We had the chance to sit down with Jakub “Lothar” Szygulski, one of the community’s favourite personalities, and talk about himself, his team and Hearthstone in general. Find out more about it.
We had a small introduction earlier, but could you tell me a bit more about yourself?
Lothar: I started my career as a professional player, but nowadays it’s kinda different. I am more of manager/Chief Gaming Officer in G2. I am responsible for other teams as well, but I still think about myself as a professional player when it comes to Hearthstone. I am casting most of the Hearthstone events currently being played on major events.
Does your BattleTag have any special meaning or significance? How did you come up with it?
Lothar: Well, the nickname came way before I started playing competitive games. It was because I had a strong interest in history, especially Polish history, and World War I and II and so on. I was also reading a lot of books, mostly history-wise, but also a lot of fantasy books. There was a book called “Red Baron,” which was about an alternate history for World War I and there was a pilot named Lothar von Richthofen, who was just a cool character. I was 11 or 12 years old, and I was like “yeah this is a cool name, I will grab that for myself.” So basically, that’s why my nickname is like that and it is kind of a strange coincidence that it also refers to a character in “World of Warcraft,” so I guess it turned out well.
You are part of G2 Esports, one of the biggest organisations in the world. How did the opportunity come around for you to join them?
Lothar: It all started back in 2014. I had the opportunity after I talked with Kinguin to create a team and basically they secured a budget for me so I could build an entire lineup that I wanted. From that point, I was thinking about who will be the best fit for the team and I wanted to have a team that would be super competitive but also built by people who can be celebrities.
It was hard to establish that because we had Reynad and Amaz back then, but I wanted someone else who could be like those stars in the future. It started with Rdu, Thijs and Lifecoach and it stopped that way. We talked in DreamHack Winter 2014 to create a team and I made them an offer. Fortunately for me, they all accepted the offer, and soon enough, we started the team and it wasn’t yet of a name.
First of all, we wanted to have a “Team Kinguin” just like that, but after some talks, after some ideas, we ended up with “Nihilum” a strong brand in World of Warcraft because it kinda fits. In general, I would say that it was a mistake that we didn’t just stick with whatever we wanted in the first place something like “Team Kinguin” and then try for something else.
The “Nihilum” brand was a huge pain for myself because I was taking care of it on my own, basically everything, with the branding, with merchandise, with the logos, basically everything was on my hand. Of course, I didn’t make it alone. I have no clue about graphics and editing, but everything was basically done under my control and it took a while.
After one year of “Nihilum,” Carlos from G2 Esports, who I became friends with during that time, came up with this idea that he wanted to really have a top tier team in G2, back then that was Gamers2, and they also wanted to make a rebranding. When I saw the rebranding, it was really cool and I thought it might actually be a really good way to expand our team because after the failure and CS:GO with “Nihilum” and other teams I was like this is too much work for just few of us. That work broke down “Nihilum,” so I thought that this would be a really good venture to transfer our entire team on the G2 and that just happened.
I was happy with the move, and to be honest, I think that it was the best move we could have made. G2 is an amazing organization, fully structured, and it is the first time that I see any form of stability and faithfulness when it comes to planning. It is really cool to see the insides of a really well established organization, although it is very young. I think that G2 is already a brand that is a direct competition, not only competitive wise when it comes to teams, but also behind the scenes when it comes to the structure, to organisations like TSM, Fnatic and Cloud9. Maybe we are even better than them, but who am I to judge, but it is just a really good organization; that is what I can say.
How did you pick up Hearthstone and also what do you like most about it?
Lothar: Before 2013, I was a competitive player for almost every single card game that you could find. I was one of the top-10 players in the world when it came to the rating in World of Warcraft, the predecessor to Hearthstone. However, I retired from that game at some point, when I wasn’t happy with the design it had developed into, because there were really overpowered cards. It didn’t feel good and I didn’t want to invest more in that card game. I just took a break.
