Rdu: "I still haven't got my reputation back"
Professional Hearthstone - like any other competitive card game - is a culling world. The volatility of the discipline combined with the huge player base make it incredibly hard for someone to break out and maintain consistency for long periods of time. In a discipline where anyone can beat anyone, stories are shattered as quickly as they are created.
In April, a young Romanian player starts writing the first chapters of his own stories. Even though the scene is what one would call an old boys club at the time, Dima "Rdu" Radu finds a way to become known. Starting at the European qualifiers for 2P's Europe vs China Masters and then going through two DreamHacks, one IEM and several online cups, Rdu is currently one of the best performing names in the discipline. Sitting on the peaks of the GosuRankings, MYM's ace has won the recognition of fans and players alike.
Today, we sit for a chat with Rdu and go all the way back to the start of his career. As the interview develops, we cover subjects like winning his first championship and the controversy that surrounded it, keeping consistency in a RNG-heavy game like Hearthstone, changing mindsets to win televised invitationals and weekly cups alike and his rivalry with Jason "Amaz" Chan.
To open this interview, I want to take you back at the start of your televised career – April 2014. Within one week, you placed top four in the EU vs CN qualifiers for the 2p tournament and then fourth at DreamHack Bucharest. How did you prepare for those first big tournaments of yours?
They were my first big tournaments after I played some small Romanian-only ones and I really wanted to get ''popular'', it was my dream to become a pro player at anything and eventually a known streamer. I didn't even sleep the night before 2p and was practicing with some friends every possible matchup and it worked. I got 6-1 in the swiss, losing only to Lifecoach after missing lethal. that was the only lethal I missed in an important tournament, and it was very hard to spot because it included a Scavenging Hyena and making use of my opponent's Explosive Trap to buff my Hyena, getting exact lethal.
For DreamHack Bucharest I did the same training but I was already confident of getting a good spot due to the fact that I qualified in top 4 for 2p.
You mentioned the Lifecoach series but at DH Bucharest you had to face another big name - Gnimsh - in the first round. Was there a moment where you felt phased, unconfident against arguably more established players/streamers?
I was very scared before the series, but at the same time I was confident on my hunter deck. After winning the mirror match I was sure I will win that series 2-0 because in that meta Hunter was incredibly dominant, probably as dominant as it is today.
By the way, after those two events we had a super big event in Romania - I'm not sure if someone knows about it) and I won it, winning the finals vs Daniel, getting my revenge against him.
Is this the key to getting used to facing big names? Playing them on a battlefield you know? Or it just comes down to experience and many, many series?
Both are really important. You need to play a lot of pro players and a lot of tournaments to get used to the pressure. A lot of people might say it's easy to be a pro player but it's actually very hard because everybody is watching you and you have to handle the pressure. One good example is what happened to Firebat during the WEC where the pressure was probably too much and he couldn't handle it, the opposite being TidesofTime who was used to pressure and took advantage of that in their series.
I had the same opinion as most people, thinking this game is easy and it will not be that hard to be a pro. But when you stream daily and you show all the decks that you play on stream, even though you come up with new decks at tournaments, people will still know your playstyle and predict some of your plays. Experience is probably the most important thing. You have to know every single match-up in this game by heart to know when to do some plays and in what circumstances.
You had less than three weeks of rest between DH:B before you got seeded into DH:S, your biggest tournament so far. First of all, did you ever expect to be invited straight into the group stages?
For me, it was like 50/50. At that time, I had some notable achievements, probably more than most of the pro players out there and I really though I deserved the spot but I was not sure if I’d get it. 2P and DH Bucharest were the biggest tournaments up to that date and I placed very good in both of them. Also winning that big Romanian tournament must have helped to get the invite but after I was invited the struggle started.
This leads to my next question. Just like at DH: Bucharest, people saw you as an underdog, especially given the fact that you shared a group with Realz, Darkwonyx and Tides who were already on established teams and had more televised experience than yourself. I guess the pressure was even higher than it was at DH: B, though, now that the prize was bigger, the competition was tougher and thousands more people watching?
The pressure was big but I managed to hold it. By that time I realized how I should fight the pressure and I think I did a good job. Even though this is not a game like Counter-Strike or League/Dota where if you are pressured and you might misclick and ruin your whole team's game, in Hearthstone if you don't concentrate you can make one mistake that can cost you the game and potentially the series. Even when I was 1-1 vs Darkwonyx in the situation where the winner advances and the loser goes home, I didn't feel that much pressure
So you knew worrying would just get you in trouble so you decided to stop worrying and win series instead?
Yup, that is what I did and it worked. In Hearthstone, it's better not to worry and go ''yolo mode'' than to worry and lose because of it.
Speaking of DH: S, we can’t leave the grand finals debacle unmentioned. Now, the incident happened mid-series so the match had to be put on hold for admins to judge the situation. How does one recover from this composure-wise, given this was the final series and against a high-profile name like Amaz?
