Thijs, RDU, Powder and Mitsuhide slam HCT 2017

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Thumbnail image courtesy of Kim Ventura / DreamHack Flickr

The first Hearthstone Championship Tour Major of 2017, the Europe Winter Playoffs, was plagued with controversies ranging from organizational delays to allegations of players intentionally disconnecting from losing games.

It was a less-than-auspicious outing for the tour's new format, which incorporated feedback of the much-criticized 2016 edition of the tour including a move from double-elimination brackets to the Swiss format.

According to pro Hearthstone players Thijs "ThijsNL" Molendijk, Dima "RDU" Radu and Harald "Powder" Gimre, while HCT 2017 has made some incremental improvements over last year, it still presents many issues for pro players.

RELATED: 'Apparently I have to play until I lose': Pros speak out against Hearthstone Winter Playoffs issues

According to Thijs, while the adoption of Swiss and the reduction of players of the regional playoffs from over 200 to 64 (though, 90 took part in the European playoffs due to point-ties) are welcome changes, acquiring HCT points through Ladder Play and Open Cups is still grindy and time-consuming.

"I think when you came with 200 players its a little of a ... it can become a little bit of a lottery ... so I'm happy it goes to 64 now," Thijs said. "And yeah, the points system, I would have liked it if it could be a less rewarding, like the last Ladder day [of a] season is really stressful, so I'm not too big of a fan of that. But yeah, it's probably one of the only ways we can go at the moment."

While Open Cups — locally organized tournaments which award HCT points — provide less points than last year, one major change has proved a double-edged sword. Players can only claim points from their highest Open Cup finish in a month and Open Cups must have at least 64 players to award points.

While this works out well for players who win their first or second Open Cups, anyone who doesn't is compelled to keep competing in them until they win to maximize their points total. This is difficult for streamers whose livelihood depends upon keeping a consistent streaming schedule.

"Open Cups are still shitty and not really worth it to play. But still I feel obligated to play them because you really want the points," RDU said. "Ladder still giving that many points is also not that cool. Forcing players to travel for big Majors to get the bulk of points is also not ideal."

In regards to players travelling to Majors, one issue the Europe Playoffs encountered was that instead of being held in a centralized location, stations were set up in bars and restaurants across the continent. While each venue had official Blizzard admins, incidents erupted from players having to move to internet cafes and living rooms after their venue closed to internet disconnects forcing multiple re-games.

For instance, DreamHack Winter 2016 winner Louis "Mitsuhide" Bremers lost a tied match againt Romanno after having to re-play the tiebreaker game three times because his opponent disconnected from the game twice. Mitsuhide was ahead both times the disconnects occurred. The final game, which he lost, was streamed without casters mentioning the disconnects.

He says that he would like Blizzard to take a more nuanced approach to disconnects, with board state being taken into consideration on whether the game should be re-played or be considered an automatic loss.

"I would appoint a specialist or former pro player (even casters have enough knowledge for this) to look if the person DC'ing is ahead or behind," Mitsuhide said in a text interview. "In every case where it's 50-50 or he's behind, his opponent should get the win. If he's ahead a rematch should be issued."

The decentralized organization also hurt Alliance's Jon "Orange" Westberg, who previously won SeatStory Cup VI and reached the Grand Final of WESG 2016. Orange failed to qualify for the playoffs through points but attended a Tavern Hero qualifier in Sweden in a last ditch effort to enter the tournament.

Orange described his Odyssey in a long Twitlonger, explaining how he was stranded in Stockholm in the middle of the night after the second half of the qualifier was moved to the next morning, just three hours before the playoffs were set to start.

"All I can say is that this [has] been the worst tournament experience I've ever had in my career and I am really [disappointed] in the people [organizing] this event. I hope that Blizzard will never let something like this happen again," he wrote.

While the move to Swiss format has been overall well-received, some members of the community have taken issue with the single-elimination playoff bracket, as it can punish players who performed well in the Swiss. For instance, Mikuláš "Pokrovac" Dio went undefeated with a perfect 7-0 record but was eliminated in the single-elimination quarterfinals by James "GreenSheep" Luo. That one best-of-five match was difference between going home or going to the Global Winter Championship in the Bahamas.

RDU addressed the possibility of such an event arising in a YouTube video he made criticizing the playoffs format in January. According to him, a single-elimination bracket is an artificial way to increase drama and there are better ways to create "hype" that are fairer to players.

"You could still like find other ways to make hype about your tournament than just inflating it through making the current format just single-eliminates one guy and, 'Oh, maybe the guy that won the Swiss and went 7-0 he's just going to go home, how unlucky!'" he said in the video. "It's just very bad way of tournament making."

In our interview, RDU said that if given the chance he would enact major changes to the HCT's qualification system that would restrict competition in Open Cups to Legend players.

"I want to make like Open Cups with a lot of players, like maybe 1,000, and then you award the first 20-56 with points and do them weekly and have the Cups require you to like be in good standing on Ladder when you sign up, or be like Legend on Ladder when you sign up for the cup," he said.

