Orange: "If Patches is the biggest problem we have in Gadgetzan, that is a great sign."
The club of repeat franchise winners in Hearthstone is small. The game can often be unforgiving so seeing someone conquer the same major two or more times is an event of itself. Before this weekend, only four people had done it. First, it was James "Firebat" Kostesich winning back-to-back Gfinity in 2015. In spring 2016, two G2 Esports members joined, as Thijs "ThijsNL" Molendijk repeated his HCT Europe Championship and Radu "Rdu" Dima took down DreamHack Summer for the second time. Later in the year, Il-Mook "Handsomeguy" Kang ended his three back-to-back HCT APAC finals with two golds. And on December 18, a young Swede followed suit, as Jon "Orange" Westberg became SeatStory Cup's first repeat champion.
Upon his return from Krefeld, the multi-major winner - now playing for Alliance - sat down with Radoslav "Nydra" Kolev for a lengthy chat, rich on self-reflection and game analysis.
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You’re back from Krefeld with a SeatStory Cup trophy to bring home. I imagine spirits are high in the Alliance family?
Everyone on Alliance is very happy. We actually had a Christmas party with all the players on Alliance just yesterday where we also got to celebrate my SeatStory win and Armada’s singles-win at DreamHack Summer. The support I get from that organization is unbelievable.
I imagine you were in conversation with many organizations upon your departure from Archon. Who else approached you and why choose Alliance?
I had a couple of intresting offers. I actually reached out to SK Gaming first because that seemed like a natural fit since most of my best friends play for that team. Even though they were interested, some other things got in the way and it just didn't work out. I also talked to Luminosity, Northern Gaming and some Chinese company that wanted to start a superteam in China together with a bunch of EU/NA pros.
But the people on Alliance, especially the manager Erik, made such a good impression and had a direct plan how to work with me as a Hearthstone player and how to build both mine and Alliance‘s brand outside of only tournament play. All in all they knew what they were doing and had thought a lot about this before approaching me.
This is your second SSC win and you’re the first one in the franchise history to do that. Would you say this is the pinnacle of your career so far, or is there another triumph that stands out more?
Being two times SeatStory Champion is probably what I am most proud of now in terms of achievements. Anything that shows that you're somewhat consistent in the tournament scene is something I value a lot. Especially given the fact SeatStory is historically one of the tougher tournaments to win.
SSC is a tournament like no other. Having been there, I know that what viewers see on stream is just the tip of the iceberg and so much more happens off camera. What were the best moments at SSC VI that never made it on stream?
I don't know if Yagut’s and Pavel’s pillow fights got on camera. Those were kind of amusing to watch happen every day. Basically just Pavel chasing Yagut throughout the whole studio with a pillow.
What I found the most fun though was that during most matches there were always a bunch of pros in front of the TV downstairs watching the match that happened on A-stream which meant that at any given point, if you wanted some high level analysis or discussion about a match you could always go there. I learnt a lot from this. I get this is kind of a boring answer but I don’t want to hang someone out by talking about parties. *laughs*
Coming into SSC, the metagame had switched to aggressive decks with the Pirate core in the early game, and Rogue is one of the classes that benefited the most. As an avid Miracle expert, do you prefer the post-Gadgetzan or pre-Gadgetzan Hearthstone?
There are two sides of the coin here. I absolutely loved the meta we had prior to Gadgetzan. The Midrange Shaman and Malygos Druid meta is one of my all-time favorites. The dominating decks were really hard to pilot perfectly and the mirror matches were deep and interesting.
But at the same time I think that Mean Streets of Gadgetzan is one of the better expansions ever. People complain about the Pirate package and how it is an auto-include in every deck but the more we see the meta develop, the less true this becomes. For example, recently Midrange Shaman has been dominating the ladder and is not playing any Pirates at all.
What I’m trying to say is that if Patches is the biggest problem we have with Mean Streets that is a great sign. As far as Miracle Rogue goes, I kind of prefer the old style but I think this deck is pretty alright as well. Counterfeit Coin made the miracle turns way more fun.
Did you think you had an edge over the competition due to your stylistic preferences? You’ve been known to play exceptional Shamans and Warlock in the past, too, both of which are now top tier?
I think I had a pretty big edge thanks to my lineup and how well the decks I brought suited my playstyle. It's actually quite a fun story how I came up with the lineup. Basically, I had 10 hours after coming home from the Major in Malaysia to prepare my lineup for SeatStory. Naturally, I didn't really feel like I had any time to learn new decks. So instead of working out the best strategy from scratch I just had to work out the best lineup from what I knew how to play well.
After talking to my teammate Ostkaka we came to the conclusion that my preference for Jade Druid and Dragon Warrior took a huge hit due to the recent rise of Rogues that weren't as popular in Malaysia. But Ostkaka pointed out that if I bring Shaman together with Druid, Warrior and Warlock (which is a no brainer because Renolock is just really strong at the moment) most Rogue players are going to ban my Shaman to open up for their Rogue to sweep me but then the unexpected Rogue ban will take them off-guard and give me a huge edge.
We saw that Savjz did the same thing and got to the quarterfinal so I really thought that was a great strategy for the tournament.
As of my Warlock and Shaman play, ironically I actually thought my Warlock was by far my worst deck, and it was definitely because of me. Renolock pre-Whispers is one of my favorite decks ever but turns out this Renolock is very different. I am going to take my time to grind several hundred games with it before WESG in China.