But after a few years, one of my friends that knew that I was really good in World of Warcraft sent me a message that Blizzard was actually releasing a beta for a card game of their own and it looked very similar to World of Warcraft and he wanted to give me the beta key. I was like “wow that is pretty cool.” The game looked really nice and it was almost the same as World of Warcraft, but it is just way simpler and has the same graphics and so on. So I was like “yeah I can try this out.” After trying it out, after just one month, I was sure that this game will make a huge impact and it is the perfect occasion for card games to actually make a splash on the competitive scene, but in the computer scene.
So I knew this was a good opportunity for me to just play and try to be a professional player in it. Although back then, there was no ecosystem yet, everything was built from the ground up but it took a while.
What I like most about Hearthstone? In the beginning, it was the best combination of both simplicity and strategy. Also, the pace of the game has a huge difference, because if you want to play Magic Online or other games, they just feel completely horrible when it comes to pacing. Every single game takes like ages and this is not happening with Hearthstone and the pacing of the game is really important when it comes to appeal to the audience. I think that is the most important part that I like about Hearthstone.
So you have only played the World of Warcraft card game or like Magic, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh?
Lothar: Almost everything. I started with Magic and Doomtrooper, Dark Eden, Adam vs. Berta, Lord of the Ring and Pokemon. I didn’t play Yu-Gi-Oh though; I didn’t like the design of the game. Then we had Illuminati, Vampire Masquerade, there were tons of them. I don’t know if I remember everything, but there was maybe six more titles, so I was trying out everything, like Warcry, Warhammer40k, everything that was in the market, basically.
How do you approach each season and what strategies do you use to climb your way to the top of the rankings, get legend etc.?
Lothar: Currently, to be honest, I do not even try, because I am not happy with the current system of ladder, when it comes to the reliability. I wasn’t really aiming to go to BlizzCon, at least this year, and not like the two last years before. I had other responsibilities, you know more casting, more behind the scenes things to do. So I wasn’t really aiming to be in the top of the ladder, like in the first and the second year when action mattered, when you were like top 10 or top 16 to get into the qualifier. When it comes to the mindset you need to have, it’s still the same. There are either two ways: either you want to play the best deck in the game, or you want to always counter the meta, but this is kind of a really rough estimate and it doesn’t really work every single time. When you are on the top ranks of the legend, you need to be consistent or have a really lucky streak to get high.
When it comes to strategies to just go to the legend, you just stick to the best deck that you want to play. For some people, this is the best deck in the game and sometimes for other people, this is the best deck that they know. Usually, what is also very interesting in Hearthstone, is that it’s one of the card games where the more professional players practice a special deck, they have a bigger advantage over the people that do not practice it. That sometimes is as simple as playing one different card in the early game, but it makes a huge difference in the outcome.
I feel like in Hearthstone, every single card has more impact than in other card games. Probably based on the fact that Hearthstone is so tempo based and we have only 30 cards in the deck and not 60 like in MtG, which also makes a huge difference. So it feels like every single decision you make is very valuable and makes a huge impact on the board, which is kinda sad to see right now cards like Yogg or Tuskarr Totemic, because they diminish those decisions that players make. I hope that Blizzard will actually change that in the future, because right now it doesn’t feel as rewarding when it comes to most of the games you play, especially when they end up by playing Yogg.
What style of decks do you prefer playing and do you enjoy the current meta, apart from the RNG factor of Yogg and Tuskarr?
Lothar: I would say that apart from those two cards, as you said, it is actually pretty great. We have a lot of decks, of course there will always be a class that we will be perceived as the worst. It is impossible to not have a worst class. I feel that what we are lacking most in Hearthstone is more cards. That’s a problem and I feel that most of the problems would be solved by having a scheduled expansion every three or four months, like bigger expansions of at least 100 cards. Probably it would be best if we had like 200 cards every single expansion like every four months and then the meta-game would be evolving more, because we have more cards and most of the cards will also be rotating into Wild faster.
So that would be one of my thoughts to say about the game and I would enjoy the meta even more, but apart from those two cards, Yogg and Tuskarr, I feel like the meta is pretty fine. There is always a deck for each class that could be playable on ladder. Although you can always argue if it is good enough or not for the top competition, but I feel like if you want to have fun or just get to legend and don’t worry about finishing top 100, you can play almost everything that you want.
