Pavel: "Cards like Babbling Book and Yogg-Saron should probably be banned from tournaments"
Overnight, Pavel "Pavel" Beltukov of Team Millenium became the highest winning player in Hearthstone, emerging as the new world champion on November 6. Having walked one of the toughest roads to the coveted title, Pavel knows what it's like to come within hand's reach of your dream and lose it; to stare a sweeping defeat against world's best players and win against the odds; to overcome mishaps and misplays and finally hoist, in front of hundreds of thousands, Hearthstone's most prestigious trophy.
In one of his first post-championship interviews, the 2016 king of Hearthstone spoke to EsportsHeaven and Radoslav "Nydra" Kolev about the emotional roller-coaster that was his World Championship run.
* * *
Congratulations on winning GameGune so soon after the world championship. Must be a great feeling to keep the fire burning!
Thank you. Winning GameGune after Blizzcon is a huge achievement for me. That's two tournaments in a row, and if I had won DreamHack, I would've been the first to win three in a row!
You literally went from zero to hero in the span of two weeks, winning upwards of $260,000. How has life changed for you?
At this moment, the only thing that has changed is that I travel a lot more. I visit a lot of Hearthstone tournaments and events. That's pretty much it, I haven't really been home this past month.
I want to take you back to the very start of your HCT journey – to that Prague finals in 2015 and that unfortunate misplay that cost you the Blizzcon spot then. How did you feel coming so close only to lose in such way?
I realized I shouldn't drink too much water before a game *laughs*. With every tournament, I am getting less and less nervous and right now I almost never am.
Maverick was a player in similar position such as yours: He was a long-time competitor but not one of the so called “big names”, he couldn’t make it to Blizzcon from Prague and embraced retirement then. Did such thoughts cross your mind?
After the tournament, I was really frustrated, but that only made me want to participate in next year's more. At that moment, I didn't think there was any other player better than me.
This year it was actually worse than last in terms of opportunities to qualify. There are much less open qualifications and much more pure invitational tournaments outside the HCT circuit, such as SeatStory Cup for example. It's harder for new players to prove themselves. One such example is ONOG in 2015 where I qualified through the open preliminaries but has since changed in 2016.
It's harder for new players to prove themselves this year.
At least there exist tournament such as DreamHack and Truesilver Championship which have embraced this open-to-all, swiss format. Isn't that helping?
In these examples, not every player can afford to travel to another country to compete at an offline event, so that limits the ability of new players to emerge. That's especially true from players from the CIS countries. You can't just go to Europe, you have to apply for visa, have your documents processed, and so on, and it's way more expensive than just going to Sweden from Germany. If I hadn't achieved results in tournaments, I probably wouldn't have travelled to DreamHack.
You ended up qualifying for Blizzcon from the Last Call Invitational and you missed all the championships through the year. How nervous were you coming facing down your last chance for Worlds?
I wasn't really nervous because I had a very good line-up which I think was the best in the tournament. The only opponent I was feeling kind of nervous about was Hoej because his line-up pretty good against mine, but I felt confident against the rest.
You went relatively unopposed through that tournament, 4-1 in each series, even against Rdu who was considered the favorite. Was there ever a moment when you thought “If I can beat the best in Europe, I can win it all?”
No, I didn't feel like that, I don't think any one player had better chances winning Blizzcon than everybody else. Few of the players did have equally good shots, compared to some of the rest, though.
Many were on the opinion that Europe is by far and away the best region at Worlds, at not just. Where did you put yourselves at compared to Hippi, Naiman and Thijs?
I think Thijs is an excellent player, but lately he's been doing more streaming than competing. I think he was a little bit out of meta at Blizzcon and he was the weakest of the European group. As of DrHippi, he had prepared very well and had equal chance to win Blizzcon as me and Naiman was just slightly behind us.
The games versus Amnesiac and OmegaZero were the hardest.
One of the biggest upsets of the group stage was how poorly Europe did on the opening days. Only DrHippi managed to win a match and major misplays were called out on you and ThijsNL. How did you feel coming into elimination day and later into redemption on Sunday?
After the first game I was frustrated for like an hour, but before elimination I was pretty confident and equally so before the decider. I believe that losing the first match and winning the next two is better than winning first match and then losing the second, because you're coming into the decider on a loss. At that point I felt OK, I don't think losing one game means anything. You can take Firebat, for example, who also lost his first match in 2014 but won the World Championship.
I have a lot of reverse sweep history in Hearthstone, so that helped further.
Yes, being under pressure on the verge of elimination was a recurring theme in your championship run, most notably of course in the match against Amnesiac. You engineered an unbelievable comeback down three games against the biggest tournament favorite then, not without the help of certain Babbling Book! Would you say that was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome all tournament?
