The Hearthstone World Championship has come to an end. Over the weekend, 16 players congregated in Amsterdam to crown a new champion. That champion wound up being Chen "tom60229" Wei Lin, who won in a thrilling 0-2 series comeback against Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang. Shacknews was also in attendance at the event and had a chance to meet some of the players. However, there was one player in particular that this writer wanted to chat with.
Julien "DocPwn" Bachand was not someone many followers of the Hearthstone esports scene were familiar with going into the 2017 season. That's because this was his official rookie campaign. He was a completely new face, yet one who was a seasoned veteran in several other games. He was a professional chess player for 15 years. He played poker. He competed in Magic: The Gathering. But last year, after playing the game for just one year and hitting Legend status, Bachand received an invitation from Blizzard to try his hand at competitive Hearthstone. He turned heads almost immediately at the 2017 Hearthstone Winter Championships, winning the Americas playoffs and getting a Top 4 finish in the Bahamas, beating then-defending world champion Pavel Beltukov in the process.
There was a lot about DocPwn that fascinated me: his background, his experience in other games, and also his relative inexperience compared to the rest of the field. That's why I was happy to get the chance to speak to the Montreal native about how he got into Hearthstone, his experience in other competitive realms, avoiding burnout, and also about the level of RNG in Hearthstone that seems to turn some players off to it.
Shacknews: When did you first pick up Hearthstone? How long have you been playing and when did you feel that you were ready to compete professionally?
Julien "DocPwn" Bachand, Pro Hearthstone Player: The beginning of this year, I was really trying to compete more professionally, but I started playing Hearthstone a bit more than two years ago. But I was playing it more as a hobby, like everybody does. I started getting high Legend finishes every month and didn't even know there were tournaments. But at some point, [Blizzard] sent me an email saying, "You're qualified for preliminaries." That's how I picked up on Hearthstone being an esport.
At that point, I didn't have any partners or any people to work with, so I was creating bad decks and I was not that good at that point. So I started practicing a bit more. I started this year. I went to the preliminaries for the Winters and I brought a really good lineup, that I worked with Cydonia [Julien Perrault] and I went 9-1 in my run. Then I qualified for the Bahamas and it was quite a run in the Bahamas, too. I can say I've been competing for about a year.
Shacknews: You come from a unique background. You've played chess. You've played poker. You've played Magic. So how do you feel your experience in those games have helped you transition to Hearthstone?
DocPwn: It helps a lot. Chess helps a lot, because, obviously, it's a really complicated game and you need to be focused and concentrating. You need to try to visualize what's going to happen in the game, so it really helps when it comes to Hearthstone, just trying to figure what all your turns are going to look like. Since a game of chess is like six hours, sitting in front of a good opponent, it helps a lot for the focus and concentration that you need to have in Hearthstone.
Poker, obviously, poker and Magic and all the card games that I have played, it helps, because it's a game of missing information. You don't know about your opponent's hand, but you're trying to figure out what he has, depending on how he's been playing the whole game. Poker is like this, right, you try to understand what your opponent's like, his betting patterns, you're like "Okay, this guy looks like he has this kind of hand." In Hearthstone, it helps also, because sometimes you need to play around some type of [area of effect] or play around some card, so if he was representing that card by the way you just track his hand, it helps a lot. Of course, these games really help when it comes down to high standard competition Hearthstone.
Shacknews: And it's important to keep that "poker face," too, right? You don't want to give away that you drew something like Raza or Flamestrike, right?
DocPwn: Of course! That's why usually when I'm mulliganing, I'm trying to hide my face. I'm trying to hide my mouth, because people are giving tells when they're drawing their cards sometimes and they're not even aware of it. So I'm trying to hide all the little details, so people don't pick up on something.
Shacknews: You mentioned that you picked up Hearthstone two years ago. By then, there had already been a few expansions. So what's your advice to people that are curious to try Hearthstone for the first time, but are intimidated by the number of cards out there?