I already had 1-0 and was really confident on my miracle rogue deck that had potential to beat all of Amaz's decks. The reason I started freeze mage in that series was because it was the worst deck versus any of Amaz's decks and I just wanted to cheap out one win using it. After that incident, I was just shocked, knowing that a lot of people will attack me for something that was actually not my fault. I wish they would have just remade the game so everyone was happy. Even if I would lose with the Mage, I think Rogue had potential to win the series easy afterwards.
It was a strange sensation because I didn't see that coming and I played being in full shock the remaining of the series and I wasn't even that happy after winning. Following the incident, I had to try even harder to prove people that I'm actually a very good player that worked a lot to get where I am and not a cheater. I played in online open cups like ZOTAC and GosuCup , winning the first and finishing second in the latter, streaming with no delay just to prove that I am a good player. Then I even took first place at the WEC qualifiers and I got notable achievements in other events.
It was really hard to get my reputation back and I still don't have it completely but as far as I know for sure that I am innocent, I just try to ignore the hater opinions and prove them wrong by winning everything.
You actually went on to defend yourself on reddit but that didn't help much. Did you ever get discouraged by the community's follow-up reactions?
Of course I was discouraged. But that helped me motivate myself into winning more so it was okay in the end.
At one point, even Andrey “Reynad” Yanyuk came to call you out, challenging you into a face-off for the DreamHack trophy. Was that something you ever expected coming from a pro-player “colleague”?
One or two months before DreamHack Summer, I had a lot of respect for Reynad. I lost some of it when he attacked Lifecoach on his stream about the DreamHack invites, something I thought was unacceptable because Lifecoach is one of the most respectable HS pro players out there and was probably the best player in that hunter meta, because he invented that deck in the first place. I still had some respect for him before he attacked me, but after he did I realized what kind of person he is, attacking other pro players just to get more attention and invites to other tournaments, consolidating his bad lifetime win rate.
I think it was pretty childish and unprofessional from him to attack me like that without that much reasoning behind his words but that is Reynad, the clown of Hearthstone. Every game needs that one person that makes drama just to cover his own failures in tournaments. The funniest thing was that he admitted himself that he cheated in Magic the Gathering and he was accusing me of cheating because I kept Fan of Knives for five seconds before the casters even stated his hand on the stream.
After accusations were proven false his only reasoning for attacking me was that he didn't like me and that he considers me a bad player, which again is very immature for a 21 year to attack a 17 year old like that. I would not be surprised if he would challenge me at a wrestling WWE match for the money that I won in tournaments.
The community was pretty split on that call-out as well. Some said you should face the challenge while others insisted that by accepting you are basically admitting your own guilt. You ultimately did not comment on this as far as I know and never accepted. Why?
I had no reason to play versus him and I think we have some laws against betting money on something at this age: if you're under 18 in Romania, you can't bet on anything and if I would have won, I couldn't take that money because it was illegal. The only way I could play versus him was in a tournament, a moment I’m still waiting for so I can show him how good I am.
At the moment of this interview, you're one of the most consistent players in competitive Hearthstone. According to our records, you’re at 76% all-time win-rate with an 85% peak in July. You’re the highest ranked player in Europe and second highest in the world. How is this achieved? Card games, after all, are much more volatile and it’s hard to be consistently good for long periods of time.
I think of Hearthstone as of poker. In poker, you almost always see the best players at the final table. I try to exclude RNG as much as possible when i prepare for a tournament and of course, the ban format favors that a lot.
I practice a lot and I think I can hold myself in the top tier players for a long time. Of course, being invited to almost all the tournaments helps me but even if all the tournaments would be open bracket I still think I would win most of them because I am very competitive by nature and I adapt quickly from meta to meta.
You mentioned the ban format which reminds me of something MTG Hall of Famer Paolo Vitor told us in a recent interview, namely that Hearthstone is much more prone to hard-countering that, say, Magic the Gathering. Do you like that aspect of the game and how tournaments use it/play around it? Wouldn't it be better to have a metagame or rules where a deck can perform on a decent level against all other decks, through sideboarding maybe? Instead of just having the pick/ban/elimination system?
Every format is okay for me. At the moment I enjoy the ban format because it creates diversity. If we play a sideboard format with only one deck, you will only see the deck which is popular at the moment or its counter. Everybody will basically play Hunter in every tournament and it will be boring.
What’s interesting about you is that following DH: S and WellPlayed Cup, you dived into several weekly cup tournaments, which are considered to be way more volatile and unforgiving. You ended up winning ZOTAC and getting second at GosuCup, which further cemented your position at the top. Is a mindset change necessary when transitioning from big, televised invitationals to weekly cups?
Of course, they are totally different. Most of weekly cups don't have the ban rule which leaves to playing mostly mirror matches with the best decks at that moment. They also allow me to test my mindgaming skills and to see in general which decks people play and some other things. I also wanted to prove wrong the people who said the pro's that get invited to events suck and they can't win any weekly cups.
