by David “ImpetuousPanda” Gil Nolskog
If you’ve been following GWENT’s esports scene, you’ll know Andrzej “Adzikov” Bal is known for his consistency. You’ll also know that, in this case, consistency is a bittersweet term.
Adzikov first broke into the scene the first season that Pro Ladder was released, a mysterious player that surprised himself and many others by achieving the #1 spot that season, outplaying many Closed Beta veterans such as Superjj102, GameKingAT and hanachann. Not content with this incredible showing, Adzikov went on to repeat this challenging feat in the second Pro Ladder season, once again beating out his competition to a #1 finish, improving his total MMR by 51 points and edging ever closer to the elusive 6,000 combined faction MMR finish.
Despite his immense ladder success, it’s not all roses for the Polish player. For one reason or another, Adzikov has found himself eliminated in the quarterfinals of every single GWENT event he’s attended, up to 5 at the moment. Luckily for Adzikov, there’s nowhere to go but up, and with the January 2018 GWENT Open just around the corner, he has the chance to do just that.
We sit down to talk with the newly proclaimed King of the Ladder and go over his thoughts on the Pro Ladder, GWENT’s esports scene and his tournament preparations.
Panda: First of all, congratulations on yet another #1 finish on Pro Ladder. We’re all asking ourselves the same questions, what’s your secret?
Adzikov: Thanks a lot! That’s always the hardest question to answer (laughs)! There’s no secret really, I’m just playing a lot of GWENT. Even when I watch some streams, players are tryharding a lot and doing a lot of calculations, but when I play Pro Ladder, it’s mostly just watching some streams in the background and just playing cards. People have this idea that there’s a lot going on when the top players play GWENT, but really — I just love playing the game and having fun.
P: Going back in time, you weren’t a household name previous to Pro Ladder. Have you competed in other esports titles? When did you start playing GWENT?
A: I started playing in Open Beta. I played a few hours in Closed Beta, but I wasn’t really enjoying it as much, so I don’t even really count that. As far as playing other games, I always try to play games I can compete in. I don’t have too much fun playing casually. Nothing really compares to GWENT for me, but I’ve played other card games and some of the more popular games like League of Legends. I also played World of Warcraft back in the day, and I was in the #1 guild in Poland, as well as Guild Wars, where I was #1 on the ladder back in the day. But nothing like GWENT.
With Closed Beta, I was in a time in my life where I couldn’t really give it my all, so I couldn’t really enjoy the game as much. This changed once Open Beta launched — I was able to really play hard and spend a lot of time trying to be the very best, and I managed to do very well during the first Pro Ladder season.
P: Once a new season starts, what’s your gameplan to fight for that #1 spot? Do you follow any unique procedure?
A: The very first season I played, I just wanted to try and take it seriously, to gauge where I was at in terms of skill level and in comparison with my competition. It ended up working out quite well since I ended up finishing first. Now, when a new season starts, I don’t normally grind too much. The first month is kind of the time to create the base of all your scores, finish all your placement matches, and then the second and final month of the season you try and get your peak MMRs and get the highest total score possible.
I don’t really do anything special, like I said before, I just play GWENT. A lot of people might think the top players have everything planned out and they have these great long-term plans, but it’s really not like that at all. There are short-term plans, when a faction seems very strong on ladder for example. The last couple of days of the last season, eiSloth ended up getting into the top 8 with a huge run of games on the new Greedy Consume deck and I tried to emulate it and got a better score that way as well. I simply adapt to the meta a bit and see what the best decks to play are each week.
P: As a professional GWENT player, what does your day to day look like?
A: For me, there are two kinds of days. Sometimes I play zero games for two to three days, and then other times I feel like playing 10 hours a day for several days. It’s rarely something in the middle, days where I play a few games or a few hours of GWENT and then stop aren’t very common. I do always follow the golden rule though: “two losses in a row, time for a break”. It’s the one thing I always tend to follow to prevent tilting and to make sure I stay in a good mental state.
P: The current patch has caused a lot of discussion, how would you rate the new cards sans the “create spy” dilemma?
