With a prize pool of just under $10,000, the StarLadder Hearthstone Kick-Off Season finals are drawing ever closer.
Featuring some of the biggest names currently in the competitive Hearthstone scene, the StarLadder Kick-Off Season play-offs are nearly over, with the grand final to take place on 10th July, 22:00 (CEST). With such high-calibre players as Lifecoach, Kolento, Amaz, StrifeCro and Gaara involved in the tournament, it was a fair bet that some intense play was to take place during the course of the tournament.
With two kinds of final set to take place today – both the loser’s bracket final and the long awaited-for grand finals – it seems like a fitting time to go over the journey so far, and how the players got to this point.
Invited to the tournament were all the usual suspects. Nihilum‘s ThijsNL and Lifecoach, Cloud9‘s Kolento and StrifeCro, Team Liquid‘s Neirea, Team Archon’s Amaz, Xixo, Orange and Firebat, Tempo Storm‘s Gaara, as well as tournament regulars StanCifka and Forsen. Qualifiers Kalaxz, Lostov, BoarControl and RENMEN make an even 16, split up into four groups of 4 players each.
The group stages, held in mid-to-late June, bought few surprises with them, with Kolento, Lifecoach and Firebat triumphing in groups A, C and D respectively. In group B, however, things were shaken up a little with qualifier Lostov defeating both Orange and Xixo to finish at the top, with Orange behind him.
- Kolento Cloud9 – 2-0 – (3-1 vs Kalaxz), (3-2 vs StanCifka)
- StrifeCro Cloud9 – 2-1 – (2-3 vs StanCifka), (3-0 vs Kalaxz), (3-0 vs StanCifka)
- StanCifka – 1-2 – (3-2 vs StrifeCro), (2-3 vs Kolento), (0-3 vs StrifeCro)
- Kalaxz – 0-2 – (1-3 vs Kolento), (0-3 vs StrifeCro)
Kolento and StrifeCro were bound to excel in a group with anything but the highest level of player possible. Though racking up two wins in the group and securing his place at the top, Kolento may not have done it as neatly as he’d have liked, dropping a game versus Kalaxz and his match against StanCifka going down to the fifth game, while StrifeCro is able to grab two 3-0 victories to secure his place behind his teammate. StanCifka’s tournament experience wasn’t enough to help him here, with the Cloud9 players as usual looking as though they’re in a different league altogether to even the best players.
- Lostov Hellraisers – 2-0 – (3-1 vs Orange), (3-0 vs Xixo)
- Orange Team Archon – 2-1 – (1-3 vs Lostov), (3-2 vs Neirea), (3-2 vs Xixo)
- Xixo Team Archon – 1-2 – (3-2 vs Neirea), (0-3 vs Lostov), (2-3 vs Orange)
- Neirea Team Liquid – 0-2 – (2-3 vs Xixo), (2-3 vs Orange)
Unknown Russian player Lostov manages to make a name for himself in his tournament debut by cementing himself as top seed in group B, with decisive victories over Team Archon‘s Orange and Xixo, the latter perhaps not having the best of days, losing out on progression by finishing 3rd. Team Liquid‘s Neirea endures two close 2-3 losses, and finishes at the bottom of the group.
- Lifecoach Nihilum – 2-0 – (3-0 vs Amaz), (3-0 vs Gaara)
- Amaz Team Archon – 2-1 – (0-3 vs Lifecoach), (3-1 vs BoarControl), (3-1 vs Gaara)
- Gaara Tempo Storm – 1-2 – (3-2 vs BoarControl), (0-3 vs Lifecoach), (1-3 vs Amaz)
- BoarControl – 2-0 – (2-3 vs Gaara), (1-3 vs Amaz)
An on-form Lifecoach dominates in Group C, being the only player to not drop a single game in the group stages, with Amaz breathing down his neck. Tempo Storm‘s only entrant Gaara has a day to forget, decisively losing vital games against the top 2, and the United Kingdom’s BoarControl gives it a good go, putting up a fight against the proven Tempo Storm player.
- Firebat Team Archon – 2-0 – (3-1 vs ThijsNL), (3-2 vs RENMEN)
- ThijsNL Nihilum – 2-1 – (1-3 vs Firebat), (3-0 vs Forsen), (3-0 vs RENMEN)
- RENMEN – 1-2 – (3-0 vs Forsen), (2-3 vs Firebat), (0-3 vs ThijsNL)
- Forsen – 0-2 – (0-3 vs RENMEN), (0-3 vs ThijsNL)
A fairly simple group for Team Archon’s Firebat, taking two victories to finish heading the group. After a horrible first game, ThijsNL fights back with two 3-0 victories to line up second. The tournament’s second Russian qualifier, RENMEN, proves that he can fight at the top, narrowly losing to Firebat and defeating Forsen 3-0 before succumbing to Thijs. Forsen finishes last in group D, the only player to not win a single game in the group stages.
