The Best Year Of My Life
2015 is old news as we’re more than a full week into the new year. I took a very nice vacation and time away from the computer (but not my iPad, still had to hit legend!) so I apologize for not getting this out in a timely manner.
The eSports industry moves at a breakneck pace. Heck, any part of adult life tends to go at a blinding speed compared to when you’re stuck in school counting down the minutes until class is dismissed. But when you’re bombarded with event after event, it’s hard to digest it all and process wtf did we actually see this year.
In light of GosuGamer faithfully following the scene and handing out their yearly awards, I too wanted to do like a 2015 Frodan awards of “Best Player” and “Best Team”. However, I feel like it’s redundant to pick the obvious choices like G2/Nihilum, even though all their recognition this year is desreved. Nor do I find it particularly interesting to redundantly discuss things that you can find out yourself with a bit of Liquipedia research and reddit browsing.
Instead, I’m just gonna write down random stories of the year, reminisce about my favorite moments, games, conversations, and other things.
Warning: This blog ended up getting massively long (4k+ words). At this point, I’ve sunk so much time into it that I won’t be doing much editing. Sorry!
SeatStory 3 — The Most Fun Event Ever
The funnest tournament to attend this year was SeatStory 3. Sure, I got my butt blasted by Lothar and Zalae to finish 17th (the graceful way to describe a first round exit in a 32 man tournament), but that tournament pulled no punches. We had the usual lovable suspects playing Hearthstone and entertaining us with sweet plays/decks. We had roleplayers dressing up as Mexican mariachi bands. Kripp reunited with Artosis and even temporary came out of retirement to play a BlizzCon 2013 revenge match. Kungen was the best dealer getting everyone drunk/loose over at the table. We were always out on the patio all the time getting full on a healthy diet of German BBQ and Twitch gossip. The big-time streamers were dropping $1k bombs in poker each hand and the place was roaring deep into the night. We woke up hung over every day and inhaling coffee like we discovered the fountain of youth. We stayed up til 5am playing CS:GO and ordering doner which never came. The tournament was just sheer Hearthstone entertainment in its purest form. Loved every second of it.
TakeTV always do such a great job capturing the atmosphere with their daily recaps.
The best moment is watching all the players take turns casting the matches on the couch. Many of them have soooo much to say, both encouraging words and great trash talk. But its rare to see them bring it out many times because they’re afraid of backlash.
My most fond memory of SSC3 was doing the recordings for the Inn Crowd. We asked the TakeTV guys to help us, but we didn’t any professional audio equipment. So Gaara, Hyped, Reynad and I ended up crowding in a small space in Studio 2 and huddling in to awkwardly read our lines over and over until we were satisfied. What made it worse was the lines were terrible. Like the the punchlines were so bad even Gnimsh would probably cringe. But we were laughing and enjoying the moments. It got to the point where the giggles were contagious. Yes, even the grumpy Reynad smiled a few times. Gaara really made it fun! He has pretty decent voice acting skills, improvising lines that made us laugh even harder. The audio ended up sucking and we had to re-record our lines back at home in our individual setups which made the dialogue even more unnatural for the final product. It’s too bad…I really think if we filmed the live making of the Inn Crowd, people would love that way more. Regardless of your opinion on the project, you do have to admit that it’s pretty ballsy to try it. Before the recording finished, Hyped kept asking why we were doing this, to which Reynad said “It’s what we do best. Spawn memes.”
SeatStory 3 is one of those events which I’ll spend my nights frustratingly try to convince my grandchildren how cool we were and how much fun we had; only to be painfully reminded that I dedicated years to my life to a children’s card game.
Screw The Rules, I Have MingLee
The Play-It-Cool Streamathons were ridiculous. We planned so much for the event with proper schedules, rehearsals, and setups. The casters and production crew would go over scenarios and simulate them to the best of our ability. After all, it’s 24 hours of straight broadcast. Insanely hard (and unhealthy) to pull off. Despite our best efforts, we’ve had two marathons and two dramafests featuring Savjz and Forsen.
