William Barton is fast becoming a big deal in the Hearthstone competitive scene, where he plays under the name Amnesiac. Last season he finished number one legend on the North American server, having been the frontrunner all month—an achievement he managed to pull off in part because he was on summer vacation, and therefore didn’t have the distraction of school work to worry about. Amnesiac is just 14 years old.
His finish was no fluke either. He’s been number one many times before, and regularly ends the season in the top legend ranks. His prowess has seen him become a regular contributor to Tempo Storm’s influential Meta Snapshot article, and he’s also recently been helping out as a practice partner-come-coach for some of the Team Archon players.
I started to take notice of him because I saw pros talking about this kid who was insanely good at Druid, which is my class of choice. Having tracked down Amnesiac’s stream, I was startled at how articulate he is and by his ability to read matches. We spoke at the start of the month about his thoughts on competitive Hearthstone, the mindset needed to compete at the very top of the ladder, and what the future holds for him as a player.
PC Gamer: Firstly, congratulations for finishing last season #1 legend on the NA server. Can you tell me a bit about your climb and how you went about holding the rank once you got there?
Amnesiac has reached rank 1 legend multiple times on the North American server, and is currently placed 10th in the 2015 standings, granting him a spot at the double elimination regional qualifier for this year’s Blizzcon. His Twitch stream can be found here and you can also follow him on Twitter. When not grinding ladder, he plays basketball and tennis competitively.
William ‘Amnesiac’ Barton: I got rank 1 halfway through the season playing Demon Handlock—my own version, which actually got pretty popular after that. I could tell it was my list whenever I saw it because I was the only person to put Doomguard in it, and that became kind of staple for a while. Pre-TGT [The Grand Tournament - Ed.] I saw a lot of that deck. But basically for a solid week after I got rank 1—aside from the first day I got it when a couple people took it back—I didn’t have to play very much. I think I played one or two games. And then when TGT came out, it was a little bit awkward because I wanted to test my ideas on ladder, but it didn’t make a ton of sense to queue up unrefined decks at rank 1 legend. That just didn’t seem practical. So I waited until people passed me, and then I figured since the metagame was actually fairly Shaman-heavy for the first two days after TGT came out, Demon Handlock was still a good choice because I feel like that’s a very favored match-up. So that was what I continued to play and I had to win probably around three games after TGT came out. It took one game to get rank 1 back one time, and then it took two games the other time. And then for the last week of the season I just didn’t have to play.
PCG: Is that because you knew you had such a high win-rate while you were climbing to rank 1, so could keep it by only playing a few games?
Amnesiac: Yeah, I think that was a big thing, because by the third time I had taken it back I would imagine that my MMR and win-rate was really high and it would be very difficult to pass me—it would probably take quite a few wins. I talked to Ostkaka, and he said he won four or five games at rank 2 and still couldn’t pass me. So at that point I didn’t feel obligated to continue stacking MMR, because towards the end of the season people stop pushing for rank 1 as aggressively. They’re more content with top five, especially in the last season [before BlizzCon] where people are more aggressively hunting for the points.
PCG: What was it about the metagame that made you feel like Demon Handlock was a good read? The amount of Patron Warrior out there?
Amnesiac: Yeah, exactly. There was a lot of Warrior, and I feel like Demon Handlock is one of the best Patron Warrior counters in the game, more so than Handlock, because it’s more consistent in how many threats you’re going to draw. So it’s pretty reasonable to have three threats from turn 4-6, which is really important because against Patron the board clears are much less important than actually being able to threaten them and pressure them out of the game. That’s why I was going with a list with only one Hellfire and one Shadowflame, rather than the double Hellfire and one Shadowflame that was pretty staple at the time.
PC Gamer: Tell me a little bit about how you got into Hearthstone initially?
Amnesiac: It must have been when I was 12, I guess. The first time I saw Hearthstone was on Day9’s channel. I was watching and I was like: “Wow, there’s no mechanical skill in this game, so you don’t have to practice as much.” What was going through my head was that I could actually play this game and enjoy it and compete at some sort of level, without worrying about huge time constraints. Of course I never thought that I’d be competing at a professional level, it’s just kind of worked out that way. I’ve never spent money on the game—I’ve never been able to—so I had to play a couple months of Arena. But after that I just started playing, and my first ranked play season I peaked at rank 40 legend on the last day.
PC Gamer: Do you hope to turn pro eventually or is that too far off to consider?
Amnesiac: I don’t know if I’d want to commit everything to the game, but I think I play at a professional level at the moment and I’d like to compete at that level. I just wouldn’t want to go all in, I guess, because I like everything else I do in my life too much.
PC Gamer: Are your friends and family impressed by what you’ve achieved so far? Do they watch you stream?
Amnesiac: No, they don’t watch me stream. It’s kind of hard to explain… I don’t bring it up very much. At school very few people know I play videogames, and at home it comes up occasionally, but not really. So yeah, I’m pretty quiet about it.
PC Gamer: I saw you involved in the Team Archon card review stream before The Grand Tournament came out. What’s your relationship with Archon?
Amnesiac: I get along really well with basically everybody on the team. I coach and play with Amaz a lot. We’re pretty good friends. Same with Orange and Zalae. I don’t know Firebat or Purpledrank as well, but I have talked to them both multiple times so I’d say we’re on pretty good terms. And I helped Xixo with his preparation, before he was released from the team, for the Archon Team League Championships so I get along with him as well.
PC Gamer: There’s been rumors that you’re going to be their new coach. That seems extraordinary to me, because you’re 14! Is there any truth in it?
Amnesiac: I definitely think I’m good enough to be helping them learn. I’m not going to feed any speculation as to what team I’m joining, but I don’t feel as though I’m inferior as a player to any of them except maybe Firebat—because when I watch Firebat play it’s absurdly impressive. But I think they’re all amazing players, I just don’t really feel intimidated by anybody in the world when I watch them play. I’d never go into a best of five thinking I can’t win.