After months of waiting, Dreamhack finally came to Atlanta last weekend. This was the first event of this kind for me and I really had no idea what to expect. It ended up being everything I had hoped for and probably more. I met a lot of great people and got to play some Hearthstone against excellent competition in an awesome atmosphere with complete sensory overload most of the time. My goals for this recap are to lay out some of what I wish I had known heading into the event for others to use going forward as well as give a detailed account of what the actual playing experience was like.
How to Survive a Dreamhack Grand Prix event
- Decide what you want to get out of the experience early. There are two main types of tickets you’ll want to consider. The first is BYOC, this ticket allows you to bring your whole setup; desktop, huge monitor, mechanical keyboard, etc and is intended for those people who plan on spending a lot of time playing games over the course of the weekend (and for some games there are BYOC tournaments, this was not the case for Hearthstone). In order to set up you’re allowed access fairly early in the day on Day 1 and we actually were able to drive into the Congress Center to unload. The process for BYOC worked well, they give you tags to match your ticket to your hardware and this is how they keep people from walking off with your stuff. In hindsight, the BYOC ticket was probably overkill though. Since I played in the Hearthstone Grand Prix almost the entire day was spent in the Hearthstone area. This was basically a section of the venue roped off with huge tables and a giant screen and bunch of chairs to watch the streamed matches which were being recorded backstage. The 3-day visitor pass ticket allowed access to this (and to play in the tournament) and basically everything else, but you would not be able to do a desktop setup with this kind of ticket. In summary – if you’re there to play a ton of games until all hours of the night BYOC is the way to go. If Hearthstone is your focus you might as well save some hassle and some cash and do the 3-day visitor pass.
- Bring the right stuff. If your focus is the Hearthstone Grand Prix you’ll want all the obvious stuff – laptop, power cord, mouse, headphones. I saw a lot of people playing on Microsoft Surfaces and this looked like the ideal mobile Hearthstone device since it’s super portable but still a computer. Dreamhack allows note taking so you’ll want some pens and a notepad. Cell phone charger for sure and probably batteries for anything you bring that uses them. Did NOT need ethernet cables or power strips, those were set up in the tournament area. Bringing snacks is a must, sometimes the time between rounds is limited so having something handy is great. There’s food stands and vending machines in the venue but it was basically personal pizzas, hot dogs, and because we were in Georgia with a gathering of 10 or more people, Chik-Fil-A was required by state law. There was also beer/mixed drinks and snacks like popcorn and such but everything was pretty pricey as you’d expect. You will probably want a hoodie or something to keep warm, its like being in an indoor sports facility basically so it can get a little cool (although there was one person who completed his Swiss rounds without a shirt). A backpack or gym bag was definitely the way to go for all of this, depending the volume of food you require. For BYOC you also need to bring an ethernet cable of 30ft or so and all your peripherals (monitor, keyboard, etc). Power strips were available but having an extra is probably good in that area. Flashlights were recommended but not needed, it never got that dark in the venue. I would bring a security device of some kind if I really liked my rig because even though things were tagged, no one checked mine on the way out and a dolly or hand truck type of device would be helpful to get in/out of the venue.
- Expect the unexpected. We came in through the back as BYOC ticket holders but I heard the venue entry experience was horrible at the front on the first day. I would recommend getting there pretty early, and make sure you get your badge in the mail and print your tickets out at home before arriving. This was where a lot of people messed up. Entry chaos can be avoided also if you have a press pass, that lets you in even earlier to take photos and whatnot beforehand. Book your hotel early if you need one before the ones within walking distance are all gone. Some construction workers CUT THE FIBER CABLE to the building on accident and the whole place lost internet for 2 hours, so don’t make plans to be anywhere at any specific times if you’re planning on competing. IT WILL RUN BEHIND.
- Keep yourself informed. This is especially true if you’re playing in the tournament. Be prepared for last minute requirements. Sign-ups for the Grand Prix open up pretty early, this was done through a Google form. Months then pass, and we didn’t find out about the need for deck submissions until about 5 days before the event. Then maybe two days before the event we find out we need to register on a tournament hosting website, and submit our decks also on that platform. My advice would be to make sure you’re checking your email daily and to be sure to follow the Dreamhack and DreamhackHS twitter accounts. It would have been very easy to miss one of those communications and DQ yourself from the tournament unintentionally.
