Yoon “Harusol” Chang is a rising star in the world of competitive Hearthstone. In the past year, she has gone from streamer capturing the climb to legend to international tournament competitor. Just over a month ago, Chang won first place at the International Women’s Invitational in China, and this weekend will be one of the two representatives of the North America region in the AfreecaTV International Collegiate Championship. CSL sat down with the Cornell graduate in her native Korea to get some perspective on her transitions in life both competitively and personally, as well as what it’s like being the only female competitor at the AICC tournament.
How does it feel to carry the weight of being one of the two representatives of North America in the AICC?
It’s pretty crazy. I didn’t expect myself getting this far out of the Round of 32, obviously. When my friend [at Cornell] couldn’t make the earlier rounds of the tournament due to family trips, he said I should do it instead. I said “yeah, sure, cool”...and then kept on winning and made it this far!
What did you think of the bracket? Skill levels comparative to you in a collegiate tournament as opposed to a pro tournament?
I think I got the lucky bracket. We did have some famous players like dog, SilentStorm, and Phonetap…but I only had to face SilentStorm, and everyone else got eliminated before I would have a chance to meet them.
Luck of the draw, perhaps, but you’re here! This is your crowning achievement as a now-graduating member of Cornell. Does this add some additional pride for you as you enter the grand finals here in Seoul?
(laughing) I think it’s interesting that I’m bringing out a positive side to Cornell. I never thought I could shine on [the school] like this through online gaming!
I’m sure a lot of people at your school will be watching! Do you know any of the other players coming into the finals from Taiwan, Korea, or Japan?
I know Bu Gihong, Seoul National University’s player. He played in HCC a lot, an offline team league clan championship. I’ve met a few of the Taiwanese players on ladder...I usually play on Asia server. I don’t know Ðart as well since I don’t play as much on NA, but my friends have all heard of him of course.
Do you think playing on the Asia server primarily will give you an edge at AICC?
I don’t think so. For example, the Japanese players also play on NA as they do in League and StarCraft, traditionally. I think the meta is pretty similar on any server except China. Everyone’s mostly on the same page.
How would describe the Chinese meta?
The gap is closing slowly for China as they play in more international tournaments. But the meta is pretty crazy there. They showed me this Druid deck [while I was there] and it had an Onyxia and some really weird cards...a Swamp Ooze, which is pretty standard I guess, but on other servers you’ll see a Harrison Jones over Swamp Ooze...but not an Onyxia! A really famous Chinese player got to rank 1 Legend in NA with the Onyxia, and that’s how people kind of found out about that deck.
Speaking of China, how was your experience at the Ladies Invitational from a personal perspective?
There’s so many elements I want to talk about...it was pretty weird, I have to admit. As people noted, it was pretty sexist. The staff evenacknowledged that it was pretty weird, some of the things they asked us to do, saying it was “kinda pervy.” The white dress, I didn’t mind that much. But they had these really comfortable, nice gaming chairs which we sat on while watching other people playing, but when we went up on the stage to play they had us sit on some little white stools instead. And they never gave us headsets because it would mess up our hair...and even the makeup! They put so much on you, including [fake] eyelashes I had to wear [all day].
And all of that took precedence over warming up or being comfortable as a competitor…
That was my very first LAN event! I was pretty stressed out and got sick...I couldn’t really eat anything, so to sit in cakey makeup for seven hours…The weird thing I was the only one complaining about all these things. Only some of the players were really serious about the competition.
The one thing I took away from that experience was that if I want to be taken seriously as a Hearthstone player, I have to make sure I compete in these gender-neutral tournaments and actually make it through. Not try to get special treatment as a woman.
What are your thoughts on women’s only tournaments overall?
They can be positive. From the viewpoint of how all these female players are able to participate in their first LAN event [in the Chinese tournament], it’s a huge experience. To have that is definitely positive. If these tournaments do continue, I’m sure they will get better over time. But man, we had great gaming chairs only a few feet away, and they couldn’t let us use them...it was an experience.
Shifting gears back to AICC and your gameplay, you came into the final group stage with a midrange druid, a handlock, and a patron warrior deck. What factors went into deciding these archetypes?
I knew I had to play patron because it’s OP. Because handlock goes so well against patron, it was a counterpick. Druid is my favorite, overall. Out of 3,500 ranked Asia server games, I’ve probably played 1,500-2,000 as druid.
Druid is always in your heart. But that patron warrior deck, though...
I’m sure a lot will change. I really had to consider if I should bring a patron warrior deck into this tournament but it’s just so powerful with that Harrison Jones card, being able to take your opponent out easily, that I had to.
What is the key to consistent play in a longform event like the AICC?
I don’t know, I was really in the zone up until semi finals, then it kinda went off from there (laughing). But really, I love Hearthstone. My brother had been playing a lot of games [with me] growing up, but this is the first game I’ve played for so long at such a high level. When I first started, I streamed my ladder games. The good thing about streaming...is the viewers will interact. They scold you, make fun of you, but they’re mostly pretty helpful! It makes the game so much more interesting. I love interacting also with people on Skype in group rooms using screen share. People play their own games, and we watch their games to make comments and learn ourselves. The perspective and [growth as a player] that goes on makes the game so much more interesting and makes you a better player. That’s why I like watching Team Archon, for instance. When you get burnt out as a player, you can watch them screen share and still [be into the game].
What are your thoughts on the upcoming TGT release?
I don’t really look into an expansion until it comes out. I really like Aviana as a Druid player. Druid can do some really interesting things with that. With a current deck, you can literally take out four cards and replace it with one Aviana. The synergy is going to be good with Innervate and so on. I’m really looking forward to that. Hopefully we’ll also get a new druid hero portrait. I’ve been waiting seven months for that!
Anything else ahead for you professionally in Hearthstone?
I’m trying to decide. I just graduated and my parents want me to get a job! I do really love Hearthstone, but I’m not sure yet if I want to pursue this as a career or a hobby I really love. Inven [in Korea] has a team battle league and they are starting a new season soon. I’m trying to find a team for that and see if I can participate or not. I have no idea at this point [what the future holds], but we’ll see.
I’m sure that either way with a career in Hearthstone or in engineering that you will be successful. What are your hopes for the Hearthstone scene as a whole going forward?
I definitely want to see more female players. Deernadia and Hafu, for instance, are on teams but are not usually participating in tournaments. They’re usually streaming. There are also pretty famous female Hearthstone streamers here in Korea, I just hope that they can come off [the stream] to compete more. Also, the community has to be nicer to the girls.
Is the community more aggressive here in Korea or in North America?
They are definitely more aggressive here in Korea. In NA, they are never really going to talk negative things about your appearance: “Oh she’s so cute! She plays Hearthstone!” Here it’s like…one of the most popular streamers played with the webcam on and they were really mean to her! Some of them were positively commented, but some of them were like “she is so ugly!” I mean come on, go check yourself in the mirror. I think this is one of the reasons that women that are really good are afraid to show off and play on a professional level.
Hearthstone is a good game to enter into as a competitive title for women. You don’t need high APM, you just have to have strategy, use your brain, and make the best decisions possible every turn.
...Overall, I think there are more active female players [that I know] in Korea than other regions. The OGN Masters qualifiers, there were at least 5-6 girls in it!
So, Korea might be the best place for you right now? Quite opportune!
It may be! We will see.
Best of luck, Harusol!
The AICC grand finals begins Thursday, August 20th at 9pm on AfreecaTV, so tune in to see who will win the title of international collegiate Hearthstone champion at the end of weekend.