The competitive side of esports is full of titles and players that cover them. There are fast-paced titles like Apex Legends or CS:GO where every millisecond in a match counts. Simultaneously, more time-consuming titles rely on strategic mapping like Dota 2 or Starcraft. These titles make up a wide array of competitive genres that make up the entirety of the industry.
Now, the catalysts for the scaling and growth of the industry are players. Esportz Network spoke to Alexander “Kolento” Malsh, a professional Hearthstone player and legend in the card-realm community who plays for Cloud9.
Kolento has an extensive history of success in Hearthstone esports. He’s won tournaments like the 2014 DreamHack Hearthstone Championship, CN vs. EU Season 2, StarLadder Ultimate Series Season 1, and many more competitions. He’s also a massive content creator with over 500 thousand followers on Twitch and 190 thousand on YouTube.
Kolento competes against the best players in the world and created a name for himself. Acknowledged around the community as a player in the highest tiers of competitive Hearthstone, he continues to conquer the scene one deck at a time.
In this interview, Esportz Network asks Kolento about his journey into competitive gaming, what’s it like to be a professional Hearthstone player, and what he does to maintain his level of expertise. Additionally, Kolento shares some tips and tricks to improve at Hearthstone and compete at a higher level.
Interviewing Hearthstone Legend Kolento
Esportz Network: What made you get into the esports industry?
Alexander “Kolento” Malsh: I remember even before I was playing Hearthstone, I was a very competitive person. I played World of Tanks back in the days [and played] quite a bit and participated in some tournaments. And I traveled abroad as well, but not too far. There was a team competition, and I never felt that team based esports was my piece of cake. I felt more like a solo player all the time. I performed reasonably well in World of Tanks. We placed first in some tournaments. But we weren’t the highest tiered team, not at all. But what got me into esports, I just wanted to prove that I can be better than others in-game, which is the definition of competitiveness.
For Hearthstone, I just like the game. I remember the first time I saw it. I never saw any competitive card games before. Hearthstone was the first one and when I saw Hearthstone, I jumped right into it. I performed quite well on the rank ladder, so I decided to start streaming. It turns out I was pretty good. I started to play for teams and compete in tournaments.
EN: If you could describe Hearthstone on a professional level, how would you describe it?
AKM: It’s not about just playing with the possibilities. You have your judgment on every single play. Most of the time, we agree with others on the best approach for that particular turn, where you have a set amount of options in your hand, like watching the game and remembering what was played, what’s still in the deck, and the odds. It’s pretty tough to say for sure what play is correct because there are too many factors. The possibility of remaining cards, the possibility of having a particular card in hand, the possibility of having to play around cards, and more. Having to guess what kind of play will give you a better chance of winning.
At the highest level, you do not have much of an advantage over other players because they agree on stuff or disagree. It doesn’t make that much of a difference which plays they make, because if we disagree, it means the players are in a very similar percentage of winning the game. One player can be at a victory fifty percent of the time, while other players have a forty-five winning percentage. It’s not a significant advantage, so that’s why Hearthstone players need to play a lot of games to determine the winner.
EN: What are your most significant achievements in your esports career as a professional player?
AKM: I won a lot of tournaments. I suddenly wasn’t able to win any Hearthstone World Cups. I participated in Hearthstone World Cups twice. The second time I attended, I got eliminated in the first round. I can’t say I could change anything during the tournament. It was just bad luck. But the first time, it was 2014, and I made a mistake. I could’ve gone further than the top eight and I wonder what it would look like if I went through.
My biggest achievement… just qualifying for Hearthstone World Cup 2017. It was pretty big and I got to the top sixteen. It was very difficult to get there but it’s a shame I wasn’t ever able to win any Hearthstone World Cups.
EN: What are the most significant challenges in your esports career as a professional player?
AKM: The most significant challenge is probably just accepting that you can’t do much often when you play. When I play other games (I like playing a lot of genres), I can affect the game in so many ways. And if I lose, it’s probably my fault or lack of talent in Hearthstone. So there are many games where I can’t do anything.
