I’ve always had split feelings towards “best of all time” lists. On one hand they’re a good benchmark and remind people what heights a certain area has known, but on the other hand they’re prone to nostalgic bias and always carry the silent suffix “so far” with them.
Yes, Roger Federer is the best tennis player, I dare say the best athlete, who has roamed this planet. So far. And yes, as Rolling Stone listed in 2010, The Beatles’ historic influence combined with superb lyrics and equally fantastic tunes make them the greatest musical artists that have been heard. But again: so far. It’s a bit nitpicky, I know, and the bad taste probably stems from the vast increase of Buzzfeed-esque articles that lure in clicks by listing the 10 best superfoods that help you achieve whatever shape your body is supposed to be this month.
But this week I got baited into answering exactly such a question when I made the rare visit to the Competitive Hearthstone subreddit – a place I tend to avoid as it’s incredibly lackluster in living up to its name, and is mostly comprised of people drooling over their own decks. The question from user DrunkFenix was a fresh sight to see, and asked simply: what are the best competitive Hearthstone games ever?
Hearthstone, an adolescent esport by now, has known many exciting series, and for various reasons. There are matches that stand out because randomness threw the game back and forth – Amnesiac and Pavel’s quarterfinals at the 2016 World Championship is an example that’s engraved forever in the minds of everyone who has seen it. Similarly, Lifecoach and Eloise had some of the craziest consecutive draws in the Archon Team League.
But while these moments are definitely memorable, do they really make for the best game of Hearthstone ever if something out of the player’s control decided the outcome? What constitutes “best” is at least somewhat subjective of course, but objective parameters can be set out.
Quality of play
First of all, the level of play has to be as high as possible. The great thing about Hearthstone is that the quality of a game isn’t subject to the argument that “in its time” something was great – all plays can be analyzed mathematically, nothing’s relative. So while the Reddit thread lists Reynad versus Zmin as one of the all-time greats, and seeing Kripp’s banter being shut down by an epiphany from Reynad definitely is enjoyable, the series has quite some errors. Another Important note about great play is that it has to be mutual – Surrender played out of his mind against ShtanUdachi at the 2017 World Championships, but his opponent failed to live up to the occasion.
What weighs in secondly is what’s on the line. How prestigious is the tournament? Ironically, the grand finals of Hearthstone’s first two World Championships were dominant 3-0 victories, and were not the stand-out series of their respective tournament. And even though the two World Championships iterations that followed, their grand finals too weren’t nearly as tense as some of their other matches.
So where does that land us? What is the greatest Hearthstone match of all time, in which level of play and prestige are combined with as little of crazy RNG as possible? There are a couple of competitors. In terms of quality of play, the SeatStory Cup V semi-final between Lifecoach and ThijsNL ranks high. The teammates and practice partners gave it their absolute best, to the extent that caster TJ Sanders called it the highest level of play he had ever seen. StrifeCro versus Kolento, the semi finals at DreamHack Winter 2014, is also up there. But both these matches, while important, are not the most prestigious.
In the grand final of WESG 2016, Orange and Staz faced each other in a match that had $80.000 on the line, courtesy of WESG’s weird distribution. With Orange being one of the best players to ever touch the game, and Staz seemingly being able to get far in any tournament whenever he decides to flex his muscles, the level of play was high too. But no, that neither is the best match of Hearthstone ever.
The very best
That title goes to the 2016 World Championships Semi Finals between Sebastian “Ostkaka” Engwall and Thijs “ThijsNL” Molendijk.
Let me set the stage. For Thijs, making it to the World Championships topped off one of the best runs in competitive Hearthstone that have ever been seen. After dropping out of the WCA Europe qualifiers a switch was flipped, and with a win rate over 70% Thijs cruised through every tournament in the next three months, including the title of European Champion.
Facing him, wildcard Ostkaka. After grabbing silver at SeatStory Cup III, the player hailed by his fellow competitors as the next superstar went into hiding again. He re-emerged when it was necessary and secured his ticket via the same European Championships Thijs won.
Both players surprised at the World Championships by bringing Patron Warrior, a deck previously ridiculously powerful, but nerfed hard shortly before the players had to submit their decks. After tearing through their groups losing only 3 games combined, the two were destined to face off. Everyone knew: whoever wins this, wins the title.
So sit back, and enjoy what is the best Hearthstone match of all time. For now.
images via Blizzard
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