It takes more than just skill to get started in competitive Hearthstone: you need patience, insight, and a bit of luck too! Although professional organizations are more accessible than ever, there’s no substitute for an impressive tournament performance or high ladder finish. So how do you go about making your mark on the scene? We caught up with Eric “Specialist” Lee to hear how he approaches the competitive grind!
What was your first competitive gaming experience?
My first serious gaming experience was with StarCraft: Brood War. I’ve always been a passionate gamer; I really got into competitive Brood War when I was in college and had the most freedom. I played some ICCUP and hit as high as rank C+! Soon after, StarCraft II came out and I naturally transitioned to that game. I had some success, hitting Grandmaster every season and earning a free trip to WCS USA in 2012!
Tell us, how did you get started playing Hearthstone?
Back in my college days, I played a lot of poker and developed an interest in some other card games. I noticed Hearthstone in the closed beta stage but was never invited. However, once open beta came out, I jumped right in! At first it was just a curiosity for me, a new kind of game that I had never experienced! I’ve always been good with math, so it was easy for me to pick up the basics.
My favorite part of Hearthstone is exploring different deck archetypes. The fact that you have nine distinct classes, each with unique tools, means there are tons of different possibilities to explore. I’m not the best deckbuilder, but I find the process of analyzing the meta very enjoyable!
Last month, you finished high with an impressive #2 ladder rank on North American servers. How did you accomplish this feat?
Last month was the end of the Year of the Kraken, and usually this sort of “final season” has all the meta decks figured out. That makes it very difficult to climb because it’s hard to gain an edge when everyone is playing the “best decks.” I posted on Twitter about how I managed to climb, but to summarize I took advantage of the established meta. I noticed times when tons of people were running the same archetype: for instance, at one point, a streamer named Tyler hit rank 1 with Aggro Shaman. Everyone started running Aggro Shaman because of him.
Control Warrior has an insane winrate against aggro decks but technically wasn’t tier 1 because it has bad matchups vs. Jade Druid and Reno decks. So I played a lot of Control Warrior, was lucky enough to hit aggressive opponents, and had an almost 100% winrate at the top of Legend. Basically, if you want to finish high, don’t just blindly queue with the most “overpowered” deck: try to counter the current meta instead!
Blizzard took a lot of flak for the pre-nerf Gadgetzan meta being stale. What’s your stance on this claim?
Whenever a new expansion comes out, there’s a pattern through which the meta evolves for a while. After about a month, a lot of the stronger decks are figured out. After two months, nearly all the best decks are well established. And for the next couple months, the meta is in a stable state where it can feel very stale. In my opinion, this is a good balance: there’s time for innovation and time for stability. As long as Blizzard keeps releasing quality expansions on a regular schedule, I’m happy with current pace of meta development!
Pirates have taken a big nerf with balance tweaks, plus a few new counters like Golakka Crawler. Do you think aggro is in a good place in the Un’Goro meta?
Aggro decks have definitely been hit pretty hard by the Un’Goro expansion. Some brand new archetypes that are very strong also do very well against aggro. For example, new top tier decks like Murloc Paladin, Quest Warrior, and the revamped Freeze Mage are favored vs. aggressive archetypes. Still, it will stick around since other top tier decks (Miracle Rogue, Quest Rogue, and Midrange Hunter) have a hard time dealing with a beatdown. Aggro will always have its areas of strength!
You just took second place in an Open tournament. What decks do you have an eye on at the moment? Anything poised to make a big breakout?
I really enjoy Open tournaments! I feel like the “skill” components of Hearthstone are really put to the test in those settings. That includes building the right lineup, choosing the right class to ban, using optimal decklists, tweaking your tech depending on the current meta, order of decks played, playing optimally every turn, etc. Since I’m aiming to win a Major one day, I continually practice in these tournaments to hone my skills! On a side note, more than anything I hope tournaments replace ladder as a reliable source of monthly HCT [Editor’s note: Hearthstone Championship Tour] points. I’d love to see Blizzard host an end-of-the-month tournament that invites the top 128 ladder players to compete for points, rather than just awarding points based on ladder rank.
With respect to breakout decks, I think Aggro Druid is hugely underestimated. There’s no strong counter to this deck and it is very consistent. Fr0zen recently hit #1 in Asia and a lot of people have gotten high ranks with it. The list is currently very refined and will be seen very often on ladder in near future. Because of this, I’d expect a lot of weaker Rogue variants to die out.
If you had to pick, what’s your single favorite card from Journey to Un’Goro?
I’d have to say my favorite card so far is Fire Plume’s Heart. It introduces a viable archetype for the competitive meta, while the power level itself isn’t too crazy like Rogue’s Quest. While I’m sad to see the old Control Warrior archetype disappear, new Quest Warrior is a pretty nice replacement. All in all, I’m extremely satisfied with Un’Goro and I hope Blizzard keeps heading this direction as far as new card designs go!
Thanks for joining us, Specialist! Any final thoughts?
Thank you for having me! I’ll be participating in Dreamhack Austin and the North American Spring Playoffs in the coming weeks, and will try my best to do well. Keep an eye on those events! In addition, I always love working with students that want to break into competitive Hearthstone. Feel free to book me any time and I’ll do my utmost to help you reach the next level!
And that does it! Look for Specialist competing at Dreamhack Austin next weekend, April 28th-30th!