For two days the best Hearthstone players in North America battled it out for four spots at the BlizzCon World Championships. Now the winners are crowned, the losers have to wait another year and the fans are either happy at the upsets or sad for the crowd favorites. The Hammerstein Ballroom hosted one of the best Hearthstone events, putting four talented players on their road to BlizzCon.
Headwind for TempoStorm
Well-known Hearthstone organization TempoStorm was out for seeds and recognition as one of the game’s premier teams. However, while players representing the blue lightning bolt in both Europe and North America started out trying to reach BlizzCon, in the end they will all have to watch from home.
After Reynad’s early departure in the group stage of the European qualifiers, his two teammates made it into the playoffs - but not the World Championships. Expectations for Reynad weren’t as high in Stockholm’s Globe, but they went sky high at the Hammerstein Ballroom. Hyped and TidesofTime are both household names in the competitive scene with several accolades to their accounts. Tides, for example, can not only look back at a successful career in Dota 2 but also ahead at a new and promising one in Hearthstone. The WEC champion, WellPlayed Cup winner and first ever Deck Wars victor was one of the clear favorites going into this event, but in the end he left empty handed.
For Hyped, the tournament situation got a bit bizarre. The overall #1 seed from the whole road to BlizzCon process coasted through his group without really breaking a sweat. His freeze Mage tore apart both StUnNeR and Ant, allowing him to pass through to the playoffs straight away. For Hyped, this event had the potential to be one of the shortest but most memorable roads in his Hearthstone career as he could have theoretically punched his ticket to the big tournament in Anaheim with just three matches. His opponent in the most important match of the tournament was Firebat, however, the overall #2 seed and fellow Phase 2 direct invite. It was a shame that the tournament set these two fierce ladder stars against each other, leaving either the top or the second seed out of BlizzCon for good.
Firebat took the logical step, demonstrating his preparation for the matchup by banning out Hyped’s undefeated freeze Mage. That proved to the be the winning recipe for the Copenhagen Wolves player, who lost a nailbiting game with his Shaman against Hyped’s Druid before then proceeding to take Malfurion, Anduin and Valeera straight to the zoo. The unrelenting barrage of minions being thrown onto the field was too much to handle for either of these decks, crushing Hyped’s BlizzCon dreams and elevating Firebat to the position of top favorite at the World Championships. To be the king, you have to defeat the king - Firebat ousted the best overall seed and is now in the driving seat for BlizzCon.
Even more heartbreaking than seeing your bubble getting burst by Flame Imp, Doomguard or Soul Fire is what Tides experienced. The TempoStorm star was up two in his deciding game, had match point after the third game - and still lost. The Handlock mirror went in Tides’ favor, with Tarei countering with Hunter but then getting countered by Priest. The back and forth brought the classic and hated matchup of Miracle Rogue versus control Priest - one with lots of difficulties for the Priest. Tides hung in there for a while, but couldn’t deal with the heavy drawing of a timely Auctioneer, which let Tarei cycle through. In this flurry of draws, a set of unorthodox cards in the Miracle deck were revealed to the audience, ranging from Alexstrasza to Harrison Jones. Even the Old Yeller Leeroy Jenkins joined the party despite having received a nerf. It was fitting that he ultimately delivered the last strike, sinking his blade straight into Tides’s tournament hopes.
Adding insult to injury was the post-game interview, in which Tarei showed no confusion about having pulled out a win over one of the most accomplished tournament players in North America, sharing his ladder record over Tides with the audience and saying that it felt natural to beat him.
Missing lethal, but not BlizzCon
Third in the group of NA heroes trying to defend the inn on their home turf is going to be DTwo of Don’t Kick My Robot. The American living in Japan didn’t have the smoothest of matches to get his ticket, but he weathered the storm - a storm he brought on himself.
In the second match especially, the dedicated player was already close to victory, having made the correct count, but then proceeded to make one wrong attack. The result was him being one damage off lethal, one damage he overkilled a taunt with seconds before. His expression said it all, thus giving Deerjason a chance to crawl back into the match. Fortunately for DTwo, he couldn’t, with Tirion Fordring not quite enough to give Deerjason the one extra turn needed to finish the game and retire the Druid deck.
The misplay didn’t end up costing DTwo, who was one game away from making his dream come true. His last opponent was Shaman, with which Deerjason took the board early and then chose to take a risky line of play. With an opposing Ragnaros in play and enough spell damage to nuke down the boss of the Molten Core, Deerjason chose another tack - he filled out the board with worthless totems and other small minions, giving Ragnaros plenty of unexciting targets to hit. This last tactic almost paid off, but another risky play with a growing Unbound Elemental failing to kill off a Loatheb came back to bite him. If he had made that attack and finished off the new Naxxramas legendary, the Force of Nature top deck in combination with Savage Roar would have barely scratched the heavy taunts he had set up. High risk, high reward did not pay off for young prodigy Deerjason.
Old player with new tricks
The final North American spot went to one of the game’s oldest veterans - StrifeCro. Back in the days of early beta, with Hearthstone expanding more and more into the eSports scene, StrifeCro was already a top competitor. His revolutionary approach to the Druid deck changed plenty of others, his heavy focus on board control fooling many casters into mispredicting his plays. Back when ESGN was still around, StrifeCro competed. The winner of the first ever SeatStory Cup in the TakeTV studio apartment back in the day laid his foundations, while also keeping up appearances in all kinds of online and offline tournaments in the new age.
This weekend he showed that he is still one of the most formidable Hearthstone players in North America, winning his group and sending StUnNeR back to Australia without a detour to Anaheim. StrifeCro himself will be taking that trip to California, hoping to make up for relatively poor performances at WCA.
StUnNeR gave him a run for his money, though, pushing the game to the distance and even being ahead in the closing match. Unfortunately for the Australian, he ran out of gas later on. He had StrifeCro pushed against the wall in the Priest mirror as the Cloud 9 player had a horrible starting hand with the more aggressive deck. StUnNeR capitalized on that, pushing for damage early, but once he had surrendered the board to StrifeCro and was at a card disadvantage, it all went down under.
He can still walk out with his head held high, however, having made a name for himself on the big stage. StUnNeR leaves New York City and the Hammerstein Ballroom as one of only four players to have completed a sweep - in his case during clutch time. With his tournament life hanging in the balance, it was him or Ant moving on to the playoffs when StUnNeR made the call to go zoo first, waltzing his way into the second stage. The only non-American to reach the top eight can be proud of his accomplishments and chalk it up as a learning experience on the way to becoming a better player.
With that, the qualifiers for the big World Championships at BlizzCon have been concluded and all 16 players are determined. Firebat, StrifeCro, DTwo and Tarei will represent the USA and the entire North American server region. Nicolas, RunAndGun, Tiddler Celestial and Qiruo will compete for China, tom60229 and FrozenIce represent Yoe Flash Wolves and Taiwan, while Kranich and RenieHouR fight for the honor of Korea and respect for Golden Coin as a top Hearthstone team. Rounding out the field is the international mix from Europe, with Kaor from Italy, Numberguy from Denmark, Greensheep from the United Kingdom and Kolento representing Ukraine. A total of eight nations will be represented, with Hearthstone teams Cloud 9, Golden Coin and Yoe Flash Wolves sending two players each, Dignitas and DKMR sending one and seven players currently not affiliated with any team as of yet.
Be sure to stay tuned for more Hearthstone and eSports coverage, plus you can also check out our first day recap here.