Savjz won the first event due to the rank stars counting. Forsen won the second due to an unfathomable situation where both players “tied” in legend ranking.
I remember after the first event, Forsen did a quick interview (which he was surprisingly professional in) and just walked off. After the cameras/lights turned off, Savjz didn’t really know what to say to him so we awkwardly stood there for a bit and chatted in the theater seats. Forsen soon came back, presumably from a smoke break, rolled back into his chair, and eventually started talking about the situation with even more candid relaxation than before. I couldn’t believe it. Maybe it’s because of all the 18k per month memes or the shirts he unknowingly was going to sell in the next marathon, but he was so damn calm about everything. Mature. That confirmed it for me. Forsen has chill. I could never be that calm about it, but that’s why I’m a caster I guess.
Contrast this to the next event where the tables turned. Savjz was overwhelmed by the stress. Just like Forsen, he had a lead until the final moments before Forsen somehow tied it up. The organizer made a ruling to have a tiebreake and Savjz rightfully complained. He stormed out and took a much needed break before losing Zoo vs Hunter and the smell of $5000. Savjz is a good friend of mine and I’ve seen him go through heavy emotional swings, but this was one of the worst. However, I couldn’t help but laugh a little. This was quite poetic, no? How likely is it that both of these guys tie AGAIN in an even more impossible way in the same event series? It literally feels like this is scripted reality television unfolding right in front of me. I half expected the background screens to be pulled away and there was Howie Mandel and a secondary camera crew filming our reaction with a roaring audience witnessing the entire ordeal. But it happened and Savjz was devastated. That’s no small amount of money for anyone. Savjz handled it as gracefully as I would.
Forsen was sickened by the whole thing. No one likes to win this way with these kinds of stakes and that many people watching. There was a big difference with how thing event ended. After the first shakedown, we all gathered and ate some dinner, making jokes and laughed like usual. But this event, we all went to our own rooms and AFK’d. Everyone and everything felt different this event. Except Reynad being salty about his loss. We were roommates, but Reynad felt a bit sick so we didn’t get to talk much aside from when we were nerding out on Earth Core. After the grueling marathon, we finally were alone and passionately pleasured each other to the best of our ability on those European twin beds. I remember he sunk onto the bed and explained why he was salty.
“You know, I’m getting sick of losing. I want to win one event I go to. Just once.”
One day, Reybae. One day.
Dreamhack Summer feat. Trollwalker Cho
The craziest game I remember casting was Dog vs Neirea in Dreamhack Summer. Man that series was bonkers. I was so happy to see these two guys play against each other. At the time, they both were deserving of a breakout performance. Dog having flown from America to compete in an extremely difficult Swiss event. Neirea always on the cusp of living up to his initial reputation as being Kolento 2.0. The breakout deck of DHS was Malylock and not only did Dog and Neirea coincidentally bring this deck, but their lineup was similar through and through. At the time, their records were 0-1 and losing would be a large setback to make the top 8 cutoff.
Dog looked like he was in a good position in the series up 2-0 and cruising to a relatively straightforward victory. But in game 3, this one special Piloted Shredder decided to take a big fat dump on those plans.
Players and casters were failing so hard this game. I somewhat wish we had the chat open nearby to laugh alongside us. We had zero clue what was going on and we loved every moment of it. Go watch this game for all the lulz and fail moments.
Many teams have had their share of problems in 2015. Tempo Storm and the Magic Amy scandal. Nihilum stranding Lothar & co, forcing them to go to G2. Cloud 9 exchanged stable personalities Hafu and Gnimsh for the enigmatic Massan, whose recent episodic appearances in the news has created more confusion and outrage by the week. But Archon had the more severe growing pains with the Ghosty incident, Xixo’s release, and the Pinnacle format debacle.
However, the cries against Scamaz didn’t dissuade him from organizing events in Hearthstone. Instead, he doubled (or quintupled+) down by making the Archon Team League, which then went on to be one of, if not the most, beloved events in 2015.
