Last weekend, at renowned esports tournament Dreamhack Montréal, two professional Hearthstone players sat down at computers across from one another and proceeded to play one of the most perplexing, disgraceful matches in Hearthstone history. Here's what happened.
Heading into the game, both contestants, Eduardo "Walaoumpa" Sajgalik and James "Coachtwisted" Neumann are 5-0, and have dominated their tournament opponents up until this point. The series is tied at 2-2, and match point is a Priest vs. Priest mirror.
Both players are running "Highlander Priest" decks that use a few signature combo pieces. One, called Raza the Chained, lets you use your hero power for free every turn after you've played it.
Another, called Shadowreaper Anduin, changes your hero power to read "Deal 2 damage. After you play a card, refresh this."
The deck runs a variety of different spells and effects, including a card called Lyra the Sunshard, which gives you a free Priest spell every time you use a spell. In the late game, having played Anduin and Raza, the deck can deal free damage with the hero power, play a cheap spell, receive another spell from Lyra, and repeat the process over and over for huge, efficient damage to the opponent every turn.
Or at least, that's how the deck is supposed to work.
When the game starts, Coachtwisted immediately draws Raza and Shadowreaper, meaning that he's already favoured to win. But when he finally gets his Anduin down on turn eight, he proceeds to squander almost every bit of sweet, juicy, free damage by killing his opponent's minions.
As we soon find out, this is extremely bad and inefficient, and Walaoumpa takes advantage of the tactical blunder by playing high-health minion after high-health minion, sacrificing them to his opponent to preserve his own precious life points.
This counter-strategy should not work, and Walaoumpa should be machine-gunned down by the hero power in just a couple turns. But as Coachtwisted continues to waste his free damage on these smallfry decoys, he makes multiple mechanical errors as well.
Usually, we might see maybe one or two of these in a pro game of Hearthstone at a maximum, but Priest is notoriously difficult to play. Coachtwisted makes a particularly egregious error when he plays a card called Mukla, Tyrant of the Vale, which gives you two 1-mana spells to buff your minions with.
Since his hand already has 9 cards out of a maximum 10, he's only able to draw one of those spells.
But he's still got The Coin in hand, a zero-mana card that gives you an extra mana. Had he used The Coin before Mukla, he would have had an extra card slot to draw the spell and he'd get another hero power in.
Realising his mistake, Coachtwisted uses The Coin after burning the Mukla spell, and then wastes the rest of his mana killing his opponent's minion.
Over the next few turns, Coachtwisted makes several more of these mechanical misplays, and it all comes to a head when Walaoumpa makes his next big mindgame.
By casting a minion-summoning Priest spell, Walaoumpa manages to get a totally unexpected card called Nozdormu on the board, which gives both players only fifteen seconds to take their turns. At this point, the solution should be clear for Coachtwisted: Kill the Nozdormu, extend the turn timer, and proceed as normal.
But as soon as the turn goes to Coachtwisted, he looks like a small child at his first violin recital. In his attempt to kill the Nozdormu, he accidentally farts off a Circle of Healing, which heals all minions on the board -- including Nozdormu -- and makes it impossible to get rid of.
Now in total panic mode, Coachtwisted attempts to salvage his turn by casting a minion-summoning spell of his own, but thanks to the Nozdormu's effects, he has no time to select the minion he wants to summon, and ends up with an awful board. He shakes his head in shame and uses the Priest's "oops" emote: "To err is human." Someone in the audience can be heard screaming.
Somehow, things get worse. Both players miss free hero powers, Coachtwisted burns multiple cards and continues to waste resources on low-priority minions, and both the casters and the audience start to sound like they're about to pull their hair out.
Finally, after throwing away all the cards in his deck, eventually Coachtwisted runs out of steam, and Walaoumpa puts him out of his misery. Some would call it a comeback, but it's really more of a farce, and both players look like they have just seen a dead body for the first time.
Believe it or not, this is the actually the guy who won the game.
Now, look; I'm not the best Hearthstone player you'll ever meet, and I don't claim to be a pro. But some of the mistakes in here are unmistakable, even for players who have only been at it for a few months.
In the aftermath of this match, the entire Hearthstone-playing internet nearly concussed itself with a mass collective facepalm. Snarky pro players filmed incendiary "reviews" of the match. Reddit threads revelled in the clear lack of skill on display, viewing the match as an indictment of pro Hearthstone as a whole.
So what happened? Well, being the good sport that he is, Coachtwisted responded to another pro player's critique of his performance during the match: "I was already like, super tilted," he says regarding his now-immortal Nozdormu catastrophe.
And sure, after a long day of playing game after game, some level of fatigue is to be expected. Paired with the difficulty of that Priest deck and some clutch mind-gaming from the opponent, the loss hints at a perfect storm of mistakes more than a totally inept pro player.
Still, it's hard not to stare directly at this trainwreck of a game and think, "damn, even I could have done better."
But in a way, that's what's so compelling about pro Hearthstone: the slight schadenfreude you get from watching a pro fail is almost as potent as the satisfaction you get from watching one succeed.