GwentSlam has passed, and a new champion has been crowned. Fred “FreddyBabes” Bird proved, although young, he had the experience and fortitude to breeze through a lengthy single elimination online qualifier and then an exhausting two-day event in Vienna, Austria to secure not only the title of GwentSlam Champion title, but also a sizeable chunk of prize money, $5,675 to be exact, and 10 Crown Points, which will certainly help out in his future tournament qualification endeavours within the Gwent Masters circuit.
GwentSlam, a third party licensed event hosted by Lifecoach in Vienna, Austria was held throughout the last weekend and hosted eight of the best Gwent Players in the world, competing for a total prize pool of $10,000 and Crown Points awarded to those who had qualified to the event through the online qualifiers or the Pro Ladder. This first GwentSlam event will be the first of many, as this is the first of a series of tournament held under the GwentSlam name.
Freddybabes found some time to sit down with me and go over some of his experiences. We talk about his first live tournament experience, his opinions on the current competitive Gwent Masters Circuit and his thoughts on the future of competitive Gwent and the tough decisions he faces in the upcoming months.
You’ve been one of the most consistent streamers in recent months, but for those you still haven’t heard of you, can you give us a quick rundown of your background?
I’m Fred Bird, although most people know me as Freddybabes. I’m 18 and I’m from the UK. I’ve been playing Gwent since about the middle of Closed Beta, before that I played a lot of other esport titles, but none of them very competitively. I played Hearthstone for a little bit, so I have some CCG experience, but I never took it very seriously and although I got to Legend quite a few time I never tried doing much more with the game. I also played a lot of shooters when I was younger, mainly CSGO, and then also dabbled in League of Legends for a little while. I’ve basically covered the holy trinity of esports, and now I’m just focusing on Gwent.
I’ve always been into competitive gaming, but I’ve never taken it as far as I have with Gwent. GwentSlam is the first live tournament I’ve ever attended, and although I’ve done a few online tournaments for other games I never really pursued much more than that with other esport titles.
You’ve been streaming for a few months now and have acquired a sizeable fanbase in Gwent. How has the Twitch experience been for you?
Streaming has been great fun, way better than I thought it would be. When I started out I could have never imagined my channel would grow as fast as it did, things took off a little bit when I started and I’ve been growing very consistently since. I think my stream really took off for a few reasons, when I first started streaming I was pretty high on the ladder so viewers who wanted to see high ladder gameplay started joining my stream. I also made a very popular deck here on GwentDB, it was a vran-less Monsters Consume deck a lot of the veteran players might still remember, and that definitely helped getting my name out as a top player. I also managed to win a Passiflora Tournament which was quite big a few months ago, it was livestreamed and also gave me quite a bit of exposure. From then on I’ve been streaming every day after school and also got a lot of support from other streamers with big hosts that helped me grow a lot at the start. My chat is lovely, well, most of the time[laughs], and I’m sure they were also cheering me on from the livestream for GwentSlam so big shoutout to all my viewers!
Now that you mention GwentSlam, you had some very interesting decklists going into the event. How did you prepare for the tournament? Can you give us a rundown of your decks?
Obviously I’ve played a fair amount on Pro Ladder before the tournament, I’ve tried basically all the factions and decks there are to try, except maybe Nilfgaard Spies. It’s a pretty popular deck that’s played quite a bit but I never had much success with it at all. I didn’t really want to run the standard Dagon Consume or Spell Scoia’tael, and Northern Realms is just a fixed thing, it’s very optimized and strong against most other decks. I also played a lot of Mill, so I knew I wanted to play Northern realms and Mill, and then I took a bit longer to figure out what my next two decks would be. I played a lot of movement Scoia’tael on ladder, and I ended up simply changing my movement deck a bit. I took out golden weathers, so that in change made Yaevinn and Brouver a little less necessary, so I ended up making the switch to Eithne for the double Hailstorm and a few more spicy changes like adding Avallach and Renew to catch out decks like Northern Realms. For Dagon I ended up using a slightly modified version of a list Raikou posted on twitter, for those who don’t know him he’s a very talented Japanese deckbuilder. I tested it out a bit on Pro Ladder and it worked fairly well so I decided to take that deck in the end. I discussed a bit with Vishra and I decided to not ban Northern Realms and simply ban Scoia’tael all throughout because it basically crushed everything that I would bring. I wasn’t really scared of mill at all because I had quite a few techs for it, for my Monsters deck I had a Nekker Warrior and 27 cards, for the Mill mirror I had artefact compression for their Assire so I wouldn’t have any troubles either. Scoia’tael was tough because I had the Avallach and the Renew so I was always going to try and play Scoia’tael as late as possible if my opponent was playing Mill, and for Northern Realms I had Nenneke and Decoy so I was never too worried.
