It was one of the longest tournaments in the history of esports, with several months of qualifiers and multiple stages to get through before participants even got close close to BlizzCon. Thousands of Hearthstone players tried, but only a few got to the final inn. One of them was the American Firebat, who started out as an underdog but quickly proved his power to everyone watching in the audience and at home.
A long journey ends
For the young player from Detroit, the World Championship trophy he hoisted that day was a symbol of all his hard work having paid off as well as his victory. Now referred to as “the Hearthstone Scientist”, Firebat had to fight adversity in the Hearthstone world for several months – his low streaming presence and some disappointing results in other big tournaments made it hard for him to secure invites. While others boasted portfolios filled with big tournaments, Firebat was laddering, refining his skills and forging one of the best understandings of the game around. His analytical approach not only earned him a trophy and a new nickname but also plenty of respect. Several spreadsheets with formulae, opening scenarios, mulligan rules and other important facts were released on the internet before the tournament, documenting the in-depth preparation and the huge amount of time Firebat pours into the game.
All that work paid off in strides on Saturday in Anaheim, California. From the Hammerstein Ballroom to the ESL studios in Burbank and all the way to BlizzCon – regardless of the stage, Firebat was able to score wins.
It was a long journey for Firebat, but fortunately he was able to completely skip the first stage. This privilege came off the back of the commitment he put into Phase Zero. The tournament’s structure was based on the ladder rankings for several months. The top 16 of each season were able to enter the first stage of the actual qualifier, with the two best and most consistent ladder stars from North America and Europe allowed to skip this stage and go directly to the DreamHack Globe or Hammerstein Ballroom. Firebat was one of those players, as the #1 seed in North America. Alongside him were Tempo Storm’s own Hyped in NA as well as Ukrainian duo Kolento and Neirea. All these players were spared the trouble of a large Swiss tournament and could completely focus on Phase Two.
Firebat did just that, and came prepared. His use of unpopular decks such as Zoo or Hunter might stop him from winning over all the hearts in the Hearthstone scene, but his skill is undeniable. He proved this in every phase of the competition, and put on a very memorable grand final.
Firebat, king of kings
It wasn’t just Firebat’s performance that made the event memorable – plenty of other storylines played their part. From the rise of the Asian scene to the fall of a European favorite, the event had everything.
Kranich and Tiddler Celestial are the names in everyone’s heads now, despite having been completely unknown in the western scene beforehand. Both Asian talents showcased spectacular play that ended with them in the semi and grand finals respectively. Both players dominated their groups and were able to confidently take out fan favorites in the quarters.
The biggest splash came from Kranich in the nailbiting series against one of the best players in the tournament scene – Kolento. He showed guts by playing an unusual OTK Warrior deck for the entire tournament, especially as it was said deck that his tournament life depended on. A tie occurred against Kolento, with both having won two matches in the best of five series. One match away from the semifinals and it all came down to the Raging Worgen, Charge and Inner Rage. These cards are usually not even considered by the top players in the scene, who prefer the more reliable Control Warrior in a tournament setting. However, Kranich was unimpressed by this assessment and made it work regardless. It was bizarre seeing the combo in play with the counter sitting in Kolento’s hand. Loatheb would have bought Kolento’s Druid one more turn at least, which could have been enough for the Ukrainian superstar to reach the semis.
Tiddler Celestial, on the other hand, had Tarei in the quarters and Kranich before the grand finals. The Handlock specialist demonstrated his efficiency with the strong Warlock deck as well as demolishing Tarei’s World Championship hopes with one of the more one-sided matches of the tournament. Tarei was finally able to get past the Giants and Jaraxxus – only to be beaten by his own weapons. Tiddler’s Priest deck was able to string two board clears together, take over Tarei’s Harvest Golem and with that cruised past the American hope.
The Chinese Tiddler Celestial then won the battle against the Korean Kranich with a 3-0 sweep, once more on the back of the Handlock, sending him into the grand finals as the first player. The other semifinal between the two American participants Firebat and Dtwo was not only a great contest but it also had one of the most heartwarming endings. The former teammates shared a big hug and some encouraging words after Firebat’s victory, which the happy winner later disclosed. “Look how far we’ve come” was what he told Dtwo, reminding himself and his opponent of their shared time together in DKMR a few months ago. Despite some mind games in the actual match as well as some dragged out finishes and other antics, both players showed incredible sportsmanship and provided a great moment for everyone to see and share.
From there it was only Tiddler Celestial standing in the way of Firebat’s biggest triumph, which came at a great time. The young player recently formed the young start-up Hearthstone team Archon along with Amaz and Hosty, and now they have their first big trophy to put in their team display cabinet.
The finals were as one-sided as Tiddler’s match against Kranich, with Firebat bringing out the aggressive version of Druid that was all the rage at the Hammerstein Ballroom. The approach of taking the board, never letting go and then blasting your opponent off the table with heavy burst proved to be the winning recipe three times in a row, and allowed the smiling champion to triumphantly hoist the Water Elemental trophy in the end.
One big Hearthstone tournament is over, but the next is already upon us. ESL’s own Hearthstone Legendary Series is right around the corner, with the first Challenger round starting on November the 16th and the first Legendary week kicking off on November the 22nd. All the latest information on the upcoming big event can be found here.