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Hunterace, the consistency in a world of constant change

LuckyNeck 2019-05-06 07:37:07
  Hearthstone esports is an ever-changing world. Every few months, a new expansion is released, causing the metagame to turn upside down completely until most professional players get to figure it out. By the time this happens, however, there is usually already a new expansion waiting to be assessed. Moreover, pro players have a myriad of chances to rise up to glory throughout the year. Equally, they also have a bunch of occasions to plummet down. The format of Hearthstone´s competitive circuit has traditionally been hectic, with multiple tournaments taking place in the same month. Combining it with the importance of ladder results, professional players often have very few opportunities to get some well-deserved rest. Once they go to an event, their luck is decided in no more than two days. Should one of the best players in the world be tired, not yet used to the new meta, or simply having a bad day when entering a tournament, a last-place outing would not be too surprising of a result. This makes even more sense when taking into account that the game itself is based upon two random factors: RNG within the deck and match-ups. Photo credits: Blizzard. These two can single-handedly decide the outcome of a game, regardless of each participant´s level. There is a lot that a player can do to minimize their effect, of course, but they will always be something to consider when entering a match, let alone a competitive one. Due to all these factors, dynasties have never really been a thing in Hearthstone. Unlike other esports such as LoL, where Lee “Faker” Sang-hyeok´s SKT T1 dominated the world for two years straight, it is very rare to see a Hearthstone pro consistently place high in the standings of international competitions. During 2018, however, there was a player who decided it was finally time to end this trend.  

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Photo credits: Hunterace´s Twitter. Casper “Hunterace” Notto first picked up Hearthstone as a way to escape from reality. After having suffered from depression in his first high school years, he and his family eventually decided to have him learn the things he should, but from home. That year turned out to be pretty difficult for him, however, as he still had to work on his mental health while trying to do school in a completely new way. During those times, the only thing that could grant him some fun and make him feel like a real teenager was Blizzard´s CCG game, as he himself explains: “It was a very depressing year and the only thing that provided me happiness and motivation was Hearthstone.” Little did he know that what used to be his way of avoiding reality would end up becoming his full reality. Hunterace´s first meaningful results came once he signed for Nordavind, then called Team BX3, as a professional player. At the start of 2017, the Norwegian player competed in his first Blizzard-sanctioned tournament, the 2017 HCT Europe Winter Championship. Back then, nobody realized about his debut, as a 76th position did not seem very promising for the young prospect. Photo credits: Blizzard Not much later, however, Hunterace would start raising eyebrows within the competitive community. A quarterfinals appearance at DreamHack Summer 2017 together with the honor of being chosen to be part of Team Norway at the 2017 Hearthstone Global Games were the first signs of his talent and development, which at the time was restricted by all the others obligations he had to fulfill in life. Fortunately, all of that would soon come to an end. In late 2017, Casper decided, together with his mom and his mental coach, that Hearthstone was the way to go: “we decided that I should put school on hold for now and go all in on Hearthstone in 2018 and see how far I could go with that.” The move, although risky, would end up paying out immensely.  