DocPwn: Now it's a bit more difficult, right? Because you have to spend so much to get packs and get the packs you want. But I would suggest, because there's a lot of good decks that don't cost too much, that you can build. And I would suggest not trying to build everything. Try to be good at one type of deck, a deck that people would enjoy playing. Try to find cheap decks, because cheap decks are really good, too! If you just play Hearthstone and you get good at it, cards are just going to unlock on their own. And if you feel you need more Dust or more cards of whatever, you'll probably need to buy packs, that's for sure. But figure out what you want to play first, what kind of decks you want to play first. Just buying hundreds of packs and not being able to figure out what you want to do with it is a waste of money. Do it slowly, try to understand what you want to do with your decks, and when you're fed up with those decks, try to craft another one. Try to have a plan of what you want to do and what you want to craft. And just go for the cheaper decks.
Shacknews: You advanced to the World Championships after your Top 4 finish at the Winter Championships in the Bahamas. But that was a whole Standard cycle ago! How did you adjust to the new Standard season and was there any concern coming into Worlds that you were going to be able to keep up with some of the other players that had advanced after playing this standard season?
DocPwn: That was a concern, but I put in so many hours. When the two expansions came out, like [Knights of the] Frozen Throne and [Kobolds &] Catacombs, because I had stopped playing during the summer and took some time off... when Frozen Throne & Catacombs came out, I put in many, many hours, just to understand what's going on, what's the meta, what do I like about it, and figure out a lineup with the decks I'm good with. I've been putting a lot of hours in to compensate for being a part-time player. So at that point, I told my girlfriend, my friends, and people I needed to put more hours that I usually do. So I've been playing a lot of Hearthstone before the World Championships to make sure I'm on the same page as all these players.
Shacknews: You say you took a couple of months off? How important is it to take a step back and refresh your mind and avoid burnout?
DocPwn: I don't know if it happens, but players that put a lot of hours and never stop... at some point, I don't know if they enjoy the game anymore. If I speak about me, when I do put a lot of hours at some point, I'm not enjoying it as much. It feels like... I know you need to put these hours in, but when it's 10-12 hours per day, it's so exhausting. Taking two or three months off, going around, vacation time... it felt very refreshing. It felt, "Okay, let's forget about Hearthstone for now," because I knew I'd have to play with the new expansions anyway. So there was no point in trying hard to improve with the current expansion, because I'd have to go through two new sets before the World Championships.
So I thought because I don't have many hours to put in, I thought it was a good time to take a break. Try to refresh, come back with an empty mind, come back after with new ideas, because you're less tunnel visioning. When you stop sometimes, it helps your brain do a cut and when you come back, you're happy to play! "New expansion! That's so cool!" You're so happy to play, you come back with new ideas and you feel more comfortable putting time back in.
Shacknews: I watched your Winter Championship decks closely. Your Jade Druid deck fascinated me, because you were the only player there to include Yogg-Saron. What made you feel that card was a good fit for that deck and at what point over the course of the year did you feel that Yogg-Saron didn't work for your Jade Druid deck anymore?
DocPwn: Yogg-Saron in the Winter Championships, I actually wasn't sure I was going to bring that card. That was the last card of the last deck and I wasn't sure. "Am I putting this in? Am I not putting this in?" At that point, Druids had only Mulch and Swipe. Now we have Spellstone, right?
Sometimes Druid had problems when they were behind on board. You'd kind of just lose because you don't have removal for the big creatures, so Yogg-Saron was giving me hope that if I high-rolled, it could change the game. It's like a card that when you're really far ahead, you're just not going to play it. But when you're far behind as Druid, you don't have anything that helps you. So it was the ideal card for me, because when I was in really deep s***, I could always top-deck Yogg-Saron and high roll someone. I played Yogg-Saron in the prelims in the Winter and it worked pretty well. It won me two games!