Aside from the startling offensive on Team Archon by Russian challenger Lostov, the group stages really didn’t throw much into the air in terms of surprises and upsets. Questionable deck choices by some players may have cost them victories in the end – StanCifka’s Priest seemingly being more of a hindrance than a help in group A – but the shock value really comes from group B, and Xixo losing out on progression.
In the end though, it’s really the usual suspects making it through, setting the scene for some great games. Kolento, Lifecoach and Firebat seeing arguably their greatest run of form this year would put them as firm favourites for victory in the grand final, but the achievement of Russia’s Lostov can’t be ignored, quickly going from being an unknown challenger to perhaps Team Archon‘s worst nightmare.
Round 1 – Winner’s Bracket
Seemingly a tournament of fairly quick rounds, the first few games in round 1 featured the more well-known Hearthstone players.
Firebat vs StrifeCro would end up being a fairly one-sided fight, to the surprise of some, with current world champion Firebat taking a sweet 3-1 victory over the Cloud9 player. Taking two victories in a row with Freeze Mage and the popular Midrange Zoo Warlock, Firebat lost a game to StrifeCro’s brilliant Oil Rogue game, before winning the Midrange Hunter mirror match to take the series.
Similarly, Lifecoach would record a 3-1 victory over Orange. Patron Warrior wouldn’t work out for the German player in the first game, with Orange quickly taking a 1-0 lead with a Midrange Hunter, but Lifecoach would come back to win the next three games in succession with a Midrange Druid, Handlock and finally a successful Patron Warrior game.
In the play-off’s longest game at that point, Kolento vs ThijsNL would go down to the 5th and final game, with Kolento eventually pulling off a 3-2 victory over the Nihilum player. Kolento would win the first two games, beating Thijs’ Oil Rogue twice in succession with Patron Warrior and Face Hunter. In the golden Oil Rogue mirror match, Thijs would take a decisive victory, and Grim Patron Warrior would once again defy the traditional matchup by soundly beating Kolento’s own Rogue.
With the series tied up, the final game came down to Kolento’s Oil Rogue up against ThijsNL’s Zoo Warlock. Kolento would take the game and the series, the Rogue and her burst damage utterly unimpressed with the board control of the Warlock.
As if scripted, Team Archon‘s nightmare continued into round 1, with Lostov facing off against Amaz himself. The story of the tournament thus far, the Russian player took an impressive 3-0 victory against the world-class player Amaz. A close first victory over Tempo Mage with his Midrange Druid took him into an even closer victory with Handlock, and the tournament qualifier closed out the series with another close Hunter win.
Round 1 – Loser’s Bracket
As is the tradition with double elimination tournaments, losing one match doesn’t count you completely out. Losing in the winner’s bracket puts you in the loser’s bracket, and fighting your way back up through this lower tier means that you have a chance at redemption, and may still get through to the grand finals!
As such, the first game in the loser’s bracket was Amaz vs StrifeCro, a fairly closely-matched 40-minute series that would see itself go down to the 5th game. Being fairly even for the duration, StrifeCro would go on to win the match 3-2, and take one step closer to redemption, while knocking Team Archon founder Amaz out of the tournament.
In a series of answers and counterplays, StrifeCro would win the first game convincingly with a Midrange Hunter, only for Amaz to win the second and third games with Midrange Druid and Zoo Warlock. Amaz would suffer from a heavily bloated hand in game four, giving his opponent’s Oil Rogue an easy 30-0 health victory. In the final game, a favourable matchup would aid StrifeCro and his Freeze Mage to progress to the next round in the loser’s bracket.
Versus ThijsNL, Orange would manage to overcome his recent downturn in form and win the series 3-1, coming back from a close and drawn-out initial win by Thijs and his Zoo deck, taking the next three games handily with Midrange Hunter, Handlock and smart play in the Grim Patron Warrior mirror match.
Round 2 – Winner’s Bracket
Back in the winner’s bracket, a week after claiming his third big take-down, Lostov lines up against world champion Firebat, the final Team Archon player not yet defeated by the Russian. The young challenger would, finally, be defeat however, with Firebat winning the series 3-1, keeping his cool in the face of the young Archon slayer.
Lostov would win the third game, overpowering Firebat’s Zoo Warlock with his own more lategame-focused Midrange Hunter deck. Already being two games down with Firebat’s own Midrange Hunter and Freeze Mage, however, proved to be too much to come back from, and the series would be bought to a close with a dominant performance by Firebat and his Zoo Warlock.
With the world champion moving onto round 3, attention turned to the next match, Lifecoach vs Kolento, without a doubt one of the most exciting matchups possible in competitive Hearthstone at the moment, with both players being ranked within the top 5 in the world.