Your opponent in the grand finals, Sjow, had the interesting choice of Tempo Mage in his line-up and it did get him to the silver, despite not being considered a top deck. What are your thoughts on the archetype?
I actually think Tempo Mage is better than lots of players give it credit for and is a very underrated deck. In Last Hero Standing there is a lot of value to bring something unexpected because your lineup is usually carefully chosen so it can beat the top decks of the meta.
When going into the finals against Sjow, his Tempo Mage made it super hard for me to choose what to lead with and how to approach the match since I wasn’t sure about all the matchups versus it. With his Emperor and Antonidas package (which I like, a lot) that deck also gets an incredible matchup against Renolock (which is going to be in every lineup pretty much) and the less popular Druids.
I had a conversation recently with a colleague and we theorized that one deck which is a sleeper killer is Freeze Mage. The deck has been strong against Midrange Shamans and Miracle Rogue historically (even though Miracle did get quite the upgrade now), performs well against RenoLock and its hard counters in Midrange Druid and Control Warrior are rare, if nonexistent in the meta. Are we on to something?
Yeah you are, it’s actually something I thought would be way more popular. Ironically, I would have brought Freeze Mage myself, just like my teammate Ostkaka did if I was better at playing that deck. I really liked his lineup and ban strategy of having Freeze Mage, Rogue, Renolock and Shaman and ban other Shamans. But eventually I just couldn’t bring it myself since I’m not very comfortable wtih my Freeze Mage play.
I think Freeze Mage Always is somewhat underrepresented and it is quite hard to point out when the deck actually is good since so few people can pilot it very well. But I certainly think this is a meta where Freeze Mage could be great.
Staying on meta talk, a few HS personalities had interesting thoughts on the state of the game. In a recent video, Firebat stated that although there are less Gadgetzan cards with apparent RNG, this is still the most RNG set in HS’ history because how much more draw dependent the game currently is. He mentioned how some cards – even entire decks – are severely polarized. Buccaneer is OP with a weapon on T2 but trash without one. RenoLocks can beat aggro every time if they draw their heals but lose every time if they don’t.
I agree with the part that only because there aren't many cards that directly state random effects that doesn’t automatically mean there is not a lot of it. That said, I don’t think this is one of those times. I think this has Always been a thing early on in metas. Decks get quite inconsistent because. people are trying to do on paper very powerful things (look at Pirate Warrior for example, very powerful deck but easily countered and not the most consistent). I think the more the metagame evolves the less decks that rely on their nut draw will be prevalent in the meta.
Your year started strong by winning DH Leipzing and ended with a gold at SSC but there wasn’t much of Orange making deep runs in between. Looking at major LANs such as DH, PGL, CN vs. EU, Assembly, etc., you were always stopped at the quarter finals the most. You had a similarly cleaved record in 2015 as well – strong start, strong finish, low middle. While multiple top 8’s is still admirable, what held you back from playing more finals this year?
I mean, I get that I haven't had an incredible year like Xixo or JJ, but I have several DH GP top eights, I got second at WESG (where I had to go through multiple qualifiers and finals to get there), top 4 at Kinguin for Charity, and so on. I am really not looking back at this year being disappointed of it. I am proud of being consistent throughout the year (I've also very rarely dropped out of top 10 World in the GosuRankings, too) with several top8s and overall strong finishes.
As for what I could've done better this year I think it is to find a better group of people to work together with. I love Freakeh, Spo, Martincreek and Silas to death but this year they weren’t been able to take HS as seriously for very valid personal reasons. During the spring and early summer, I stood without a team and without a solid playtesting group and it made things very stressful. Now that I have joined Alliance, and also spend way more time working with Powder, Ostkaka and Tessin to name the big three, I feel like my level of play has reached a point it has never been at before.
I did a great interview with you at Insomnia in March, we talked about one of the break-out players of the year, Amnesiac, who went on to finish eighth at Worlds last month. Apart from commending his talent, you then also expressed a particular concern – that he might become victim of his inner greatness and self-confidence. Do you think this held him back somewhat this year? In the end, he didn’t sport the results a player as hyped as him was expected to?
I don’t think so at all. Amnesiac has been very cool and handled the hype surrounding him better than anyone I know, way better than I did myself for sure. I still feel that whenever he performs at tournaments he finishes more often than not in the top.
Sadly, he lost in the quarterfinals at Blizzcon but that is still an achievement in itself that not many people including myself can say that they’ve reached. Also seeing his level of play throughout Blizzcon, if Amnesia hadn’t been stopped by Pavel I don’t see any of the other six players ever stopping him. The champion of Blizzcon was decided in the quarterfinals.
2017 is but days away. Being intimately familiar with the scene, which players should we look forward to defining the next year?
Someone I’m keeping my eye on for next year is Mitsuhide who has been performing great at the last few tournaments I’ve seen him in. I would also like to see Savjz do a professional comeback because I feel like people really underrate him. Powder has been taking the game way more seriously lately and has been coaching me in all sorts of different areas. I am biased, but he’s way better than people think.
In that same interview, you admitted to have grown out of your own overconfidence and matured as a player. Looking back at the tail end of the year, how much farther has Orange come?
I'm actually really proud of myself this year. I've felt that I've come a long way in realizing where to go with my life. I've set up goals for what I want to achieve next year and how to do it. I've come to realize how seriously I need to take this if I want to rly do this as my fulltime job.
I actually have Alliance to thank for a lot of this, it may just have been announced in October but I've worked with them since July and they have really helped me in making sure to give me the tools I need to focus on what I want. These past few months have probably been the best in my Hearthstone career so far.