One of the best parts of the Dreamhack experience was meeting so many awesome people. I attended the event with Snowbum from the DadLegend discord and met people from so many Hearthstone communities. I got to meet (and play against) fellow DadLegend BlueSpartan (below). We met the whole crew from the Hero Power podcast (Avanties, Virsica, and Zerotio as well as Avanties’ son) who I’ve been in-game friends with for so long. We got to hang out with the Hearthcoach guys as well, and although I had met Frid before it was my first time getting to meet Dan in person. The ATL Hearthstone crew was out in full effect so it was really fun to get to know some of the guys from the local fireside scene a lot better and finally add everyone on Battle.net I was also able to meet a THL teammate in Brewski and players from other discords like Torlaan and LanguageHacker. And this is all before all the pros and casters – too many to list. But basically if there’s anyone you’d want to meet from the Hearthstone pro community they’re most likely going to be there and most of them are very approachable and happy to interact with the “regular” players. It was also really fun getting to meet some of the lesser known pros that I ended up playing against, as these guys are often just as good as the more popular players and any of them could become a breakout player at just about any time. The people aspect to me really was the main draw for the whole event, and it didn’t disappoint. Playing Hearthstone obviously opens you up to the highs and lows that go hand in hand with the game, but going through both sides of it is so much more fun with friends and the support everyone had for each other was excellent to see.
The Prep Work
Getting ready for Dreamhack from an actual Hearthstone perspective took a lot of time, but was also incredibly important. I spent a lot of time playing practice matches with Snowbum, BlueSpartan, Egman, etc from the DadLegend crew and these matches really helped shape what would become my lineup. I ended up bring the following decks, with the assumption of banning Paladin throughout the tournament:
- Evolve Shaman – Shaman has been my go-to class for a long time so this deck was a no-brainer after having used it to recently hit Legend for the first time since becoming a father. It really doesn’t have too many awful matchups (Freeze Mage) so it felt like like a solid choice. My build was pretty standard except for cutting one Stonehill Defender for one Sea Giant to help with the mirror.
- Murloc Paladin – similar logic to Shaman, not too many awful matchups and the version I brought works well with my (slightly aggressive) playstyle. It was a list I had seen Sjow playing very successfully on ladder shortly before the tournament and was a little bit different than most of the versions other people brought. It had the aggressive Murloc start I’ve always liked, but kept some defensive cards as well to help combat board floods and even faster builds.
- Pyro Jade Druid – this deck felt like an auto bring, as its generally the best deck against control which everyone knew would be brought in spades. I brought the Wild Pyromancer / Acolyte of Pain version that also runs Mark of the Lotus at the expense of Jade Spirit. These techs improve the Shaman matchup which I was a little nervous about, but hurts the mirror match (which ended up punishing me). I hadn’t played much Jade Druid outside of SHL play though so I went with this version of the deck which I had gotten pretty comfortable with.
- Taunt Warrior – this is the slot I agonized over the most. To me it was a toss up between Pirate Warrior and Taunt Warrior. I went Taunt just to help shut down the Pirate Warriors, Token Druids, and Shamans that I expected to run rampant. It actually performed pretty well, as I was able to generally beat Mages pretty consistently with it. I went with the familiar RayC version of the deck.
Dreamhack operates in a fairly different format than most straightforward bracket-style tournaments. Each player plays 9 rounds of “Swiss” which is basically where you play someone each round with the same record as you. After 9 rounds the 16 players with the best records have their decks published and move on to the knock out round. Generally a record of 7-2 or better is needed to make the cut. The other unique thing about Dreamhack is that the matches operate on a Last Hero Standing basis. This means that when you win a game you are required to keep playing your deck while your opponent then switches. Once one player loses with all their available heroes the match is over and the winner is the player with the “Last Hero Standing”. The rounds run about every 2 hours, and each day you’re playing +/- 5 rounds so it can be a grueling day where mental endurance becomes key. I came into Swiss knowing the odds were against me making into the Top 16 but was determined to play all 9 rounds no matter what to really test my ability level on a big stage. Below is a round by round recap:
- Got off to a really hot start, I played vs a local player named Yes who ended up doing very well in the tournament by the end, but Murloc Paladin drew really, really well and I actually won all 3 games for a 3-0 win.
- My first match vs a pro. This was against Ryder who plays for Circa eSports. I got ahead by winning a Shaman mirror match and the rest of the games went the way you’d expect with the favored deck winning each time. The difference came down to a Jade mirror match where my non-standard deck hurt me as he was able to out-Jade me. 2-3 loss this time.
- I got completely rekt in this round. I played against Ropecoach, who I had never heard of before, but is obviously a top player as when I accepted his friend request his being Top 100 legend stuck out pretty obviously. He played what felt like 3 optimal Jade druid games and I drew poorly in my favored match up. 0-3 vs Ropecoach.
