most obvious thing I overlooked. He strongly assisted me and showed me how to quickly paper spreadsheet the match ups, tech options, and use information in a series to my benefit to tilt the small percentages.
During this event, I feel like I got to experience why having good practice partners or teammates is important in Hearthstone. People all see the game differently and can give you specific insight. Gaara went top 4 with Shaman. Cifka got to the finals playing Handlock. Even if Secrets Paladin and Freeze Mage were dominant decks, there were different angles of attack shown to me by my fellow T/S members.
I was blown away in those 48 hours between agreeing to play and having my first match. Having casted what feels like thousands of Hearthstone matches by now, I didn’t realize this much team and individual effort would go into a “casual” event like Seatstory. Now when I hear the stories of players going through hardcore bootcamping for a tournament like BlizzCon, I totally believe it must have been rather intense.
Then, of course, I found out I was in a group with Thijs, Sjow, and eventual SSC4 champion SuperJJ. Hahaha….Sick. To be honest, I was desprately hoping to be put in more of a fun group with guys like Elky and Reckful who don’t compete often. You know, like a beginners group LOL! Well, to make matters worse, I had to play Thijs, the EU champion, in my first series. Firebat assured me that I would win. Why? Because it’s Hearthstone. Anyone can come in on a good day and win. In fact, I heard after my match, Firebat bet money on me upsetting Thijs and won $500. Even if it was a salty bet, I’ll take any confidence I can get!
To receive this much assistance from TS and confidence from outstanding players like Firebat, losing was unacceptable so I made sure their faith was not misplaced. After casting day 1, I skipped the poker sessions and went to bed early to make sure I was in a good mindset. I ended up playing secrets paladin to sweep Thijs 3-0, but I made a couple strong plays that I was proud of.
Ro32 Groups – Frodan, Thijs, SuperJJ, Sjow
3-2 SuperJJ (the only series he lost all tournament!)
I think I beat Thijs mainly by his own faults. He didn’t ban my Paladin and he told me he barely practiced his Aggro Druid, causing him to make some crucial mistakes in a couple of games. The match with SuperJJ was intense, but I got rather lucky in the first Hunter mirror game which gave me a huge lead.
Ro16 Groups – Frodan, Ostkaka, Ignite, Orange
My first match vs Ignite had some rocky moments, but Ignite drew notoriously poor as Freeze Mage. My matches vs Orange were just a complete stomp, but I didn’t feel confident about the Hunter mirror in general so I wasn’t surprised I lost based on the opening decisions. Lastly, in the rematch with Ignite, I applied all the lessons and corrections I got from teammates on how to play matchups. Combine that with good draws and solid plays, I got a 3-0 sweep into the Ro16!
Ro8 Playoffs – Frodan vs SuperJJ
My run stopped here in the Ro8, but damn if it wasn’t close! JJ kept telling me he wanted revenge from the groups…and I was pretty sure he would run Rogue as his fifth deck, but he ended up going with Reno Jackson Freeze Mage. Turns out, JustSaiyan helped him for the tournament too and gave him that decklist.
My main desire was to avoid getting 4-0 swept like Reckful did the previous series. But after I won the Hunter mirror in game 1, I really thought I had a chance to win the series. Too bad I got gimped on my Paladin vs Warrior game…if I won that, I’m confident I had a 75% chance to win the series. For my 5th deck, I brought Zoo Warlock with Sea Giant tech specifically to kill Druids/Warriors and give me a chance vs Hunter. I even thought about putting in Kezan Mystic to kill any Freeze Mages and even boost my chance against Hunters…but I abstained at the last second with advice from Saiyan.
In conclusion for Part 1, I made several mistakes ranging from small sequencing errors to large mulligan decisions. I got lucky (Hunter mirrors and vs Freeze Mage) and unlucky (my Paladin shouldn’t lose to superJJ’s Warrior) but that’s how it goes sometimes. Overall happy with how things went.
Part 2: Lessons Learned
1. I can see why players want LHS over Conquest
I greatly underestimated the preparation required for Last Hero Standing. Don’t get me wrong…I definitely knew that LHS required more thought than Conquest, but I was surprised by how much the difference was when I competed deep into a tournament.
All the intricacies of LHS evolved as I was advancing through the tournament. You need to decide how to tech because there are cards that bait you into winning a series or two, but ultimately lose the tournament. The strategy of bans and openers, while not too much more complex, does require good understanding of everything — your line up, their line up, what you ban, what you think they will ban, what you think they will open based on your ban, and what you think your odds are overall if you do/don’t get the opener you want. It can be a lot.
Sure, you can skeptically generalize it by saying “it’s Rock, Paper, Scissors, derpy derp”, but with Gaara and Eloise coaching me, we correctly predicted all six of my opening matchups from all my opponents. That helped give me a natural series advantage to where I wanted to be. Every little edge matters, especially in Hearthstone. LHS really does give an edge to those who want it.
There is still a degree of practice and thought that goes into a Conquest linup, but I feel like I gained a lot of perspective that I was missing by only casting games throughout LHS’ duration as the official format of HWC 2014.