First of all, Amnesiac had some lucky moments, too. In the Hunter game, he topdecked Ragnaros, which was the only draw that could've won him the game and got the one-in-three to the face. Then, in the Rogue vs. Zoo game, I didn't get a demon so I couldn't heal for 5 and probably win the game from there.
Of course, the comeback with Babbling Book was pretty insane, and I do believe the game versus Amnesiac and the one versus OmegaZero were the hardest games at Blizzcon for me. In general, I think I played better and made less mistakes than Amnesiac.
A lot of discussion was had about the RNG in that particular series, and in some of the future ones as well. What’s it like having this topic brought on repeatedly when talking about your win? And on that topic, do you think that such uncontrollable RNG (cards like Babbling Book, Cabalist’s Tome, Yogg, etc.) are detrimental in that sense to the competitive scene? That they can take away from the victory by being the deciding factor that viewers see first and foremost?
Yes, cards like Yogg and Babbling Book should probably be banned from tournaments because of their RNG. And on bringing up the RNG topic after tournaments, my opinion is that most of the community don't really understand the game as the professionals and that's why they don't focus on the good plays and rather more on the RNG aspect. That's why they are not talking about this or that move but go, "Oh my god, he just got a crazy card off of Babbling Book, let's talk about that".
I am not 100% sure if the 2017 system is better than what we currently have but it's only fair to have more international chances. And it's fair if Europe or China are the strongest region in the game that they should have more players at Blizzcon.
We’ve had two world champions before you and they’ve been very different from each other. Firebat went on not just to compete but also stream, produce content, host tournaments… Ostkaka, on the other hand, remained a competitive purist. What type would you be in 2017?
Of course, I will try to promote myself more through media content. I will probably make a YouTube channel and start streaming in a few weeks. I feel like I kind of lost some time already, I should've probably started streaming right after Blizzcon. I think I would've gotten a lot of viewers if I started streaming a week after I won.
Right now, the problem for me is the language barrier. I don't speak English very well. It's not that I don't like streaming in Russian, it's just it's less profitable. The English speaking community is bigger and on average generates more profit. I will start in English as best as I can and try to do my best and improve my English as I go along. If it doesn't I will try doing it in Russia.
I will try to participate in all upcoming tournaments, aim for second Blizzcon qualification, because I think the new qualification system is much better for stronger players than this year's.
Cards like Yogg-Saron and Babbling Book should probably be banned from tournaments.
Speaking of HCT, it is changing next year to have international championships each season instead of just regionals. Is that the better option or would you rather have that League has and keep the international clash for Worlds?
I am not 100% sure if this system is better than what we currently have but it's only fair to have more international chances like these. And it's fair if Europe or China are the strongest region in the game that they should have more players at Blizzcon.
A side part of the circuit next year are the so called Global Games, where players competes in national teams. In these teams, one player will be the top HCT earner for that country and others will be voted in by the community. Do you like that process, the fans having a say in who competes and all?
This is interesting, but it could be a little bit unfair, because some players have huge fanbases. There are streamers who play competitively, but there are also ones that play mostly for fun, so it would be a little weird if a non-competitive player is chosen by the community for the Global Games. They would drag the whole team down.
Does Russia have an edge in this system in your opinion? In the end, your scene is one where even the most popular streamers such as SilverName are respected competitors as well.
SilverName is indeed a very good player and if he's chosen that will be fine. But there are streamers like Happa and Sanchez who don’t play competitively at a high skill level but have thousands of viewers and fans. It will still be interesting if such streamers get chosen, it will be fun to watch. *laughs*
Do you think there will ever be a balance in competitive Hearthstone between pleasing the community and pleasing the players?
Well, you will have to ask the developers that. *laughs* But the last expansion has been pretty good, I liked playing Pirate Warrior on day one, such a lovely deck. To my knowledge, Blizzard don't really want to ban certain cards from tournaments. They want the community to watch a tournament, take the decks and bring them on ladder. If some cards would be banned, it would make that pointless.
As my last question: If you have to look three months into the future when the Gadgetzan meta has been figured out, which decks will be the decks to beat?
I think the metagame will be shifting throughout the whole expansion, but I do see that Priest has a very good potential with different variations - Dragon, Reno and Control - and it could be tier 1 or tier 2. Shaman will still be strong, probably RenoLock and Jade Druid will also be dominant. Also, right now we see a very fast meta and there are different Pirate archetypes and they will be shifting between tier 1 and tier 2 throughout the whole expansion.
Nydra is stationed at GosuGamers as Hearthstone Section Lead. Follow him @GGNydra for more Hearthstone pieces.