"China has what it takes to compete with the west, even though some hate to admit that"
Last week, the quintet of Lovelychook, JasonZhou, OmegaZero, XHope and Lvge bested Team NA in the third CN vs. NA Challenge. Taking the lion's share of the $87,500 prize pool, the Chinese have now won two consecutive challenge events against the west.
Their triumph was not without controversy, however, as a single dramatic event painted the end of the tournament in grim tones. In the wake of Team NA's statements on social media, Team China reached out to GosuGamers through NetEase so they can tell their story.
Congratulations on the win! Do you value this one more than the win at CN vs. EU?
Lovelychook: I think this event is more about teamwork. As we are a whole team, someone needs to sacrifice while someone needs to counter pick, so I think we value this event more than CN vs EU and it’s the cooperation that matters.
JasonZhou: I think it’s basically equal to the win at CN vs EU. In CN vs EU, we proved we have great talent and can beat great players like Kolento. In CN vs NA, we proved China has a lot of good players who play as well as those in the west.
TiddlerCelestial: I think winning one single event alone doesn’t necessarily prove anything. The NA region might have said that they don’t have the best lineup to represent their region, and that randomness plays a large factor in HS competitions. But if there’s one thing that can be proven from beating both the EU and NA teams, is that CN HS players have what it takes to compete with players from EU and NA, even though some people in the west hate to admit that.
China has historically struggled in challenge tournaments vs. the west. How did you turn the tides in 2016/2017?
Lovelychook: Hard work is the key, we keep training about ten hours per day and we are familiar with the meta. We also have clear overall thinking. Meanwhile, our opponents are becoming stronger.
JasonZhou: We lost CN vs NA and CN vs EU in the past, which made us see our understanding of HS was far behind. That’s why all the players in China keep practicing and try to catch up with the west. We learn from them and try to improve our understanding. Last year, we brought Tempo Mage in the CN vs EU which made Tempo Mage super popular after that tournament. In regards to CN vs NA, NA had better understanding of Rogue, but in other parts and team-work wise, we think we were ahead of them.
TiddlerCelestial: The reason is quite simple, we just weren’t able to find where the best players are. Recently, we have seen improvements of the drafting system, so players who are talented get their opportunities to shine.
"Winning one single event alone doesn’t necessarily prove anything.
Was there a major driving or motivational force behind China’s recovery when it comes to competitive Hearthstone?
Lovelychook: We have tons of fans who back us up and we don’t want to let them down, so we are well prepared for each tournament.
JasonZhou: We have more players and thus there’s more pressure. There’s also pressure from parents, money and work, which makes us practice much harder.
TiddlerCelestial: Among the global HS scene, the Chinese HS community really has a good vibe but our players rarely get opportunities to attend western tournaments. 2016 Blizzcon might be the only meaningful international event that CN players have attended last year. I think maybe the driving force will be the international events held by NetEase.
The Godfather of Hearthstone in China TIddlerCelestial sat behind the desk this time around. Photo: Twitter
In every international competition, there’s money, prestige and respect on the line. Which of those do you value the most?
Lovelychook: What I value the most is prestige, since every international tournament means I can stand for my country and I can’t let it down.
JasonZhou: Prestige and respect. If I want money, I don’t need to play competitive HS, because being a streamer will bring more money. I keep practicing because I want to prove myself, my country and my understanding of HS.
TiddlerCelestial: All of them are important, but I think as all of those players are very young and have a passion for HS, if they can make friends and build relationship with people from a different background, that will be much more meaningful than just winning games. Especially if you can promote HS in a country where it isn’t popular yet through an international event that will be even better.
Were you content with the line-up of the team coming into CN vs NA, just based on the Gold Series top 4? How high are the spirits in team CN coming into the Winter championship?
Lovelychook: Our line-up should be first-class and I feel optimistic that team China will win the championship.
JasonZhou: I am really confident with the four players going to the championship. In CN vs NA, they proved they are all good players. I believe they can get at least one ticket to Blizzcon. I wound not be surprised if any of them win the championship either.
TiddlerCelestial: I think every player has their own view on the line-up. If they can play out their ability, they will be fine.
"After we lost the second round, we practiced and discussed until midnight. We treated the tournament as seriously as we can.