A: Overall, I like the patch to be honest. Obviously I’m not counting some of the obvious issues like the bugs that were fixed for the most part and the “create spies” dilemma that was already resolved. Regardless, I think people overreacted a bit to the create spies problem, it wasn’t that strong. It was really painful to watch some streams because players were trying to get spies from every single create, using Isengrim: Outlaw or Hym, and sometimes it made no sense at all. There were situations where you could play Hym into Skjall into Marauder for 30 points, or Isengrim into Horn and it would be much better than fishing for a spy. It wasn’t healthy for the game, but it wasn’t as bad as people portrayed it to be.
As for the current meta, I think dwarves are strongest right now, similarly to how spies were dominant in the previous patch. The only big difference is that dwarves are a lot harder to counter. Against spies, you could play Scorch and Geralt: Igni and you had clear counters, but against Dwarves you really don’t have an option like that. There are a few cards, like Sweers, that help the matchup, but it’s not really a hard counter. I think dwarves are clearly the strongest, but people are overreacting a lot because they are so easy to play. Most of the Grand Master players this past season were probably dwarf players, not so much because it’s such a strong deck, but because it’s fairly easy to play at a decent level.
Compared to last patch, where spies were in the same spot, I believe most Grand Master players weren’t getting there with spies because spies had a much higher skill cap and they weren’t as easy to play optimally.
P: Factions always have their ups and downs in different metas, how do you go about pinpointing these fluctuations and taking advantage of the highs?
A: For the most part, I like to observe the scores of the top players, the top 20 or so, and if someone has a very high faction fMMR score, I try to get that list and try to get that score as well. I’m not really the greatest deckbuilder, more like a filthy netdecker (laughs). Some decks are better against other decks, so I have to adapt. If I play 10 games in a row against dwarves, for example, I would switch to Consume because I know that matchup is pretty good. I try to react to the meta and switch it up a lot, I don’t just play a single deck all the time because I believe it’s really good.
P: When building decks, do you go for full out power or value levels, or do you have to take into account the current meta and adapt heavily?
A: No, I’m definitely always trying to adapt and tech heavily. I said earlier I was a netdecker, but more specifically I like getting my hands on a good list and then changing a few cards, two or three, to try and adapt to the meta or make the deck better suited to the way I play etc. I basically refine lists to a state where I believe they are more optimal or better tech’d for the current metastate on the Pro Ladder.
P: You’ve finished #1 on two consecutive Pro Ladder seasons, so you must be quite happy with the current system! Regardless, would you change anything?
A: I think the ladder is OK for the most part, but I would add a few things to how event qualifiers work. Ideally, I would have the top 6 players from a Pro Ladder season qualify directly to the event, and then have the final 2 spots awarded through a small qualifier tournament for the remaining players in the top 20. I think having playoffs for the Opens would be good overall for GWENT’s esports scene.
I think the ways one can qualify for the Challenger are fine, but with the way they’re currently implemented it makes no sense. Challenger is a bigger tournament compared to Open, but it has “open” qualifiers — achieving top 200 is not too hard, if you finish your placement matches and you’re decent at the game you’ll easily land in the top 200 when the season ends. With the current system, I’d definitely add a qualifier tournament for the Opens, having it for the Challenger and not the Open makes little sense to me. I’d also reduce the number of players taking part in Challenger qualifiers, it would make the process much shorter and easier to handle for everyone.
P: Do you think there should be a different matchmaking system for the Pro Ladder?
A: It’s hard to say because there are downsides to improving the matchmaking as well. When I play very late at night I sometimes have to wait a long time to find games and if the matchmaking ends up being changed, it’ll make queue times a little longer. Right now it’s a bit too much, the fact you can play against everyone in the Pro Ladder regardless of your position isn’t great either.
Another problem is that there is a big divide between the player base in the Pro Ladder. There are three groups: a very small group that really plays to get into the top 8; another group that goes for top 200 or is taking it seriously, but just isn’t good enough; and then players that treat it like casual ladder. I think a lot of this is because there are no rewards, not even Card Kegs for reaching top 400 or something similar. A small reward to incentivize the bottom-end players would make it a bit more competitive maybe. The current Pro Ladder system is great, but only if it had, say, 200 or 500 players instead of 5,000.
P: We’re seeing a lot the same players at the very top of Pro Ladder every season. Is there a friendly atmosphere between competitors?
A: I think there’s a great atmosphere. For example, at tournaments it’s all very friendly between all the players. There are some small groups of players that are friends or practice partners. I can say that for the upcoming Open I’ll definitely have very similar decks to other competitors, and I’m sure we won’t be the only ones.
