Previewing the European Winter Championship

Following the recent Americas tournament in the Hearthstone Championship Tour, Europe marks the next stop in the various Blizzcon qualification opportunities. Coming up March 18-20, Europe will pit their top players against one another in a battle for glory and a chance at a piece of the $80,000 prize pool. On top of the first place prize, the winner will also qualify for this year’s Hearthstone World Championship, which take place sometime in November.

The eight representatives for this year’s Europe Regional Championship were chosen thanks to their success in the Europe Winter Preliminary tournament. Those players have been divided into two groups, squaring off in a double-elimination round robin using the Conquest format. The top two players from each group will then advance to a single-elimination bracket to decide who will claim the Winter Championship title and their spot at the 2016 Hearthstone World Championship. Let’s take a brief look at the eight contests and their success thus far this season:

Remi “Tars” Roesch:

This French member of Melty eSport Club has had impressive performances in the past but fell short of expectations in the Winter Preliminary. Tars was forced to navigate through the loser’s bracket to secure his spot in the HCT Europe Championship after falling to Artem “DrHippi” Kravets. He was able to close out his final series 3-0 to qualify, but it was a bit surprising to see him in the bottom bracket after such a strong showing at the DreamHack Tours 2015, where he took first place. Fresh off his series win, he should be able to reset himself and give the other contestants a tough time throughout the Group Stage in this event.

Mikuláš “Pokrovac” Dio:

Hailing from the Czech Republic, Pokrovac has been building a name for himself in recent months. In October of last year he joined the premiere eSport organization of the Czech Republic, eSuba. Since being added to the team, he has shown signs of life in an otherwise brutal scene; most recently placing 5th-8th at Gamegune 2015 where he eventually lost in a close five game series to former World Champion James “Firebat” Kostesich. Fresh off his impressive showing at the 2016 HCT - Europe Preliminary Tournament, Pokrovac is looking to ride his win streak all the way to BlizzCon.

Ole “Naiman” Batyrbekov:

This former Dignitas team member had a not-so-impressive showing at the Winter Preliminary, but was able to secure his spot in the end. Naiman has remained under the radar in the past year, with minimal tournament showings and results. His most impressive result, other than this most recent qualification, was placing third at the Gfinity 2015 - Spring Masters, falling to Firebat in the Semifinals of the event. He is best known for his innovative Hunter's decks, including the heavy use of snake traps and sea giants -- something he’ll likely bust out once again at this event.

Bruno “Cereza” Cerqueira:

Member of For the Win eSports, Cereza had a less than impressive run in the qualifier tournament. After dropping to the loser’s bracket, Cereza had to fight tooth and nail to secure his spot in the EU Regional Championship. His first series went well as he was able to sweep his opponents, but his following series were much closer. Finding himself in two, do-or-die four-game series, Cereza was narrowly able to persevere, qualifying for the Championship. His final series against Igor “Lekariy” Kulik was neck and neck, as Game One alone went close to a fatigue drawing. After closing out the first game, he was unable to do the same in Game Two, as Lekariy’s Freeze Mage stymied Cereza’s Druid deck. He was able to regain his composure to close out the following two games, but both remained extremely close. He will need to make improvements to his play, notably slowing down and making carefully calculated plays, in order to place high at this competitive tournament.

Eirik “Diggen” Aarvig:

Diggen posted a dominant performance in the Winter Qualifier, finishing top four while taking out some of the best players in Europe; most notably, Ersee, who he defeated 3-1 in the Round of 64. It was a strong tournament overall for Diggen, who seemingly went unchallenged by his opponents, leading to some impressive finishes. One such example came in his final series of the tournament, in which his aggro Paladin was able to take down his opponent incurring a single point of damage. I expect the Norwegian to continue his dominating performance and place rather well at the HCT Winter Europe Championship, and quite possibly claim his ticket to BlizzCon.

Philipp “Nicslay” Hehn:

Finishing in the top four at the Winter Preliminary, this rather unknown German should be considered the dark horse of this event. Thanks to several nail-biting series that hit the maximum of five games, including a Round of 8 matchup against fellow regional competitor Raphel “BunnyHoppor” Peltzer, Nicslay could be building some momentum heading into this tournament. It’ll be interesting to see if he can continue to rely on close series wins during the European Regional -- if he can, he has a real shot at punching his ticket to BlizzCon.

Artem “DrHippi” Kravets:

DrHippi had a strong showing in the Winter Europe Preliminary, winning five series in a row to qualify for the tournament, only losing four games combined. All eyes will be on him this weekend as he is a heavy favorite due to this performance at the prelimins. He has already beaten Tars, one of the other participants in this tournament, proving that even those who qualified for this event may not be able to stand up to his momentum.

Raphael “BunnyHoppor” Peltzer:

Last but not least is BunnyHoppor, who had a strong run and secured his spot through the loser’s bracket to qualify for the Championship. Before being knocked into the loser’s bracket, he had several extremely impressive series including a 3-0 sweep over fellow qualifier Naiman. An extremely close series against Nicslay saw him fall to the loser’s bracket where he showed his dominance once more to qualify for the Championship. I wouldn’t count him out because of his low seed during the qualification. In fact, his recent performance makes him one of my favorites for this event.

In order to keep up with the action, be sure to tune in to the “official Hearthstone Twitch channel” March 18-20, starting at 6 a.m. PT to watch the matches.

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