Casting ATLC was even an ambitious project in itself. No other event really tries to do 3 man desks online with each commentator remotely clocking in. Coordinating all the players to do team Conquest was a brilliant move and they executed as close to perfect as they could on their first try. Feels as if karma finally swing in their favor with memorable moments like Eloise vs Lifecoach:
It wasn’t a walk in the park though. There was a lot of outrage over Reckful’s legendary 1-hour casting stint at ATLC. Many thought I was pissed at Reckful, but to be honest, I was actually having some fun while casting with him. Reckful is a guy who likes to fire off whatever he’s thinking or feeling. A lot of times what he says is hilarious, other times it can be somewhat facepalm, but that entire cast felt like standard Reckful. Isn’t this what you invited him to do? Perhaps it was a breakdown in communication — Archon wanted him for the numbers and popularity, but forgot to brief him on changing a few things for the cast such as maintaining professionalism. Or maybe they didn’t think it would be such a problem. Either way, I feel a bit sad because I don’t think Reckful deserved half the hate he got. Sure he said some stupid stuff and 99% of the time it’s not wise to say those triggering things in a tournament setting. But it definitely felt like it was overblown because people were reading more into the words he was saying than his intent. Reckful has had many run-ins with the internet police so it’s no surprise a few leery observers were hellbent on crucifying him. The bottomline is that Reckful says what’s on his mind which is why many people respect or hate him. It’s similar to being upset at Ricky Gervais for being a jerk while hosting an awards show. You wouldn’t/shouldn’t be surprised nor mad if he comes onto the stage and begins roasting people left and right. I guess the one positive takeaway from the incident is that it got some buzz for ATLC which got the community talking. I do have one last interesting tidbit on the matter. Many believed Blizzard directly asked for Reckful’s removal from the cast, likely because Reckful has had incidents with them in the past. Blizzard said he could stay; they only sent a request to keep his language civil. So the choice was a mandate from Archon. I don’t feel like anything was held in bad blood as Reckful isn’t the kind of guy to do that over something so like this. He even attended the Archon finals and entertained a lot of the players there.
Speaking of trying to entertain people, I want to give a special mention to Amaz and Backspace who bent over backwards to make everyone happy at the ATLC finals. The house got attacked by DDoSers and had a myriad of tech problems, but it never really brought down the fun for everyone else. I remember Amaz got around 4 hours of sleep over 2 nights, yet he kept asking if I was okay and needed anything in between running around trying to fix the internet issues. It was warming to see him care so much about the off-screen entertainment we were having as opposed to solely worrying about the stream and the numbers. I’m convinced that if they attempted to do a House Cup event, they’d smash it out of the park. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the entire event is that Amaz still found time to stream and practice off-stream. I remember walking around the house late at 2am to see who wanted to come back to the hotel with me. I found Amaz in a corner room training his matchup knowledge with Amnesia, diligently preparing for top 40 regionals.
It was great to see G2 (Nihilum at the time) win the event. They were a team that maxed out on that tournament. I don’t really think any team wanted it more. Cloud 9 guys barely prepped and were making jokes how they don’t need anything special to win. They still got second too….the nerve! Value Town was a rag-tag team of mercenaries joining up so they only got to squeeze in practice at the event by going to some nearby cafe. Tempo Storm’s workload was mainly shouldered on Kaldi and Gaara. Hyped did his own prep and Eloise just played whatever classes the other two guys didn’t want to take as she was still the newer member on the team. Nihilum went super hard training for the event and faithfully going over everything in full detail. It was heartwarming to see Thijs and Lifecoach spending their first hour after the victory to talk to RDU over Skype (he couldn’t make it due to visa issues) instead of flying off somewhere to celebrate. They truly resemble everything great about Hearthstone. All those guys started from zero and had to build names for themselves individually. I couldn’t be more proud of those dudes.
My 2015 Player of the Year
I’ve gotten asked several times this year to rank/vote for things. One of the most common was picking a “Player of the Year” for Hearthstone. For some, it’s a tough call as there were many periods where a player was dominant (Lifecoach, Cifka, Thijs), but for me, it was an easy snap call.