2. It’s almost irresistible to win a close series and not go back to listen to commentary
I think the most fun thing overall is that I get to watch the players cast my games and see what they say about my plays. Drunk purple is hilarious btw hahahahaha!! So good.
I couldn’t help myself but go back through the VODs (with re-chat of course for extra flavor) and watch all my games to hear opinions and see the reactions. It’s vindicating when casters understand my plays and explain what I am trying to accomplish. Curiously enough, I didn’t mind when they said my choices were wrong or misplays. I thought I would get bothered by it, but it was humbling and good perspective to help me analyze how the situation would have differed if I took that route. I didn’t always agree with them. However, I recognized what they were saying and thus it fueled my desire to correct them for next time.
I found the only thing that annoys me is when casters flat out ignore a tough play. Not that they say it’s good or bad, but when they just talk about other stuff. But the ironic thing is that I end up doing this a LOT in my own casting. I’ll work on it haha 😛
3. Playing (and advancing) consumes a huge mental toll and energy
Competing is exhausting. Very exhausting. Not in the sense that playing the match itself is fatiguing…quite the opposite actually. When you’re sitting in the chair, you have a ton of adrenaline going through you to the point where it’s hard to sit still. Oftentimes at the end of series when I know it will finish soon, I start biting my hand viciously to calm down.
On the other hand, sitting down for hours and waiting for the match is a different beast. You always feel like you can practice more, watch VODs one more time, or talk about matchups with teammates. You don’t want to mess with your rhythm too much before the match.
When you’re finally playing in the booth, you need to find your own inner mental fortress. I found that for most people, Hearthstone only occupies part of your mind when you’re playing. After all, it’s one of the best games to multitask with other things. Therefore, you’re not accustomed to literally only thinking about cards, plays, win conditions, opponent’s tech cards, lethal counts, or even mind games. In fact, you don’t think about anything, really. You look at your cards, think what you might be able to do next turn, and wait. Reckful had this problem when he was competing — he couldn’t find the ability to sit down and focus on the match. He kept spacing out and auto-piloting…which was evident in the plays he was making in his first series with poor sequencing or obvious misplays.
Before my first match, RDU explained that Lifecoach fights this by taking the first two turns to rope and hone in on what he wants to accomplish in the game. Think about what your 30 cards are. Visualize how you win the game (or lose it if you mess up). What are the critical turns? What cards do I want to draw from this point on to make my hand good? This is why Lifecoach ropes early on — to get in the right mindset. I tried using this tactic a couple times and it definitely helped. But holy crap, afterwards you need a change of pace and some air. It’s like taking an intense final exam at university. I gave this story to Reckful and I think it helped because for the rest of the event, he played much better and to his potential.
Losing also sucks, but that’s a given in any competition. Especially when you are close, it burns even more. In some ways, you rather lose convincingly to show you had no shot, but that also feels miserable as well. If you ever meet a player who clearly had a rough time with the tournament/series/match they just played, don’t talk about it at all. Bring up why you’re a fan and what you like about them. Even if they don’t say anything and look glum, they always appreciate it. That goes a longer way than “you played well” or “nice try, I was rooting for you!”
Of course, all of this is based on the idea that I badly want to win. Some players might not care about the results or misplays. I had much to prove though especially with motivating tweets like these:
Mmmh! It’s one thing to be recognized by the fans and community, but another to be recognized by your peers. FeelsSoGoodMan.
Final takeaways and shoutouts
Role reversal (caster becomes player, player becomes caster) gave me fresh insight on how I want to cast as well. After dropping to SuperJJ, I hopped onto the couch immediately and felt like my casting was more on-point than usual. Maybe I have a new event tactic to prep for my commentary!
I don’t plan to compete in tournaments regularly. It takes a high amount of mental energy both in and out of game to the point where I feel like I can’t enjoy the event unless I am eliminated early which I don’t want. Winning is thrilling and quite the amazing high, but the hours of scouting/prepping/resting saps my energy too much. In addition, taking spots over other players doesn’t feel right most of the time. Seatstory has been a fun, relaxed event from the beginning so I think the only times I will consider competing will be at events like this. Top 8 with being even in score with SuperJJ 6-6 is a solid result and I’m proud of it.
To wrap up, let’s do some final thank yous:
Thanks to the Tempo Storm team for helping and believing in me. Eloise, Gaara, and Saiyan for the preparation. Reynad for helping us both win that weekend. Reckful for always keeping the mood light and reminding us to have fun. The org for being dank with the tweets.
Thanks to the other pros who went out of their way to help me. Fellow casters Gnimsh and Lothar have always been incredibly supportive of me playing while giving tips/tricks. Firebat has been saying for a couple months that he believed I could compete and win. Other guys like Thijs, Ekop, Orange, Elky, Freakeh, and Alesh always made sure they gave me encouragement whenever they saw me.
Thanks to the TakeTV guys who showed me lots of flexibility and hospitality. They really tried their best to make this the best event possible even without the huge names.
Finally, thanks to the community who cheered me on and rooted for me through the lucky and unlucky moments. It was overwhelming to read all the threads, tweets, and comments. You guys rock. I hope I serve as an inspiration for you to start playing and competing yourselves. There’s nothing quite like it.
I love you all.