It’s not like all the players in the top 8 are practicing together or sharing decklists, but in general there really isn’t any hostility. It’s a great community.
P: Netdecking has always been a factor in GWENT, are you able to keep your decklists hidden when laddering?
A: I don’t really think it’s that important to keep decklists hidden, at least on ladder. Even if someone knows your decklist, it isn’t that important. For tournaments it’s obviously a very different story. It’s really important to have the surprise factor going into tournaments. Otherwise it would make it much easier for your opponent to ban correctly, and also to know how to play out Round 1 against all your decks.
P: You’ve dabbled in streaming a few times, do you think it’s possible for a professional GWENT player to perform on ladder and stream simultaneously?
A: I think the main thing is motivation to be honest, but it can be done. As I said before, there are times where I have breaks for two or three days where I could easily stream, but I am too lazy (laughs). The big issue is stream sniping, so you can’t really play Pro Ladder. I’d say you’d end up being 30-50 points of fMMR behind because of stream snipers. With GWENT especially it’s a big issue because you see so many cards early on. In other card games, for example, it’s much harder to predict because you draw much more often. In GWENT you can see up to ten possible plays in advance, so very often the game gets much easier for your opponent if they’re stream sniping.
If you’re going to be playing Pro Ladder it’s tough, but otherwise I think streaming and playing GWENT is fine for the most part if you have motivation.
P: Moving on to tournaments, what are your preparations? With so much on the line, could you share with us the steps you take to try and maximize results?
A: This upcoming Open is actually the first time I feel I’m preparing properly, the first time my deck preparations and my general lineup plan is good enough. The last tournament was a little random for me, it was just take the four best decks and go, but this time I have a much better plan.
In terms of preparation, I mostly play scrims, but if I don’t have practice partners, I can just play Pro Ladder. The bans are also very important, I always have two or three different scenarios planned in my head. Depending on the meta, you can even try and target specific decks or archetypes. For example, out of the strongest decks, Consume is the easiest to tech against right now, but if your opponent decides not to bring Consume, then your decks are like 10% weaker against everything else. I think you can’t really go full target mode, it’s important to find a balance. You can include some techs to improve certain matchups, but I don’t think it’s wise to go full target mode.
P: Your tournament performance hasn’t been as consistent as it’s been on ladder. Why do you think this is?
A: I mean, it is consistent right? (laughs)
I think it’s hard to explain in few words. For me, every tournament was different, I can talk about every tournament specifically, but not in general. For the last Challenger, even if I played my best I don’t want to say I’d win against Kolemoen, but I feel that mostly I lost to myself. I think I played the first game well, but after that I got a little tilted and then it kind of snowballed. But in the last Open, for example, I felt I played very well against Freddybabes and I still lost. It’s hard to explain the exact reason why I’ve performed poorly, there have been many different factors.
I don’t want to say I’ve been lucky or unlucky either. For example, in the last Open there were three or four times where I lost a 50/50 and I don’t want to say it’s just because I was unlucky. If it happened to Freddy, then I would be the lucky one and he would be unlucky and I don’t agree with that. Luck is a factor, but not something you can rely on as an excuse or an argument.
P: Aside from the fame and the success that GWENT has given you, has it changed your life in anyway?
A: My life changed a lot. It’s not really only because of GWENT as a game. GWENT appeared for me in a very delicate moment of my life and it helped me a lot in moving on from a pretty tough spot. Being able to play GWENT for a living and compete in tournaments in a way gave me a purpose or a bit of meaning in my life. Mentally I’ve become a lot stronger and it has helped me improve a lot — not just as a player, but also as a person. GWENT has driven me to take on a challenge and constantly improve to achieve my dreams. Even when going to tournaments, the event itself and being able to meet up with other people who share the same passion is almost better or more important than the tournaments.
P: Your future is heavily linked to GWENT at the moment, how would you value CDPR jump into it’s esports endeavours?
A: I think they’re still learning a lot of things and improving constantly. They might seem a little lost in some aspects now, but I think they know how to learn from their mistakes and it’ll only get better with time. I think the tournament circuit is great, I think the overall system is good, but some of the more specific stuff within the system, like the matchmaking or some of the qualifier stuff, could use some work. It’s very competitor-friendly (laughs). I feel the people that try their best are rewarded, and also in terms of logistics, CDPR really knows how to take care of their players and make them feel very comfortable during tournaments.