Following Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy's recent crowning as Gwent’s first tournament champion a month of change and new opportunities has blossomed before us, culminating in the release of Gwent’s Open Beta Phase, Lifecoachs’ signing for the world-renowned Evil Geniuses organization, and his climb to the #1 spot on the global leaderboard.
Lifecoach was severely underestimated in the days leading up to the Gwent Challenger Finals, but a meticulous preparation paired up with his years of high-pressure tournament experience allowed him to take the Gwent community by storm and secure the first tournament win. A few weeks later, the closed beta finally came to an end, allowing for a new cycle in Gwent’s lifespan to begin, as well as a new phase for Lifecoach, his signing to one of the most prestigious organizations in esports, Evil Geniuses.
Lifecoach’s analytical skills have been in full display during his daily streams all throughout the Open Beta period, finally culminating in achieving the #1 position on the global leaderboards all the while bringing back a forgotten closed beta archtype, Monsters Consume. I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to Lifecoach, a world-renowned player who is working hard every day to hold the title of Gwent’s undisputed champion.
For the few readers who aren't familiar with who you are, could you give us a general introduction to your experience with competitive games and CCGs in particular?
Before Gwent I was involved in many different things, I competed in Hearthstone for roughly three years and made the transition to Gwent about 3 months ago. I was also involved in many other things before CCGs, particularly business, economy, poker, etc.
You were proclaimed the first the Gwent champion a few weeks ago, how was the Challenger finals experience for you? How confident do you feel relative to the competition in the Gwent scene?
I think I am definitely at the level of the most skilled Gwent players right now, I definitely believe I can keep up. The ladder system right now doesn’t say much, I think how it’s setup now it just reflects things like the amount of games played and your latest win streak because of the insanely high k value, but not so much playing strength because the other factors already affect ladder placement so much. Regardless, before the Gwent Challenger I was playing a lot in the top 10 of the ladder, where everyone was playing the broken Scoia’tael deck of course [laughs].
Winning the Gwent Challenger finals was a great experience, even though I think winning an 8-man tournament doesn’t say too much. It was an interesting experience, there were many high levels players that didn’t do as well, I think it was a lack of experience on the live stage and in a tournament setting and also the lack of things like Gwent tracker might have affected their play.
You were recently signed by team Evil Geniuses, the first large organisation to join Gwent. Any thoughts to share about that?
Being signed by Evil Geniuses is obviously great for me, it’s a good move for me to be part of a big team, which is what Evil Geniuses is. They really support their players and I’m very satisfied having joined the team. Them going into Gwent is a very smart move and I’m very fortunate to have joined them.
You're mostly known due to your achievements in Hearthstone, after having thrived in that scene, how do you feel Gwent is currently progressing?
I think Gwent is progressing in a great way. Many things that make a foundation for a great game are there, they have a very ambitious team, they’re intrinsically motivated. Obviously there are a few small difficulties to overcome, with balancing and the ladder system, but in general I think it's doing fine. I think the development team is very attentive, they really listen to the community.
Gwent is still not perfect, mistakes have been made in balancing and I think CD Projekt Red has what it takes to learn from these mistakes and fix them accordingly, they’re very open to positive criticism. I never doubted that Gwent would become a big hit, a lot of big streamers have hopped on to the game, even big names like Forsen or even TidesofTime. Gwent is a game that has a very high skill ceiling, it is very exciting for new players as well as experienced CCG players.
Do you believe Gwent will become a household esport title in the coming year? How long do you think it will take for it to develop a structured esport circuit?
I think Gwent definitely has a future as an esport, much more so than quite a lot of esport titles. It’s arguably the most competitive esports card game out right now and seeing how CD Projekt Red is approaching the esports scene and how they’ve already funded a $100,000 tournament, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them creating and supporting a long term competitive esports scene.
I think it will begin to pick up speed very quickly, and very quickly doesn’t mean years, it means months. I think the competitive scene is just forming now at this very moment and it’ll get a lot bigger in the coming months.
As a competitor, what is your opinion on tournaments vs. ladder play?
I think they are very different experiences, if you’re in a live setting it changes the mental state and the psychology of the player. Other important factors are how well a player plays all different factions and matchups and not just a single faction which is what happens most times in ladder. In ladder a player might play a single faction and two or three different matchups due to the current meta, but in tournament play you sometimes have to play 4 different factions and three or four different matchups with each one which is a lot more than in ladder. Also in tournaments you have to think of what faction to ban and how to prepare the matchups, so it adds an extra layer of complexity which is also nice.
