Hearthstone is fundamentally a single-player experience. Major tournaments consist of head-to-head series between players, and in the end an individual competitor hoists the trophy high. Of the hundreds of events which have been held in the game’s history, no more than a dozen have been played as a team. It’s not like Hearthstone pros don’t need the strict practice regimen associated with a game like StarCraft to keep their APM sharp, most players prefer to keep their winnings, and have no problem finding practice groups among their peers. So why are there teams in Hearthstone at all?
Being a Hearthstone player on a team comes with a basket of benefits, not least of which is a relatively secure source of income. For the majority of pros, having someone take care of basic needs—travel support for tournaments, career management, handling sponsors—is invaluable. Perhaps more importantly, being part of a like-minded group bound by a common goal is additional motivation to work hard. Look at the results, and you’ll find that the most successful Hearthstone players are a product of their team environment as well as their own talent.
In this article, we evaluate the best teams in the Hearthstone scene today, and look where they’re headed.
Archon Team League Championship — HWC Europe Championship 2015 — HCT Europe Spring Championship 2015 — DreamHack Summer 2016 — SeatStory Cup 5
Total winnings: $333,893
Widely considered to be the best team in Hearthstone, G2 Esports—formerly Nihilum before the team’s acquisition by Gamers2 in October 2015—is testament to what a tight knit line-up can accomplish. Under the firm management of Lothar, and the positive fatherly influence of Lifecoach over the bright young minds ThijsNL and Rdu, this European quartet has conquered every peak in the game, culminating in their $150,000 championship at ATLC, two DreamHack wins and two HCT European championships.
Even during individual tournaments, the G2 team compete as a family. They scout, practice and deckbuild collectively, to the point where they would and grind games until they are content with their decks. When you meet them in person, there’s the distinct sense of family, which partly explains why they haven’t undergone a single roster change since the team’s founding.
2015 was the year of Nihilum, and the only thing set to be different in 2016 is the name.
HWC World Championship 2015 — StarLadder i-League Season 2 — ESports Arena Invitational
Total winnings: $177,440
Many parallels can be drawn between the founding of Natus Vincere’s Hearthstone team, and the best roster of 2014: Cloud9. Na`Vi is a true esports colossus, so it was big news when the organisation picked up up the highly-rated young trio of Xixo, Ostkaka and Hoej in September 2015, just in time for the final stretch of the World Championship campaign. The hope then was that that the line-up, which had already amassed nine top four finishes, would enjoy instant success under the black and yellow banner.
Na`Vi’s owners were not to be disappointed. Two months after the team was formed, Ostkaka went on to win the World Championship and has continued to put up admirable results in 2016. Xixo also unleashed his true potential this year, graduating from a ladder terror into one of Hearthstone’s most consistent performers. With Dane star Hoej still in top form, and the addition of two-time OGN Korea grand finalist Surrender, Na`Vi has no weak spot in their roster.
CN vs EU Season 2 — KPL Season 1 — Seoul Cup World Invitational
Total winnings: $239,850
Once the undisputed kings of Hearthstone, Cloud9 are currently some ways away from their best days. The team was founded in June 2014, comprising some of the most renowned competitors in the game at the time–Gnimsh, Ekop, StrifeCro, Hafu and Kolento–immediately making them Hearthstone’s first real “super team.” The lineup grew even stronger with the acquisition of Tempo Storm star and control specialist Andrew "TidesofTime" Biessener in October of the same year.
After their peak as the Archon Team League runner-ups, Cloud9’s presence on the competitive scene has slowly waned, at least compared to their dominant era. Even with the signing of former world champion Firebat and Blizzcon 2016 finalist DDaHyoNi, the org just isn’t as dominant as it once was. With the recent departure of Ekop, the Hearthstone division of the American powerhouse is at the very least in transition, and arguably has been in decline, mitigated only by the ridiculous amount of talent still on the books which makes you think a comeback may still be around the corner.