How much preparation did you do on Team NA? Who did you identify as possible weak targets and possible threats in NA?
Lovelychook: We watched a lot of VODs on Team NA and knew what they used to do, so we had some counter training. I personally thought Frozen is the best because he didn’t have any faults in the previous matches while Reynad may be their weakness.
JasonZhou: After we lost the second round, we practiced and discussed until midnight. I heard NA traveled and went out, but we never did that, we treated the tournament as seriously as we can. We think they all are good players, so we basically underestimated no one.
TiddlerCelestial: We felt that as long as we can play at our own level, the chance of winning is quite high. Overall, the NA team we played this time wasn’t very strong.
JasonZhou was considered the "carry" of Team China. Photo: Blizzard
What about Team CN? Who did you think could “flop” in the team, and who had the biggest burden on his shoulders to carry?
Lovelychook: I thought XHope may flop in the team since he is nervous in tournaments, though he is definitely strong. And JasonZhou is our carry.
JasonZhou: We all believed in each other. It is a team game, some players need to make a sacrifice and play the counter role, but we just never complained. We discussed and made the plan together. It’s a great tournament, and I believe we all learned and improved a lot.
TiddlerCelestial: The randomness in the game of HS dictates that every player needs to play at a high level so as to win the tournament. Even last year, when you have had incredible plays from Chaoshen, CN still lost the game. So you have to win as a unit, and another fact is that we made less errors than the NA team.
There were certainly some extraordinary decisions in Team CN’s deck line-up like LVGE’s Anyfin Paladin and micro-techs such as Inner Fire in Dragon Priest. What was the reasoning behind those?
Lovelychook: The players were all confident in their decks. Before the tournament, they had already tested the decks hundreds of times and they played lots of easy wins. Even though some of the decks are unpopular, they can still make it work.
JasonZhou: Anyfin Paladin is really good against Renolock and Druid. It’s not bad against Shaman, so it’s not a bad deck overall, and I would say it can be a choice when you make a line-up. [card]Inner fire[/card] is a good card. As we know, Dragon Priest can sometimes face situation where it can’t kill 4 health minion because most of its minionss attack is 1-3. Inner Fire can solve that problem. It also can be a surprising card in the game.
TiddlerCelestial: Each player has their own style, which I respect. I think that also helps distinguishing themselves from each other.
"We were ill-prepared for the Last Hero Standing round.
Generally speaking, we could see more diverse line-ups / deck techs from China, at least in the first two rounds, compared to just strong metagame choices from Team NA. Was deck diversity a sought-out effect?
Lovelychook: We were inclined to use the decks that have a high win rate against Pirates and we believed that team NA would love using them.
JasonZhou: Yes. We wanted to make more different line-ups which means we can counter our opponents easier. In round one, LVGE won two games in a row just because they didn’t have a counter line-up.
TiddlerCelestial: I think objectively, your priority is to win, but those moves can also be seen as counters to those metagame decks.
The name of LVGE was thrown around often as the coach of Team China and he was praised for his macro plays in the games he played. How did LVGE contribute to Team CN besides the obvious on-stage performances?
Lovelychook: We did lots of training and aimed to not make any mistakes during the event. Lvge is the guy who gave us so many suggestions.
JasonZhou: Actually, I don’t know why he is the coach of Team CN, he didn’t do any coaching, but he played really well in this tournament
TiddlerCelestial: Every CN player brought their share of contributions to the table. Whether it’s practicing with one another, sharing their understandings, analyzing tactics together etc. Lvge is a very lovable player, I think he brought a lot of positive energy to the team.
Lovelychook brought the first challenge win for China at CN vs. EU Season 3. Photo: Millenium
How did you feel after the Cydonia all-kill in round two? Some Chinese fans I talked to said they were really scared he would stomp in round three as well?
Lovelychook: We were ill-prepared for the Last Hero Standing round since most of tournaments in China are Conquest. The loss in round two was not a big deal and we were convinced we could have a beautiful comeback in round three with the return of Conquest.
TiddlerCelestial: A large factor of Cydonia’s all-kill came from the strength of their line-up. Firebat mentioned that during his casting of the game. Another reason is that most CN players aren’t familiar with Last Hero Standing, so they didn’t prepare so well when constructing their decks.
