We sat down with Esteban “AKAWonder” Serrano, one of Spain’s finest players, to talk about himself, his team and Hearthstone. Find out more.
So we had a small introduction, but could you tell me a bit more about yourself?
AKAWonder: I’m AKAWonder or Esteban, and I play Hearthstone for SK Gaming. I won Katowice in March and I got to top-eight at the Spring Championship. I also had some good results before, like top-four at DreamHack Summer 2015, and top-eight at DreamHack Winter 2015.
Does your BattleTag have any special meaning or significance? How did you come up with it?
AKAWonder: Actually, it doesn’t have a meaning itself, but I can tell you the story behind it. I had another nickname on the internet, like in other games, when I was playing poker or Dota, or whatever. Then I wanted to focus on competitive gaming in Hearthstone, so I thought it was a good moment to change my name and make a new one for another purpose, to be a professional player, like I am now. So I tried to change everything, because when you look for a nickname on the internet, it will show up a lot of different things, so I wanted to have one for Hearthstone. I wanted to change to Wonder but if I’m also known as something else, I was feeling like Wonder was not enough so I had to add something like AKA to be clear with me and with everyone, that I’m also known as Wonder but I am not only Wonder. It pretty much went like that, so it ended up like AKAWonder.
You said you’ve played poker and Dota before. Did you play those competitively?
AKAWonder: No no no, Dota was just for fun. About poker, I played like one year, but not on high stakes, only medium stakes or something like that. I was trying to learn but all the new laws came to Spain, trying to make a regulation on poker, so I had to leave, because it was ridiculous to actually play poker in Spain.
Did it help you with your Hearthstone career?
AKAWonder: Yes, of course. I was also playing chess, like from six to 18 years old, so 12 years of pretty competitive chess. I got a lot things from both games. For example, in poker, the meaning of variance or how you have to respond when on a lose streak and from chess like strategy, planning, to be calm at every moment. I learned many things from both games.
You are part of SK Gaming, one of the biggest organisations in the world. How did that opportunity come around?
AKAWonder: At the end of 2014, I won the main tour in Spain; it was like the best tournament you can play in Spain and I was feeling that maybe Spain was a bit small for me at that point. So I was looking for something to do in esports, trying to grow my career more. I felt that I had to find a new team for me, with the similar purposes and ideas. So I was trying to message a lot of teams actually, big teams in Spain and some outside of Spain like SK Gaming. I had some conversations with SK Gaming and they were not really interested, but somehow the boss of SK Gaming told me to try to play two or three tournaments and we will see what happens. So I messaged him and told him I was going to play the tournament on stream so you can see everything I do. It was ESL Tt Esports Challenge, with like 1,000 people from Europe, with a lot of good players. If you see some of those players now, they are pro players, but back then they were nothing, like me as well. So I played that tournament and I won it, and it was really huge actually, because I played everything on stream. I was so passionate and he saw that, so from that point, he was really interested. The day after, I got the contract in my email. I played two or three more tournaments, but the ESL Challenge was like the final reason for him.
How did you pick up Hearthstone? What do you like most about it?
AKAWonder: In the beginning, Hearthstone was a game that I’d play when I was in the queue for another game, like League of Legends, DotA or whatever. It was easy and fast to play and I think after some months of playing, I realised I was really good at Hearthstone. When I am really good at playing something, I get so much more interest for it. So basically, I started to see myself playing really well. I won some tournaments and after that, it was just non-stop Hearthstone for me. If I’m winning, improving a lot, getting picked up by big teams, I will put more effort in it.
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.?
AKAWonder: It depends. If I have a lot of tournaments or things to do, I don’t really focus on ladder until the last five days or so. I try to get to Legend the first five to 10 days of the season, and then I won’t do anything special until the last 10 days. When the last 10 days come, I start to play five to seven hours a day to try and find out what the meta is and then counter it. The last two or three days are the key. I try to get to top-10 and then I wait and play slowly if I need to climb a bit higher. I am not a really good ladder player, but I got like five or six top-100 and two or three top-10 finishes. I actually don’t have a lot of time to focus on ladder, because I usually travel every weekend or every two weekends, so it’s hard to get top-100.
What style of decks do you prefer playing?
AKAWonder: Back in the day, I was a really Control-ish player. I was refusing to play any aggro deck, because I enjoy playing Control a lot. Control decks are not really effective right now. I don’t know when the Control decks disappeared from the meta, but it happened, and you can’t play them anymore; well you can, but just some of them and it’s just situational and just for tournaments, and whatever. So I ended up being a specialist in mid-range decks, curve decks, trying to play them as best as I can. That’s why we call Hearthstone, “Curvestone” right now, because we have Druids, we have Shamans, and if you play on curve, you keep winning. I am a specialist in mid-range decks and really bad with aggro decks. I really need to learn more when to go face and when to trade. I usually trade too much, and play too Control-ish. I know how to play aggro, but I usually make more mistakes than I should.
What is your favourite class?
AKAWonder: It used to be Warlock. I was really good with Handlock. I loved Zoo and I also played some Renolock some times. Also, my favourite card is Jaraxxus. However, right now, I don’t really like Warlock. I don’t play it too much, but it is my favourite class.
Did you agree with the latest nerfs? What would you have done differently?
