Who should you choose as your Hearthstone World Championship champion?
The Hearthstone World Championship is serious business.
There are 16 of the world's best players in attendance, having spent a year grinding to get to this point. $1 million prize money is on the line. Fans have travelled from around the world.
And perhaps most importantly of all, Hearthstone card packs are up for grabs in the Choose Your Champion challenge. That's right, it's back. Every Hearthstone player can pick a player to back in the tournament, with every win they rack up earning you a pack.
This is a huge decision. Life and death stuff, if you look at some of the reactions to favorites losing early in previous events. So who should you pick if you want to try and earn some packs?
Trust a champion
How can you predict who is going to win a massive international tournament? Well, maybe you should back someone who has already taken home a massive title.
That gives you three options: Aleksey "ShtanUdachi" Barsukov, Frederik "Hoej" Nielsen, and Kim "Surrender" Jung-soo.
Those three players won the 2017/18 season Hearthstone Championship Tour events. Though there are wrinkles in this strategy. Shtan in particular won his Championship in a totally different Standard rotation, with a meta that is completely unrecognizable from where we are today.
So back the proven winners, sure. But be prepared for some disappointment potential. In the 2016 World Championship Pavel Beltukov won the title without winning a HCT Championship.
The professional perspective
If you don't want to base your pick on results, you need to find another factor. What about the experience of industry leaders?
There are a number of players in the field who are getting their first chance at a big break despite being long-time favorites among their fellow professionals. The North American pair of Muzahidul "Muzzy" Islam and Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang definitely fit that bill. They have practiced with some of the very best and are among the most successful ladder players the region has ever seen.
Muzzy had a shot to qualify through the Spring Championship and didn't make it out of the group stage though—does that mean he will have an extra motivation, or a sign that he might come up short again?
What about a totally different factor—World Championship experience?
There are four players in the lineup who have been to the very top of Hearthstone esports competition before. These players have bucked the idea that Hearthstone is too random for consistent performance, and have showed they are capable of winning no matter how much the game changes.
There are two players returning from the very first World Championship—Ukraine's Aleksandr "Kolento" Malsh, and Chen "tom60229" Wei Lin. Tom went 0-2 in the group stage, while Kolento made the quarterfinal stage—although he had been a favorite to win the whole thing.
From 2015, there are another two players who have made it back. They are Ryan "Purple" Murphy-Root and Eugene "Neirea" Shumilin. Once again, both undelivered however. Purple, on the back of winning that year's Americas Championship and helping James "Firebat" Kostesich win Worlds in 2014, was a favorite to win the whole thing. Both players fell at the group stage.
Forget all this stuff about form, and experience, and credibility. Let's pick a maverick.
Aside from the missing in action Warrior and Shaman, Hunter is the least represented class in the Worlds lineup. Only one player has elected to bring a Hunter deck, the decorated European Jon "Orange" Westberg. That alone is enough to earn him maverick status and attract some attention.
Orange also has a tendency to run very hot and cold. He's one of the most successful players in the game's history when it comes to taking home trophies—but he has also crashed out early in tournaments where he was considered a favorite.
If you're a fan of aggro decks more generally, then Anthony "Ant" Trevino is your man. He's bringing four aggressive decks—Tempo Rogue, Murloc Paladin, Aggro Druid, and Archivist Priest—eschewing the control meta.
Ant is the year's HCT success story. Previously a fairly unheralded grinder but well-respected by his fellow players, Blizzard has really got behind him and his story. Now he's a well-known and liked personality in the community, travelling to events across the world. It would be the ultimate culmination of his feel-good journey to see him lift the trophy.