Mr. James “Firebat” Kostesich from Archon is easily the best player of 2015 in my eyes.
How do you not love a man with Batman PJs?
In Hearthstone, we always talk about variance versus law of large numbers. In the long-run, the better players win. Less games means higher chance for random outcomes, or to use a Xixoism, a higher chance for a bad player to meme his way to a victory. So if Firebat was a scrub (he’s not), he would have fizzled quickly in 2015 (he didn’t) just like a few other tournaments.
While 2014 ended with his breakout performance of winning the World Championships and a fat check of $100k bones, 2015 was the year of Firebat. Though he did not win the most prize money, no one even comes close to his achievements for the year. Let’s look at his list of accomplishments:
- 1st Starladder
- 2nd Dreamhack Bucharest
- Qualify and win CN vs NA
- Became the first and only player to successfully win two back-to-back titles at an offline event at Gfinity Spring I and II champion.
- 2nd WCA for $60k
- 2nd Gamegune, 2nd Kinguin Winter
- 1st Challengestone 4
Firebat destroyed every kind of format tossed his way. He performed well at big open tournaments as well as small elite invitationals. He excelled in Last Hero Standing, Conquest, Team Events, Ladder Racing (almost threatening the trophy with Priest??), and Deck Building Competitions.
Even further, what I loved his contribution to the community. Early in the year, he was dominating Conquest formats despite it being a higher variance format than Last Hero Standing. However, he decided to share his secrets with how he wins the tournaments instead of keeping it to himself. As such, many players adopted his strategy and started performing much better across the board. A few naysayers might try to discredit Firebat by saying they knew this strategy and were playing by it weeks before he revealed the charts. However, even if this was true, that’s why you should appreciate what Firebat did even more. Tournament prep is what separates the best from the best. So choosing to help other players and the community understand Conquest (and its flaws lol) was a respectable move. Firebat also held an open cup called the Firebat Swiss which he put up his own money to try and encourage cooler formats.
There is empirical evidence of his 2015 domination — Firebat ended his year firmly ahead of anyone else in earnings, winning more in 2015 than he did in 2014. The only large blemish on his record this year was not qualifying for the main event of BlizzCon, but if you look deeper into the qualifiers, you can see that North America only took the top 6 of their region while Europe/Asia/China took the top 8. This was because Blizzard controversially dedicated 2 spots from NA to Latin America. Firebat placed top 8 and had to fight for a top 6 spot. Had he gotten that guaranteed ticket to San Francisco to play for the championship, I am extremely confident he would have gone through to the World Championship for a repeat appearance.
Lastly, I want to throw in a final appeal on his attitude. Firebat is highly confident in himself, but he is also extremely humble for someone that intelligent. Firebat told me one time he believes every single person sees Hearthstone differently and even a rank 20 player can teach you something once in a while. He even once got a tournament deck idea from a legitimate rank 15 player who gave him a random suggestion. And what I appreciate above all is how he will be the first person to credit someone else who contributed towards his win.
To me, his strong performance, involvement in the community, and meta-game influence clearly shows me that he was on a higher level than Thijs and Ostkaka. They are both fantastic players who had great results and I expect a lot from them in 2016, but there is no doubt in my mind who was the #1 player for me this year.
Conclusion and Photos
Didn’t realize I was approaching so many words so I’ll end the stories it here. There are plenty of untold stories for another time. Let’s wrap up with some of my favorite photos of the events I talked about as well as some other goodies from things I didn’t mention. I apologize for the bad resolutions on a few of them. For some reason, it wouldn’t upload on WordPress so I had to use Imgur for everything this post.
I took Savjz and Darkwonyx to Santa Monica right before the ESL Season 2 finals. It was a beautiful day. Awesome seeing Scandinavians try to comprehend a Californian winter.
Post-ESL hangout at the pool tables. Uploading for the inevitable Reynad claim that he was the first to invent arm wrestling between streamers.
I got to host the SC2 desk at IEM Katowice. Largest crowd I ever had the pleasure of servicing. Would love to do some SC2 again this year if the opportunity/timing is right!