THE YEAR OF HUNTERACE

The Norwegian prodigy decided to focus on obtaining as many HCT Points as possible. This could be done in two different ways, either attending HCT Tour Stops around the world with the objective of finishing high in the standings or grinding the competitive ladder every month. Although he also performed well in ladder from time to time, Hunterace became the absolute king of the HCT circuit. He started out the year with back-to-back top 2 placings at HCT Germany and HCT Toronto. His sudden rise to international contender definitely surprised the fans, who started to build up storylines around Casper´s performance. However, he still had one last step to take before becoming a truly dominating force. Photo via: RedBull. On April 12, 2018, Blizzard released The Witchwood. The new expansion marked the beginning of a new Hearthstone year, the Year of the Raven. With it also came the removal of the Whispers of the Old Gods, One Night in Karazhan and Mean Streets of Gadgetzan sets from Standard format and, thus, from competitive play. This would provoke a huge change in the meta, players once again being forced to come up with new decks that could grant them some level of success. Hunterace, for his part, was extremely quick to adapt. Not only that, but he also felt really comfortable playing with the new cards, which took him to an unprecedented level. Throughout the following months, he attended three more HCT Tour Stops. To the surprise of many, he was able to lift the trophy in two of them. HCT Seoul and HCT Italy would end up falling for the Norwegian youngster, who already boasted an impressive four tournaments without falling from the top 2. “From the start, I prepared with my practice partner Louis “Mitsuhide” Bremers and I feel like our preparation went well, and we managed to get a very solid line-up against the field”, he told RedBull.com after winning his first stop in the Korean capital. Hunterace´s streak would not last much longer, however, as he then went on to place third at HCT Tokyo. Nevertheless, results seemed to keep coming and, by that point of the year, his chances of qualifying for the World Championships thanks to HCT points were considerably high. Right after the Japanese tournament, Hunterace cracked the 150 points mark, becoming the first ever Hearthstone Master. Later on, this would make him one of the 16 European players featured at Hearthstone Grandmasters, Blizzard´s brand new professional league. Everything seemed to be in favor of the Norwegian so far, but he would still have to overcome some hard times before consolidating himself as a legend. Photo credits: Helena Kristiansson. Maybe it was the feeling of being far ahead of his rivals. Maybe it was the new expansion that was released in August, The Boomsday Project, which did not fit into his style. Regardless of the cause, Hunterace went through a slew of mediocre results throughout the next few tournaments. Being it him, however, Casper still held onto the moniker of “best in the world” for the majority of his leave of absence from victory. An underwhelming 25th outing at HCT Taichung was followed by a seventh place at the Season 2 Europe Regional Finals. He then traveled around the world, going from Montreal to Singapore to California, even stopping by Shanghai in order to compete at the CN vs EU Championship 2018. Even though he did not manage to surpass the quarterfinals at any of those tournaments, he still ended the year with 231 points. This achievement, apart from setting Hunterace as the most consistent player of the 2018/19 season, qualified him for the 2019 HCT World Championship, which would take place in Taiwan in April of the following year. With everything already said and done in his 2018, the now Norwegian superstar turned his attention to the Hearthstone Global Games. Unlike the previous year, this time he got to carry his country all the way to the offline portion at Blizzcon. In some way, this was a sign of how much Hunterace had developed in only one year. At this point in 2017, he was still wondering whether to give a try to a career in Hearthstone esports. Now, he had more than a term to train for the World Championship. Should he be able to take it all in Taiwan, a new legend of the esports world would be born. The 2018/19 competitive season would become Hunterace´s season, just as 2016 was SKT´s year in LoL. That had never happened before in Hearthstone. Hunterace, however, was not going to let that fact intimidate him.  

THE DYNASTY'S CONFIRMATION

Photo credits: Helena Kristiansson. The World Championship played out on the 28th of April, more than a year after the beginning of Hunterace´s dynasty. Just a few weeks earlier, a new expansion had been released. The Year of the Dragon had begun and had done so with the Rise of the Shadows set of cards. Apart from the new additions, the Journey to Un'Goro, Knights of the Frozen Throne and Kobolds & Catacombs sets were removed from competitive play. By the time the World Championships came around, the Odd and Even decks Hunterace had dominated the scene with last year had long been gone. Some doubted his capacity to develop a playstyle congruent with the new meta, while others had simply forgotten his legacy, favoring more recently successful players to take the trophy home. After all, Hunterace had not competed in a serious, tier 1 offline tournament for months due to having qualified so early. How in the world was he gonna catch up to the other contenders in Taiwan quickly enough as to steal the glory from them? Well, he did. Just as he had done one year prior with The Witchwood, Hunterace managed to make the most of the new expansion, bringing very different decks from the ones that are commonly seen in ladder. Initially, both fans and peers did not hesitate to write them off. As the tournament played out, however, it was the Norwegian who got to the finals. His Control Warrior and Control Shaman were specifically built to counter the kind of strategies his rivals had been using throughout the whole tournament. By the time they realized how to act against them, however, it was already too late. After a nail-biting 3-2 victory against Torben “Viper” Wahl, Hunterace finally wrote his name in history. Photo credits: Blizzard. Holding his tears, he finally expressed all his feelings in the post-game interview: “I don´t know, it is pretty unbelievable, our last game was like super tense. It has been such a long journey to get here and, actually, delivering now that I am in the tournament, winning the tournament is so big for me”, he said while still skeptical of what had just happened. He culminated his year-long commitment to esports with the most important trophy of his career and, in the meantime, he asserted himself as the more consistent performer the Hearthstone community had ever witnessed. Now, he is justifiably decided to continue his reign. In his new epoch as a competitor, however, a new format awaits, replacing the old conquest. Moreover, the Hearthstone Grandmasters league will begin in just under a month. This will take Hearthstone esports to a whole new level and, consequently, the players will once again have to prove they can adapt to the new circumstances. Hunterace, however, has already done so a few times throughout his career. Now, he is going to be the player to beat, as he reigns supreme over the world. Regardless, the Norwegian superstar may very well show the consistency he is known for once again and, thanks to it, rise to glory one more time. Beware of Hunterace over the next few months. After all, what is a league about if it is not about being consistent?
Featured image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment. Lucas "LuckyNeck" Chillerón is a vivid esports fan who loves following as many competitive scenes as he can in order to write articles about them. If there is anything you would like to discuss with him or let him know, you can do it at @lucprd.
 

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