With all this being said, I think they would still be able to create a ladder system that would be much much closer to a tournament setting as well. My ideal system would have an untouched ELO system, which means no resets. It would have to be a non-progressive system, and it would also need a much lower k value, maybe 20 instead what it is now which is about 100. Many people would argue that if there weren't rewards then it would be a worse experience for the free to play players, but I think the ladder system and rewards are two completely different things. I think the ideal ladder system should have five separate factions and a different rating for each faction, and only the entire rating would count for global leaderboards, which would create a much more diverse meta. I think the developers are more than capable of splitting their objectives in two different packages. First to create an ideal ladder system that is fair and competitive, and then to create a reward system that doesn’t rely on season resets and still favors and engages free-to-play players through other means, like level rewards instead of rank-up rewards.
I think the current ladder system is worse than Hearthstone’s ladder system for example, and the ladder system in Hearthstone is one of the worst things they have so that’s saying a lot. I know CD Projekt Red is working hard to improve the current ladder system, so for now we can only wait until a better version arrives in the future.
How do you feel about third party applications that track your deck? Do you feel they’re an advantage or a disadvantage?
I think in general the tournament formats won’t allow for deck trackers so using them might become a disadvantage because of this. I also believe running deck trackers in ladder will simply make you a worse player. Some people might argue that if you don’t need to memorize all the cards, then you might have more resources for the rest of the game and to think about different plays, but I believe that relies more on having a set game plan for every game and knowing what your win conditions are what you want your cards to do. Using a deck tracker might change your general mindset and playstyle when you play a game, it makes it so the game requires one less layer of thinking from the player and engages him much less when it comes to playing out the game and staying focused.
You seem to have more of an outsider role in the Gwent Community. When it comes to competing, do you prefer to maintain a close knit circle when it comes to theorycrafting and preparing for tournaments?
I really do prefer to work in small environments, in all the projects I’ve worked on in my life I’ve always liked close knit groups with very competent people. I have a feeling that working in a small circle with very competent people will net you many more advantages than working in a larger group of people that aren’t really as focused. I think the work ethic in general and the relationships within a small circle helps a lot in the long run when focusing on a project and trying to make it succeed.
How do you manage playing competitively and streaming? Is it hard to focus on giving your all in a competitive title while also trying to entertain your viewers and create content?
My Twitch channel has always been quite different than other channels, even from the beginning of my streams. I value quality the most, my goal is to inspire other competitive players and try to provide an educational experience too. It’s kind of like an art, I like creating a deck with certain cards and trying to find the beauty behind them, I don’t have that much fun creating silly meme decks and losing all the time.
I’m quite an introverted person and I have a very analytical approach, which is fairly rare and I think makes my stream a bit different, becoming a huge entertainer was never really my goal. I like to explain why things happen, why I make different plays, and try to have a high performance output any time I’m streaming. If this is also entertaining for the viewers then that’s awesome, it’s an added bonus. When I first started streaming and had this approach, there was a lot of criticism, “Oh, it’s not entertaining" or "it’s sometimes very boring or he doesn’t meme that much” [laughs]. I basically always ignored the troll comments and built up my Twitch channel the way I wanted to do it.
Nowadays I’m quite surprised at the size the channel has grown to, but even if it were smaller and had ten times less viewers I would do everything the same, it’s simply how I am.
You had a good relationship with Hearthstone developers when it came to giving feedback on the game, do you have a similar relationship with CD Projekt Red? What is your opinion on the development team and the direction they're taking Gwent in?
I think my relationship with the Gwent developers right now is better and more intense than it ever was with the Hearthstone developers. As a matter of fact my relationship with the Hearthstone developers was never truly that intense. It was always nice working with them, that was never a problem, but they ignored most of my suggestions regarding the game, and I got the idea that my opinions were undervalued. After my last visit to Blizzard I think it became fairly clear that it would also be my only visit there [laughs].
I think CD Projekt Red is completely different in this regard, I visited the headquarters a bit by surprise, and when I got there they immediately took everything very seriously and treated me in a very professional manner. We were able to discuss many issues regarding the game design and we were able to create an environment where we could really work and implement many ideas and changes. I think they’re very open to criticism and very willing and able to change things. I think my relationship with them is very positive and not only will we work together trying to make the game better and more balanced but also I think they understand the bigger picture and we both want simply to make Gwent bigger and better in general.
Our interests are basically the same, simply because that’s what I do at the moment, I’m playing Gwent a lot and it being better is positive for both parties.
I’d like to know your opinion mostly on the huge balance changes with Gwent from the closed beta phase to the Open beta. Do you feel they were needed? Which version of the game do you think is healthier overall?
Honestly I preferred the game more in Closed Beta. I believe the factions had more character, I miss the faction abilities and the passives. I do understand that maybe it would restrict the design space in the future so the changes they made were necessary. I believe the weather for example could be made much better, I think the weather effects now should only affect the units after their turn, because right now weather clear is simply not effective enough. If your opponent doesn’t have a way to clear the damage, then it is effectively the same as it is now, but if he does then he doesn’t take the damage, and why should he, if he has the direct counter to weather in his deck. You provide a question, and if the opponent can provide the right answer then he shouldn’t be punished, that’s how it should be in my opinion, and it also makes Axemen much too strong right now.
