by David "ImpetuousPanda" Gil Nolskog
One of the most anticipated GWENT tournaments is due to start off with a bang this weekend, and I think it’s fair to assume this is one of the most stacked tournaments in GWENT’s history. Challenger #4 is the 10th official tournament in the GWENT Masters circuit, and it’ll host a stellar lineup of players, with four past GWENT Masters champions, a winner of GwentSlam, two seasoned competitors and only one tournament rookie.
The viking-inspired Skellige event will also mark the Challenger debut for half of the participants; relative newcomers AndyWand and Damorquis, rookie Aethr3n, and, surprisingly, the Chinese superstar Hanachan. Yet unsurprisingly, this fourth edition of the Challenger series is extremely Europe-dominant, with only China’s Hanachan breaking the norm. As expected, there’s heavy representation from Germany (three players) and Poland (two players), while Ukraine’s ProNEO and Austria’s GameKing round out the final list of challengers.
Due to the relative infrequency of offline events to rank players in an accurate comparison, as well as the lack of a true head-to-head format throughout Pro Ladder seasons, I’ve taken it upon myself to rank players based on a mix of past tournament results, recent performances and consistency. Contrary to using an elaborate point-based system which I believe doesn’t work as well with GWENT’s current esports circuit, this will be a marginally more subjective perspective based on my own analysis and knowledge of the GWENT Masters competitive scene.
Aethr3n’s rookie status and general inexperience within the actual GWENT Masters circuit condemns him to the very last place, but no one should count him out just yet. He boasts some minor tournament experience thanks to his appearance at the Red Dragon Championship hosted in the Czech Republic earlier this summer, while also showing great form during the recent Challenger #4 online qualifiers. This Polish player had the the second best swiss record of Day 1, and performed courageously under pressure with an incredible losers bracket run that sealed his qualification after an early loss in the Day 2 championship bracket.
Despite this, Aethr3n has only just started competing at a consistent level throughout the past few months, having missed the first four seasons of Pro Ladder. With a 42nd finish in Season 5 and a top 30 finish in Season 6, Aethr3n shows semblance of consistent form, but it will be hard for him to either match or surpass the year-long experience of veteran competitors. However, there is a clear precedent for a rookie outperforming his expectations in a Challenger tournament — if we look back to Kolemoen’s surprise run to the finals of Challenger #2, all whilst defeating veterans Adzikov and TailBot along the way. Aethr3n will surely do his best to emulate Kolemoen’s underdog run and cause some major upsets along the way.
It may be surprising for some to see one of GWENT’s original tournament mainstays ranked this low, but his inconsistency over the past months invokes certain doubts regarding his performance in the fourth Challenger. This will be GameKing’s first tournament in 6 months, having missed the past four GWENT Masters tournaments. Taking into account his uncontested participation in all five tournaments following his Open #2 debut, including taking home one GwentSlam championship, it’s difficult for fans to understand GameKing’s sudden absence from the tournament scene.
Regardless, GameKing has proven to be an excellent tournament player, bringing innovative decks to the table, and he’ll surely show up hungry to emulate past success. An impressive undefeated winner’s bracket run in Day 2 of the online qualifiers prove great recent form, as well as his direct qualification to Open #7 thanks to a 6th place finish in Season 6 of Pro Ladder. Despite multiple tournament appearances, GameKing has yet to make it to the finals of a GWENT Masters event. This weekend will give him a golden opportunity to not only do so but also to return to GWENT’s tournament elite.
With GameKing’s disappearance, came Damorquis’ arrival. This analytical German has consistently qualified for every single GWENT Open event since his first appearance in Open #4, although all of his participations have lacked truly dominant performances. Damorquis bowed out of Open #4 and #5 in the quarterfinals to Hanachan and Fanderman respectively, although he was finally able to secure a pass to Day 2 after defeating teammate Molegion in the quarterfinals of Open #6. Despite this, he faced an ever-improving proNEO in the semifinals and was once again knocked out before being able to get any closer to true glory of participating in the finals.
In direct contrast with Damorquis’ somewhat recent appearance in the GWENT Masters tournament circuit, he holds the second most CP of any German player, surpassing veterans such as Challenger #1 winner Lifecoach and Open #3 champion SuperJJ. His unconventional approach to tournament decklists and deck-targeting may very well relegate him to the mercy of the draw during Friday’s bracket draw show. If Damorquis employs a similar deck-targeting strategy during Challenger #4, a favorable bracket draw may finally open up a chance for him to blaze through his side of the bracket and make his first finals appearance.
AndyWand is a hard player to rank, especially due to his apparent lack of consistency in the competitive scene. Without his incredibly memorable performance, culminating in his victory in GWENT Open #5, this weekend he’d appear to be one of the of the most under-qualified players. AndyWand doesn’t seem to take the online Pro Ladder system seriously, with only one truly competitive season where he finished in 9th place allowing him to qualify for Open #5.
