We sat down with Jan “Ekop” Palys, one of the most recognisable names in the professional Hearthstone scene, to talk about himself, his future and Hearthstone.
We had a small introduction, but could you tell us a bit more about yourself? Also, is it true that you speak five different languages?
Ekop: Yeah, but not fluently. I am really good at speaking languages, but of course if you do not use them then you just forget them eventually right? So, I only speak three languages fluently because I use them on a daily basis. Polish, German and English, of course. And besides that, it is little bit of Spanish, French, some Italian but it is nothing like to communicate fluently. So, gaming is my hobby, right? I mean, that’s pretty obvious, otherwise I wouldn’t be here in this industry, and I play all kind of games. I love games in general, no matter what kind of game it is – sport games, card games, video games, social games, drinking games, any kind of game I enjoy playing it. Especially when it is a competitive one, I really thrive in competition and I always want to win of course. I particularly try games where I can be competitive against honorable and worthy opponents.
Does your BattleTag have any special meaning or significance? How did you come up with it?
Ekop: Ekop has been my nickname pretty much since 2004, I think. Unlike many people who give their own nickname, my nickname was actually given by my classmates and I just stuck to it because I think it is catchy, short, sweet and I like it. Back in school, it is a little bit funny, because they tried to use this nickname to make fun of me. Basically, there was a German rapper called “Eko Fresh” and because I was into hip hop, and most of my classmates weren’t – they were more into rock I guess or to other kind of music – they wanted to make fun of me because I was the only one really into hip hop. So, they wanted to make fun of me by comparing me with him. First, it was Eko Palys (Ekop and my last name) then it was “Eko P” and afterwards it was just Ekop.
How did you pick up Hearthstone and what do you like most about it?
Ekop: I picked up Hearthstone pretty much when it came out, like even before I had access to it, when it was still in closed beta and I didn’t have access to it with a beta key. I was already watching a lot of Hearthstone and theorising about it and I was really into the game. I was watching streams and all that. Eventually, I became one of the firsts to get access to Hearthstone during the closed beta. Of course, I really wanted to get into Hearthstone in the first place because it is the spiritual successor to the World of Warcraft card game, which I played professionally from 2007 and they canceled it because of Hearthstone. I made a natural transition and I was really interested in Hearthstone, it looked very fun when I first show it and I really wanted to try it out. From the start, my plan was to become one of the best players in the game just like I was in the World of Warcraft card game.
How do you approach each season and what strategies do you use to climb your way to the top of rankings, get legend etc.?
Ekop: It depends on my motivation, I guess. Usually, I try to play the best decks, so they can give me the highest win rate because I always like winning. The more I win, the more I have fun. So I try the best strategies, the best decks whichever works best in ladder for me, and I just keep playing that until I get legend. Sometimes I switch it up, sometimes I try to get legend with like weirdo decks for my stream but usually I play the best decks so I can win the most.
Do you like deck building as well or you prefer getting the proven decks?
Ekop: Oh, I love building decks but generally I wouldn’t consider myself a good deck builder. I am not creative enough to come up with good ideas, I suppose. I like to try out my own builds as well and some have success, some don’t. In that case, I’d rather take inspiration from ideas that other have and try to improve them, like put my mark on that kind of deck type instead of just coming up with something super original and call it completely 100% my own. Because it usually fails and until I find the right build, I just win with already established decks. I just don’t want to dedicate too much time to make my own deck.
What style of decks do you prefer playing?
Ekop: The decks I like playing in general are decks that are winning, of course. Like I said, I like winning so I like playing the best decks out there that would win the most games. But, in general the class I like the most would be Warlock because there is a lot of variety when it comes to potential deck types and also I really like the hero power. Doing something negative to yourself for bigger advantage, I like those kind of mechanics a lot, used to like them as well on other card games back in the day, but yeah that’s why I like warlock, Life Tap especially. Life Tap and other cards, like for example Soulfire or Doomguard, cards that give you disadvantage but also a big advantage.
What about the current meta? Do you enjoy it? Would you like to change something? Did you enjoy the old meta more?
Ekop: The current meta is, compared to the old one, pretty bad. I feel like, it’s conscious design choice by Blizzard to make the meta how it is right now. They don’t want to scare away newer players who might be scared away by the complexity of decks that used to be popular for example Freeze Mage and Handlock and Miracle combo decks or Patron combo decks and all that kind of stuff. Basically, combo decks in general, which Blizzard doesn’t like because they are obviously not “fun and interactive,” right? There ares not many design choices that Blizzard is taking that would swing the balance of the game in another direction. I feel like they are just continuing the trend that has been established a couple of sets ago already and just go with that instead of trying out new stuff and taking risks.
So speaking of that, let’s say that you were in charge of Hearthstone, what would you change personally to make it more appealing?
