Last weekend, we headed to The Bahamas to take in the 2017 Hearthstone Winter Championship. For Blizzard was a chance to crown a winner and issue invites to the forthcoming World Championship, as well as unveil some new cards for the imminent Journey to Un’Goro expansion. You have not lived until you’ve seen a family-friendly Caribbean resort be overrun by game developers, streamers, PR conduits, press people, and Forsen. I was onsite, and here are six things I loved.
1) SamuelTsao’s Menagerie Rogue
There has been so much bellyaching about the state of the Hearthstone meta, and almost all of it is valid. For a game with nine classes and more cards in rotation than ever before, it’s pretty disheartening how three, maybe four archetypes are truly viable. Renolock, Jade Shaman, Pirate Warrior, and a few stray Dragon Priests and Miracle Rogues to fill in the gaps. That’s what made Tsao’s weird, tricky Rogue build so enthralling. He ran the Finja package (which might be a sneaky nerf target in the next few months,) Leeroy, The Curator, and a stealth theme with Shadow Senseis and Silent Knight. Yeah, Silent Knight, the three-mana 2/2 that’s never seen any real play since its release in The Grand Tournament back in 2015. In a week it’ll be relegated to Wild, but not before getting the first shine of its life in the biggest tournament of the season. Even in the content lulls, Hearthstone still has a way of surprising you.
2) DocPwn’s improbable run
Julien “DocPwn” Bachand is a thirty-something Quebecois dude who’s currently more of a Hearthstone fan than a Hearthstone pro. Regardless, he managed to best Pavel out of the tournament and secure a spot at the World Championship later this year. Frankly he came off as the most easygoing, overwhelmed dude in front of the press pool—just a guy in a Montreal Impact hat who now has a chance to win a quarter of a million dollars playing a card game. He might not have been the best player in the tournament, but he won a ton of fans last weekend.
3) Getting the press release for StarCraft: Remastered at midnight while surrounded by a number of inebriated Blizzard PR folks
While we were in the Bahamas, part of the Blizzard contingency was dispatched to South Korea to unveil the remastered version of the original StarCraft. So a bunch of our phones blew up with the announcement really late at night on Saturday. I sent the Hearthstone team into a brief panicked moment when I asked “wait… are you guys making something called StarCraft Remastered?” An esports coordinator took the phone from my hands, verified the veracity of the email, and was immediately relieved that I wasn’t reading a leak out loud.
4) Frank “Fr0zen” Zhang getting oh so close
If you’ve followed Hearthstone for a while, you know Fr0zen is one of those guys who perpetually shows up in the top-16, but can’t quite take home a title. He’ll have to wait a little big longer for that chance, but his second place-finish last weekend scored him easily the biggest prize pool of his career. Fr0zen took Aleksey “ShtanUdachi” Barsukov to seven hard-fought games, eventually losing to (let’s admit) a pretty sick Reno Mage draw. But he played beautifully all weekend, and I really hope 2017 is his year.
5) The camaraderie of the Hearthstone community
I am jealous of Hearthstone streamers. It must be really nice to find yourself injected into such a diverse, hilarious community. Blizzard treats these tournaments like a family reunion; the few times where a global network of influencers are united at the same place at the same time. And surprisingly, there were no cliques or quartered-off elites. You saw lifelong nerd-fame icons like Brian and Natalie Kibler break bread with relative newcomers like DisguisedToast. Trump and Kripparrian greeted each other like ancient friends. Drama and back-biting are baked into the DNA of Twitch, but you couldn’t catch a whiff of it here.
6) The Bahamian Hearthstone community turning out
About 250,00 people live in Nassau, the capital and largest city of The Bahamas. So a Hearthstone tournament in the ballroom of an all-inclusive resort wasn’t exactly built for spectators in mind. Despite that, a number of born-and-bred Bahamians made it out to watch the tournament. We talked with some of the guys and learned they played a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh! and worked at a gaming store in town. Esports are so cool sometimes.