What is your opinion on the most recent patch? Do you feel the developers did a good job of balancing the game?
I think some things were probably overlooked, some changes that reduced mechanics which should be there. I believe Ciri, who got nerfed to 5 strength, is a card that is very important for the game, it’s important to have her around, not as an auto-include but she should at least have six strength in my opinion. I also think weather is still quite broken, it’s very prevalent, and Skellige is also a bit overpowered, specifically also these nasty Axemen since there aren’t any real counters to weather. I think the previous patches have been really great, but I have been really disappointed with this one.
With the current patch, there has been a considerable change in the high ladder meta. How do you feel the different factions fare right now?
I believe Nilfgaard is completely unplayable, which is quite sad. I believe before the patch they weren’t truly overpowered, they were a very strong faction only if you could play them correctly. Nilfgaard lost everything, they lost some of the spy synergy due to the Rainfarn nerf, and in general I think Nilfgaard was a very fun faction but they’ve been nerfed too much this last patch. Northern Realms also didn’t improve much, some of the cards that got buffed were completely unplayable before so now they’re only barely playable, also the only thing Northern Realm had going for it were Reaver Hunters and I believe they lost too much power now. Then there’s also Scoia’tael, I think the Scoia’tael spell deck was never even that great and they got a lot of stat nerfs with the lastest patch, and the Dwarves archtype is in an even worse position now than before patch as well.
Then you essentially have Monsters and Skellige left. I think consume got a lot better, and obviously it worked well for me in ladder because of cards like Succubus, but I also believe I got lucky to not run into any weather on my climb to rank 1, as it’s a direct counter to consume and also why I believe consume won’t be very good this patch.
Skellige has essentially developed into God Tier, they nerfed hunter which was a very big hit, but they then also buffed bears which I think make up for the lack of Brokvar Hunters and their old abilities. I believe Skellige is now the best faction by a large margin, mainly because the rest of their competition got heavily nerfed and Skellige stayed at about the same power level. I think the current ladder reflects this as it’s essentially 70%+ Skellige in high ladder which is absolutely insane. There are no real counters for Savage Bears or Axemen, maybe Mardroeme or Cyprian Wiley but they’re very niche cards that don’t work in the general meta. I think if any factions has more than 40% playrate in the ladder I think it’s making the game much worse, especially in the current setting where Open Beta just came out and even a few days with an oppresive deck or faction can make the experience very negative for new players.
I think this especially clashes with one of Gwent’s USP (Unique Selling Proposition), one of Gwent’s most positive aspects is the fact that it has a very diverse meta, a large amount of deck-building possibilities, a lot creative space where players can even be kind of an artist when it comes to creating decks. In the past few days it’s the first time I don’t have that feeling, it feels I’m being forced into playing a single faction and I’m being forced into playing a number of cards. I also feel like a lot of mechanics are being taken out of the game, like Ciri receiving a big nerf, or cards like Aretuza Adept receiving a buff and magnifying the problematic use of weather. Although Clan Brokvar Hunters also got a nerf, they were one of the few good counters to weather, and because they now lack their ability frost is once again rampant.
You recently achieved rank 1 on the global ladder for the first time, how was the experience? Can you talk us through the deck you used to achieve this?
It was an interesting experience, I mainly played the Consume Monsters deck because when I initially reviewed the patch notes I rated consume Monsters as a future tier 1 deck, but then the actual patch came out and Savage Bear was buffed to a 6, which obviously made consume quite a bit worse. I had already rated Consume Monsters as a very strong deck so I thought I should at least give it a try.
We were honestly getting farmed by Skellige at the beginning, but then I tech’d in the Fiend and specifically the Succubus, and honestly I believe getting to rank one is mainly due to the Succubus tech, as stealing Morkvarg in Round 1 is the same as stealing 40+ stats and it wins you the game.
If someone were to ask, I’d say getting rank one was 20% Consume Monsters and 80% Succubus. That’s why I like Gwent, there are many cards that at first glance are very crappy but then can work very well in certain situations.
Do you feel CD Projekt Red is being almost too generous with their current free-to-play model in Gwent? The most recent patch seems almost too generous, which might create a problem with a more demanding player base in the future.
Honestly, I think it’s a very difficult topic to discuss. With the frequency of the nerfs, always giving full scrap value is kind of silly. At the pace at which they will add patches, eventually every card will get full scrap value, and the concept of a card collection will be in vain. I think even 75% scrap refund is too much, it should be 50% ideally. I think this will become a very serious issue, especially within the free-to-play community, and it’s important they find a solution soon and address the issue sooner rather than later, as making it less generous in the future will cause disruption within the free-to-play community and their happiness with Gwent’s system.