A $100,000 e-sports tournament might have been the spark that brought the Hex Community together at the Hex Invitational, but as competitors, staff, and fans left the event there was a sense that something much more valuable had been gained. The birth of a new e-sport, the solidification of a small but passionate community, and the maturity of a game birthed out of a far-fetched dream.
In case you weren’t able to follow the proceedings or are interested in hearing a player’s perspective of what went down, join me as I try to recap what was truly an unforgettable week for Hexers worldwide.
72 Hours Before
Just as Hex Entertainment has never cut any corners in the development of their game, the event’s planning, organization, and execution was of the highest quality throughout. Competitors were treated far better than any of us deserved to be. From the second we landed at the airport until the completion of the event, Hex Entertainment spared no expense in treating us like rock stars. International flight of our choice, chauffeur, top class hotel, swag bag, complimentary fine dining all week were some of the perks we enjoyed but just getting to chill with the Hex team and getting some behind the scenes sneak peaks were easily at the top of the benefits.
On Wednesday many of the players got to go to game night where among other things some set 5 drafting was rumored to be happening. I personally wasn’t able to make it to game night but did see some of the new set 5 champions the following morning lying around in paper form as most of us spent the day at the Hex offices with the video crew preparing the player profiles. During our free time on Thursday and Friday between video shoots, competitors flocked to the meeting room where snacks and more importantly laptops with Set 4 on them lay waiting to be explored. I had a small glimpse of the new constructed Meta as Cyriius’ self-proclaimed ‘new meta wrecking’ D/S deck faced off against Vazrael’s interesting Ruby combo deck that, believe it or not, made use of Kismet’s Reverie in an amazing way. It was a very entertaining game to watch and I have no doubt that Set 4 will will shake up the meta in really interesting ways.
Things got a bit more serious on Friday morning following the Players’ Meeting after decklists were shared and players were contemplating whether they had made the right meta call. Many were surprised at the lack of any Benvolio or R/W Cressida decks but everyone still felt pretty comfortable with the decks they brought to the dance. On Friday following dinner and entertainment with the Hex and Gameforge people, players hurried back to their rooms for final preparations and playtests in light of the revealed decklists.
The eSports Arena where the Invitational event took place was simply the perfect facility for such an event. I don’t know what series of events transpired from the point where Hex Ent weren’t even sure they would be able to stream the matches from their offices to booking and pimping out a venue like the eSports Arena, but thank Kismet they did. And by now we all know that when Hex Ent decide to get into something, they go all out, and this weekend was no different. The venue had banners all around with some of the most iconic characters in the game, many cosplay including among others Jovial Pippet, Prince Talysen, Myrym, and Eternal Guardian were on hand as well. The mood and atmosphere in the building was just right.
Many of the fans in attendance were glued to computer screens in between games playing Set 4 gauntlet where getting 3 wins earned you a free Set 4 booster pack. Posters seemed to be selling out like hotcakes and despite the venue not being sold out, the fans that did make it out to watch the matches passionately ooh’ing and aah’ing as their favorite players got the cards they needed or hit a lucky Angel of Dawn/Spiderling off the top.
The commentating team of SilentSnake, Dinotropia, and Alucard probably deserve a section on their own but those who tuned into the Invitational stream got to see for themselves how skilled they were, especially considering their experience levels and the gravity of the moment which came packed with tons of curveballs that you simply couldn’t plan for. Everyone already knows about the amount of preparation those guys did with the Casting Colosseum, but what you may not know is that while they could have probably goofed off in the days before the tourney, they instead tailed the players all week long looking for the inside scoops and probing us with insightful questions. The professionalism they’ve shown from the moment they were selected is something to really be respected.
