A lot of people have said that PVP Live’s HPL features the best players you don’t know much about. This is probably true, so I’ve taken it upon myself to help you guys learn more about these beastly players. For today’s edition, we are joined by the number 1 ranked player in the NA Hearthstone World Championship standings, Zalae from Team Archon. Wish me luck!
DR23: Hello there Zalae, glad to have you with us today. You’ve been killing it lately in Hearthstone, number 1 NA in the World Championship Standings, qualified for WCA, qualified for HPL playoffs, it must feel good to be Zalae right now. But what about the man behind the scenes? What can you tell us about Paul Nemeth outside of Hearthstone?
ZALAE: Hearthstone and related activities take up a HUGE portion of my day, but I also enjoy ping pong, swimming, going to the gym, and a bit of Magic. I studied Computer Science, but dropped out as soon as I found a way to earn a living doing what I truly love, gaming.
DR23: That’s cool. Actually my sister is a competitive Ping Pong Player, I think she even made the Chilean National Team at some point. How good are you? I’ve heard you’ve beaten some other Hearthstone players over at the Ping Pong Tables.
ZALAE: I’m pretty good for a casual player? I beat Frodan who is the ESL office champ. Purple has an edge against me. I played a lot at Dreamhack and did pretty well.
DR23: Weird to read you and casual in the same sentence, huh? I know you to be a serious competitor that has found success in various disciplines like Chess and Magic: The Gathering. Can you tell us more about that, did you also excel at High School Sports?
ZALAE: I like winning and I’ve never been athletic, so sports were never a thing I took seriously. I played tournament chess from age 10 to 18, became an expert, and won a state championship. I was playing Magic Online professionally for about 3 years and earned the Player of the Year title shortly before I switched to Hearthstone.
DR23: That some seriously impressive credentials, 8 years is a lot of time playing chess. How come you stopped competing there?
ZALAE: I suppose it was getting a little boring, as you mentioned 8 years is a lot. World of Warcraft came out, I went to college, things change.
DR23: Yeah some things change, but I guess you still had that competitor spirit in you. I mean it’s widely known that you won a that Player of the Year title in Magic Online, how did you ever start playing MTGO competitively?
Well, I was bored of World of Warcraft. I had played Magic casually for years and I thought to myself, how good can I get if I actually try?
DR23: Well, you got pretty good. Besides Player of the Year, what else did you win during your Magic career?
ZALAE: It was mostly just playing tons of little no name tournaments for $20 or $100. I liked to play about 4 or 5 tournaments a day. It was a lot of Magic. I know some people who multi tabled and played 10+ tournaments a day. Coming from a Chess background I preferred to play one game at a time and think things through more.
DR23: You were having a lot of success with Magic, why did you decide to switch your focus into Hearthstone?
ZALAE: I prefer Hearthstone as a game over Magic for a number of reasons, Having 30 cards in your deck instead of 60 makes running out of cards much more relevant. Fatigue damage is more interesting than instantly losing when you draw from an empty deck. I really like Hearthstone’s Mana Crystals because in Magic often you don’t have enough mana in the early game and you don’t have enough cards that do anything in the late game. Overall the average game of Hearthstone feels like it has more real decisions for me to make than an average game of Magic.
Also, it just offers better financial opportunities.
DR23: But you didn’t just change games, you also changed your gaming name. In Magic Online, you were known as “Zwischenzug”, which would’ve been very funny to hear casters pronounce. What does “Zwischenzug” mean, and why did you decide to become Zalae in Hearthstone?
ZALAE: Yeah, that would’ve been fun. Zwischenzug is a chess term meaning “in between move”. People often confuse it for Zugzwang which is when you have to make a move that weakens your position. My name in Hearthstone was Zalae because I made the account long before I even went pro in Magic. It’s a name I used for World of Warcraft. So I didn’t really have much choice for my Hearthstone name. I had an account from before Hearthstone existed, I started winning tournaments on it, and so people knew me as Zalae.
DR23: Gotta love those WoW randomly generated names. So you became Zalae, and you starting winning some minor tournaments. But how did you make it into the pro-scene?
ZALAE: The ESL Legendary Series was my big break in Hearthstone, I guess. I got a couple offers from major teams and Archon was my first choice.
DR23: Was it hard to look at all those offers from Major teams and having to choose just one?
ZALAE: Not for me. Archon is the best. 3 of the top 8 spots on the NA Blizzcon standings right now. I knew and liked some of the members already. I wanted to live in the Team House.