He had some prior experience thanks to his participation in GwentSlam #2, but his appearance in Open #5 was his debut in the GWENT Masters circuit. In it, he may have possibly had one of the most dominant rookie debuts to date. AndyWand shut down newcomers Huanshi and Fanderman on his way to the finals, and ended the tournament with a decisive 3-2 win over tournament favorite TailBot, cementing himself as one of the few Open champions alongside veterans such as Shaggy, Freddybabes, SuperJJ, Hanachan, and Kolemoen. AndyWand has the backing of the most successful competitive team in GWENT, next to Damorquis, and both Team Aretuza members will surely show up with extravagant, yet effective decklists and strategies this weekend.
ProNEO’s evolution throughout his competitive trajectory is nothing short of remarkable, with a very clear upwards trend in his performance from tournament to tournament. His results have improved, as his Pro Ladder finishes, and most importantly you can clearly observe a more decisive player on the big stage, accompanied by much cleaner performances. In the tournament landscape, proNEO is one of the veterans, beginning his participation in Challenger back in May 2017, and — 474 days later — this will be his second Challenger appearance.
On the Pro Ladder, proNEO has consistently improved his finishes, starting off with a 5,825 MMR 6th place finish in Season 3. He followed this up with a 5,810 MMR 2nd place finish in Season 4, but blew both these results out of the water with a record-breaking 5,960 MMR 1st place finish in Season 5 — the highest ever score recorded in any Pro Ladder Season. Following a long tournament absence, he’s made consistent GWENT Open appearances from Open #4 and onwards, with progressively better results, culminating in an exciting finals showdown in Open #6. His nail-biting Game 5 Shupe Mirror loss to Kolemoen gave proNEO a faint scent of what could have been, and he’ll surely look to continue his ambitious trajectory this weekend.
Hanachan’s consistently stellar performances rank him among GWENT’s greatest players, and it’s very easy to see why he is one of this weekend’s favorites. Hanachan’s past plays lead up to one of the most impressive resumes of all participants, he has the highest average across the five past Pro Ladder seasons, with an incredible 5,887 MMR, and has never placed below 6th place. His tournament consistency is equally impressive, as he’s the only player to have participated in every single one of the six GWENT Open tournaments to date.
Although these are impressive stats, and Hanachan certainly has the consistency to produce enviable results, he has a hard time making that final push into excellence and reaching a finals best-of-five. The Chinese superstar was crowned Champion at Open #4, but that was his only ever finals appearance in his tournament history. Everyone will surely expect Hanachan to make it to the semifinals at the very least, but a question remains — will he be able to finally push through and defeat such strong competitors like Kolemoen or TailBot?
Kolemoen arrived to the tournament scene as force to be reckoned with, and his performances have cemented him as one of GWENT’s greatest players. In his very first tournament appearance, Kolemoen arrived to Challenger #2 as a complete rookie and was able to reach finals after two huge upset victories against veterans Adzikov and TailBot. During Challenger #3, Adzikov was able to get his revenge and sweep Kolemoen 3-0 in the quarterfinals, something Kolemoen will definitely have in mind when preparing for this weekend.
Kolemoen’s Pro Ladder performances have become less impressive in the past few seasons, but his blistering recent form is undeniable following his recent crowning as GWENT Open #6 champion. In a very disputed tournament, Kolemoen was able to make quick work of Kacper322 in the quarterfinals, dispatch Hanachan in the semifinals and win an edge-of-your-seat finals match against proNEO to secure his first ever tournament victory. Kolemoen has slowly risen among his rivals, and now enters this tournament as a clear favorite, with 380 CP to his name — the most of any German player and second only to one other GWENT esports star...
It would be almost impossible not to consider TailBot as the absolute favorite coming into GWENT Challenger #4. Almost every single stat defends TailBot as the favorite to acquire his second Challenger ring. Although he did not participate in the latest tournament, GWENT Open #6, he’s quietly dispelled all doubts regarding his recent form by establishing an insane top 3 placement for Season 6’s Pro Ladder in under 800 games. TailBot comes into the tournament tied with Kolemoen for the most ever Challenger appearances (three), the most ever finals appearances (five) and the title of Challenger Champion, having won Challenger #3.
Taking Pro Ladder into account, TailBot is just as dominant. He has the joint record alongside Adzikov for most Pro Ladder Championship finishes with 2 — in Season 3 and Season 4. He’s also had an astonishing four separate faction MMR peaks throughout the past five seasons, and with four different factions to boot, proving he also has no problem performing with any faction and adapting to the meta. In the end, TailBot will surely be the player to beat this tournament. His clean precise play, confident demeanor and robotic lack of emotions elevate him to a deity status in GWENT’s competitive scene, and it will be up to the seven other challengers to bring him down a notch and fight for Skellige’s Challenger ring this weekend.