You were one of the few competitors playing Mill. It performed well enough for you but there was a lot of backlash from the viewers. What is your opinion on the Mill Archtype?
Up until this tournament I really enjoyed the archtype and I think it promoted a lot of skill intensive matchups and punished misplays very heavily, which I think is probably quite a good thing in card games. After this tournament, I think it’s very boring to spectate and the matches can also be quite 100-0, very favored for one person, which can also be kind of annoying to play against or watch. I really like the archtype but I hope it’ll see changes in the future in how their win condition works and to maybe have different tools instead of the ones they have now which I think aren’t ideal for a healthy gamestate.
For the viewers I can imagine it was quite frustrating to have to watch games that can go on for 30-45 minutes, and then we also had some crashes as well during my Mill matches against Swim which obviously didn’t make it much better. I kind of regret bringing Mill for that reason, but at the end of the day everything is going to be absolutely perfect and it’s a bit unfortunate the way some things panned out.
You were one of the few qualified players for the tournament, how did the qualification process go? Do you think it could improve for the future?
They were definitely very tough qualifiers, nine Best-Of-5s in a row is a hell of a lot of games to play, and I have to say you have to get a little lucky to get through the whole thing because it is single elimination. There were a couple of times where I almost got knocked out and I ended up pulling off a Reverse Sweep throughout the Qualifiers. I know there may be some intention to do Swiss format qualifiers in the future, although obviously with so many people it might be quite tough to pull off. Honestly I’m just really happy I managed to make it through the Qualifiers, with single elimination it’s never a sure thing so pretty relieved about that.
I also streamed the qualifiers and I think it helped a lot in getting me through the whole thing. I had delay on so I was never really scared of anyone trying to watch the games if they were playing against me, but having the support of the chat and other streamers and great players watching and chatting helped me a lot with staying focused and concentrated during my qualifier run, as it ended up finishing around 5 AM for me.
You were able to meet up with a ton of key personalities in the Gwent community; players, casters and well known esport personalities like Lifecoach and SuperJJ. How was that experience for you?
I was staying in a hotel with Shaggy and Swim and I had never met either in person, but it was really exciting meeting both of them there and they were great guys, and Panda as well was very nice and just a great guy all around. It was honestly a great experience, even the people I hadn’t known so much before like Mogwai, Mcbeard or the invitees like TidesofTime or Meleeman were really great, it was fun meeting everyone that weekend and getting to know people in real life and not just through streams or Discord. I mean, drunk swimming, that was pretty interesting[laughs], I’m not sure I’ll ever do that again. It was a great time overall.
It was very strange, very bizarre, to interact or be congratulated by someone like Lifecoach or SuperJJ who I have watched or known about for years on Twitch or through Hearthstone. It was definitely reality breaking, it’s great to have all these great memories, I mean I’d never imagined I’d by in Lifecoach’s house in Vienna playing a Gwent Tournament with a ton of awesome people or chilling in a ball pit with Swim, Panda, Shaggy, etc[laughs]. It was very surreal but I’ll really cherish this experience.
Winning GwentSlam was obviously a life changing moment for you, you secured a sizeable chunk of prize money and worldwide recognition, but you also earned Crown Points. How important do you think these 10 CP will be for your competitive future within the Gwent Masters Circuit?
I was actually recently talking with Gameking and other high ladder players and I think it’ll definitely make it quite a big difference. I won’t have to be as high on the ladder to qualify for future tournaments and I think due to the crown point distribution it’ll make a huge difference, so I’ll definitely try and grind that out before the season ends and sneak into the top 8 for the next Gwent Open. I’m going to definitely give Gwent my all for the immediate future and I definitely plan on attending the next event in the GwentSlam circuit and of course I’ll try my hardest to qualify for all future events that CDPR will be hosting in the Gwent Masters Circuit.
