Aleksandr "Kolento" Malsh is one of the most veteran Hearthstone players around. He has been competing professionally for 5 years now, playing at the highest level even when Undertaker was the most imbalanced card in the game. As he was attending the World Championships in Taipei, Taiwan, Kolento sat down with Inven Global to talk about the new Grandmaster system, the Specialist Format, and his thoughts on current game balance.
When you heard you were invited to Hearthstone Grandmasters, what was your response?
I was happy, Grandmasters is the pinnacle of the Hearthstone competitive scene for the upcoming year. I want to be there, of course.
What do you think of Hearthstone Grandmasters? Do you think it represents five years of Hearthstone esports growth or is it just an experiment?
I feel like it is a little too difficult to get into the Grandmaster league once you are out of it. So, it is more like a closed invitational club. Blizzard wanted to stay away from such practices before, and now they introduce the Grandmaster League. Obviously, if you are already in it you are in a good spot. This is how you get to worlds now so, again, it is too hard to get into.
Yeah. Even though you may benefit from such a system, you still feel it is too closed off.
Yes. I am thinking broadly about other players that want to compete.
What do you think about the fact that only two players per year might get relegated out?
Yep, this is just what I mentioned. Somebody gets out, somebody gets in -- if it is hard to get out that means it is also very difficult to get in. Like, it is good for me if you take it from the perspective of a pro player, but it just isn't very good for anyone trying to get in.
You have been playing in the Conquest format for years and now you have to adjust to the new Specialist format. Is this something you look forward to?
Specialist is just an oversimplified format of Hearthstone. It cuts down a lot of the preparation for tournaments. You only need one deck and some sideboard cards. It is much easier to be a player and, once you are in a tournament, you don't have to think about bans. It is just much less work for the players and, I'm afraid it also makes it so skill matters less because it is only best-of-3. Also, if you are playing a class that can get countered, it is very easy to lose.
"I really want more cards like that that allow more playful decks we haven't seen before."
I've been told part of the reason Hearthstone is switching to a Specialist format is to counter a steady decline of esports viewership. The idea is, if Hearthstone esports is more approachable and relatable, more people will watch it. Do you think compromising the complexity of Hearthstone tournament formats is something Blizzard has to do to increase viewership?
I'm not sure if that is what they have to do. If it is more of a decision about viewership, I can get that they want higher numbers -- they can get that. If it helps a lot, then sure, we can stick around with it. At the end of the day, we are just players providing a show. Viewers are the most important part of this chain.
Has your mindset shifted now that you have been a professional Hearthstone player for so long? You mentioned that your role is to put on a show -- did you always feel that way?
Yeah, I have always felt that way. I haven't changed my mind. Viewers are the most important part of the chain. There wouldn't be any reason for competition without anybody watching it.
The Rise of Shadows meta seems pretty settled. Do you think the meta can still change with a specialist format or if that is even possible?
The rock-paper-scissor part of Hearthstone -- nobody has ever changed that. You can give your deck a five card sideboard, but it won't make your deck universally good. Say you are playing Control Warrior and you queue into Mage: your opponent will also have a sideboard of five cards to be good against Warrior even if you try to sideboard to be good against Mage! You will still be in a disadvantage because Mage is naturally a good counter to Warrior.
The same is about Rogue. You can be less greedy, add Fan of Knives to beat some aggro decks or you can run Togwaggle to beat control. Maybe add Togwaggle's Scheme to beat Warrior -- the sideboard just lets you be less 50/50 against any deck you are making. The meta for Specialist isn't resolved, players will just stick with whatever deck they want.
Last year the developers started to more regularly make balance changes. Which cards do you think need to be looked at first?
Preparation is a little bit too strong.
Like, if Blizzard thought Innervate was a problem and Innervate gives two mana, why is Preparation a card? Especially in Rogue, where you can combo cards and, say with Edwin Vancleef, it makes it bigger. Preparation not only gains three mana tempo but combos all other cards simultaneously.
It is especially a problem because of Raiding Party and three mana spells. Before Preparation wasn't as bad because you play it and you mainly combo two mana spells -- you don't have anything more expensive. Even if you ran Sprint, that is a fine deal: 4 mana spell, Draw 3 cards. It is almost the same as Nourish.
But right now, if you get three mana tempo from Raiding Party, you draw a weapon and a zero mana minion to go along with it -- it just works too well together. People complain about Edwin Vancleef, but really it is only a problem with Preparation
So fix Preparation and maybe that will stop Rogue from being so powerful?
Yeah, but overall I feel like it is not about nerfs. Nerfs or buffs of maybe some cards make the meta more fresh and help develop a new archetype. But, for me, it feels all the decks we have right now are just an improved or changed variation of what we had before. Rogue this year feels like Miracle Rogue -- it does the same stuff and has a lot of cards from the Classic set.
Token Druid has the same archetype. Mage feels new, however. Mage is very interesting to play I feel. It is a good example of how one card can make for a very nice archetype, it's not so difficult really. I really want more cards like that that allow more playful decks we haven't seen before. Like Topsy Turvy Priest: stuff like that lets you do something new and makes the game feel fresh.
Is there anything you'd like to add for the people reading this?
Yes! If they were interested in this interview I can say this about my self:
I stream on Twitch and you can check me out. I prefer a more educational type of stream on my channel and I try to explain my plays. It is a chill atmosphere if you like please visit my stream and learn something. I also do card analysis when sets are coming out and I have been pretty precise about them so far.
Photos by Blizzard Entertainment
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.