Player Spotlight: Vishra, Gwent Challenger Finalist
With the Gwent Challenger Online Qualifiers now behind us, many players are excited about the future of Gwent as an esport. But few more than Vishra, who with a miraculous comeback managed to secure one of four qualifier spots for the finals in Katowice and remains the sole representative of the North American Region.
The 26-year-old Philadelphia native is certainly no stranger to CCGs, with 15 years of experience and a repertoire ranging from Magic: The Gathering to Yugioh to Hearthstone, including participation in one season of the Hearthstone Championship Tour series.
After several days, the thrill of the qualifiers has died down a bit, and he’s been gracious enough to lend us some of his time to go over his experiences in the past few weeks and his expectations for the future.
GwentDB: How did the online qualifiers play out? Did you find it to be a smooth experience?
Vishra: There were definitely some hiccups that I felt could have been avoided, going into the qualifiers we could tell there would be issues at some point due to some of the rules in place. They also weren’t very transparent in regards to the decktracker, which kind of ruined some of the preparation a lot of players had going into it. I felt they could have communicated everything a bit more efficiently. I think it’s something that they'll grow with, given that Gwent has separate rules from other games I think it made things a little more complicated.
With the main event three weeks away, how surprised are you to find yourself being flown out to Katowice to compete for a grand prize of 60,000 dollars?
It was a little bit surreal, it took me a couple days to process [laughing]. We should have a patch before then so there’s not much I can do testing wise, right now I’m just making sure I’m in a good mental space for when that occurs. It took a couple days for it to sink in but now I realized “Hey, this is really happening”, it’s been really cool getting all the paperwork done, the tickets and all that.
Will you be undergoing any specific preparation for the main event in the coming weeks or are you simply trying to play as much as possible on the ladder?
I’ll be using the same scrim group I had for the online qualifiers, I told them I couldn’t have gotten as far as I did without their help. We actually had a great turnover rate in general during the online qualifiers for our group, almost 50% conversion rate for Day two. I think a lot of our testing was very strong, and I think going forward it’ll be really helpful for this event and others in the future. Once we get the patch we’re going to test a lot at that point.
Considering you’re one match away from winning at least 10,000 dollars, how do you think the invited pro players will fare against qualified players?
Leading into it, a lot of people in our Discord group and in general were thinking “Yeah they’re just going to show up, they’re not going to know what they’re going to do and they’re going to get steamrolled” but I don’t think that’s the case. Even if the money doesn’t mean as much for them, it’s still their reputation on the line and they’re all tremendously good players in their respective games and they’ve done far more professionally than any of the four of us that have qualified. I think expecting them to be an easy win is a huge trap to fall into. I’m expecting them to be the hardest players that we’ll face so far.
Seeing as the seeding will be randomly generated, is there an invited player you’d prefer to play in the quarterfinals?
Part of me says that I want to avoid Lifecoach. As far as we know he’s the one that has played the most Gwent. We know that at least two of the other three have played fairly regularly, I’m not sure if Trump has or not, he’s been pretty quiet on the matter. Lifecoach seems to have the most experience on the ladder, but part of me wants to play him, I like playing against the strongest players. I’ve played Lifecoach before in Hearthstone quite a few times and they’ve always been high-level games, so, on one hand, I want to say no, but on the other hand, I want to play him and beat him because it’s kind of making a statement at that point. I want to make that statement going in “I’ll play anyone and I can beat anyone”.
If you succeed in the quarterfinals, is there a qualified player you’re especially wary of or do you believe you’re all on a similar skill level?
Generally, I don’t get to play against any of them, because I’m an NA player and they’re all EU players. Normally when I get online they’re all asleep and vice-versa. Oikumena and I played out our finals match during the online qualifiers, we were both kind of tired so we made a lot of mistakes throughout but he ended up winning it in 5 games. He played a lot of off-meta decks that weren’t necessarily bad but they were things people weren’t expecting and I think that helped him out a lot. From that perspective playing against his decks will be a challenge because I don’t really know what to expect, he’ll bring what he thinks is good and he’ll have tech choices that you wouldn’t expect to play against, and that’s normally a big advantage, knowing what you’re playing against. proNeo is a very well-known player, he’s consistently finishing at the very top of the ladder like almost every single day so I think he’d be a very tough competitor.
Currently, what deck are you most comfortable playing?
I have the most experience with monsters as a faction, it’s kind of become the faction I’m known for as a player, so I had it banned out a lot as a faction during the qualifiers. I also play a lot of Nilfgaard, unfortunately, it hasn’t been that great for tournament purposes lately. I really never used to play Scoia’tael that much, I put a lot of time into discard Skellige pre-patch and then it got nerfed, so I didn’t get to put that in but I did use Harald. I’ve probably put the least amount of time into Northern Realms. I did put a lot of time into Scoia’tael and Skellige coming into the tournament, I felt that I wouldn’t be able to play Monsters that much so I needed fallback decks that I thought were very strong, particularly Axemen Harald and the full on control Scoia'tael with Nature’s Gift.
