A remarkable flash of uproar in an otherwise relatively calm and peaceful Hearthstone esports world. Linh "Seiko" Nguyen, a Hearthstone Grandmaster from Germany, threw a Hearthstone match. In and of itself that may only befuddle those who know the highly skilled professional from his competitive resume, but in this case it goes beyond that. It turns out Seiko was playing in a qualifier match for the $1,000,000 Auto Chess tournament at the same time he was competing in Hearthstone Grandmasters.
To viewers and casters, this became obvious quite quickly: on stream Seiko can be seen looking down repeatedly. The clip below shows not only that, but also highlights the impact his distraction had. Immediately casters Sottle and ThatsAdmirable call Seiko out for misplaying - a misplay Seiko seems to recognize as soon as he looks back up to his monitor.
But the confirmation came when Seiko sent a Tweet after the match—a Tweet he deleted quickly:
The community's response
Needless to say, the community dedicated to competitive Hearthstone didn't take kindly to this event. Blizzard's current esports program for Hearthstone has created a pretty big exposure gap and payment gap between those playing at Grandmasters level and those who don't. Blizzard promotes their Grandmasters league as the pinnacle of Hearthstone esports. It is, then, at least rude if one of those in the relatively luxurious Grandmaster position decides to not pay 100% attention to the game, while competing on stream.
After the match, caster Sottle doubled down on the berating he gave Seiko on broadcast:
In response to player BabyBear, who clipped the Twitch video and also was upset about the situation, fellow Grandmaster Bunnyhoppor explains that the vast majority of Grandmasters does put in the effort and doesn't take Grandmasters lightly at all.
Bunnyhoppor goes on to explain his train of thought in a discussion with Hearthstone caster Lorinda and other community members:
The response of Seiko
Inven Global reached out to Seiko, to hear the side of the main character in this Hearthstone esports chapter. He replied quickly, with candor and regret: "I'm sorry, I didn't want to be disrespectful at all. When [Drodo Studio] announced the $1m tournament I started practicing like crazy, but I didn't think about [that] it could be when I have to play [Hearthstone] as well. I felt like I had to play it, but I kinda regret putting so much time into it when I look at my HS results."
Seiko explained that he is torn on the matter. On the one hand he loves playing Hearthstone, but he genuinely feels that he is "easily among the top 10 players" in Auto Chess right now. With the latter having such a large prize pool, the appeal to give qualifying for it a shot is easy to see.
But the story has an unexpected twist. While many see Seiko's actions as disrespectful and many think Blizzard should punish him for what happened, it appears that Blizzard knew that Seiko would play in the Auto Chess tournament simultaneously. According to the German, he informed Blizzard about the situation: "I never would have played both [tournaments simultaneously] if [Blizzard] wouldn’t be fine with me playing both. If they said I’m not allowed to, I definitely wouldn’t have done it."
Prior to the conflicting events, Seiko asked Blizzard if his Grandmasters matches could be rescheduled so they wouldn't overlap: "I asked them to switch the time [I would be playing at] and if I can try play both if the schedule is not changeable. (...) Of course I asked them. I felt like it would be rude if I didn't."
The schedule couldn't be changed, but Blizzard did respond to his request about playing in both Hearthstone Grandmasters - the flagship of competitive Hearthstone - and the Auto Chess qualifier at the same time. According to Seiko, Blizzard's response was: "Sounds challenging but if anyone could do it, it's probably someone like yourself," which sounds like the Hearthstone Esports team gave Seiko a green light for playing in both tournaments at the same time. They at least didn't tell him it was forbidden.
In the end, Seiko still had to make a judgement call himself. He'll have another overlapping match next week, but in his words: "I'll probably just drop from [Auto] Chess at this point."
EDIT September 15, 10:08 CEST: Hearthstone Esports Product Manager Drew Higbee has commented on the situation in a Twitlonger. "Our initial response was intended to reflect that scheduling could not be adjusted to accommodate Seiko's request. We didn't intend for him to play directly over a Grandmaster event, and mistakenly understood that Seiko would play the Hearthstone Matches and work this around the other tournament he was participating in.
The expectation is that players should be entirely present for their Grandmasters Matches. That being said, we acknowledge and apologize that our response to Seiko obviously engendered confusion and our communication will be more clear in the future.
Next week Seiko must be present and play his match or be subject to the rules of missing a match. We expect the absolute best from our players and will continue to strive to bring our viewers the best competitive Hearthstone possible week after week."
Storyteller by heart. If something is competitive, I am interested in it.