Blizzard bans controversial Hearthstone streamer from Global Games

The Hearthstone Global Games, or HGG to its friends, is Blizzard’s first attempt at creating a national tournament for Hearthstone. Scheduled to start on April 11, a total of 48 countries will participate in the months-long event, each with its own four-man roster of players based on competitive results and community voting.

Bringing together players from both ends of the spectrum, and running alongside the main Hearthstone Championship Circuit, HGG is meant to act as a bridge between esports and more casual fans.  Yet weeks ahead of HGG’s debut, the tournament has already suffered from multiple dramas. 

Mats “P4wnyhof” Kathage, image via Twiiter

The first sparks flew in mid-February, when popular streamer Mats “P4wnyhof” Kathage was announced as one of the nominees for his home country of Germany. P4wnyhof has had a controversial history with Hearthstone, dating back to 2014 when he acted as both player and admin for the Gentlemen Cup, a team league organized by TakeTV—the organization behind the hugely successful SeatStory Cup franchise.

P4wnyhof’s involvement in the tournament resulted in his own team—Planetkey Dynamics—receiving an undeserved seed into the playoffs due to skewed tiebreaker scores, leaving a bitter taste in the mouths of his pro-gaming peers. The streamer has also been the subject of accusations that he uses viewbots to boost his popularity, though that has not been proved. 

P4wnyhof’s inclusion as a potential Global Games community nominee led to vocal pushback from both his potential HGG teammates and other countries’ nominees. CompLexity’s Jan “SuperJJ” Janssen vowed to forfeit his spot in the tournament should his controversial countrymen be voted in, and the same intention was echoed by Sweden’s Sebastian “Forsen” Fors.

Despite the negative reaction, P4wnyhof was voted in to represent Germany in the Global Games by the community. Keen on giving a prompt answer, Forsen announced later the same day he was following through on his promise and forfeited his spot in the tournament. Liquid’s Jeffrey “Sjow” Brusi was subsequently named his successor and fans expected that to be the end of the dispute. 

Not so lucky. Today Blizzard announced the disqualifications of not just P4wnyhof, but also Thomas “Sintolol” Zimmer, Germany’s top HCT points-earner and therefore “anchor” of the team.

“In the light of recent, inappropriate, and unsportsmanlike comments made by Thomas “Sintolol” Zimmer and Mats “P4wnyhof” Kathage, we have decided to rescind their invitation to represent Team Germany in the upcoming Hearthstone Global Games,” Blizzard’s Valgrimasz wrote today. “We’re in the process of identifying replacement players, and will reach out to them privately.” 

Although the exact comments these players made were not specified, it almost certainly relates to some less than grown-up exchanges between the two players made in the day since the rosters were finalized. In Discord chats leaked on March 29, P4wnyhof is seen making homophobic remarks towards Sintolol. Not to be left out, Germany’s former anchor was later caught on stream calling P4wnyhof supporters “mentally handicapped” and saying that he can “see why people like Hitler exist when people like P4wny walks the streets.”

Kathage seems relatively phlegmatic about the ban on Twitter:

While the entire affair has been less than edifying (to say the least), it could ironically end up being good news for Team Germany’s chances in the tournament itself. With Sintolol and P4wnyhof gone, Blizzard is looking to fill both their spots—and there are plenty of strong possible picks. SeatStory and Trinity Series champion SuperJJ didn’t make the initial cut, but is one of Germany’s best players. Also on the sub bench are the likes of ex-CLG’s Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert and Virtus.pro’s Raphael “BunnyHopport” Peltzer, both of whom have respectable competitive backgrounds.

It remains to be seen what other repercussions the disqualified players might suffer. While P4wnyhof’s only streams Hearthstone and has no ties to the competitive scene, Sintolol is currently representing Team Millennium, one of the most established esports organizations in Europe.

No matter who Blizzard selects to fill the vacancies, Team Germany will have a short time to prepare for a tough group stage. If Germany's ‘eagles’ want to get through to the second stage of the tournament and fight for their cut of the $300,000 prize pool, they will have to regroup and overcome powerhouse teams such as the Ukraine, Czech Republic, and Philippines.

Update: Blizzard has selected the replacements for the German HGG team:

The new build of the team see's the reunion of training partners SuperJJ and Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy. Lifecoach recently said he was quitting Hearthstone as a competitive game, but would still take place in fun invitational events.