However, as exciting as the games could have been, the result was fairly one-sided – a 3-1 victory for Kolento, Lifecoach’s slower decks – Midrange Druid, Handlock and Patron Warrior – being no match for the aggro and combo decks of Kolento – Face Hunter, Oil Rogue and his own Patron Warrior.
Lifecoach would chalk up a win with Midrange Druid versus the slow draws of Kolento’s Patron Warrior, but wouldn’t be able to gain enough momentum to gain an advantage in any of the other games.
Round 2 – Loser’s Bracket
Having been put out by Firebat in the early stages of the play-offs, StrifeCro would have a chance to redeem himself in round 2 of the loser’s bracket, being put up against Lifecoach. In a surprisingly quick match, StrifeCro would take a 3-0 victory over Lifecoach in only half an hour of play. With unfortunate matchups all the way through for Lifecoach, his Handlock would fall in all three games against StrifeCro’s Freeze Mage, Oil Rogue and Midrange Hunter. Three convincing victories put StrifeCro through to the next round of the loser’s bracket, and one step closer to a place in the grand final.
Facing off once again were Team Archon‘s Orange and Lostov, and in a direct repeat of their game during the group stages, Lostov would once again take a 3-1 victory against the highly-rated player. Lostov would take the first and second games in dominant style with Midrange Druid and Hunter against Orange’s own Hunter and Handlock. In the third game, the roles were reversed, with Orange taking a quick victory against Lostov’s Handlock with his own Midrange Hunter. In a final match that would go down to the wire between two Handlocks, Lostov would take the series, his second victory in the tournament against Orange, and yet another defeat of a high-ranked player.
Round 3 – Winner’s Bracket
For a place in the grand final, Team Archon and Cloud9’s Firebat and Kolento face each other in the final off the winner’s bracket. Surely two of the top three players in the tournament, not many people would have expected the series to be drawn to a conclusion as quickly as it did, with Firebat taking less than half an hour to take a 3-0 victory. Opening the series with a victory with his own Midrange Hunter over Kolento’s Face variant, Firebat would predict the deck change perfectly, and secure an easy second victory over Patron Warrior with his Handlock.
In the third game, with a matchup that could go either way, Firebat would look to be in danger for the first half of the game, having not done any damage to Kolento’s Hunter, a combination of the Freeze Mage’s burst damage and Hunter’s lack of steam would cement Firebat’s place in the grand final.
Round 3 – Loser’s Bracket
Lostov would face off against StrifeCro in the loser’s bracket, fresh off a victory over a player who people would have tipped to win the tournament. Against GosuGamer’s #7 ranked player in the world, however, Lostov produced yet another upset still with a 3-1 victory. With an extremely close first game – StrifeCro topdecking a Bloodmage Thalnos to burst down Lostov’s Druid with 1 health left – the next three games would all go to Lostov, with StrifeCro’s Oil Rogue play being no match for his opponent’s Midrange Druid, just about losing out on the Midrange Hunter mirror match, and Lostov overcoming a bad matchup with Handlock to defeat StrifeCro’s Hunter.
Surely the surprise of the tournament so far, this victory would put Lostov, the unranked and unknown Russian player, through to the loser’s bracket finals against Kolento for a place in the grand finals. Cementing a 3rd place in the tournament must be a great boost, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make appearances in other tournaments in the future.
Something definitely noticeable about the tournament thus far has been the amount of series that have been won or lost solely depending on the deck matchups. That’s the case a lot of the time in tournaments, but I don’t feel that it’s been to this degree. Whether that’s a comment on the game’s current meta or just how the decks are played, I couldn’t say, but either way there have still been some great games.
Indeed it’s been a great tournament so far, some great play, a good amount of drama and a few surprise results. There can be a chance for an unlucky world-class player to redeem himself and fight his way back through to the grand final, but to do that he’s going to have to fight his way past a rising star, an unknown player seemingly on the warpath at the moment.
To be making your tournament debut in a way such as this, taking out so many world-class players? That’s how you get noticed, and what a way to do it. Hats off to Lostov.
It may be a quiet tournament, but with how the brackets are lining up at the moment, the potential’s there for some great final games, and at this rate it should be a grand final that fans of competitive Hearthstone will really want to see. World-class players going up against each other at the highest level, that’s what it’s all about, and it’s looking like that’s exactly what we’re going to get.
For those interested in catching the last couple of rounds of the tournament, times for both the loser’s bracket finals and grand finals are as such:
- Semifinal – Kolento vs Lostov – 10th July, 21:00 CEST
- Grand Final – Firebat vs (TBD) – 10th July, 22:00 CEST
The latest on the StarLadder Hearthstone Kick-Off Season tournament can be found on StarLadder Hearthstone’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Tournament VODs can be found in both English and Russian language on StarLadder Hearthstone’s YouTube channel, and live rounds will be streamed on Twitch also in both English and Russian language at the dates and times listed above.