If American Football is a game of inches, Hex is a game of percentages. Every single thing you do either ups or downs your chances of winning and usually you need a very sharp mind (and sometimes a quantum computer) to make the ‘correct’ play. You might make every single correct play and even have the ‘better’ deck, but you could still end up ultimately losing and that’s the type of variance that makes us play the games and keeps things interesting just like a game of soccer. But over the course of enough games, those tiny percentage points end up mattering and the better player who chose the better deck often ends up rising to the top as the ‘law of averages’ sets in. Throughout the tournament I heard grumblings (sometimes within my own head) of ‘if only I had drawn that one card’ or ‘if I could only have gotten that card sooner’ or ‘if I only matched up against that deck/player instead of this’. There were so many close games that it does feel at times like luck plays a huge part. Yet those percentage points – often times invisible like when you mulligan or how many copies of a certain removal card you include maindeck or which cards you choose to put in your reserves – are what create the luck or unluckiness in the first place. So while many players might have been frustrated at different points, the only solid complaints I heard from players all week was when they played bad or made a mistake, as opposed to any kind of screw or flood they might have experienced. If you’re a player breaking into this game competitively, this is probably an attitude that you’ll want to learn to embrace as soon as possible.
As for the rest of game-related feelings/thoughts, I can’t speak for other players but I can share my personal experiences instead. I don’t think my player profile got played and wasn’t in any featured matches/interviews, so I’ll take this chance to speak about my tournament. First of all, I’ll admit that I probably came into this tournament a huge underdog as I hadn’t participated in any big constructed tournaments and didn’t really have time to do any drafts following the 17 card pack changes. I did one solid week of playtesting along with my brother (Chrome) and a few Constructed gauntlets under an alt KS account to get ready. I thought the B/D deck I chose did very well against Mono Blood (Soul Marble), R/W Cressida & D/W Banks (Martyr), Wintermoon (tons of hate), and Mono R Benvolio (Lifedrain Living Totem/Vampires). R/W Azurecannon and B/S Spiders were probably my toughest match-ups but a troop focused deck like Koma’s Wintermoon (with Spellshield Azurefate Sorceress) was also something I was very concerned about.
While it may seem like a high pressure affair playing in-front of a live crowd and potentially a packed Twitch stream, the in-game music with noise-cancelling static on top helped me a ton to focus on the task at hand. What was probably most challenging is the realization that every single move you take has the potential to cost you thousands of dollars and every move might be analyzed and potentially scrutinized for all of eternity. I lost my second match to ValueCity (mirror-match) due to time with him being on 4 health and having 1 minute left himself in game 3. Even in my first match against JadiimJedi (D/W Banks) I conceded game 2 prematurely because I had only 9 or so minutes left for a third game. Sadly, I didn’t draw a single Blood shard in game 3 and lost to JadiimJedi who himself had mulliganed to 5 (my proudest tech in this B/D Banks brew was actually including 2 extra Blood Shards compared to the norm but it didn’t help me this time around). I’m not sure whether it was what felt like sluggish speeds between phases, my lack of sufficient preparation, or just the way Banks vs Banks match-ups go but for me time was definitely a factor in this tournament. Luckily I bounced back to win my next 2 matches to go 2-2 and make Day 2.
The Day 2 draft was a wreck for many of the players that decided to go into Diamond (in fact all four players who drafted Diamond got eliminated). As I’ve shared before in my Armies of Myth limited archetypes article, Diamond is what I feel is the strongest Shard in Armies of Myth limited capable of producing very potent decks by combining it with either Ruby and an aggro playstyle or Blood and getting value with Shifts or Spirits. Unfortunately, the four players that felt this way were seated next to each other and didn’t seem to be able to transition out, and I was particularly in a bad spot with MasterMattchu playing the same deck passing to me in packs 1/3. I really expected more Spider players, perhaps my overly critical bashing of the archetype in my limited review articles had subconsciously affected others as well (that’s what I’d like to think anyways 😉 ).
Still, barring the lack of removal, I was overall pretty happy with my deck. It’s not a deck with tons of great individual cards but packs a ton of synergy with potentially recurring troops that have Flight and Lethal, allowing you to deal with practically any card, any deck. The one weakness of this archetype was Sapphire troops with Flight and unluckily I faced off against Vazrael’s S/W deck who drew his key fliers in each of the three games. A Thundefield Elder’ed Incubation Webs did me in in game 3 as I lost a really tight race and I was off to a disappointing 0-1 start.