AKAWonder: Yeah, I liked the nerfs, I think they were necessary for the game. Actually, I played some ladder yesterday or so, and Shaman is still like the 80 percent of the players right now; it’s scary even with the nerfs. I didn’t like the Yogg-Saron nerf, because it was so fun. It could be fun as well right now, I didn’t try it yet, but Yogg was like the best card to make a show in my stream, so I’m a bit sad about it. But yeah, I agree with every nerf they did actually, even with Execute. It seemed to be just one mana, but when I played Warrior, I saw that one mana is really something. They did a good job, but maybe the nerf that seems to be strange is Charge, but it makes sense, because they are trying to remove all the OTK. They did the same with Patron Warrior and others, so it makes sense with the line of changes they are making. Even though it’s sad to lose Yogg-Saron from the competitive scene, it’s fine anyways.
You are in charge of making some changes in Hearthstone. What would you change?
AKAWonder: I think I would make some Control decks stronger. Like for example, some kind of Control Paladin that wouldn’t get insta-killed by some mid-range decks, like Healadin or Control Priest, without getting wrecked in turn three. Maybe add some cards. I am always saying this, but I am missing some cards from Priest, like a three mana 2/4 minion, like Brann, but have “decrease your opponent’s minion attack by one,” or something like that. Priest is really good on stealing opponent’s cards, but it lacks on removals, so if your opponent plays a 4/6 or a 4/10, you are in trouble already. The mechanics of the priest are not funny enough and not effective enough.
Your first title win was at the ESL Hearthstone Legendary Series back in March. How did it feel being in the spotlight for the first time as a Major winner?
AKAWonder: It was amazing. It was the best moment in my career; I felt really good. It’s not only the feeling of winning, which is really good, but it’s also the feeling of getting rewarded for your work for a long time. So it was a mix between winning and getting rewarded for your work. If you see my interview with Lothar there, you will see my smiley face every time, because I was so happy.
We have seen that the Spanish scene is very promising. Do you believe that organisations should look into expanding the local scene more?
AKAWonder: Organisations in Spain are really focusing on other games, like League of Legends. Players are really good, and we have really good teams in Spain. They are qualifying in a lot of open tournaments. In fact, if you see Katowice, we had three Spanish players there, espumito, Doky and me. I don’t know, I am a bit sad about it, because I don’t see how I can help the Spanish community to grow with organisations, because the organisations do not want to take Hearthstone. I don’t know why, because there are only two or three companies doing things in Hearthstone, like broadcasting matches or organising tournaments. So maybe if players find international teams or something, then maybe the scene will grow, but I am not sure, I am a bit skeptical about it. Last year, we had two majors in Spain, apart from DreamHack Valencia, and now I think we’re going to have one major each year, apart from Valencia. That’s fine. I think two majors in the country every year is good. Of course, Spain is a really strong country in Hearthstone. I would love to see an Olympiad between countries. I would love to participate as a Spanish player in an Olympiad. I would love to see three or five people from every country playing online or so. It would be really awesome.
What are your goals for Hearthstone this year and maybe the first months of the upcoming year?
AKAWonder: Right now, I don’t have any goals for this year. Since the season is ending, my goal for 2016 was to win a major and I got it. So I think the next step will be to qualify for BlizzCon. It’s the only thing I miss from my career. Of course, I want to keep winning tournaments and I will keep doing my best. Qualifying for BlizzCon is a new challenge for me, and a new challenge always makes me feel awake. If I make it to BlizzCon, it’s the dream. Next year, at the start of the season, I will read all the rules in order to make it for BlizzCon and I will try to do my best and qualify for it. Right now, I have to go to the Last Call Qualifier, not to play, but to do an autograph session. I will play against people in Amsterdam with ElkY and TidesofTime. Then I am going to DreamHack. As always, it’s one of the hardest tournaments because you have to play a lot of swiss and almost all in one day, but I’m going.
Do you have any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with your fans or other aspiring competitive players?
AKAWonder: I’m always saying that you should be consistent every time. Don’t stop playing Hearthstone even if you don’t get good results for some months; try to improve day by day. Hearthstone is a game where if you are the best, you are not going to see this in the first day, but maybe the first month. At the end of the year, you can analyse the data and see if you are good enough or not. There are a lot of people that say I lost 10 games in a row, I won 20 games in a row, or whatever. That doesn’t mean anything. You have to count up at the end of the year. It’s hard to manage because, for example, in LoL, if you are good, you can see it quickly, but in Hearthstone, it’s more difficult to evaluate. So in the end, consistency is the word. Go on, play and don’t stop. At the end of the year, you will see.
You are a castaway on a remote, isolated island. You have to choose one Hearthstone personality to help you survive. Who would it be?
AKAWonder: It should be a girl, right? But I don’t see any girls that I would love to go with. From the Hearthstone scene, I don’t know, maybe TidesofTime, because Tides is calm and he is one of my favourite players and we are really good friends.
Ok, I think we can wrap it up. Any final shoutouts?
AKAWonder: Yes, of course. I want to give a shoutout to SK Gaming and all the sponsors as well, because without them, I couldn’t make my dream come true. Also, to all my fans, it’s amazing to have them on Twitter, Facebook or whatever; the Spanish community and everyone who is following me actually. And thanks to you for having me.
What do you think about what AKAWonder had to say? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @GAMURScom.