Five countries to watch at the Hearthstone Global Games
The Hearthstone communities have been called for a vote, as the campaign for the Global Games, or HGG—Hearthstone version of nation wars—has begun. With 48 countries selected to attend through voted-in teams of four, the event represents the first grand bout waged on national level.
The league is still taking shape and there are no rosters or pairings set in stone, but already there are clear favorites for the HGG title. Today, we look at the five strongest countries on paper, which are all expected to make a deep run in the tournament and likely contest the HGG trophy.
Xixo. Photo: GosuGamers
Germany is perhaps the strongest contender in the pool, with talent reserves so deep they can build two or three full competitive teams for the Global Games. The country has been a fixture in esports decades, dating back to the foundation of teams such as SK Gaming in 1997 and Mousesports in 2002 and has developed top level esports culture over the many years.
Hearthstone is no exception and every year since the birth if its competitive scene, there has been at least on German at the top, dating back to Petar “Gaara” Stevanovic, the first DreamHack champion. Germany was leading the rankings at the start of 2015 when Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy hit his peak, at the end of the same year during the rise of Jan “SuperJJ” Janssen and the majority of 2016 when SuperJJ eventually made room for player of the year Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert.
Naturally, JJ, Lifecoach and Xixo—the country’s most accomplished players by a huge margin—are expected, at least on paper, to join anchor “Sintolol”, but even if the vote strays it’s unlikely that Germany will end up with an inexperienced roster, as the likes of Raphael “BunnyHoppor” Peltzer or Daniel “C4mlann” Märkisch have all played at major tournaments, HCT included.
In fact, the only wild card in the entire German pool is one Mats “P4wnyhof” Kathage. Much more a popular streamer than an actual competitor, P4wny’s nomination represents the spirit of the Global Games, a competition where seasoned pros join forces with the fan favorites to create a bridge between the casual audience and the hardcore world of HCT.
Had it not been for P4wnyhof’s controversial profile, it would’ve all been fine for Germany, but the streamer’s tainted career record as a failed Hearthstone admin in the past and allegations (although unproven) of view-botting have caused discord within the German pro scene, including statements from leading players that they will refuse to play with P4wnyhof on the same team.
I wonder how many will vote for Trump P4wnyhof just to see what happens next.
Firebat. Photo: GosuGamers
The United States is blessed with the fact that its most accomplished players are also their most popular stream personalities. By the virtue of his Summer Championship HCT points, Edwin “HotMEOWTH” Cook is anchoring the team and it will be a very strange world if his team mates are not exactly David “Dog” Caero, James “Firebat” Kostesich and Will “Amnesiac” Barton.
Truthfully, even if the United States have traditionally lagged behind the whole of Europe, they are difficult to match on a country level and are as diverse and populated as Germany in terms of competitive talent. Nominations for USA’s representatives have been kept strictly to the competitive side of Hearthstone: There aren’t the likes of Jeffrey “Trump” Shih, a figure who would’ve most certainly made it through but would’ve also been the odd-one-out betwixt his competitive peers. Blizzard have been very perceptive in identifying USA’s talent, recognizing the potential of the likes of Muzahidul “Muzzy” Islam, a ladder god and talented deckbuilder who’s been due a championship for a long time, and Victor “VLPS” Lopez, a team tournament veteran from CN vs. NA Season 2 and ESL Trinity Series.
As ironic as it sounds, USA’s most decorated player is also its current weakest link. The original world champion Firebat—a player who’s won close to $220,000 in his career—spent 2016 developing himself as a streamer and has been off-meta in the few 2017 tournaments he has attended. If there’s any player who can snap back into championship form with the aid of younger, more attuned minds that’s Firebat.
JasonZhou. Photo: Blizzard
The sleeping giant is sleeping no longer. China has awakened from the slumber which enwrapped it in 2014-2015 and has been making strides towards becoming one of the top Hearthstone nations.
The numbers are also there to support China’s aspirations. The country reached the semi-finals of the World Championship through Jason “JasonZhou” Zhou, won StarSeries in January 2016 through “Robin”, won CN vs. EU Season 3 through Bohan “Lovelychook” Zhang and collectively took down Team NA in CN vs. NA Season 3. No longer the laughing stock of the Hearthstone world—despite being one of the main innovators in the game since day one—China has come to teach the west a lesson and HGG is a perfect opportunity.
As per tradition, Chinese Hearthstone doesn’t operate by the standard rules and fans can vote for four instead of one player at a time, and currently a strong top six has formed with Breath, Hamster, JasonZhou, Lovelychook, OmegaZero and ZhangBo. A quick count shows that collectively, this top six holds:
7 major gold medals, in local and international tournaments
A Blizzcon top 4
A Blizzcon top 8, among other accomplishments.
China is to be feared, make no mistake.
Orange. Photo: TakeTV
The European esports brother of Germany, Sweden has also been playing video games and has made advancing esports part of their culture. In Hearthstone, the country is a home to a world champion in Sebastian “Ostkaka” Engwall and the talent of Jon “Orange” Westberg, whose tournament performances seem to be getting better each year.
Anchored by Harald “Powder” Gimre, and with both Ostkaka and Orange up for voting, Sweden could very well be represented by a complete esports team, as all three players compete under the Alliance banner. These long-time friends and practice partners flopped terribly at the ESL Trinity Series, but judging by the individual records of its players that was likely a horribly exception and to expect another competitive meltdown from such decorated players is foolish.
Of course, it’s possible that the Alliance dream doesn’t come together for Sweden at HGG as Jeffrey “Sjow” Brusi and Sebastian “Forsen” Fors—top Hearthstone streamers both—are among the nominated but they wouldn’t be terribly choices either. Sjow displayed he’s in tune with the competitive meta as his Team Liquid won the Trinity Series group stage and Forsen, for all his devil may care attitude, has proven a fearsome competitor when there’s a lot on the line.
Even if the vote somehow strays to select some of the underdogs, that might only make Sweden stronger, as weird as it might sound, as the pool includes such strong grassroots competitors like Peter “Deathboose” Laihinen, a triple GosuCup champion and Anton “Legendaren” Danielsson, a gold medalist from the 2015 Gfinity Summer Masters.
Sweden really is set up for HGG greatness.
Surrender. Photo: TakeTV
It would be unfair to completely overlook Asia-Pacific in these rankings, especially when the region is home to a country that doesn’t come up often when talking about competitive Hearthstone giants though it definitely should.
Considered the birthplace and Mecca of esports, South Korea has had plenty of Hearthstone success, too. The country gave birth to the first player to make back-to-back Blizzcon appearance in Hak-Jun “Kranich” Baek and the only player to reach three HCT grand finals in a row in Il-Mook “Handsomeguy” Kang, who is anchoring the list. Even though South Korea’s excellence should be put in perspective in regards to APAC’s inconsistent record and overall strength, the matter of the fact is that Korea has been the only country and sub-region in the game which has performed on world-class level each year, from Kranich’s world championship bronze in 2014, to Jung-Soo “Surrender” Kim’s rise in 2015, to dominion of Handsomeguy in the more recent times.
South Korea’s star trio has a lot of good option for its supporting fourth. Lojom, Seulsiho and Flurry have been pillars in the local community and have been hardened in the fires of OGN Korea Masters and HCT. Even if these lesser known players have showcased glaring flaws in their play under pressure—Lojom’s throw-away game at HCT Winter Playoffs as the most recent example—competing alongside Korea’s absolutely most seasoned veterans should mitigate the problem and make Korea a top contender for the HGG title.