The city of Amsterdam is always buzzing. Citizens travel to their jobs, students to their schools, and tourists to the many picturesque places in the Netherlands’ capital. This morning, however, there was something extra: palpable tension. A storm was brewing, and not the one raging outside on this windy day.
Hearthstone Esports’ crown event of the competitive year, the Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT) World Championship, opened in spectacular fashion. All year long, the world’s most seasoned Hearthstone players have fought for a shot at the coveted title of World Champion and the lion’s share of the $1,000,000 prize pool.
Early in the morning, a crowd unfazed by the weather queued up in front of the Beurs van Berlage. Hearthstone fans from all over the world didn’t mind the wind and rain. Once inside, they were greeted with the announcement of the second Hearthstone Global Games (HGG), which was received with enthusiasm.
The crowd’s patience was rewarded further when the Hearthstone World Championships started, as Group A opened with a close match between Spring Champion Frederik “Hoej” Nielsen and Julien “DocPwn” Bachand, who qualified through the Winter Championships. In a tense deciding fifth game, DocPwn trampled Hoej’s Highlander Priest, flooding the board with minions buffed by Prince Keleseth.
The second match of Group A between Jon “Orange” Westberg and Chen “tom60229” Wei Lin was equally thrilling, featuring a Highlander Priest game between the two that oscillated back and forth. In the end, it was tom60229 who came out on top, winning the match 3-1.
The mostly European crowd seemed uneasy—both European players in group A were already in the lower bracket. As Orange and Hoej took the stage, unease gave way to excitement for this epic clash. Hoej fought valiantly, but the match was a one-sided 3-0, and Alliance’s Orange took a convincing, hard-fought victory.
The winner’s match was a tighter race. The first two games went in DocPwn’s favour—his Jade Druid and Highlander Priest both stabilized before tom60229’s Tempo Rogue could finish him off. Looking desperately for a win to lift his spirits again, the Flash Wolves’ star swapped to his Jade Druid. When all hope seemed lost, the Lich King handed DocPwn a golden ticket to the playoffs: Army of the Dead refilled his board, preventing tom60229 from setting up lethal.
Reflecting on the game, a proud but down-to-earth DocPwn noted, “I don’t think there was any other card that would’ve saved me there. Army of the Dead was the best one by far.”
Group B opened with one of Americas’ finest, Muzahidul “Muzzy” Islam, against China’s Jason “JasonZhou” Zhou. In the most nail-biting moment of the day, Muzzy found his way to victory after being brought to just 6 Health. JasonZhou did what he could in subsequent games, but ultimately fell 1-3.
Muzzy’s friend and former teammate, Keaton “Chakki” Gill—who came from the USA to support Muzzy—wasn’t surprised about the result. “He’s just the best,” Chakki said with confidence.
The second match in Group B between Aleksandr “Kolento” Malsh and Samuel “SamuelTsao” Tsao was a very different experience. Whereas between Muzzy and JasonZhou the first game was tense and the later matches played out as expected, Kolento and SamuelTsao built up to an exceptional finale. In the fifth and final game, Kolento only had Jade Druid left. Staring him in the face was SamuelTsao’s Highlander Priest. Kolento built up as much armour as possible to survive the burst damage from Highlander Priest, perhaps startling SamuelTsao, who took too long to finish a turn. In the end, however, he recovered and brought his Ukranian opponent down all the way from 44 health.
In the elimination match, Kolento and JasonZhou—among the greatest players of their respective nations—danced around each other. A Tempo Rogue mirror decided who would be sent packing. Kolento opened aggressively, but a large Edwin VanCleef swung it back to JasonZhou. Kolento grasped for counter pressure, but found nothing—and JasonZhou delivered the final blow.
In the Group B winner’s match, Muzzy was left with his Dragon Highlander Priest and SamuelTsao had his Zoolock. A long day of playing Hearthstone caused Muzzy to use his removal cards suboptimally, and SamuelTsao seized the opportunity. One stroke of burst damage gave him an insurmountable lead, and a spot in the playoffs.
After a long day of close calls, the crowd left—but longing for more action in the days to come. “We came all the way from Ukraine to support Kolento, since he’s from our home town,” one of the attendees explains. His wife chimed in, saying: “I started playing Hearthstone and learned a lot from Kolento. Then I made [my husband] play it too!” Proudly, she points towards a sealed t-shirt. “I won this in a tournament here at the venue in a side event! I’m way better than my husband,” she adds teasingly. Though sad that their idol had been eliminated, they look forward to the rest of the event. “Everybody loses, that can happen. He’s still our hero!”
Be sure to tune in again tomorrow, and let us know what you thought of the first day of competition in the comments!