The end of the tournament had a rather sour ending with the whole Dirty Rat incident. How has the Chinese community reacted to what happened, considering the tweets from Reynad, Chakki, Fr0zen and the rest and everything?
Lovelychook: The Chinese community believes Lvge did not cheat in the tournament and followed the fairness of the competition.
JasonZhou: Most Chinese players think it’s just NA being salty. I don’t know why they posted on Twitter about this without any evidence.
"Most people look at [Ratgate] as an incident that has been blown out of proportion.
TiddlerCelestial: Some blame the organizer, some think some NA player was being salty, but most people just looked at it as an incident that has been blown out of proportion and magnified by media who seems over-eager to report on such matters. It’s understandable that NA players complained about that, but it’s really insignificant.
When you look at the past histories of cross culture in HS: HS international events have existed for more than three years, there has been more than ten premier international events that were held by Chinese organizers, for example: CN vs NA, CN vs EU, WCA, etc. Most of the time international players get qualified directly into the final stage of the event, and almost all of them have high-standard hospitalities, all travel, meals and accommodations are taken care of. But when you look at EU and NA regions, how many of their events invite players from other regions? I know that most organizers, regarding east or west, did their best to provide a good experience to their invitees, so I hope the western players can spread some good words about HS scene in China, and give objective, un-biased statements.
Cydonia put Team NA on the board after an all-kill in round 2. Photo: Blizzard
How would you describe what happened regarding the Dirty Rat incident?
Lovelychook: While we were in the player area, we were talking about if Lvge should play the Rat, but we never gave him any hints. He made the choice by himself.
JasonZhou: We discussed about this turn and we all agreed to play Ooze. When Lvge played the turn, the casting desk got really excited and after we saw the result we all made noise. As for Reynad’s tweet, he thinks we were all cheating. I thinks it’s a very serious charge and I think he needs to apologize for that. Me and Lovelychook are both streamers. Even if he would delete the message, that would affect our careers. OmegaZero, Xhope and LVGe lose reputation and fans. If Team NA think we were cheating, just show us evidence that we shout at our player and he can hear what we’re saying.
Lvge acted normally after he played that turn. He did not pretend and he took a real risk. What would happen if we played in NA and said Dog or Reynad are cheating, what would the NA fans think? Without any evidence I can say Dog is cheating, that a disconnect might be because his friend is hacking.
"I hope next year NA can send players who can accept both victory and failure without making excuses.
We were careful about the game, even when we were so ahead we didn’t say anything. Besides, we had two more players left, I only heard people cheat in a bad situation, never in a good situation. I lived in US for several years and I believe you need evidence to prove someone guilty, otherwise it would be slander.
Chakki complained about the casters. Yeah we could just about hear the noise but couldn’t know the content. Even if LVge heard the noise, how can he know that would be the casters saying he shouldn’ t play Dirty Rat? It’s a 6-day series, if we can get information from the noise, so can team NA. If we are cheating, they are cheating, too. If they think some equipment is not good, they should ask to have it switched in the first day not after the whole series. We use the same equipment and they are more closer to the casters. If it’s now equal, I don’t know what is. We lost CN vs NA twice, we admitted our failure and didn’t say anything.
Next year I hope NA can send players who can accept both victory and failure, without making excuses.
TiddlerCelestial: I was there casting the game actually, I think playing Rat is a risky but doable option, but when the game ended, I saw Chakki was saying something to us but I didn’t pay much attention. So here are my thoughts from my own perspective after seeing all the comments:
1) It is impossible that any CN players, casters or the organizer will want the game to be decided in a dishonest way, the competitive fairness and integrity are above everything. The NA team shouldn’t be throwing that accusation.
2) The flaws which the NA team pointed out needed to be discussed and improved (i.e. the headphones). But overly exaggerating things (like cheering) might make people think that the NA team can’t swallow losing the game.
3) We have seen a very high production value tournament and the broadcast is also top notch. The Dirty Rat incident really brought some unpleasantness but it’s just one single issue, we are hoping to see more quality HS events like this globally.
With China claiming their second challenge crown and despite the controversy surroing the event, it seems like Hearthstone is in a good position for 2017. Greater levels of continental competition should see even greater heights of play, and NA's response to their loss will be worth observing as the Winter Championship approaches.