When it comes to my personal style of decks that I prefer playing, usually I prefer playing control decks. Like I was in the beginning of Hearthstone, I was big advocate on Control Hunter, because I liked the style of secrets and weapon control and big minions to finish up the game and I still hope that this archetype will make an impact on the competitive scene at some point in the game, because I still like it. It actually was one of my favorites archetypes, Burn decks and I hope at some point we will have an archetype like that in Hearthstone that will not be named Freeze Mage, but we will see.
Let’s say you are in charge of making some changes in Hearthstone. What would you change apart from what we have already talked about?
Lothar: I think that the biggest thing would be more frequent expansions for Hearthstone, which would probably solve most of the problems. I feel like other changes I would like to see when it comes to the gameplay itself would be ladder, just even a simple change like longer queues for the top of the ladder, top 100 or top 50 even. You do not want to play against people with 3k legend rank or even less, so you want to have a better competition at that point. You want someone around your rank and I wouldn’t mind waiting three or five minutes to have a match with someone who is really close to my rank and not playing against someone random that is just really far away from my own rank. So this is one of the things that I would like to change in ladder.
Maybe being more transparent with the ELO as well. I feel like this is something that I would really enjoy. When it comes to the competitive scene, I just feel there should be more team tournaments, like official team tournaments, official team leagues, supported by Blizzard. I do not say that we don’t need 1v1, because it’s a 1v1 game, but maybe alongside them there should be team tournaments because people seem to really like those and want to watch it. That’s the impression that I have when I talk to viewers, players, teams, sponsors, everyone seems like “yeah we’d like some team tournaments.”
For the past couple of months, you have leaned more towards casting rather than actually playing the game competitively? Why did you decide to make that switch?
Lothar: Basically the opportunity kinda came upon myself at some point. When I was competing in tournaments, I always wanted to be on the desk as well, to talk about the game, because what is really awesome about card games is the fact that if you are a really good player, you can also be a decent caster at the same time. Of course, you need to work on your language and I still feel that I should rework on that myself a lot more, because I am perceived as the non-native caster that is sometimes hard to understand or like the vocabulary.
But I also feel good with public appearances and I have decent experience in my own language when it comes to radio television and so on, playing in commercials. Whatever required some public appearance, I was always into that because this is something that I enjoy. With casting, it is something that merged the things that I liked about competing and having public exposure.
I still have to talk about the game, I still need to know the game, basically play it at almost the same level as a pro player and I get to cast events and spend times with people I really like, like Frodan and Sottle, and spend time with them talking about the game. I feel close to the community as well and I think that this is very important because I enjoy being a part of the community. And also it guarantees the prize-pool, so why not?
What are your goals for Hearthstone this year and maybe the first months of the upcoming year?
Lothar: I want to see where Hearthstone will be going for 2017. I do not have any goals yet for next year apart from the fact that I want to improve things that I am doing currently. So be better in managing the team, be better at the game, be better at casting. But for 2017, I would like to see changes for Hearthstone, especially when it comes to the competitive aspect, so balance changes, more cards and better structure for official Blizzard esports events. I hope that will happen.
Do you have any advice or thought that you want to share with your fans or other aspiring competitive players/casters?
Lothar: It applies to every single thing in your life. Either it is a public job or it is office job, pro player or caster. It is a combination of two things. First of all, you need to enjoy what you want to do because then you are more convincing for the job, then work hard and then there is a lot of luck that is needed to be in the right place, at the right moment to make an impact. Especially when it comes to jobs like being a pro player or a caster, because it is still entertainment and it is the same when you ask actors about it, they needed to have a good opportunity to shine in the beginning.
The opportunity, as an example, was given to me by Kinguin in the first place, but I had that opportunity because I was appearing on the events and I was paying from my own pocket to go to those events and appeared there and worked on my own branding. So that culminated into something else and it is like always step-by-step building of your own brand and then you get more opportunities to build something bigger.
I feel like most people want to jump from point A to D by ignoring everything that would be in between, maybe not even from A to D but from A to Z, and just skip the entire alphabet altogether. I feel like people diminish the factor that it’s really hard to get a professional job in esports or in general in every single entertainment area, unless you do something that is substantial behind the scenes. Like, you’re a good camera operator? You’d probably get the job at some point if you just apply, because you have this portfolio which says that you’re good at handling a camera, sounds kinda easier.