Yogg-Saron, I don't think it's a good fit, but at that point, because we didn't have the Spellstone, it felt a bit better than now. Now we have enough removal with Spellstone dealing 6 damage. You have a way to deal with big creatures when the game goes a bit late. So that's why I think Yogg-Saron now is a bit useless, because you have more removal and more tools. If there was no Spellstone, I might still run it.
Shacknews: From a competitive standpoint, are you a fan of RNG-heavy cards like Yogg-Saron or do you like more straightforward cards like the Spellstone?
DocPwn: I'm more into the Spellstone and less RNG, that's for sure. I like when a game is fair and sometimes RNG takes out the fairness of the game. It's really frustrating sometimes.
But in a card game, you always have the randomness of the order of the draws, right? Which is super random already. When you put RNG cards on top of that, this game... it just becomes RNG fiesta at some point, depending on which deck is playing against which deck. Yes, of course I'm a fan of the standard control cards and minions and spells that imply less RNG. Like before, we had Imp-losion, there was a big difference in getting two or getting four. When you got four, it felt like you were winning the game, but when you got two, it felt like you were losing. Just set it at three, right?
But I think people like RNG, in general. I think casual players like it, because it's kind of nice when a card does something really extraordinary. When it doesn't work, just queue another game. But they like the feeling of when you play something and something incredible happens. So I think that's why RNG cards will always be there. It's a crowd favorite. Even if people complain about RNG cards, I think people like it.
Shacknews: And lastly, what's your advice to the casual player that's about to transition to a new Standard in just a couple of months?
DocPwn: I think people should try to diversify a bit. People sometimes feel comfortable with a deck. People are kind of afraid of playing another deck, because they feel like "I'm good at that deck, but I'm at Rank 5 or Rank 7, and I don't want to change because I'm going to lose Rank." That's not a good way of approaching the game. People need to try out different stuff and sometimes you'll be surprised by what you find out about another deck. Maybe that new deck will become your favorite deck. You need to not be scared of losing Rank. Try things, right? The game is so complex, there are so many archetypes and now I feel like we're in a meta where you can play so many archetypes and it'll work on the Ladder. Don't be tunnel visioning on one deck. For casual players, try to have fun, switch decks. Find out more stuff about Hearthstone. It's going to help you improve. Even if you lose a couple of games when you switch decks, it'll help you improve in the long term?
Shacknews: And for the competitive player? What's your advice for transitioning?
DocPwn: If you want to compete at high levels, you need to practice smart. I think that would be my best advice. Putting tons of hours in and repeating the same mistakes over and over again. I think there's a lot of players that are in the kind of mindset. And it's not that they want it to be like this. They're just auto piloting decks. They're making the same mistakes over and over again.
You need to talk to people. You need to watch tournaments. I watch a lot of tournament footage. I almost watch every tournament, because I want to see people compete at a high level and I want to hear the commentators and I want to make up my own mind whether a player is good or not. And sometimes, the Ladder is not representative of the tournament meta. So you need to understand the different between the tournament meta and the Ladder meta, which is a huge difference. Watching a lot of pros playing in a tournament, not on stream, because on stream he's playing Ladder and he's chilling with you guys. He's not concentrating, he's making mistakes, he doesn't even care about it, he's just streaming, right? If you want to improve, you need to ask yourself, "Am I doint this right? Am I practicing right? Am I just playing Ladder and hoping I get better?" Of course playing Ladder's important, because you need to grind out the points, right? But you also need to understand that if you want to improve, you need the help of a lot of people most of the time, people who think outside the box. Because two or three brains thinking about one situation is way better. Pros always work together when they work on lineup when they work on gameplay. You're absorbing someone else's analysis on a game, which is really important. You need to be a sponge, right? You need to take all the information and advice from everyone and try to collect and try to grow yourself in that manner.
Shacknews will continue looking at the Hearthstone meta, from the casual and pro perspective, as it unfolds over the year ahead. Any other takeaways from the Hearthstone World Championship that you feel we missed? Join the conversation and let us know in the comments.