ThijsNL: "Qualifying through HWC Europe might be more difficult than playing at Blizzcon"
It's Saturday, October 3rd. After a tense group stage, the first player to represent Europe at the world finals is decided - it's Thijs "ThijsNL" Molendijk.
As he enters the press area to talk to two GosuGamers journalists, the bannerman of Gamers2 still has no idea that a day later he'd be the continental champion. Even at that time, though, he's trembling with excitement - he will be playing at Blizzcon, an opportunity he narrowly missed last year. Money and titles in Prague barely ignite his interest as he looks forward to the biggest challenge of his career.
This interview was taken just moments after ThijsNL punched his ticket to the Hearthstone World Championship.
Interview by: Radoslav "Nydra" Kolev and Tom "Matthieist" Matthiesen.
You’re the first player from Europe to qualify for Blizzcon. How are you feeling, man?
I am a bit emotional but I’m feeling really great. I actually cannot believe it yet, but it’s really insane.
Just before the Prague event, it was announced that Nihilum got acquired by Gamers2. Is this a whole new thing for you or is everything going to be the same?
There won’t be much change for us. We’ll still be the same team, that was one of our conditions when we talked to Gamers2. I feel we have a really good future with G2. I am really happy we announced this move before the European championship.
Do you think this will be an opportunity to expand the team? Do you want to expand? I know Lothar prefers to manage a small team of players. Has this changed now, are you looking to sign more?
I think for Hearthstone it’s important to not have too many players, it can be difficult for those who don’t get as much exposure. At the moment we are really happy with the team and how we work together. Maybe in the future we might need to have one extra member but we’ll see how it goes, there’s no need to rush.
Lifecoach is obviously here, too. How did you get ready for the event?
We spend a couple of weeks bootcamping in Viena, testing match-ups and all, getting prepared.
"It's important for a Hearthstone team to not have too many players, it can be difficult for those who don't get as much exposure."
We spoke to Ostkaka earlier and he said he not only did some match-up spreadsheets but also had a guy working with game theory to build him a conquest calculator. Did you guys do something similar?
We have something similar, yes, we already used something like that for ATLC. It’s a small program where you can put in decks and see the results. Of course, you always have to do some thinking yourself.
Do you think the current meta suits you well? Both you and Lifecoach are known for playing Druid, Handlock and Patron and these decks are obviously top tier. Is this something that benefits you directly, maybe even go as far to say that you wouldn’t be as dominant in, say, a Shaman or Priest meta?
I think yes. The thing that makes me sad is that I can’t really bring freeze mage. I hate the meta for it. Druid is my favorite class but Freeze Mage is my favorite deck. Then again, I have played so much Handlock and Druid already that whenever I play a mirror match I feel like I have the advantage, that I’m a bit better than the other player. You should never underestimate anybody, obviously, and play well all the time.
Speaking of Freeze Mage, it was really strong some time ago, but now it’s almost never seen. What does it need to get back in the meta?
Freeze Mage doesn’t need anything, Warrior needs to go, then it is fine. *laughs* Freeze Mage is super good, there aren’t many ways in which you can improve it. There’s just one match-up that is super hard. Actually two, counting Druid. If three out of four people always bring these decks, it’s really hard for Freeze Mage.
Is the problem with Warrior solely in the strength of Patron, or is it just the armor gain that makes the class powerful?
It’s a complex question. I think control is close to being top tier deck as well. Obviously Patron is still better but if it didn’t exist, control warrior would be a top 3 deck. It’s really hard for me to say what happens when Patron is gone though, because the meta will open a lot. You will see a lot more Paladins, a lot more Shamans. But it’s difficult to predict – Patron has a big stranglehold of the meta at the moment.
Speaking of Patron, there are a lot of discussions within the community about the core problem of the deck, what makes it broken. Some say it’s Warsong Commander, others say Frothing Berserker and others blame Battle Rage. What’s your stand on the question? Is there one thing that breaks Patron or is it rather a combination of different elements? If they kill Warsong, or Frothing, will the deck go away, or do they need to attack all three fronts – charge, damage and card draw?
It’s a complex problem. Every match-up for Patron is different. In control match-ups, you want to win with a Frothing combo, in other match-ups the Grim Patrons are the win condition. All these things together, with the consistency that the card draw provides, make it incredibly strong, it’s not just one card.
In the end, though, it’s a combo deck, so if you destroy one component it will fall apart. Maybe it can take a small nerf to Warsong or Frothing but if there’s a big nerf it will almost be unplayable.
