The road to BlizzCon in Hearthstone is long, hard and filled with obstacles. After months and months of ladder grinding to gather points, the highlight of the year is edging closer - and the field is getting cut down to the core. Players from four regions are fighting to reach the top: Europe, America, Asia-Pacific and China. After the Last Call Tournaments on Saturday for both the European and North American regions, only 80 hopefuls with their dreams of following in the footsteps of reigning champ Firebat still intact remain.
40 players from each region are still standing, 16 of which made it through the nerve-wrecking Last Call elimination tournament in which they had to overcome everyone from the year who had gathered two or more World Championship points.
Newcomers triumph in Europe
While the North American division has had a stellar stream of big names making the cut, Europe is seeing a lot of the newcomers make it through. Notable participants like Dignitas player Blackout, compLexity’s Rogue specialist superjj and Luminosity’s Ignite have dropped out of the World Championship chase already. For some, like superjj and last year’s BlizzCon sensation MrYagut, there were only a few inches separating them from going through. MrYagut lost in the round of 32 to Norwegian newcomer countel, while superjj suffered defeat at the last hurdle against SK Gaming’s Swedish prodigy Freakeh.
Overall, the European Last Call qualifier crushed the hopes and dreams of over 330 participants as the large starting field was cut down without mercy. The biggest names who made it through are German player RobinWho of PENTA eSports, Asmodai of London Conspiracy and Freakeh of SK Gaming, who are joined by 13 less well-known players. However, this lack of prior exposure doesn’t have to be a negative thing, as was shown at BlizzCon last year when underdogs like British player Greensheep and Italian fan-favorite Kaor made it far.
Now the names are changed, with players like piterek2003, Flowmarkt, Elscouta, mensou and Gera89 having made it through. Overall, the top 16 consists of players from ten European nations, with only France, Germany, Norway and Russia having more than one player to their names.
Now the journey for this brave 16 continues into the regional qualifiers, where they will be matched up with the 23 best ladder players of the BlizzCon World Championship stretch as well as the champion of the Fireside Gathering tournaments. Tough competition like Maverick, Kolento, Lifecoach, Ostkaka, XiXo and Rdu are waiting, and only eight players from the 40 hopefuls will make it to the Regional Championships - and one step closer to the World Championships at BlizzCon.
Tempo Storm the big winner in North America
In Europe, it might have been the chance for all the newcomers to shine, but in North America some of the biggest figures in the entire Hearthstone scene prevailed. The qualifier was especially kind to team Tempo Storm, who got both of their players through to the top 16. Both founder Reynad and the talented Hyped walked through the bracket, clinching that coveted ticket to the regional qualifiers.
Only a game away from also having two players in the top 16 was compLexity Gaming. The team got their biggest star Dog through, but had to see Ryzen struggle and fall during the last challenge. Just as compLexity saw superjj fail to make it through by one game, Ryzen also ended up sharing the fate of his European Rogue brother.
With Dog, one of the best players in the world still made it through, trying to make up for his close and devastating defeat during the last World Championship season. Back then, he completed the first day of the Swiss competition undefeated, but then fell short by one loss on day two. Now he’s cleared the first hurdle and moves on to the top 40 of the North American region.
Joining the two Tempo Storm warriors and compLexity Gaming’s puppy are Illuminati’s Protohype, who made it through to the regional championship round a year ago. Unfortunately, his star did not ascend to the heavens at the Hammerstein Ballroom, as he crashed and burned in the group stage. Now he is more experienced and has the chip on his shoulder to prove what he is made of.
Accompanying those four to the regional qualifiers are ten Americans and two Canadians. The story of American Strelzik especially resonated with the audience as he clinched his spot on stream, fighting an uphill battle against Neoninja. A round after eliminating Dignitas player Chakki, Strelzik was on the verge of being eliminated in a sweep, only to flip the tables and win out. A reverse sweep against Patron Warrior, one of the most hated decks in the game, gave him a spot to the regional qualifiers and the love of the fans.
If that love translates and carries over to the regional qualifiers remains to be seen, as several fan favorites will also be attending that event. Amongst the best 23 North American ladder players are popular figures like Amaz, ESL Legendary Series Season 1 winner SilentStorm, ESL Legendary Series Season 2 winner Phonetap, Warrior specialist Fibonacci, reigning World Champion Firebat, streaming icon Trump and Cloud9 favorite StrifeCro. They will fight for the six spots to the regional qualifier, with two of the eight slots to be awarded to South American players. In the end, six out of 40 will make it, cutting down the star-studded field relentlessly.
Will the reigning World Champion go out already? Can Archon keep their strong numbers intact? Are the ESL Legendary Series champs ready for the World Championship push? All those questions will be answered in the next couple of weeks as the chase for BlizzCon spots heats up.