We are once again live from Blizzard Arena in Burbank, CA! This time we’re covering the Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT) 2018 Fall Championships! As part of our coverage, we had the privilege to sit down with one of the very best Hearthstone pros in the world David “JustSaiyan” Shan. We discussed several topics like nerves on stage, competing for Tempo Storm, qualifying for Worlds, pre-game rituals, favorite music, regional rivalries and so much more!
DES: Hey all! Taha Zaidi here with Daily Esports. I’m sitting with David “JustSaiyan” Shan after he went 2-0 to begin the tournament and quickly qualified for the next round!
How are you feeling with your progress so far?
JustSaiyan: I’m feeling pretty good. It was nice to get out of groups and just have some time to relax and get some free time before the final day.
Yeah, you do have that free time! Do you ever feel anxiety or nerves or anything after you finish your games, where you have all that time before your next matches? Do you ever feel like, “I just want the next games to start up?”
Yeah, it would have been nice just to find out, right? Like, “I’m going to Worlds!” or I’m not. But at the same time, it gives me some extra time to be prepared. It gives me some time to hang out with the players, just kinda get an idea of where they’re at as well. I don’t think it’s been detrimental.
Speaking of Worlds, what does the possibility of playing at Worlds mean to you?
Playing at Worlds means… it’s the biggest tournament and I think that’s kind of what we’re working for the entire year. But making it to Worlds through here means that Muzzy will likely make it to Worlds as well, after me. And it means that we get two Tempo Storm players to Worlds. There’s been enough argument, I think, [over] which team is the best right now. I think Nordavind and F2K (Fade 2 Karma) give us a good run for our money. But, once we send out two players to Worlds, I don’t think there’s much left to discuss. Hopefully, that’s the way it pans out.
You mentioned Tempo Storm… You’re a member of Tempo Storm. What does that mean? In another esport, you have team scrims; you have coaches that deal with the whole team together. In an individual esport like Hearthstone, what does being a member of a team like Tempo Storm mean?
It is true that everything we do in-game is basically just on our own. But at the same time, having two reliable practice partners, two of the best in the world, means a lot to me. Because it means there’s less shifting around, less looking in-between tournaments to find other people to work with. And we have a lot of camaraderie built up.
I think Muzzy and I have traveled to every event; we’ve roomed together at every event. We’ve always got each other’s backs. So it means a lot. Because Hearthstone has a lot of up and downs, especially as an individual, because a lot of it also weighs on you. When you win, you can be very proud of it but when you lose and you misplay, all of it falls on you really. So, getting through the ups and downs together also helps us out a little bit too.
Considering how much that weighs on you, a misplay, how do you kind of mitigate the RNG and luck factor of the game? Where do you divide and separate where you would say, “I made a misplay, I could have played this better,” and sometimes where it’s just like, “I just couldn’t have done anything better, it’s just how the cards were drawn?”
The misplay part, I have teammates that will point it out to me; we always talk about ways to improve. The “nothing we could have done” part is just going to feel bad in the moment but it’s something that we can get over.
Looking back on the past three years or so of competitive play, I don’t really remember the days where there was nothing I could have done. I remember the days where I messed up and improved upon that.
Do you have any pre-game rituals? Superstitious stuff? Do you listen to a certain kind of music?
It’s not a pre-game ritual but I think a lot of the top players listen to one song on repeat throughout the tournament day.
What’s your song for this tournament?
This tournament, we don’t get to play music; it’s mainly white noise. But, say we’re grinding up through a Dreamhack or something and it’s like a 10-hour day, a lot of the time it’ll just be one song only.
So what’s your go-to song for that kind of situation?
Something by Frank Ocean, most of the time. The Weeknd. If I’m playing aggro, maybe a song by Kanye or something. It helps because it’s something you’re familiar with. You’re playing a whole set and the tempo changes from very low to very high and then you’re thinking, “Maybe I should be going face more!” or something. You want something that kinda grounds you for the day. So the one-song trick is pretty overpowered, I think.
When you come into a tournament where so many people are calling you the favorite, does that affect your state of mind at all? Or, is that something you have to just learn to block out very quickly?
To me, there’s a lot of good players here. I think Sinto’s extremely strong. He’s had more experience at championships, and if he wins out the next match I think I will likely face him.
