Nydra's Minutes: Pavel vs. Amnesiac and the need for a villain
During the Europe Winter Playoffs, one professional Hearthstone player was not holding back, watching Pavel “Pavel” Beltukov earn his spot in the Winter Championship as this season’s champion of the old continent. William “Amnesiac” Barton—the child prodigy who famously fell in the quarter finals of the 2016 World Championship to a mad comeback by Pavel himself—was displeased with what the reigning king of Hearthstone had to show.
This hasn’t been the first display of Amnesiac’s edgy tongue. The “Young Savage” narrative was put in place during last year’s championship where the youngster would make sassy comments in his interview tidbits all the time. It was a fantastic narrative, to be honest, and it set apart Amnesiac from the rest in a very unique manner. The fact that it ended as it did—the savage defeated by the world champion commanding a goofy 1-mana minion and its untamed RNG, but also coming to Pavel’s defense later on—further contributed to the excitement of the World Championship. At the end of the day, what young Barton gave the Hearthstone community was a major reason to the tournament’s memorable outcome.
Amnesiac’s heavy-punch comments were also heard during his 15-minute-long criticism on the 2017 HCT system and the current balance of the game and part of it (granted, a minor one) was directed at Edwin “HotMEOWTH” Cook, the player who beat Amnesiac to the #1 spot on the HCT rankings due to his transferred points pool from the HCT Summer Championship in 2016.
If the comments about HotMEOWTH slipped by many, it wasn’t the case with Amnesiac’s frustration with Pavel’s play at the EU Winter Playoffs. In a Reddit thread with near 1,300 comments, Amnesiac is called for being “immature”, “spoiled” and “asshole”, among others.
Community’s discontent with Amnesiac’s comments is of course justifiable. For all of his misplays during his career—including the embarrassing moment from the 2015 Europe Championship which cost Pavel his Blizzcon spot—the youngster still held a 71% win-rate even before the EU Winter Playoffs over 158 games. These are RNG-defying numbers. There is no question that, missed lethal or not, Pavel is a world class player. Such an attack on him can easily and understandable be seen as a pure-form unprofessionalism.
But one thing that passed by many as Amnesiac donned the dark cloak of the bad guy is that experience of all competition, online or on the field, is only enhanced by the presence of a great villain. Indeed, everything is enhanced by a great villain.
You don’t have to look far to find proof for that in esports. In the FGC, William “Leffen” Hjelte has become synonymous with controversy, as his verbal slaps to fellow competitors earned him notorious fame and even a year-long ban from local Swedish tournaments, but he remained one of the absolute greatest players in Melee of all time.
In StarCraft 2, fans awaited every match and every interview of Greg “IdrA” Fields as the former Evil Geniuses player built himself a reputation of being outspoken, harsh, rude and criticizing to everything and everyone, be it a competitor, streamer or game balance. His trash-talking rivalry with the equally vocal Min-Chul “MC” Jang became a hallmark of StarCraft 2 competition which drew thousands of viewers to each tournament the two appeared at. The same was true for Johan “Naniwa” Lucchesi, whose cocky, often disrespectful, attitude set him apart from everybody else and his notorious mannerisms, especially against rival player Jae-Duk “NesTea” Lim, were the focal point of discussions for weeks.
Love them or hate them, these players were all important to their respective scenes because of how they split entire communities and how they always gave them something to look forward to. Something that wasn’t just another great match at another great tournament, but a narration that transcended the borders of the battlefield.
Just like that, in a handful of Tweets, Amnesiac gave competitive Hearthstone its biggest gift in a long time: A scenario which will only be beneficial, regardless of how it ends. In a game where nothing is certain and rivalries are scarce to say the least, the “Young Savage” found tension and excitement where it was previously lacking. Like Leffen, Naniwa and Idra, Amnesiac made claims, holding everyone hostage to anticipation.
For all the criticism coming from Reddit, fans need to realize that whatever happens in a week’s time and / or later in the Bahamas, they can only gain from it. Because, just as much as we like seeing villains being provocative, we love seeing villain’s last chapters. We revel at Palpatine’s defeat, Hans Gruber’s fall, Agent Smith’s evaporation, King Geoffrey’s suffocation or Normal Stansfield’s fiery demise but we also love Keyser Söze’s walk-away and Hannibal Lector’s victorious smirk at the end of the Lambs. That’s what the Winter Season is heading for: a win-win scenario.
Esports needs villains. Hearthstone needs villains. Granted, not the domestically violent of Floyd Mayweather persuasion or NHL’s Sean Avery who topped his otherwise innocently cocky and adorably disrespectful push-up celebrations (also an awesome tool for building rivalries) with misogynistic comments.
What’s Amnesiac doing thus far is walking the fine lying between being a villain and being an irrelevant clown with grace, generating that experience enhancement I referred to earlier. It is childish and obnoxious, and uncalled for, and immature, and disrespectful, and cheap and irrelevant to the actual sport. It will likely cause issues for Amnesiac's career down the road, especially since he's yet to prove himself as champion outside his own region.
And yet it’s a viewership generator, one which not only doesn’t destroy the integrity of the competition but actively complements it. Just think about it: Amnesiac is set for a rematch with the world champion this weekend and they won’t even play each other.
How awesome is that?