"And then, after three months of these kind of cups, like 12 cups, there'll be — if you give points to like a lot of players, like 256 and upwards, the better players are more likely to qualify, rather than having like a Ladder system where you reward people for getting lucky on the last day of the season."

Powder, on the other hand, says that he's positive about a number of the macro changes made for the 2017 tour, including making the seasonal championships international events with players from all four regions.

"I like most of the things they're trying to do, it's gonna be fun with the way that its gonna be three big championships where all the different regions get to play each other, which is nice, instead of just BlizzCon. So yeah, I think it's gonna be exciting," he said.

However, pros like Mitsuhide say it's difficult to take comfort in what steps Blizzard take forward when they bear the brunt of the steps gone backward. Especially when they commit hundreds of hours just to qualify, only to miss out because of format decisions and technical errors.

"You have to imagine most of us pros do this full time or semi-full time and grinding the open circuit requires three months of full dedication usually grinding ladder and playing open cups for a minimum of five hours every day," Mitsuhide said.

"In my case I earned most of my qualification points by winning DreamHack winter but it's still so many months gone to waste. After I lost the first round I had to go 6-0 to make it and the feeling of being robbed of the win made it impossible to focus well enough to win these rounds. So all in all, very, very frustrating and unrewarding experience."

Blizzard have declined to on the situation.

Sasha Erfanian is in Charrrge now! Follow him on Twitter.

Arena moving to standard, card appearance rates changed

us.battle.net 23h ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard

The Year of the Mammoth isn't just bringing changes to Hearthstone's Constructed play format, Blizzard is also bringing significant changes to the Arena as well.

As of the next Hearthstone update, Arena will be limited to cards in the Standard format, meaning Curse of Naxxramas, Goblins vs. Gnomes, Blackrock Mountain, The Grand Tournament and League of Explorers will all be removed from the pool of available cards. On top of that, basic and common cards will show up less often, neutral minions from the Classic set will appear less, the cards Flamestrike and Abyssal Enforcer will appear less often in drafting and spells will appear more often overall.

According to a Reddit post from Hearthstone game director Ben Brode, the change from Wild to Standard is experimental and could be reverted in the future.

"Changing Arena to Standard is a big experiment. If players play it for a while and don't enjoy it, we're happy to revert it. We're also likely to experiment with other, crazier formats in the future. Naxx cards only? Only Legendaries and spells?" Brode wrote.

"I think we just need to take a more active role in the Arena experience. Internally, I don't think we expected much out of the Standard Arena change. But after playtesting, we felt it was pretty fun. I think players will enjoy it, but like I said, try it and let us know."

Click here for the full article via us.battle.net

DrJikininki wins HCT Americas Winter Playoffs

by 3d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard

DrJikininki has won the HCT Americas Winter Playoffs with a 3-0 win over DocPwn.

DrJikininki took the last game of the Grand Finals with a RenoLock deck, beating out DocPwn's Pirate Warriors. Both players had already qualified for the HCT Winter Championship in the Bahamas after placing in the Top 4 of the playoffs.

For his victory, DrJikininki took home 20 HCT points. On his way to the Grand Finals, he defeated Jeffery "Tarei" Liu and WoT, while DocPwn beat Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang and Leomane.

Daniel Rosen is a news editor for theScore esports. You can follow him on Twitter.

docpwn, fr0zen, Tarei, Dr.Jikininki to represent North America at HCT Winter Championship

by 3d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Activision/Blizzard

Canada's docpwn, Luminosity's Frank "fr0zen" Zhang, Jeffrey "Tarei" Liu and Dr.Jikininki will be advancing to the HCT Winter Championship in the Bahamas following their quarterfinal victories at the NA playoffs on Sunday.

docpwn defeated Brazil's Leo "leomane" Almeida 3-1 in the first quarterfinal match after going undefeated in the Swiss.

The most high profile match of the day was between NRG Esports' William "Amnesiac" Barton and fr0zen. Both players included off-meta decks in their lineups, Amnesiac with an Aggro Rogue and Tempo Mage while fr0zen had a Murloc Warrior variant. However, Amnesiac's Rogue had poor luck against fr0zen's Reno Mage and Reno Warlock, though it did get a win against the Murloc Warrior. However, the Young Savage ultimately lost after his Tempo Mage fell to the Murloc Warrior.

Tarei, who previously came in second at the 2016 HCT Americas Summer Championship, defeated Lucas 3-1.

Finally, the good doctor, Dr.Jikininki, defeated Brazil's WoT 3-1 to clinch the final spot at the Bahamas.

Last week at the European Playoffs, James "GreenSheep" Luo, Team Liquid's Yevhenii "Neirea" Shumilin, Aleksey "ShtanUdachi" Barsukov and 2016 World Champion Pavel "Pavel" Beltiukov qualified for the championship as well.

docpwn will next meet fr0zen in the HCT NA Winter Playoffs semifinals, while Tarei takes on Dr.Jikininki.

Sasha Erfanian is a Dirty Rat for theScore esports. Follow him on Twitter.