SeatStory Cup 4 — CN vs NA Challenge 2015
Total winnings: $97,627
Complexity Gaming might just be the best Hearthstone talent school around. Known behind the scenes for his great eye for players, team manager Sören “Fantasy” Vendsahm is responsible for turning aspiring players such as David “Dog” Caero and Jan “SuperJJ” Janssen into familiar names with fans.
With SuperJJ’s unmatched consistency since SeatStory Cup 4, and Crane’s continued rise to power, Complexity Gaming are not just on the up, but very much one of the hottest teams in Hearthstone right now. Many pundits believe we’re yet to see the best from the team’s two headliners, with high hopes for Polish Shaman aficionado Mateusz “Loyan” Roszkowski, too.
If that wasn’t enough, Complexity’s brand is also represented through the voices of casters Simon “Sottle” Welch and Kacem “Noxious” Khilaji, as well as a number of regular, engaging streamers including Christoffer “Asmodai” Stub and Ryab “Ryzen” Liberian, among others.
ESL Katowice 2016 — GIGACON Prime 2015
Total winnings: $41,230
If there’s one team in the European Hearthstone scene that resembles a family besides G2 Esports, it’s SK Gaming.
A pillar of the esports community for almost two decades now, SK have made a couple of attempts to leave their mark on Hearthstone. Their initial roster featuring Filip “Numberguy” Samuelsen, Jung-Hwan “RenieHouR” Lee and Rocardo “Kaor” Giammanco put up some decent results, but lack of activity and success in early 2015 relegated that era of SK to oblivion.
The team’s renaissance began with the acquisition of all-Swedish team Darkstar in May 2015. Long-time friends and practice partners, Freakeh, Spo, MartinCreek and Airbrushed were just what SK needed: a group of talented individuals who didn’t need to be taught how to work together.
The end of 2015 saw SK Gaming rise meteorically. Credit for that goes to Freakeh’s management and tutoring—he’s renowned as the practice partner who coached Archon’s ex-star Jon "Orange" Westberg to greatness—and the roster living and practicing together in a team house in Cologne. Expect great things to come for the SK boys.
HWC APAC Championship 2015 — DreamHack Austin 2016 — DreamHack Valencia 2015
Total winnings: $77,160
Another marquee esports organization, Team Dignitas founded their Hearthstone division in 2014, starting locally by signing UK open cup stars Blackout and Greensheep, but went for rapid expansion the following year. Chakki, Kranich and Naiman were all contracted within two months of each other, and suddenly Dignitas Hearthstone had a line-up to match the brand.
Though never considered to be among the top three teams in the game, Dignitas have had their moments in the spotlight. In 2015, Kranich became the first player to qualify for back-to-back world championships. That same year, DreamHack Valencia witnessed an all-Dignitas grand final as Greensheep defeated fellow countryman Blackout for the win.
Since his signing, Chakki racked up a total of $30,000 competing under the Dignitas colors.Even though he recently parted ways with the UK-based organization, Dignitas still look like one of the most solid teams in Hearthstone.
Line-up: The team has an unusually large roster, hosting over 40 players, the most notable of which are:
DreamHack Summer 2015 — Gold Series Spring 2016 — Hearthstone Team Story: Chapter 1
Total winnings: $109,376
No team structure in Hearthstone comes close to the sheer size of Team Celestial. Founded by China’s best known player, TiddlerCelestial, the team went from a three-man roster to having more than 40 players currently under its roof—by far the most of any Hearthstone org.
How that even works, financially and managerially, is a great question. According to team manager Sinn Tann, the salaries are mostly paid by the team’s sponsor DouyuTV—a streaming platform similar to Twitch—in support of the streaming personalities. Additionally, the team draws income through Hearthstone Team Story, an ongoing league for Chinese teams with a $190,000 prize pool. In terms of travel expenses, those are covered by team owner TiddlerCelestial for international events and local organizers for local events.
Practice-wise, the dozens of players are split into multiple QQ chat groups—a Chinese alternative to Skype—depending on their time zone (there’s one common group, and another just for the Chinese players), whether they want to practice, come up with Team Story strategies, watch and talk about tournaments, or even screenshare/stream western events to the Chinese public.