- This was the big matchup of the tournament for me. I queued into Ant, North America’s favorite player at the moment and someone who will be playing at the World Championships. I had never played against someone with the Golden Celebration cardback before so this was a huge opportunity to test myself against one of the very best players in the world. I opened up winning a Shaman vs Taunt Warrior matchup which felt good due to how unfavored it was for me. He was able to counter it and tie up the match 1-1 by taking the Shaman out with a slow Mage deck. I responded with Taunt Warrior operating under the assumption that it was a true Freeze Mage, but was in for a rude awakening when Medivh, the Guardian showed up. I had gotten ahead though and used the Ragnaros hero power from completing the Fire Plume's Heart quest to take him down without ever having to pop the Ice Barrier he had up. The match came down to a Jade Druid vs Taunt Warrior matchup for Ant to stay in it, and I knew my only chance was a race. I played what I called “Face Taunt Warrior” and just played all the taunts I could to complete the quest and burn him down as fast as possible and although greatly unfavored in the matchup was able to pull it out. A 3-1 win vs such a strong opponent felt so good, especially because I knew I was able to keep my focus and play each matchup the right way without mistakes to give myself the best odds. Ant was just as as good of a guy as you would think if you follow Hearthstone. He was very friendly before the match, and was still in a good mood afterwards even though the loss likely eliminated him from contention. Its always nice to see your positive assumptions about someone turn out to be true. Afterwards, I got a ton of support from all my new friends and this honestly was probably one of my top Hearthstone accomplishments to date.
- Had a bit of a victory hangover when playing against Kyoto eSports’ Casual. He played Taunt Warrior very well, even beating my Druid. I was 3-0’d for the second time and this concluded Day 1.
- Day 2 opened up with a DadLegend showdown vs BlueSpartan. He opened up winning the Shaman mirror with a really hot start as he was able to Bloodsail Corsair my Jade Claws for an early tempo swing and cruise from there. I countered with the Taunt Warrior and won the favored matchup, and then won the next game as well vs his Secret Mage. He was a bit unlucky as he used 4 mana having to use two Primordial Glyph’s to look for way to survive which meant that he could not play the lethal inducing Pyroblast he drew from the second one. My hero power was lethal to give me a 2-1 lead. He countered me by playing his own Taunt warrior and won the all important mirror match for a second time. Final game came down to my Jade Druid vs his Warrior, and the Jades just barely did their job to hand me a nail-biting 3-2 win. Fun fact: we took longer than every other match in this round going the full 5 with a Taunt Warrior mirror included.
- Played this round against another Atlanta native Kerintok, with the decider coming down to another Warrior vs Jade Druid matchup that I won. The Wild Pyromancer’s did a lot of work in this matchup and he was complementary of the different take on the deck. 3-2 win.
- This round I ran into another big name, Tars, from France. He was an EU HCT Championship player with the Golden Celebration cardback like Ant. I started well enough, with my Murlocs taking the opener over his Token Shaman. He then played Quest Mage and beat both my Paladin and Druid with it before Shaman was finally fast enough to take it down. The final match came down to Shaman vs Jade Druid but he ran double Naturalize which I don’t think anyone else was doing and easily cleared my biggest threats in order to stabilize and get his Jades big enough to close me out. A close 2-3 loss vs a very good player.
- Final match was against LanguageHacker, a top ladder player from Canada who I had met in game and through Discord before. He had made Top 16 in a previous Dreamhack so I knew I had my work cut out for me again. I started strong again winning the Shaman mirror, while the other matches went back and forth as the percentages would expect until the Jade Druid mirror in game five. My techs again worked against me as I was out-Jaded and lost 2-3.
So overall, I went 4-5 which I felt was semi-respectable given the level of competition I was up against. I definitely saw the weak spot in my deck was being unfavored in the Jade Druid mirror which happened so frequently. I felt I was able to generally hang with the pros for the most part; winning a big one and keeping most of the others to close 2-3’s where I think their superior Jade decks made the difference. I definitely learned a lot though and enjoyed talking afterwards with them about potential misplays and lineup/tech theories, etc – these are some of the best minds in the game so it was great to talk strategy with them for going forward. I wound up 62nd place out of about 180 players, which is roughly in the top third or so which seemed alright. The top 8 began on Sunday morning and I hung out until mid-afternoon when it was time to head home and try to be a DadLegend and see my little boy for a while before heading back to work on Monday. DrJikininki ended up taking the whole tournament, he played very well throughout and really surged late in Swiss. Through the knockout rounds he picked up a ton of wins playing Pirate Warrior which seemed to be consistently in the lineups of most of the top finishers. The final game of the Grand Finals came down to the theme of the weekend though, the Jade Druid mirror, where the Jadier player wins and DrJ was able to do it.
Hopefully this article has been helpful for anyone looking to get involved in similar events in the future. I really had an awesome time at Dreamhack Atlanta in basically every aspect, from preparing, to competing; from meeting so many great people to just taking in all the sights and sounds, the weekend was truly one to remember. If there’s anything I missed or if you have any further or specific questions please reach out to me on Twitter (@yellowdart3) or through the DadLegend discord. I hope to catch you at the next one!