The hardest part is just accepting it and not minding it too much. It’s been getting more and more difficult lately. Sometimes it feels like the game is decided before it even started. So I ask myself, “why do I play, is it only for that moment where the game is fun and decisions matter?” That moment doesn’t happen that often.
EN: Were there any player matchups that you’ve considered your rival or that you’ve considered a legendary moment in your esports career as a professional player?
AKM: When I beat somebody in Hearthstone, I remember exactly how it feels when you’re losing. I can’t feel happy for myself. Rivalry isn’t a thing in Hearthstone. We are all brothers and sisters, playing the game and we are all just doing the same thing.
We know how it feels when you lose so I don’t feel like Hearthstone is a game that focuses or has rivalry in it. You don’t feel that great for beating people. You don’t feel great about losing the game. Everything is very average, like a straight line of feelings.
EN: What goes through your mind when you’re playing at a tournament on stage?
AKM: When I’m on stage, it’s different than just playing at home. But I wouldn’t say it’s different than playing an online tournament at home. I kind of feel the same way. I don’t mind the crowd and I don’t think I’m bothered about lights except when it’s really interfering with my ability to see. It feels different but not in a way that the crowd affects me or lights. It’s just the same feeling as if you were playing from home, online tournament, or playing on stage.
EN: What was your favorite Hearthstone expansion and what’s your favorite character/role to use?
AKM: Pretty tough to say which Hearthstone expansion is my favorite. There have been so many of them. I’m not sure I can even remember all of the expansions by memory. I’m just starting to forget how it felt because it’s been like four or five years of expansions. It’s probably the first one that came out, Curse of Naxxramas.
My favorite character is probably the Priest character. I like the way Priest looks since I had a lot of history with Priest card decks when they were considered the best ones. I’ve won and placed second in so many tournaments when Priest card decks were considered bottom-tier. Even during the days when we didn’t have detailed statistics on all the decks and win rates, I brought Priest card decks quite often. Even when people thought the card deck and character were quite bad.
I remember winning StarLadder with OTK Priest. I used such a risky card deck but I brought it and won with it even though the card deck’s average win rate was around forty-five percent.
Normally, you don’t bring decks that are below fifty-five percent in win rate. But I figured the Priest deck just failed to get a higher average win rate because the deck is complicated to play. When played right, the true win rate is higher. I just decided to bring it because it fitted my line-up.
EN: What advice you can give to a person that doesn’t know how to play Hearthstone but wants to get into the game?
AKM: Playing Hearthstone is just like any other thing you’re doing in life. You have to fail and learn from your mistakes. You can be watching somebody play and it’s just not the same as doing it yourself. You have to find this feeling of what’s right. You may not ever get good at the game. But just play and don’t think that it’s overwhelming. Throw in some cards. You might not even read the text. Just see what they do. It’s always more fun to just play the game and figure it out. Just play and see how it works, like for yourself, and you’ll eventually figure it out.
EN: What are three tips you can give to a person who wants to become a better professional Hearthstone player?
AKM: Don’t ever stop thinking like you should keep thinking about what will happen, even on your planned turn. It’s better when you come prepared for a turn. Don’t panic. You can count possible damage and if a turn comes up and it happens, you’ll know what to subtract and what move to make. Try to stay two steps ahead. By doing this, you won’t panic when you have to recount it twice. You have more time to think about what truly matters instead of thinking about stuff, which is unimportant because you already accounted for it.
Keep in mind all the possibilities during the game. Think about your opponent’s best play, and if they don’t make that play, you can assume that they don’t have that card. But don’t misjudge because some players might hold their cards back, because in that player’s shoes, it might be the best choice to hold that card back.
Don’t overthink when it doesn’t matter too much. If there’s a deck tracker available for your competition, it helps a lot but keep an eye out for all the random class cards created, how many cards are created by random generation cards, and how many cards are actual cards. All of this stuff is pretty difficult. I prefer not to think about it too much because there’s so much more you should keep in mind. Just forget about it if you’re doing hand tracking.
Esportz Network would like to thank Kolento for taking the time out of his busy schedule for this esports interview. We wish Kolento the best of luck as he plows through opponents in Hearthstone.
Written and interviewed by Jay Hunter