Personally I don't believe there are any hidden stars that can beat any pro and win every tournament as some people on reddit say. If there were such players, they would get noticed by winning something and start getting invited themselves, as I did. I was not known for StarCraft or other games before because I only played LoL at a decent level but not enough to be known and I had to make my name in HS by winning tournaments. Also, you can see me play most of the weekly tournaments because I like them and I want to challenge myself every week and I'm not arrogant enough to not play them just because of not having a big prize pool.
As you say this and as I look at your career and see parallels with your team-mate Thijs. When I spoke to him a while back, he said planning, research and knowing what to use and when to use weighs more than having luck. Would you say there’s truth to that? What’s the key to competitive success in Hearthstone according to you?
Thijs is right. In competitive HS, I don't think having luck is that important as good research and practice. If course, luck is an important factor in card games but in the long run, minimizing the luck is the most important thing.
When you practice, do you try to master all classes, or stick to the few you like best and know you can pull good results with?
I try to master all classes and to find what's best in the current meta.
Would you say there's a class or deck you feel particularly uncomfortable with at the moment?
Nope, I enjoy playing everything and as a pro player I have to play everything.
While on the topic of classes, you’ve been known to bring unorthodox choices in tournaments. At DH: B, you were the only Control Warrior player in the top 8 and one of the few who prepared a Tempo Rogue. Then, at DH: S, you famously won over Amaz with a Frost Mage. Finally, we saw a midrange Warrior from you at IEM Shenzhen. Let’s start with the first instance – the Control Warrior of Bucharest. What made you choose it as one of your three decks?
I played Control Warrior and Tempo Rogue because at that time they countered zoo and that was very important for me in that meta.
You targeted Zoo specifically and not Midrange Hunter? If my memory serves me well, lots of people were scared of that at the time.
Yup. Zoo was a counter to the midrange hunter and with my midrange hunter I was confident that I could win every other matchup.
Moving on to the Freeze Mage. Was it a metagame read like the Control Warrior at Bucharest, something to counter Miracle and Handlock?
In general, it was the best for a high tier tournament because nobody was playing Warrior. Warrior was very bad at that time and it was the only big counter to Freeze Mage.
Do you feel that the deck - or some variation of it - can be viable post-Naxx? I've seen a lot of players including you trying stuff with secrets and Mad Scientist, opting to create the new school Mage control.
I don't think freeze mage is viable because everyone is playing Priest, Hunter or Warrior at the moment, all the three classes hard countering the deck.
Aggro Mage maybe, then? I didn't expect it, but I stumbled upon several Undertaker/Juggler rush decks that are trying to win the race versus the Hunters and the control decks.
I like aggro Mage just because it beats hunters. But the fact that it loses most of the time versus warrior makes the deck pretty inconsistent.
Let’s finish the odd class choice topic with your midrange Warrior. You brought it to IEM Shenzhen in a period when Warrior was considered weak due to the metagame state at the time. You had some success with it there but never got back to using it in other tournaments and in WEC and VGVN you went back to more standard control Warriors.
In the IEM meta, I preferred to shock everybody with that deck. I knew that they play freeze mage, and having Warrior and Druid meant that they are forced to ban Warrior in order to not lose 100%. That deck was also good vs miracle and priest so it was really good in that meta. Of course, after Naxx, Control warrior is the king once again, being a top tier deck after the weapon came out.
Speaking of Naxx, there’s been a lot of new cool decks (not just upgrades to older builds) popping up with the new Naxx cards. Players are trying Reincarnate Shamans, Deathrattle Warlocks, Mage Secrets… Do you see any of those becoming a tournament staple?
I think they will because the new deathrattle cards are very consistent and powerful overall if you get them when you need them and your opponent doesn't have a silence. It's interesting that blizzard wanted the deathrattle concept to be utilized more and they actually made that.
Do you have a favorite from the new builds?
Not at the moment, I have to wait for the last Naxx wing and for the waters to calm down a little bit and see how the meta is, and then I will see what the best decks are and I can start thinking about strategies on how to innovate on tournaments.
During the many high-profile tournaments you attended, you made one of the most exciting rivalries in Hearthstone, the one between you and Amaz. You faced each other at DHS, VGVN and IEM where the total score is in your favor. You're also always fighting for the top spot in the GosuRankings. Do you like competing against Jason in tournaments and otherwise? What kind of a "rival" is he?
He is a ''rival'' and a friend at the same time. I admire him for becoming a very popular streamer from having no past in other games and I think he is a very cool guy and a very worthy opponent, another player that has huge wins in most tournaments and, like me, proves that this is not a game about RNG and more a game of mind.
I enjoy playing versus him and I hope we'll play a lot more times for the community because these games are tense and the community loves them. At the same time, he is very humble and not like other ''pro's'' (*cough* Reynad) and when he loses, he doesn't complain about RNG like most of us. He truly deserves his place among the pros and I can't wait to play him in the upcoming tournaments. I'm a little bit sad that he didn't qualify for WEC but we can still play in HyperX Invitational and Hitbox Heroes of Cards this month.
Top right picture by Helena Kristiansson. All other photos by GosuGamers.