Savjz on joining Curse: "It was about stabilizing as a Hearthstone player"
Wе caught up with Savjz to talk about his journey from being a King of the Hill participant to becoming a founding member of Curse’s new Hearthstone team, why he decided to leave the Doges behind, how the new deal came to be and how he sees the future.
Savjz (center) at SeatStory Cup
The multi-gaming organization Curse announced today they are dipping their toe in Hearthstone and former DogeHouse player Janne “Savjz” Mikkonen was revealed as their first acquisition. Mikkonen would be the foundation piece of the newly established roster as the flames look forward to translate their League of Legends and Call of Duty successes into Blizzard’s CCG.
For the world of professional Hearthstone, Savjz’s signing by Curse comes as big news. An active poster on IHearthU, a fearsome King of the Hill player and largely considered to be among the strongest and most educational constructed players in Europe, the Finn has been one of the faces of the scene since the early days. Although a major gold medal is still missing from his shelf and his Fight Night record would be considered subpar, Savjz is nevertheless counted as a part of the Hearthstone constructed elite.
Since his signing in the autumn of 2013, Savjz also became an inseparable part of DogeHouse, a brand which quickly became a household name in Hearthstone and whose exposure helped secure management agency deals for two of its founding members, Ek0p and Gnimsh. With Hearthstone’s impact growing, the goofy dog image becoming more popular by the second and with Savjz’s televised appearance increasing, fans of the game expected the talented Finn to continue to represent his former team. Donning the black and orange of Curse, thus, came somewhat unexpected.
In the wake of these events, GosuGamers caught up with Savjz to talk about his journey from being a King of the Hill participant to becoming a founding member of Curse’s new Hearthstone team, why he decided to leave the Doges behind, how the new deal came to be and how he sees the future.
"We were just a group of five people liking the game and doing well at it"
Savjz joins DogeHouse (only named that just before the start of ESGN Fight Night) after Nyhx and Ek0p fall by his hand at IHearthU’s King of the Hill. Acknowledging his skill in constructed, the German duo welcomes Mikkonen to their ranks and one very formidable roster takes shape.
Although all players in the group would later appear on stream under the DogeHouse brand and wearing their own team uniforms, much resembling the practices from other eSports discipline, Mikkonen explains the group was mostly bound by friendship and shared interests, rather than something more serious.
We had talked getting more players involved in the group but ESGN was the biggest thing going on and we already had enough people for that. Nobody wanted to give up their spot.”
Savjz’s words paint an interesting story of DogeHouse’s creation and development, both accompanied by weird occurrences and presented chances. A team built after one person decided to thrash talk another, only to later help him win BlizzCon, and a team welded together by the importance of one showmatch tournament.
"DogeHouse was always kind of a placeholder for something bigger"
Although DogeHouse as a team name gathers more and more popularity, the doges themselves manage to keep their own profiles on the forefront. The names “Savjz”, “Gnimsh” or “Ek0p” are more recognized as individual brands rather than as part of something bigger.
I draw the parallels between the five Doges and the renowned Magic: The Gathering professionals, who would always belong to some test group but be recognized for their individual skills. I point at Artosis being famous in eSports since the BroodWar days and at Gnimsh and Ek0p being represented by GEM and ask if building individual brands was always intended to take priority over DogeHouse.
Savjz’s description of DogeHouse as sort of a trampoline into the next step makes sense. With no contracts, sponsors or income different than tournaments winnings, staying in the current team sounds like a questionable decision, especially for someone who’s planning to devote his next years playing Hearthstone. While it is normal for an infant scene to mostly have teams based on camaraderie alone, such environment rarely attracts regular paychecks. Different, more prospective options must be considered.
This leads the conversation to the topic of the deal with Curse. Despite acknowledging DogeHouse’s nature, Savjz admits that he was not looking for a sponsorship at all. Although the brand is well-known within eSports and general gaming, he says that the first time he was contacted by the organization he had doubts about signing.
"For me, it was mostly about stabilizing as a Hearthstone progamer"
Even before I ask the question what does Savjz hope to get from Curse gaming, I can already predict the answer. eSports might not be a baby anymore but it’s still a young and volatile industry in which earning a salary – even a minor one – takes not only talent, but time and sacrifice as well. For young gamers, any opportunity to stabilize financially and not having to think about abandoning the game for something with better prospects of an actual paycheck is more than welcome.
As we continue our conversation, my mind draws parallels between Savjz’s situation and a Gamespot article from January 2013 describing the acquisition of CLG Europe – the League of Legends team – by North American eSports giants Evil Geniuses. In an interview with Rod “Slasher” Breslau, CLG.eu captain Stephen “Snoopeh” Ellis explains how “negotiations came down to either signing with Evil Geniuses, or pursuing the teams’ personal aspirations of building an empire themselves”, similar to teams like CLG and TSM.
With DogeHouse enjoying a sizeable fanbase themselves, I ask Savjz if building a sustainable “doge empire” – something which would also help him stabilize as a Hearthstone player – was ever considered. Was there an alternative where the Finn would remain with his former teammates?
In Savjz’s own closing words, “future looks bright” for the Finn. He’s made the first big move with his career, he’ll be travelling to DreamHack Bucharest for the $10,000 tournament where he’s eager to represent the colors of Curse. He’s second guessing no more as his mind is set forward, though he confirms this is not an ultimate goodbye to the friends that brought him into professional Hearthstone.