At SeatStory 3, StrifeCro and Forsen had a bet who would win a Bo3 in SC2. Wish it was streamed because it was hilarious.
Forsen had a big reputation as a super cheesy Zerg. He hasn’t changed a bit.
After SSC3, I was booked for Gfinity the week after. Rather than flying all the way back to the USA, Thijs offered to let me stay at his place in Enschede (Netherlands). It was a very charming town and we cooked each other plenty of meals
At the time, Nihilum was still getting their organization in the swing of things. Lothar kept asking me to take a picture of Thijs in the new jersey. Obviously I trolled him pretty hard by sending him this picture. For the record, it was Thijs’ idea 😉
Tempo Storm hosted a Fireside Gathering on Hyped’s birthday. We took him out to celebrate. Reydad felt too awkward to do a public toast so he left it to good ol’ Fromom.
Viagame always took a player-centric approach and they ensured we had a good time. After the House Cup 2, we sat down and started to really get to know each other. This was the first time I would get to know Hoej, who later went on to explode into the scene as one of 2015’s top breakout players. There’s a cool guestbook that Anna made each of us sign to read 5 years later as a time capsule. Already forgot what I wrote…or if I wrote anything at all.
Speaking of Viagame, the House Cup 3 in Bran Castle, Romania was just ridiculous in every sense of the word. Thousands of feet in the sky, it was so cold and hard to breathe that I can’t imagine it ever being a smart idea to host a premier Hearthstone event. Of course, that didn’t stop the ambition of those crazy Swedes. Super memorable event and I don’t think we’ll top this venue for quite some time.
I wrote a paragraph on this in the Dreamhack section, but it didn’t really fit without pictures. Tempo Storm stayed for a few days in Stockholm after the event to unwind and relax for a few days.
We cooked for each other, explored the city, and ate lots of ice cream.
Oh, and plastered Reynad’s forehead in selfie galleries. Good times.
Gamescom was such a blast this year. I got to see the passion of the European fans while getting a lot of personal time with Overwatch. However, it was freaking exhausting and HOT. Germany doesn’t do A/C…thankfully it was more bearable with Kripp and Rania around.
ATLC’s casting desk was so high up that Noxious is actually shorter standing up than sitting on the high chair. It was rather uncomfortable casting for many hours there…especially since the room got MEGA hot. But they did their best considering the player room was right next to the caster room and so we had to keep the door shut for sound purposes.
Blizzard ended up taking some of us on a boat trip which was quite the experience. It was a bit awkward because after an hour or so, we didn’t really know what to do. So we started playing a lot of word games which we discovered Gnimsh is legendarily awful at.
Reynad didn’t want to take part in the games so he asked if he could jump off and swim for a bit. He periscoped the entire process as well. It was during this moment where I gave the wittiest comment I will ever say: “It’s finally time to see what is saltier: Reynad or the ocean.”
All the travel made it hard to keep up with staying in shape. My motivation was always low, but seeing Lothar always perked me up to get swoll.
Hearthstone doesn’t really draw many crowds at offline events, but the EU Regionals was an exception. It had the largest crowd by far and hundreds, if not thousands, of fans came to cheer on Lifecoach, Thijs, and the other fan favorites. Awesome event and Prague is a great city to host it in.
Having said that, BlizzCon’s crowd was unbelievable. People really got into the games and cheered on Thijs to win. He was the clear fan favorite although Ostkaka certainly won a lot of respect by the end of the tournament. This was my view from the caster desk. I want to make this photo a yearly thing! 🙂
One fun thing was that there was some kind of weird bet going on between the casters of who could work in a Scamaz reference on a BlizzCon cast. I don’t remember when exactly (maybe Archon vs Tempo Storm tavern brawl), but I got it in there somewhere.
2015 was the time of my life. I am so blessed to be able to experience so much with all of you. Let’s have an amazing 2016!
Final shoutouts to all my homies at Tempo Storm, my Twitch crew who always have my back, Blizzard, and most importantly the community for always being supportive of me. You guys rock!