The Winter leg of the Hearthstone Championship Tour wraps up this Thursday as the top players in the Asia-Pacific region battle it out for their chance at a guaranteed spot in the Hearthstone World Championship at BlizzCon this fall.
Two players have already punched their ticket to BlizzCon during this Winter cycle; The Americas Winter Championship saw 15-year-old William "Amnesiac" Barton from Team Archon earn his spot, while the Europe Winter Championship was conquered by Ole "Naiman" Batyrbekov of Team ANOX.
The Asia-Pacific Championship involves players from five different sub-regions: Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. Each sub-region held their own qualifying tournament to determine who would get the opportunity to play in the Asia-Pacific Championship and earn a chance at a World Championship berth. While Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the countries of Southeast Asia each get one of their tournament champions into the mix, Korea and Taiwan get an additional player each. The eighth and final participant for the Asia-Pacific Championship was the player with the highest point total at the conclusion of all of the regional tournaments.
The eight players in the tournament are divided into two groups who will then compete in a double-elimination round-robin group stage -- using the Conquest format with a one-deck ban. Once the top four are determined, the tournament moves to a single-elimination bracket to determine the winner, who earns one of the 16 coveted spots at BlizzCon.
How they got here
Takuki "Mattun" Matsuo (Japan Winner): The mostly unknown Mattun played his way into the Asia-Pacific Championship by winning the Japan Preliminary. His road through the preliminary wasn't easy, however. He won his Quarterfinal match against aqua by a score of 3-1, utilizing his Warlock, Priest and Warrior decks. The semifinal match was the closest on his road to the Championships, as he won a hard-fought 3-2 match against Hajime. The final match saw him take out tofoo 4-2 in a best-of-seven matchup. In the Preliminary finals, he actually had his Priest deck banned and still managed to win with his Warrior, Mage, Paladin and Warlock decks. Mattun opted not to bring a Druid deck to the Japan Preliminary -- a deck that has been a staple in both the Europe and Americas Championships. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against the competition in this tournament if he opts to leave his Druid home again.
Euneil "Staz" Javinas (SEA Winner): Staz's ticket to the Asia-Pacific Championship came by way of the Southeast Asia Preliminary. This Filipino player, ranked 10th in Asia on GosuGamers, is no stranger to the competitive Hearthstone scene. Prior to winning the Southeast Asia Preliminary, Staz was the winner of Season 9 of the Southeast Asia Legend Series. There, he came out on top of the 27-player single elimination tournament in May of 2015. On top of that, Staz has placed in the top three of various tournaments seven other times throughout the last two years. It was clear that his vast array of experience made an impact during the Preliminaries. From the Round of 32 to the Finals, Staz only lost one game, winning each series (except for the first one) by a score of 3-0. If he can continue that level of play in this tournament, he should certainly be considered one of the favorites.
Ho "Pinpingho" Kwo-Ping (Taiwan Winner): Pinpingho found his way into this tournament by taking the top spot in the Taiwan Preliminary. The Virginia Tech alum first arrived on the Hearthstone scene during the 2015 Hearthstone World Championship, in which he placed 5th-8th. During that tournament, as well as the one preceding it, he was most known for piloting his favorite Shaman decks, even when the class was seen by many in the Hearthstone community as being one of the weakest. During the Taiwan Preliminaries, Pinpingho was able to win each one of his series', from the Round of 32 all the way to the Grand Finals. In his eight matches, he lost just seven games overall, while sweeping his opponents twice, including a Grand FInals sweep against Szu-Fan "UCCU" Wang. With perhaps the most competitive experience out of the eight players in the tournament, Pinpingho is likely on the top of most lists as the favorite to book his trip to BlizzCon.
Szu-Fan "UCCU" Wang (Taiwan At-Large): UCCU was the second qualifier from the Taiwan Preliminary, making his way into the Championship along with Pinpingho. His route to the Championship was not as breezy as Pinpingho's though; he won his first three matches, but then lost to Pinpingho in the Semifinals of the winner's bracket. That knocked him down into the loser's bracket, where he won both matches by the narrow margin of 3-2, followed by a victory over BGIOU in the Loser's Finals by a score of 3-1. After running through the loser's bracket, UCCU found himself once again matched up with Pinpingho. The second time clearly wasn't the charm for UCCU, as Pinpingho code swept him 3-0. Thankfully for him, Taiwan sends two players to the Championship, allowing UCCU into the tournament despite the dramatic loss. For his sake, hopefully he will be able to overcome the pair of tough losses to Pinpingho, as it is likely that the road to the top spot of this tournament will have to go through him.
Alex "NaviOOT" Ridley (Australia/New Zealand Winner): NaviOOT qualified for the Asia-Pacific Winter Championship by way of the Australia and New Zealand Preliminary. Of all the participants, his road to the Asia-Pacific Winter Championship was probably one of the toughest. NaviOOT quickly found himself in the loser's bracket after losing his first match to Hugh "flamingobums" Petrie 3-2. In the bottom bracket, he won his next two matches, both by scores of 3-1, showing that he was better than his earlier 3-2 loss seemed to indicate. Things got a bit closer after that, as his next two series' were both 3-2 nail-biters. The Grand Finals saw him get his revenge on flamingobums, this time turning the table with a 3-2 victory of his own. The top-50 Legend player certainly has the skills to be a dark horse candidate in the pursuit of a trip to BlizzCon this weekend.
DongJu "Seogui" Shin (OGN At-large): Seogui qualified for the Asia-Pacific Winter Championship by winning the OGN Hearthstone Masters KR Season 4, making his way through the competition without losing a single match. In the Round of 16, he won 3-1 to propel himself into the round-robin group stage that made up the Quarterfinals. In those group stages, he went 2-0 and advanced straight to the playoffs. His semifinal match against Cho "Steelo" Ganghyeon was the closest one that he played in the entire tournament; Steelo took a 3-2 lead over Seogui, but it was Steelo's decision to bring a Rogue deck that ended up being his undoing, as Seogui took the final two games to win 4-3. He then breezed through the Finals, beating Time 4-1. Despite his success in that tournament, his relatively unknown status will likely make him a bit of an underdog in the Asia-Pacific Winter Championship.
SangHyeon "DDaHyoNi" Baek (Korea Winner): DDaHyoNi made his way into the Asia-Pacific Winter Championship by winning the Korea Winter Preliminary. His route to the tournament had plenty of excitement along the way, with huge topdeck draws coming at crucial times. In the Semifinals against jeongyong, he topdecked a Bolf Ramshield from a Golden Monkey that allowed him to withstand enough damage to win the game and take the series 3-1. Then, in Game Five of the Finals against Jeiem, he drew a Rockbiter Weapon while having a Doomhammer equipped, giving him the exact lethal to win the series and the tournament. If DDaHyoNi's luck can continue here in this tournament, we could potentially be seeing him ride those fantastic topdecks all the way to BlizzCon.
Il-Mook "Handsomeguy" Kang (HCT At-large): Handsomeguy qualified for the tournament in an entirely different manner than his counterparts. Instead of winning a preliminary, he was able to earn the most HCT points during the Asia-Pacific Winter Season -- giving him the final at-large berth. While he isn't the most recognizable name in this tournament, he is more of a known quantity than some others due to his participation in Viagame House Cup #3. Most recently, he finished second in the Hearthstone Premier League, showing that he does have what it takes to place at the top of tournaments. While the Korean doesn't have the most tournament experience, he has finished at the top of the ranked ladder during the Hearthstone Championship Tour season. He is certainly hoping that his ladder experience will translate to a tournament win and a trip to BlizzCon in the fall.