But in general, hard work and a little bit of luck and if you have a goal set, just go for that goal. It is a very vast topic to be honest; we could sit here talking for two hours about it. It’s not always hard work. If you work hard and you are not making it public or not just talking to people about how hard you work, no one will care about it.
A couple of months ago, you had a seizure on stream. How did that affect you and your life afterwards?
Lothar: Actually it affected me a lot. I mean, I love streaming but nowadays I do not stream that much. One of the reasons that I had that seizure on stream is because I feel that I overworked myself and my doctor said the same, my wife said the same, my employees said the same. Because I had the seizure in January and since the end of April 2015, I was streaming daily for like 8-10 hours and then I was working after that for another eight hours, and my day consisted just of being at work.
The thing is that I don’t consider what I am doing nowadays my work, I consider it being my hobby, but at the same time, it happens so that it is my work. So streaming is something that I enjoy, working for G2 is something that I enjoy, playing Hearthstone is something that I enjoy, casting is something that I enjoy. So I was working from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. every single day and I enjoyed it, but at the same time, it takes a lot out of you, on your health.
So after seven months of working like that every single day, with no weekends, with no whatever, but just doing it for 15-16 hours per day, my body just reacted and said that’s enough, you should take a break or work less. So nowadays, I am trying to find a balance. But it is really hard. At this month, in the past three weeks, I didn’t stream at all because I didn’t have the time, I was travelling, there was always something else to do, but whenever I had the occasion to do something more, I wanted to do it.
For example, I really hope to have some time to stream tomorrow, but at the same time, I have other responsibilities. Nowadays, I need to have a middle ground when I can sit down for like two hours and read a book or something and just enjoy myself. I have a wife I need to spend time with, and I need to spend time with my family as well. It is really tough, especially when you enjoy what are you doing, if you care about what are you doing. I feel like I am really emotional and at the same time kinda pragmatic as well when it comes to my work/hobby. It is easy to lose yourself and just do too much.
You were into bodybuilding a few years ago, also competing from what I know. Do you ever plan on going back there?
Lothar: I was almost into competing, that was at the point when I spent three years on building my body to start competing and I was at the point that I needed to consider steroids to be a semi-professional. At the same time, luckily for me, Hearthstone popped up, so I had to choose between those two and I chose Hearthstone, because taking steroids I don’t think that would be a good idea for myself.
So Blizzard saved me from that, and I am still going to the gym, but I am not trying as hard as before. It was really obnoxious at some point to give more time in preparations than being a pro player in Hearthstone I would say. I feel like working out in the gym gives me a lot of satisfaction and it is something I care about when it comes to whatever people think about me. It is something that I enjoy, when I go to the gym I am happier after the workout, and it’s also science-based because you have endorphins being released from your body, so you actually feel better after a physical workout. But I also feel like it freshens up your mind and that’s what’s very cool about it and being fit in general helps you in real life. Even that I am sitting up straight is made by the fact that I am doing squats or deadlifts in the gym. It is something that affects your entire life although you don’t think about it and I actually would recommend to everyone to be going to the gym and do physical activities consistently every week. This is something that people forget nowadays.
So, you are a castaway on a remote, isolated island. You have to choose one Hearthstone personality to help you survive. Who would it be?
Lothar: This is like 100% Frodan. First of all, I am really close friends with Frodan and he is very innovative, so if we were on an isolated island that we’d need to survive, he would build whatever we need with whatever we find. Frodan for sure.
I think we can wrap it up. Do you have any final shoutouts?
Lothar: Of course. Shoutout to my team to Rdu, Thijs, Lifecoach; they’re lovely guys and we are actually the oldest team in Hearthstone currently. We have been together since 2015, since the end of the year, so it’s actually a long time when it comes to esports. And I hope we will be together even in the next years to come, cause we are a fantastic team.
Shoutouts to G2, because it is possible because of them, we found the financial backing and without this professional organization behind us, that wouldn’t be possible. Also, shoutout to our sponsors of course.
What do you think about Lothar? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.