You were considered among the favorites going into the tournament, alongside incredibly consistent players like Shaggy or Gameking. Were you nervous at all?
Day one was definitely the hardest of the two. I was actually most scared of playing Swim, I think he’s an incredible player and I was sure he’d prepared some well optimized and special decks to play against me. I was really nervous, it would have sucked to lose in round 1 and have to spectate all throughout day one and day two. By the time the semifinals arrived the next day, I think the nerves had definitely worn out a bit and I felt much more confident in my ability. It was still quite scary but not as much as a day one. By the time the finals arrived I was actually quite relaxed and felt much better, especially once I managed to get my first win with mill which is one of the scariest things about my lineup, you really don’t want to end up losing all three games with mill and getting thrown out of the tournament that way.
Almost half of the competitors at GwentSlam were “Gwentlemen”, it seems they’re doing a great job at acquiring great competitive talent. You’ve been part of the “Gwentlemen” esports organization for a few months now, has has that experience been for you?
I was good friends with a lot of the management in Gwentlemen and that helped a lot with my transition into the team, they were looking to expand their roster of streamers/competitive players and I was streaming a lot at the time so I was a pretty good fit. I think at the time they really just wanted to expand the team not only in terms of members but also their recognition within the community, so I joined maybe as more of a streamer than anything else. I think it’s really interesting that we had such a big showing at GwentSlam, it shows that Gwentlemen have acquired fairly good players with Swim, Panda and myself, and I think they’ll definitely transition more into becoming a full-on esports organization in the future who will maybe focus not only on community related activity like streaming or hosting tournaments but also creating a very strong competitive team.
Now that the Pro Ladder has been out for a few weeks, what is your opinion on this new system? Do you think it will serve as the primary qualification process for future Gwent Tournaments or would you prefer to see online qualifiers?
I think it’s quite a good way to test players skill level. You have to play and master multiple decks for pro ladder and you have to do the same for tournaments so I think that makes it work pretty well. It’s very grindy which some people might say is a bad thing, and I mean...it probably is[laughs]. I think online qualifiers would probably be a good thing, it would have to be done for a certain threshold of players though, the top X of players and that would allow for a swiss format qualifier that would definitely work. I think making it into the top 8 will be very tough, especially because it will really benefit players that hit a really good winstreak or players that play a really good deck before it becomes meta and climb a lot thanks to that.
I played almost 300 games in 2-3 days at the start of Pro Ladder so it was very intense. It was really exciting being able to play so many different decks and seeing a lot of variety the first few days. I’ve been away the past few days due to GwentSlam of course so the grinding has slowed down a bit but I definitely intend to start playing a lot of Pro Ladder again and making my faction MMR as high as possible for when season ends.
You’re faced with a tough decision following this GwentSlam win, commit yourself fully to Gwent or continue with your university education. Do you think it’ll hinder your competitive performance to do both?
Yeah, I’m currently thinking about what I’ll be doing with that. I might even attempt to try and differ my University placement until next year so I can fully focus on Gwent this year. If not, I’ll try my best to juggle the two and it might be tricky but I’ll give it my all so we’ll see how that goes.
There’s a huge amount of support and financial backing behind Gwent so it definitely allows me to think about committing myself 100% to it, I think it’s fantastic to see that CDPR and big community members like Lifecoach are so invested in Gwent and it definitely allows players like me to really think about competing and streaming full time, and I think that’s fantastic. If Gwent continues it’s growth I think I can definitely see myself focusing on it full time not just over the next few months but maybe a year or two from now as well.
Finally, would you like to share any links for our readers to find your content more easily, or even shoutout to anyone in particular that helped you in achieving this fantastic GwentSlam championship?
I really want to specifically thank Vishra for his help with my preparation for the tournament, and of course Raikou, who I mentioned earlier, as I used some modified versions of his decklists for some of my decks for GwentSlam, so big shoutout to both of them. I’d also like to give a huge shoutout to my team, Gwentlemen, really happy being a part of the team and just want to say there will be a lot of cool stuff coming from us in the future.