The times, they are a-changin’. Bob Dylan realized that in the 60s already and the words are still applicable to pretty much every concept and every movement in today’s society. In eSports, where times are changing even quicker, the landscape alters in front of our own eyes all the time. Best example this weekend is the Hearthstone tournament hosted as a part of the big festivities of Intel Extreme Masters Katowice and ESL One Katowice. The Spodek will once more be the Mecca of esports for the entire weekend with Hearthstone now being a part of that prestigious family of top-notch games displayed their.
Just in time for the first year anniversary of the virtual card game from Blizzard, the Legendary Series hosts an event in Europe with US$30,000 on the line, battling it out in front of one of the best and loudest crowds that eSports has to offer. The Polish fans made their presence known last year already when Polish player Gnimsh secured the title on his home turf against Artosis in the Grand Finals, supported by an unlikely hero in Elite Tauren Chieftain. Now apply the Bob Dylan lyrics to this scenario and you can find out how far the Hearthstone scene has come since then. Artosis and Gnimsh are now spending most of the time in the booth, Lothar as the winner of the Polish qualifier back then is now mostly a team manager for Nihilum, while a new breed of players is surging to the front of the line, trying to make a name for themselves.
Open heroes on the rise
Two of the biggest names when it comes to that “new generation” of players are Orange and Inderen. The two players have a lot in common, not only based on their heritage in Scandinavia, but also their success recently. The two young and rising stars defied the odds in two major Open Qualifier tournaments, giving them a direct ticket to two extremely popular and prestigious major LAN events. Their journey starts in Katowice and will soon after add a stop in Stockholm, Sweden for the Viagame House Cup two.
In a game with big variance and the usual “all random, all luck” accusations flying around all the time, these two players have showed a consistency in the last month that is hard to replicate. Now the big lights are on though and the nerves come into play. Both Orange and Inderen have experienced the atmosphere of a major LAN event yet - adding another intriguing element to the storylines for this weekend.
They’ve had the mental fortitude to fight themselves through the first round already, guaranteeing them a trip to Katowice, but now the pressure will be kicked up even further. Especially for Orange the task at hand in the first round is a major one, seeing as Romanian superstar and LAN veteran Rdu is going to be his opening opponent. Facing the champion of the first ever Hearthstone DreamHack event back in the Summer of 2014 might not be beneficial for the nerves whatsoever. On the other hand, a debut win against a former champion would give even more of a boost to the already crazy hype that is surrounding the young Swedish player from the team DarkStar. Ever since his performance at a recent Pinnacle online tournament, the press has jumped to his side and made him out as the “new big thing” in all of Hearthstone. He backed it up with good Open performances and a win against Kolento in the first round of the Legendary Series: Katowice. Most recently though, his outings in major tournaments haven’t been the greatest with two back-to-back losses in the Kinguin Pro League. Now the big moment is there and the young guy has the opportunity to have a major breakout performance for the world to see.
While Orange got all the attention, Inderen was flying under the radar with similar accomplishments and body of work. The young Danish player did not only make it through the stacked open bracket for this event, but also defeated one of the biggest names in the Hearthstone scene in the first round. None other than the World Champion himself was standing in his way, but after the full five games Firebat had to admit defeat and Inderen had his ticket booked for the Spodek.
Now the burden is on him and the bubble could burst extremely quick for the new H2K-Gaming member. Unlike Orange he hasn’t had a big online tournament to build up his name already and unlike Orange he doesn’t have the opportunity to go up against a big name of Hearthstone in the Quarterfinals either. His opponent for that game is yet another unknown gem of the community that made it through the qualification tournaments and then eliminated a pro. The German player James, who Inderen will face first, came out of nowhere and announced his presence with a resounding 3-0 sweep over reigning Legendary Series Season 1 champion SilentStorm. Now he is Katowice bound and the two new names to the scene will square off for a chance in the Top 4 of their first ever major tournament.
Also new and eyeing for that Semifinal spot are Nalguidan from Argentina and SirKrisjan from Iceland. Both players had impressive showings in their respective first round matches in which they eliminated Faramir and StrifeCro - both Top 10 rated players at the moment. Now they have to back up that performance and proof that they are not just a flash in the pan, but are here to stay and perform.
Hearthstone is a game about numbers, probabilities and a bit of luck. Going by the numbers for the Legendary Series event in Katowice it becomes clear very quickly that the established names of the scene are outnumbered heading into the big arena. Only Amaz, Lifecoach and Rdu made it through the first round, with other big names like Cloud 9 stars StrifeCro and Kolento dropping out quickly. So now the honor of all the established and known Hearthstone pros rests on the shoulders of the two Nihilum players and the Archon captain.
The biggest hope is without a doubt Lifecoach, the hottest player in Hearthstone at the moment. The former Poker pro from Germany has been on a run for the ages recently, adding win over win to his resume. In March he is yet to be defeated in an official match, riding high on a 10 game winning streak. Along the way of those wins he not only beat out almost the entire elite of the Hearthstone scene, but he also won two star-studded tournaments with the Kinguin Spring Charity event and the Root Gaming Invitational. His streak slingshot him straight to the top of the GosuGamers rankings with no stop in sight. His “dress rehearsal” for the big dance in Katowice was a rout as well, as he dismantled Icelandic player Kaldi from fnatic in a clear and decisive manner during the second week of the KPL. So far no one was able to break through the dominance of the German player - now Nalguidan has that chance. The South American representative has the chance of a lifetime, not only to foster his own spot in history, but also to be the one to advance to a Semifinal in a major on the back of snapping a 10-game winning streak of the number one player in the world right now. A lot will be at stake, but one thing’s for sure. Lifecoach won’t show nerves, won’t flinch or show any kind of weakness in front of the roaring crowd - can Nalguidan stay level-headed as well?
The other two veterans at the event, two former #1 players in the GosuGamers rankings in their own right, don’t have the amazing track record of Lifecoach, but are still capable of performing at a high level.
For both the storylines going into this game are completely different than Lifecoach’s though. Both, Amaz and Rdu, have been struggling heavily as of late, looking for a major event to turn it around. The Archon leader from Hong Kong hasn’t had a big break ever since starting to get involved with behind the scene stuff more and more. Ever since that cut, the performances dropped and losses creeped in. Most recently Amaz is 2-4 in big games with the Gfinity LAN in London giving him a great opportunity to shape up for Katowice.
Rdu doesn’t have that advantage, so the ladder, practice with teammates and friends or smaller online cups should be the way to go for the young Romanian. Most recently he has been on the losing end of the bargain way too often for his taste, dropping significantly in the GosuGamers rankings. Once a #1, now all the way down to 79th in the world, the most recent record of 3-8 to underline his slump. Now Katowice might just be the opportunity to pull this one back, right the wrong of the most recent stretch. For Rdu another big LAN performance could elevate him to new highs again and be the starting point of a comeback tour with an event in Bucharest right around the corner.
However this one ends, be sure to tune in on Sunday when the Spodek becomes one of the loudest and most crowded Inns in the history. Witness the best card slingers on the Twitch.tv stream as reigning champion Gnimsh, ek0p, Frodan, Doa and Chobra guide you through the action of a packed day of Hearthstone. In the end only one can reign supreme and electrify the crowd at the Spodek - who will it be?