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What’s your opinion on the competitive system CDPR has decided on for their first official tournament?
I think it does what they want, to showcase a lot of different factions and a lot of different playstyles in Gwent. I think it’s the best setup short of having people play all five factions which I feel would be too long. Competitively I feel Conquest has been played for a few years now with Hearthstone so we know it’s advantages and disadvantages as a format, and I don’t think with Gwent it changes that much. I don’t like that you can ban out someone who is known for a specific deck or is very proficient with a certain faction. I feel we haven’t found the best format yet for Gwent, but I’d like them to test them all out, I know the strike format, where you bring three decks and take turns banning matchups instead of decks, has been cropping up in Hearthstone and that can potentially be a good one for Gwent.
On what scale do you think the 100k Challenger Tournament will impact the future of Gwent, and your esports career specifically? Do you plan on competing full-time?
Overall, for the Tournament scene I think it’s going to be huge. If CDPR is willing to put $100,000 for players this early into the game in a closed beta phase, I think that speaks really well for what they want to do in the future. It makes me really excited as a player who wants to play competitively. As for me, it’s obviously huge if I can win this or even get to the final, it really helps with getting your name out there and getting recognized. I really enjoy Gwent. I've been streaming it a lot lately and I definitely want to continue playing. In the future, if they do have a competitive system I really hope I’m part of it.
With little to no esports organizations having joined Gwent yet, do you believe there’s still speculation on Gwent’s legitimacy as an upcoming esport?
I think organizations are still very hesitant especially considering we’re still in closed beta. We haven’t been given a date for when it’ll hit open beta, let alone full release at this point. Most teams aren’t going to invest in a situation like this where we don’t yet have a future painted out for us yet. Like I said earlier, if CDPR is willing to put this much time, money and effort into Gwent there’s going to be some sort of competitive scene in the future and teams are going to jump in pretty quickly once we have more concrete information. We have seen a couple teams enter the scene, but I think it won’t be until a couple months down the line where we’ll see a big influx of organizations joining Gwent.
Have you been contacted by any organizations that would want you to represent them during the main event in May or on a more long-term partnership?
Not at this point, like I said earlier I think it will take a while for it to happen. Complexity picked up Merchant as a streamer for Gwent but I think they’re normally an organization that is very quick to branch out so they’re an exception. I think once the Open Beta hits during the early summer, we’ll have a huge player influx and organizations will start to gravitate towards the players on the top of the ladder and tournament players. We’ll see a lot more name recognition in that case.
With the Open Beta in mind and the publicity-oriented nature the Gwent Challenger finals seem to have acquired, do you think there’s a chance it will start during or after the tournament?
CDPR stated they would let us know when the season was ending at least a month before them, so we have at least that much time from today before Open Beta drops. My belief is you’re not going to do a tournament this big if you don’t have some mind-blowing news to go along with it. I think they’re definitely going to use this as a big PR stunt and that’s great honestly. If you want to draw people to your game, getting 4 well-known pros and a $100k prize pool is a great way to do it. I know CDPR has hired ESL for the production of the whole two-day event, and it’s interesting because this isn’t going to be a side tournament that’s part of a bigger event, CDPR rented out a stadium in Katowice solely for Gwent, and you don’t do that just for a tournament.
The big question everyone was waiting for, what are your thoughts in regard to Hearthstone vs Gwent having played both CCGs? What do you think Gwent would need to succeed in the future?
I don’t know that you can compare them straight up just because of how uniquely different they are and I think that’s one of Gwent’s greatest assets. It’s a card game unlike anything else honestly. I’ve played card games for fifteen years across dozens of different games and there’s never been anything like Gwent at this level. It plays completely different than a game like Hearthstone does and it’s going to probably draw a different crowd, but I think it definitely has the ability to hit that level of popularity, especially because of the depth and complexity of the gameplay. CDPR is taking strides to figure out how to make the game viable competitively and I think that’s going to be a really huge boon for them going forward. It took years for Hearthstone to figure out the right tournament format and for Blizzard to get really involved with the tournament scene, the CDPR developers have been exceptional in regards to the communication with the players, they’ve accepted feedback and they’re really putting effort into making the best competitive game as they can as well as the best experience for the players.
Finally, I’m sure many readers would be interested in learning from you and watching you play, where can we find you?
I’m going to be streaming a lot of Gwent. Hopefully my streams can be a learning experience for a lot of newer players, especially once open beta hits. I stream regularly at Twitch.TV/Vishra90 and you can also contact me anytime via twitter @Vishra_Gwent.