DR23: Well, I can see how that house is a big selling point. You guys sure are well equipped.
ZALAE: Yeah. It’s a good life. You can always find something to complain about (messy housemates) but really, it’s the best. Having a Pool and Hot Tub in my backyard is a really nice perk.
DR23: But its not just a Hot Tub and Pool, I’ve noticed on the streams that you have some adorable pets in the house.
ZALAE: Firebat has a dog, Ava, she is very loveable but I am definitely a cat person. TomTom is easily my favorite. I’m not sure if Swedes count as pets, but we have been doing our best to teach Orange about ‘Murica and FREEDOM and how to pronounce the letter J. It’s a good time.
DR23: Speaking about your Archon Team Members, Purple is also competing on HPL. Can you tell us a bit more about your preparation, do you guys practice together at all?
ZALAE: Yes. Not all of our preparations are together, but we discuss opponents and what we expect from them and how to exploit it.
DR23: Purple might have an edge on you at the Ping Pong tables, but you got him pretty good on HPL 3-0. Come to think of it, I think you actually have a pretty good record against your fellow Archon teammates. How does it feel to beat up your friends in cardstone?
ZALAE: The best. I think I’m actually undefeated against my teammates in tournaments? 2-0 vs Firebat 1-0 Amaz 1-0 Purple. Maybe that’s selective memory. They’re all just as good as me if not better. I guess I’m running good.
DR23: Lets focus on HPL for a second. PVPLive has faced a lot of criticism for its presentation of HPL, some claim its “too professional”, some people say it has bad casters. The Advanced Stats that PVPLive provides have also come under heavy fire as something that the Hearthstone community dislikes. What do you make out of this community backlash.
ZALAE: I like the casters. The stats seem a bit silly. I don’t pay too much attention to things like community backlash. It’s not who I am, I figure if enough people are watching something some of them will have something negative to say. Better to focus on doing my best than worry about the negativity that will always be there.
DR23: I really like your positive attitude, what about the HPL Format? That’s another of their innovations that hasn’t quite resonated with the community. The HPL Format is actually the closest thing we have to the actual ranked play ladder experience. As the number 1 Ladder player on NA, do you think this benefits you? How do you feel about the HPL format compared with the usual conquest, and maybe even with the single deck formats other card games?
ZALAE: I think the HPL format is pretty cool. I hadn’t really thought of myself as the #1 ladder player and benefiting from it, but I guess that makes some sense. Sometimes viewers get frustrated because in HPL players can queue up the same thing over and over again. Queueing up the same class with different card choices is something I do miss about Magic and enjoy in HPL compared to Conquest.
DR23: You were one of the first players to clinch an HPL playoff spot, do you consider yourself the favorite to win the tournament?
ZALAE: I expected to make it to the playoffs. I feel I am “a” favorite to win the tournament, but not THE favorite.
DR23: And what’s in the immediate future for Zalae?
ZALAE: Win more stuff, we’re 3-2 in ATLC and I still like our chances despite the mediocre results thus far. I was 2-3 in HPL and turned that around pretty hard.
DR23: How about we lighten up a little? Would you go out to the Cinema to watch Blowback Mountain, starring The Tannon Grace and ThatsAdmirable?
ZALAE: OF COURSE! KappaPride
DR23: lets play a quick round of Bed, Kill, Marry: The Options are Tannon, Admirable, and Frodan.
ZALAE: I really don’t want to perform any of those 3 actions. I like girls.
DR23: So much for KappaPride huh? I’m partial to Grills myself, so I can respect that. How about some word association with some of the HPL players?
Purple: Blue (why would he dye his hair blue?)
DR23: Hey man, thanks you for sharing so much with us. It’s an honor to have you be a part of this! But before, I let you go, can answer one last question?
ZALAE: It’s cool man, thanks for having me. Shoot that one last question!
DR23: What’s best way to improve at Hearthstone without actually playing the game?
ZALAE: Learn from the best! Use teamarchon.com to keep up with the latest decks and watch streams such as my own as a tool. Try to figure out what you would do in my spot and if your play differs from mine, think about which is better and why. Maybe ask a question if you aren’t sure.
Special thanks to @Alenne47 for providing captures from Zalae’s stream.
For more information on HPL, head over to PVPLive’s Website, and check the matches live on their Twitch Channel from Monday through Thursday, starting 6:30pm Eastern. Check all of our HPL coverage Here!