justsaiyan: "This year was like an all or nothing"

There have been a handful of outstandingly impressive runs in competitive Hearthstone’s history. Early 2015, for example, was dominated by Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy, only to pass the baton to his then-teammate Thijs Molendijk who went on a streak all the way to the 2015 World Championships semi-finals. Most of 2016 was then dominated by Sebastian “Xixo” Bentert until Pavel Beltiukov won Last Call, the 2017 World Championships, and GameGune.

But what’s happening at this very moment transcends even those mythical performances. David “justsaiyan” Shan popped off in August to go on an unprecedented win-streak so impressive it’s being referred to as just “
The Streak." Tour Stops, WESG, and the Fall Playoffs, he reached the top just about everywhere -- and as if that weren’t enough, just last weekend justsaiyan managed to grab a ticket to the next Hearthstone World Championships.

At the HCT Fall Championships, we had a brief chat with the legendary Tempo Storm player about his recent success and what it’s like to be a veteran in the ever-changing landscape that is Hearthstone esports.

People have praised Muzzy for two years, while Amnesiac was once hailed as a prodigy and is now doing well again lately. But is this
your time? Is this your month, season or even year?

You mention the two biggest influences to me. Having Muzzy and Amnesiac on the team means you'll be carried up by these giants. So how can you not reach the top with them by your side? I owe a lot of it to them, and just getting to play more with top players has pushed me along. It has definitely changed my work ethic.

In the second episode of The Tour, we saw your disappointment at not getting the win earlier this year. You've been competing for a long time and didn't get a big title before -- so why were lacking results this year so hard to swallow? And what triggered the switch that made you start such a big streak?

I can't just pinpoint it to one point in time. Last year I had a top 4, top 8 and a top 16 throughout the DreamHacks in the U.S., but I felt more ok with not grabbing a title. But this year Muzzy and Amnesiac both won a Tour Stop, and you don't want to be the odd one out amongst your teammates. So I felt more pressure on me, with their expectations being so high for themselves. This year was more like an all or nothing.

Plus, I'm 25 now. I'm getting old so it's like "You should probably try harder you know?" and I'm like "Hm yeah... alright".

In what way do you think this year's HCT system has contributed to the stories we've seen?

I think throughout the year we've had over twenty Tour Stops, all across the world. I think it's really cool to see all these different regions get a chance to compete on the highest level. For the first half of the year, a lot of the champions ended up coming from the host region, mostly because we're just getting into the groove with things. Trying to figure out the meta as it shifts, you know? I think hunterace was the first guy to figure it all out, and he had a lot of success early on. He was just one step ahead of everyone else. But throughout the year, Muzzy and I were getting used to basically being jetlagged all the time going to these different places while figuring out the meta.

The positives of the system is that the meta changes a lot, and there's so much exposure because Tour Stops are regional. The hometown does have a bit of an advantage.

And what is something that could use improving?

I'd like to see a little more diversity in Europe, maybe. It is such a heavily stacked region that the threshold to make it out of Playoffs is so high for them. Europe has a lot of talent and I don't think there's enough avenues for them to get exposure for it. So now the other regions we have are Asia-Pacific, Americas and China, but maybe Europe should get two regions, I don't know. [Laughs]

But there should be some way to support Europe more. Like, it's so hard to stand out as a fifth ramen shop when there's so much good ramen in the mall, you know?

▲ justsaiyan competes at the HTC Fall Championship - Blizzard Ent.

Players like hunterace, Feno, BoarControl, and others were known by other competitors, but didn't break out until this year. Is it the nature of the game that new faces rise every year, or is the new system finally casting a spotlight on those who deserve it?

The new system has definitely given a lot of avenues for exposure. Once your talent has been noticed, you get signed to a team and the travel will often be covered. Then you'll be able to compete more consistently with the top players. It's definitely tough at first because players have different play styles and different decisions when they're queuing decks and stuff like that. But the more exposure a good player gets, the better you can get a read on them. You learn about hunterace's or Feno's tendencies.

As a veteran, are you excited to see these new faces emerge?

I'm always excited to see new faces. Throughout these Fall Championships the one that impressed me most is Moyen. He's super young, from Europe... So I didn't know before this if he was actually good or not. But I've talked with him throughout the week and he's a super solid player with a lot of potential. The more you get to practice with new players, the more you can find to improve on.

Although there are no hard rivalries within the Hearthstone community, do you see hunterace as a kind of arch-nemesis? Or rather 'the one to beat' to truly feel like this is your year?

I don't know if there's a true 1v1 scenario. I remember seeing hunterace in the beginning -- he's very smart. The kid's only like eighteen or so, but basically every time I talk to him about queue order and things like that he gets it. I don't think he even knows the term Nash equilibrium, but he understands it basically perfectly.

In tournaments this year he bested me twice on queue order, but I got him at DreamHack Montréal. I was unfavored, but this one specific order would change that. So no there's not really a rivalry, but we're keeping tabs on who's up between us.

Are there any last things you want to say?

It takes time. It's a long journey from first starting to get some success on ladder to winning tournaments. You've got to account not just for learning one deck but all the decks, figuring out the meta, learning different formats, dealing with jetlag... The road is long and there's a lot you achieve along the way. But I'm glad everyone stuck by me along the long road.

. . .

Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

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