I think there’s still a lot for me to learn. Coming into a Top 16 like this, there’s a lot of pressure. For me, I don’t really mind too much. It’s just always “on to the next one.”
So how do you deal with that pressure? Is that something your team and your organization helps you with? Or is that something you have to deal with on your own?
Muzzy came out to cheer me on. I think having some friends around is always nice as well. Just staying in a nicer team has helped me, I think.
How much time do you dedicate to a game like Hearthstone, in terms of maybe hours in a day or days in a week, where you’re practiced and warmed up enough to stay on top of your game?
A lot of going back-to-back in tournaments. We’ve already put in all the work to kinda learn the decks. And, if there’s a deck that we don’t know, we have resources between some of the other top players that can kinda reach out and help us.
When we prepare for tournaments, a lot of it is just on the theoretical side. We might go through 15, 16 different line-ups, and their counter line-ups, and talk about what we think the field is bringing. That’s probably the most important stuff, just what happens before the games. I think a lot of the top players at this level, you kind of expect them to be at like 95%+ when it comes to just actually playing the game.
A lot of players in other popular esports, like Heroes of the Storm or League of Legends, they talk about “stage jitters” or how being on stage translates into nerves or adrenaline. Is that something that ever comes into play in Hearthstone? Does it ever cross your mind that you’re on stage and a large audience is watching? Or, does the chess-like setup for the game make it easier to zone in and focus?
I think when it comes to MOBAs or even FPSs, a lot of the action doesn’t stop. You have to keep going. That can kinda build up as time goes on. With Hearthstone, it’s nice that you have a turn timer and things like that; where you’ve been used to this turn timer since you first started playing this game.
I think as long as you’re keeping track of where you are in your own mind, you can kind of dial it back when you need to.
And when you’re on stage, does it ever cross your mind that you maybe need to keep a poker face or something? Or are players in Hearthstone just too busy focusing on the game screen to even bother trying to get a read on their opponent?
Well, if my opponent is particularly expressive, I might look up a few times and try and catch a reaction. But, for the most part, the hand reading just kinda stays in the hand, right?
So speaking of other esports, a lot of team-based games have huge regional rivalries; whether it’s like, NA vs. EU, East vs. West. Are regional rivalries a big deal in an individual-based game like Hearthstone? Is that something the players focus on and take pride in?
Yeah, it definitely is. I think in prelims or the road to playoffs, Europe has always had the highest point threshold. So Europe has been regarded as the best region. To me, it means something a little different.
I think Europe has the highest amount of good players, but I don’t think that necessarily means that the best players are in Europe. This year, Tempo Storm came together with myself, Muzzy and Amnesiac. I think we won team standings last season, and we’re currently sitting in first place as well. So, although North America doesn’t have as many great players, I think the top can still compete with Europe.
On a personal level, how was your journey to becoming a professional gamer? Did you get much support from family and friends?
I think my Asian family is pretty traditional, so it was a tough decision to go through at first. It took a little bit of time to finally commit, but I think that’s really just something more or less on my personal side. Just finding strength of will to pursue what I want.
What kind of advice would you give to the young gamers out there right now that are kinda in a similar position; where they’re gifted and they want to press through but they’re receiving a lack of support?
It’s really tough to see where your peak is at. Yes, you might be the best in this certain category or your certain region to begin with but you really have to have a few things. You have to have a very strong passion for what you’re doing and there’s gotta be something that you’re realizing like, “I’m just thinking about this on a different level or a different way than what I’m seeing others do.” Make sure that you have an edge and make sure that you have the drive to focus on it.
Even then, there are some limitations, I think. Just be aware of what yours might be. I think there’s examples where — it’s a little off but — if you’re 5’8″ or 5’7″, you might have all the instincts and you might be in the best physical shape of your life, but you can’t make it into Major League Baseball because you just don’t have the arm length to pitch that type of speed. Same goes for FPS players. You can be very good; you can have the best instincts in the game. But, maybe your reaction time just isn’t at the top level. So, you kind of have to assess yourself and be aware of where you are at before you go all in. That’s very important.
Awesome, thank you so much. Good luck with the rest of the tournament!
For more information on the tournament, bracket, schedule and prize pool, check out the HCT Fall Championship hub at the official event site!