Ekop: The biggest thing would obviously be the card balance. So, you know how in every game when there is something unbalanced, the developers have the opportunity change it right? To fix it, either buff something or just rework stuff. Blizzard does that from time to time with Hearthstone, but not as frequently as in other games though. So, that is kind of a bummer because that’s the beauty of Hearthstone compared to other card games. Other card games never had the opportunity for cards to be changed or to balance them, therefore they often end up with really broken meta games. So, it is really hard to balance it. Blizzard obviously has the opportunity to balance cards on the fly in case something is ever too bad or too good so they can just make changes. Also because of that, they take more risks when it comes to different card designs, or mechanics and stuff like that. If it ever happened that mechanic or a specific card design is too broken and just doesn’t work out, then they can change it. Any kind of change is always good and freshens up the metagame. A lot of people are saying “yeah we want new cards faster” but that is not really necessary sometimes. Even if they release new content in a shorter amount of time, as long as they make those changes, as we have seen in the past when the game was still in beta, the metagame changes a lot even if only one or two cards get buffed or nerfed. We have seen this in the past and a lot of players are welcoming the changes, not only because it freshens up the meta, but because it also fun to try out new stuff and to see if the old stuff is good after being buffed or nerfed. It just adds so much variety, even though if you do not introduce anything new technically.
So you prefer balancing over adding new content?
Ekop: I prefer both, really. Of course, I always like playing with new cards as well, Especially if the add something completely new to the game, that hasn’t been seen before. I feel like currently it has not been the case that you have seen a lot of refreshing stuff. With the last two sets that pretty much added nothing new to the table when comes to mechanics. The last mechanic we saw was Discover, which was very well received, and it is good RNG. it’s how an RNG card should look, in my opinion.
So recently you won the Insomnia Truesilver Championship, and it was your first title win after almost two years with Heroes of the Cards. How did that feel and what kept you away from competing all these months?
Ekop: I have been competing all the time, it is not like I have been living under rock or anything. Also, between Heroes of Cards and Insomnia I won some tournaments, just not major ones of course, but yeah I think Insomnia was my sixth tournament win besides that I had a couple of good performances as well, top four, top eight and stuff like that. Of course it has been a little of a dry spell you could say, because I haven’t had great success apart from that point when it comes to tournaments. It is a thing of perception you, it is all about consistency. Some players get like one big win and then do nothing after that at all and everybody just forgets about them, but I always have a constant presence, I go to every event and try to perform my best at every event. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. It is a card game after all. Even if you prepared perfectly and even if you played perfectly you can still lose in the first round and then get eliminated instantly. It is because you got unlucky. So it is not about how often you play, you have to try hard every time and you have to try a lot to constantly earn money with tournaments.
Speaking of tournaments and such, what are your goals for Hearthstone this year, and maybe the first months of the upcoming year?
Ekop: My goals for Hearthstone…of course to constantly play Hearthstone, I still like the game, even though it is the way it is right now. I will attend every possible tournament that I can attend. For example there is gonna be DreamHack Winter, that it is the next big one that has been announced already and it is open to everyone, there might be something before that as well. Also, what I’d like to do in the future is to cast more. I have been casting more and more recently. For example recently in PGL Tavern Tales in Bucharest, I casted a lot of games and the WESG qualifiers. So I am really looking forward to cast more because it is also a lot of fun and obviously it also pays well.
Do you enjoy it more than playing?
Ekop: No, no I am a competitor in heart and that’s what I’ll always be. You cannot extinguish these competitive spirits from me. It is what I thrive on. I just love competing and I want to keep doing it in the future. It is a lot of fun for me and that’s what I am gonna do.
You recently left Cloud9 do you have plans for a new team soon?
Ekop: Well, I am open to any offers, I have been in talks with some teams but nothing has come to worth just yet. So yeah I am very good person to work with so if any team is looking to pick me up, contact me, and I will consider the offer.
Do you have any advice or thoughts that you would like to share with your fans or other aspiring competitive players that want like to be like you?
Ekop: Well, it is always important to have a passion for the game and to play it a lot, of course that comes with the passion. Always try to perform your best, always find ways to improve yourself, learn from your mistakes and don’t get tilted by RNG that is out of your control. Basically, you are not supposed to focus on that. So don’t get tilted if cards with the word random on them defeat you. Just try to find the mistakes that you made and try to improve upon those mistakes. Play with players that are on your level or preferably better because you can learn that much more when you play against bigger players on ladder for example. Have fun basically. That is the most important part. If you don’t have fun while playing the game, then you shouldn’t pursue a career in that kind of field.
Do you think that sometimes you lose the fun part when you are playing too competitively?
Ekop: Sometimes, but it happens to everyone who plays too much. If you play too much, eventually you get burned out and you just lose passion and in order not to lose your passion for the game, you should not play too much. Then after all it feels like a grind and like a job you start to hate eventually. You should be seeing this as a game which you have a lot of fun with and that you really enjoy. That’s the most important part.
Let’s say you are a castaway in a remote, isolated island. Which Hearthstone personality would you choose to help you survive and why?
Ekop: I would choose Darkwonyx, he is a big strong dude from Sweden. He can definitely help me out, fighting bears and all the wildlife and building stuff.
I think we can wrap it up. Do you have any final shoutouts?
Ekop: Final shoutout goes out to my viewers who still watch my stream and I hope for a bright future. So anyone who is gonna be involved in that future, shoutout to you.