The second match I played against MasterMattchu who had pretty much the same deck as me but had a few bombs to boot and a few Spiritbound Spy which is an excellent card in the archetype . Game 1 I got off to a flying start and tried to rush him down with an army of Spirits and got him as low as a few health points but he got his Spirit engine going as well to stabilize and he played a Scroll of Yazukan which was completely busted in this match-up. I still had a chance to salvage a win but in one key blocking step my mind totally froze and I made the single biggest mistake I ever made playing Hex in over 2 years by letting through a lethal attack despite having tons of troops I could have blocked with. In game 2 he had a turn 2 Abominate on his Spiritbound Spy which I had no answer for. I did deal 20 damage to him single-handedly through Grim Harvester sacs of my chump blockers but when he got his Syyn, Etherdrake Nomad online, the game was as good as done…as was my tournament. He had the better deck and outplayed me in this match, so unfortunately I have no one to blame but myself.
I beat Cyriius (really great player and person by the way, regardless of his IQ controversy) pretty comfortably in the 3rd match on the back of Noxious Glory but it didn’t matter much as I finished in 7th place due to tiebreakers.
Hex Entertainment CEO Cory Jones has for long labeled the Hex community as the finest one in gaming and prior to the event I might have discarded some of that statement to marketing talk, but it’s hard for anyone that attended the event to deny that statement any longer. It seemed like everyone either knew each other or instantly connected on a level only two people sharing the same passion can.
A few days might be too short of a time to make any lasting friendships, but having spent quite of bit of time with other competitors it definitely felt like we could all be good friends if we weren’t scattered in different parts of the world. But I know that these new friendships won’t just fizzle out thanks to this being a digital game – an important advantage. Despite the incredible high stakes, everyone genuinely felt some compassion for their opponent following close games and there was a real sense of camaraderie. On Saturday night as the first round of competition came to an end, words of encouragement and just a tiny bit alcohol helped those getting knocked out get over the pain.
Seeing passionate fans and members of the community in the flesh was great and gives great hope for the future of the game as word of mouth spreads, different features bring in new players, and the game keeps growing from a really solid base foundation.
It’s impossible to separate all of the above from the people who make it all possible. Many of us fell in love with the game initially with Cory and his dream and passion for Hex. Having finally gotten a chance to meet the people working on Hex, that passion and charm has undoubtedly rubbed off to the rest of the team. I met a ton of people whether it be designers, engineers, producers or nobles and the only thing more impressive than how kind they all were was how passionate each were for the game. Sometimes their lack of presence in the forums gives cause for concern whether the team behind the game really care about Hex or have a pulse for what the community wants but even short glimpses here and there have confirmed to me that we have nothing to worry about. These people work long hours and Hex seems to be the only thing on their mind (I even overheard one of the designers at the dinner buffet proclaiming he’s going ‘Nacho Aggro’ so you just know these guys are wired the right way).
There’s a few improvements that could be made here or there, like transitioning to other games after the featured match’s completion but overall from what I got to see, the coverage was at a level you would expect from a Triple A publisher with years of eSports tournament experience under their belt. Little touches like the draft archetype introduction and the player bios were really top-notch and highlights that the eSports aspect of Hex is in safe hands.
This tournament with its huge prize pool, amazing production levels, and everything else I talked about really sets the bar super high. I can only wish that these type of events keep on coming as the game, community, and everyone involved really deserve it. As rightful Invitational winner Koma adequately put, go out and get your friends into the game…and you never know, they could be the next ones to earn that $40,000.
Shout-out to all the Fiveshards guys that covered the event and Technophi for all the pictures, many of which are featured in this article. Having played a big role in keeping the constructed scene alive up to this point, it was a pleasure to meet them all.