PCG: It's interesting to hear you mention the money, because a lot players are coy and say “oh it's not about the money”. But a hundred grand is a lot. I’d have probably blown the lot, but you seem sensible. Have you got most of it left?
Firebat: I'm just about to spend pretty much all of my winnings from the last two years. I'm investing in a house. It's pretty tricky with my career to get a mortgage, so I have to pay in full, and hopefully it goes up in value. But, worst case scenario, I can go hard at gaming now and if I start losing in all the tournaments then at least I’ll still have a roof over my head.
PCG: Which Hearthstone pros do you rate highly right now?
Firebat: I like players that can play a lot of decks, that are very diverse, and I like players they can adjust to new formats and continually be successful. I think StanCifka is the strongest Hearthstone player out there right now. He has one of the highest win rates out of all the pros. He's been exceptional in every format, and has received the least amount of tournament invites of any of the top pros, and continually been successful without even needing invites.
PCG: It's because the organizers can't afford the bananas required to feed him.
Firebat: Yeah, exactly.
PCG: A number of big-name players like Savjz and Forsen are now focused on streaming rather than competing. Do you feel like, because the income from streaming is more reliable, it could hurt the competitive scene?
Firebat: That is a tricky question, because we can see the effects already. A lot of these bigger players have made the transition to streaming, and they're not really interested in World Championship points. That hurts the players that actually make it to the World Championship, because the viewership might be lower if none of the big streamers are in it, and people will be: “Well they won the World Championship, but they didn't play against my favorite player Trump, or Forsen, or Savjz… they didn't beat any of the big names.” But maybe they beat players who were even better. It's going to be interesting to see how Blizzard tries to handle that problem when it happens, or if they even mind.
I don't know, it's really tough to get out there and build your brand, but winning tournaments definitely still gives you recognition. But as we saw with Ostkaka—he won the World Championship, he hasn't streamed, he hasn't done really anything much with it, and he’s starting to fall by the wayside a little bit, in my opinion anyway. You have to do more than just win tournaments. There's more to being a professional gamer, there's more to being someone in esports than just winning—especially in Hearthstone. You have to promote yourself, you have to build a brand. Otherwise you're doing all this work to win for no reason. Because the winning is just getting your foot in the door. It's like having a good resumé, but after that you've got to do something with it. You’ve got to get the job and actually work at it.
PCG: Going back to RNG, do you think the lack of consistency creates a problem with how pros are perceived? If you go on a run where you aren’t putting together back-to-back tournament wins, inevitably some people want to say “oh, look at the World Champ, he's washed up.” Because it's hard to post consistent results, the top performers are unlikely to stay on top for an extended period of time as they might be able to in other esports. Do you think that’s a particular challenge for Hearthstone?
Firebat: I don't think it's actually as big of a challenge as people think. I like that there's variance in who's considered the top players. I think that makes it easier for people to become top players, and makes the pro scene a little bit more flexible, which is nice. And I also think, honestly, that all of the top players who have been on tears have shown consistency. If you watch my stream, Lifecoach’s stream, Thijs’ stream or StanCifka’s stream—if you listen to their thought process, you’re going to say: “yeah that guy's a top player.” You can just tell when they're explaining their plays. So I think we're at the point now in the Hearthstone community where people are starting to recognise that.
On the next page: Thoughts on the Standard format and the Classic cards Firebat would nerf first