A guide to Control Warrior in MSoG

by 3d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard Press

Sick of nuking newbies with your Pirate Warrior? Love seeing that Armor total rise all the way to the stratosphere? Well then, here's a guide to Control Warrior for Mean Streets of Gadgetzan.

Basic List

Whirlwind/Revenge/Brawl/Ravaging Ghoul: Your AoE options, Whirlwind, Revenge and Ghoul can pair nicely with Acolyte of Pain for card draw. Brawl is great for reigning in a out-of-control board, but there's always a risk of your opponent's biggest, baddest minion surviving. Try to have something up your sleeve to deal with it.

Execute/Shield Slam/Gorehowl/Fiery War Axe: Your primary single-target removal, Execute and Shield Slam are some of the cheapest. Unless they give you lethal, Gorehowl and Fiery War Axe should only be used for removal.

Justicar Trueheart/Shield Block/Alley Armorsmith: Justicar Trueheart will be your primary armor generator as two-mana for 4 armor can quickly snowball out of control, as there's no cap on how much armor you can have. Shield Block is also great for card cycle mid-game while Armorsmith is a beefy Taunt minion with the ability to give you armor.

Bash/Acolyte of Pain: Your best options for card draw, Bash is an excellent activator for Execute, while Acolyte presents an annoyance for your opponent and a huge generator for you.

Mulligan

Fiery War Axe, of course, is absolutely what you want to see in your opening hand. Against Pirate decks, Ravaging Ghoul is great for clearing early minions like Patches and Southsea Deckhand while also putting something on your board for the other side to deal with.

Player Variants

Fibonnaci's Gadgetzan Control Warrior: Fibonnaci might be the best Warrior player in the world, and under his steerage, this Gadgetzan-ified Control Warrior list at one point had a 67.2 percent win rate.

Fibonnaci's N'Zoth Control Warrior: If you're looking for a more creative, if less optimized, variant to try, Fibonnaci's N'Zoth Control Warrior list brought him to Legend in January.

Hard Counters

Midrange Jade Shaman: MSoG's version of Shaman can do a little (or a lot) of everything. It has the Pirate package to dominate the early game, powerful direct damage spells like Lava Burst, versatile removal like Hex, AoE like Lightning Storm which pairs well with Spell Damage minions which in turn buff Spirit Claws, and all that's ignoring its ability to generate powerful Jade Golems. Remember, if you lose to one, your opponent didn't beat you: Ben Brode did.

Pirate Warrior: While Control Warrior can deal with anything aggro decks can throw at it later in the gamer, early on, it's still vulnerable to the massive damage its scurvy-ridden cousin can push on it early in the game.

Miracle Rogue: Left unchecked, Miracle Rogue's burst potential always runs the risk of one-shotting you before your armor is able to scale out of its reach. However, even a Concealed, 20/20 Questing Adventurer can fall to a Whirlwind/Revenge+Execute combo.

Tech Choices

Dirty Rat: This card has gained a lot of popularity in the current meta for its ability to pull out one of your opponent's powerful Battlecry minions, Reno Jackson for instance, and let you destroy it quickly. It should never be played on Turn 2 or before you have a removal option that can neutralize whatever it pulls out. Skilled players will keep an eye on their opponent's hand for whatever cards have been in their hand for a while, as chances are its a finisher they're holding back.

Deathwing/Grommash Hellscream: If you want to run a Control Warrior with a battle plan besides "let them hit me until they die to fatigue" one or both of these cards provide a great option to end the game quickly (for a control deck).

Acidic Swamp Ooze/Harrison Jones: Don't want to get wiped out by a Upgrade!'d 7/4 Arcanite Reaper? Pack these handy weapon removal cards. Harrison Jones traditionally works well with Control Warrior both due to card draw potential and its decent stats.

Elise Starseeker: In addition to putting off fatigue by two turns by putting Map to the Golden Monkey and The Golden Monkey in your deck, Elise also gives you an endgame win-condition as well as a decent stats to contest the board. Might also be replaced by Prince Malchezar.

Let the pain speak to Sasha Erfanian! Follow him on Twitter.

Panda Global enter Hearthstone by signing HotMEOWTH and rayC

by 5d ago
Thumbnail image courtesy of theScore esports / Panda Global

Panda Global has entered the Hearthstone scene with the signing of Edwin "HotMEOWTH" Cook and Raymond "rayC" Cipoletti, the organization announced Friday.

HotMEOWTH was the HCT Americas Summer Championship 2016 champion, defeating Jeffrey “Tarei” Liu 4-3 in the Grand Final of the tournament. That win punched his ticket to the HCT Global Championship at BlizzCon where he would ultimately place 8th. He is currently sitting at the top of the circuit points leader board.

rayC was formerly a pro Pókemon Trading Card Game player, who is currently ranked 15th on the circuit points leader board for the winter season. In addition, rayC recently placed second at the ONOG PAX South Major in January, defeating William "Amnesiac" Barton on the way to the finals.

Preston Dozsa is a news editor for theScore esports whose journalism idol is Dino Ghiranze. You can follow him on Twitter.

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