SeatStory Cup 2 — IEM Season 9 Shenzhen
Total winnings: $87,277
Even if you’re a die-hard fan of Liquid and it’s equine logo, there’s no denying that, competitively speaking, the team seems to be on the decline. The days when Amaz, Savjz and Neirea would show up to tournaments and be feared are gone. Even the acquisition of Complexity’s former star Dog haven’t done much to improve Liquid’s position.
Nowadays, Liquid’s Hearthstone operation is more a group of streamers, casters and personalities than active competitors. Dog remains the most active tournament player, with Savjz, Sjow and Elky highly regarded as personalities rather than fierce competitors, and Neirea still looking to top his silver finish from the 2015 European Championship.
Nevertheless, the Team Liquid brand carries plenty of legacy value, and history has show that Hearthstone team’s can rise from the ashes in the blink of an eye. Even though their current roster is blessed with fame rather than trophies, that could change quickly and if founder and co-owner Victor “Nazgul” Goossens decides to shake things up.
DreamHack Bucharest 2014 — WEC 2014
Total winnings: $122,480
A few months earlier, and I would’ve said Tempo Storm was on the decline. The brainchild of popular streamer Reynad had seen a steady drop in tournament results over the course of the last year. Once considered a serious contender to be Hearthstone’s best team, Tempo Storm had almost faded into competitive obscurity come 2016, despite the brand itself producing regular content—including the , and its players remaining popular figures.
Multiple factors contributed towards the team’s decline, including players living in different time-zones, making practicing difficult. Several members went inactive (it seems Hyped may have been lost to Overwatch for good), lost form, or chose to focus on streaming over competing.
Then, unexpectedly, they had a flash resurgence. Both Gaara and Eloise secured seeds into the $30,000 Truesilver Championship 3 playoffs, winning the qualifiers for Tempo Storm. JustSaiyan made the playoffs for DreamHack Austin, and just a week ago Eloise also reached top eight at SeatStory Cup V. The spark of life is very much aflame in Tempo Storm, which should be heart-warming to Hearthstone fans: It’s too early to write off Reynad’s roster just yet.
Total winnings: $15,750
When Virtus.pro signed a Hearthstone team, expectations were understandbly stellar. The long-standing organization has won more than $3.7 million in its lifetime across its different game divisions, and has always been a respected and feared opponent in major esports such as Counter-Strike and Dota. So the Hearthstone roster headlined by 2016 Europe Winter finalists Naiman and DrHippi had to perform.
Although mind-blowing success didn’t arrive overnight, the Virtus.pro players took their new job seriously and delivered. As if bound by some mystical force, DrHippi and Naiman once again shared a common finish and split the $10,000 top four prize at the $50,000 StarSeries Season 2. Two weeks later, the once-banned Naiman repeated his success through another top four finish at SeatStory Cup V.
Today, Virtus.pro are guaranteed a representative at the World Finals, and if there’s any justice, a major championship for DrHippi is due soon. Even BunnyHoppor, with a bronze medal from the Europe Winter Championship and a top eight finish at DreamHack Valencia, shouldn’t be underestimated. All in all, Virtus.pro’s roster is very much one to watch out for.
HWC World Championship 2014 — SeatStory Cup 3 — HCT Americas Winter Championship 2016
Total winnings: $313,680
In spite of having some undisputed talent in the shape of Zalae and Amnesiac, as an organization Team Archon has been moving slowly away from esports. In June, Daily Dot reported that the Amaz-owned team had decided to than competitive gaming, news which was accompanied by the departure of ESL and SeatStory champion Jon “Orange” Westberg.
Orange is not the only player who left Archon in the last year. The first marquee players to leave were ladder god Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert and the team’s coach Ryan “Purple” Root, who went on to join Natus Vincere and GamersOrigin, respectively, and also win their first major LAN championships. The team’s best performing player James “Firebat” Kostesich also waved goodbye this February, to be grabbed by Cloud9 just a month later.
Today’s Archon has lost much of its firepower and its biggest prospect remains young Amnesiac, who’s guaranteed to compete at this year’s World Finals, and still ranks as one of the most exciting players on the scene.