Hearthstone is what happens when World of Warcraft meets Magic: The Gathering. It’s like Yu-Gi-Oh cards for the smartphone generation, except this year at Armageddon the stakes are higher than just your mate’s holographic Blue-Eyes White Dragon (it’s fake, by the way; he picked it up at the Frankton Markets in Hamilton for like three bucks).
The Heroes of Auckland Championship will see four of New Zealand’s best Hearthstone players compete on the main stage at Armageddon for the chance to win $500 cash courtesy of our gaming section sponsors, Big Pipe. The semi-finalists were selected from a 29-man elimination bracket who duked it out at the iPlay Internet Cafe on Lorne St last month.
Kevin Walker, event coordinator for tournament organisers Aspect of Gaming, said some of the best players in the North American circuit were present, several of whom made it through to the finals this weekend.
“Jakob Ettles, aka TINGT0NG, has consistently placed within the top 1% of the rankings in North America for the last several seasons. That’s the whole of the North American player base. The top 1% is basically it’s own rank. It’s called a Legend rank, and it signifies the best players of the season on the ladder. He’s consistently managed to make the Legend rank for many seasons.”
Ettles’ brother Andrew, aka AceMaester, also made the semi-finals. He is set to face TINGT0NG in the first round.
“I imagine they practice together,” said Walker. “And because they practice together, they probably understand each other a bit better. It’s interesting to see what their preparation is like, how they’ll play on the big stage at Armageddon. Do they try something totally new that the other brother has never seen? How do you prepare against someone that knows you so well?”
Unlike professional e-sports, where players engage coaching staff and management teams, the burgeoning Hearthstone scene remains largely amateur.
“These are just normal dudes. They’re highly skilled, normal dudes” said Walker.
On the other side of the tournament, Joshua Sumich (Crazycatz) takes on Jordan Wong (Arkael). Sumich is an unknown quantity compared to Wong, who has a history of quality play in Aspect of Gaming tournaments.
“Wong is another Legend player who’s made the top 1%,” said Walker. “Jordan is also a really good League of Legends player, he actually practices really hard with a team and stuff like that. He plays Hearthstone as a side game where it’s kind of his ‘other’ game.”
But playing well from the comfort of your home is one thing. Playing live in front of a crowd judging your every move with terrible omniscience entirely another. Walker says Wong has had issues with consistency under pressure in the past.
“Jordan has made a name for himself as a very competent player, and I’ve seen him in several other tournaments, but he’s got a bit of a history, to where it’s kind of a running joke and I hit him up about it. He has a tendency to make it very close to coming in a top position, but narrowly missing out. For a few tournaments now he has made second place and so he was really stoked to have qualified for Armageddon.”
Should TINGT0NG and Arkael meet in the finals, history would suggest Ettles will be going home with the cash, already holding a final’s victory over Wong in the Auckland Fireside Gatherings earlier this year.
“I’d say that overall Jakob is the favorite just because of his consistency,” said Walker. “There are other players who have peaked higher, but Jakob has more consistently made a high ranking. It’d be crazy if he won again, because I’ve never seen a player win back to back. But anything can happen. These guys are all basically equal, so is Joshua going to come out of nowhere, and do the ‘Cinderella Story’? It’s hard to say.”
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