Last year, you also made it to the European championship and back then it was a 16-player event. This time around, it’s just 8 players but the competition is perceivably stronger. The seeding was especially brutal, if you look at Group A, for example. What went through your head when you saw three of the best players in Europe all in the same group as you?
Yes, it was very tough. I was happy that me and Lifecoach got different groups because we practiced together and getting to play each other first would be weird. Then again, I have a really strong record coming into the championship, I had to play Xixo and Lifecoach in the online round to get here. There are only good players left here in the top 8 and you can only make it if you beat the best, that’s how the competition is.
"I am not a fan of conquest. I think there are better formats that ensure the better player wins more often."
I want to take you a bit back to the last time we spoke at DreamHack Bucharest. Back then, you were having a tough start of 2015 despite performing really well in 2014. You then said it was the change from Last Hero Standing to Conquest that held you back. How did you adapt to eventually master conquest?
It just took some time. I was maybe not too comfortable just playing the strongest decks. I’ve always liked the strategic part of Last Hero Standing, it was a format where I really felt I could increase my chances a lot. In Conquest, players quickly identified that you can just play the best decks and couldn’t be punished for that. I had to adjust to that but I’m think on the right track now.
Do you think conquest is the most fair format for a game like Hearthstone? Or maybe it’s the Viagame format with the pick/ban system?
The Viagame format is too complicated, especially for smaller tournaments. I am not a fan of conquest, I think there are better formats that ensure the better player wins more often. I still think LHS is better but there are also changes that you can make to conquest. Introduce one ban and you will see so many more decks come into the meta, so many new strategies.
Ban Warrior so you can play Freeze mage, for example?
Yes, and you can also ban Druid and go for Shaman. Every deck can become viable if you ban out its weakest match-up. It will make the game more interesting.
So, like, bring four decks and you get one banned?
For example. I think bo5 is a really fair format skill-wise and it doesn’t take too long, so that’s really good.
What’s next for Thijs?
I am completely focused on Hearthstone. It’s my job too, but I love the game, I love streaming, I love everything I do. I don’t see any reason to throw it away.
Staying on that topic, there comes a time in every player’s life where it becomes difficult for him to stay on top. Even the biggest legends hit periods where they struggle. If such period would come for you, would you stay in the game, as coach, or an analyst, or something similar, or go back to “real life”?
I feel like I’m really young to make a decision yet. I like the business side of esports as well, I study business economics and I am learning a lot by just experiencing the industry. But I have no idea what I’ll do in the future – right now, I am just enjoying it all.
Na`Vi was just recently formed with Ostkaka, Xixo and Hoej and there were immediately talks about who the best team in Europe is, a title that so far belonged to Nihilum, especially coming off of ATLC championship. Do you see rivalry with Na`Vi developing in the future for that title spot?
Yes, that is always the target for us. Na`Vi has a really good line-up, but for team tournaments specifically you need more than just individual strength, you need to be a whole team. I feel that some other teams have struggles with that, maybe they have too many players to make it happen.
"Qualifying from Europe might even be more difficult than playing at Blizzcon."
Which teams have that problem?
Team Archon might be one. Maybe Cloud 9 too, but I think they were actually fine with that. It’s hard to say, with ATLC is not just about having enough players, but it’s also about the decks. If you have to play six decks, everyone is responsible. If Rdu had a bad run with Shaman, it’s also my and Lifecoach’s responsibility because we made the deck together.
You mentioned to us that you still get nervous when you play on the big stage. You’re one of the players that probably have the most offline experience, you’ve been to Viagames, to DreamHacks. How do you cope with the pressure?
I think being nervous is not really a bad thing, it might even be healthy. It’s all about how you handle it. I am still getting nervous but if I play my best it’s not really a problem. Everyone has to find his own way. I drink water, stay focused, try to isolate the noise of the crowd.
What are you going to do with the $50,000 that you won from ATLC?
I have no idea, actually. At this moment I am not even looking at it, I am just trying to enjoy everything. The achievement for me is worth more than the money.
I guess it’s the same here in Prague, right?
Yes, I don’t even know how much money I won. I just wanted the Blizzcon seed, it means a lot to me after I failed to qualify last year.
Do you think EU is the strongest region at Blizzcon?
I think NA is quite close. In the top 8, EU might be a bit more stacked, with more known players. I don’t really know who qualified from China or APAC. But I do think Europe is the strongest region. Qualifying from here – especially if you count the online round – might even be more difficult than playing at Blizzcon.