A card game player, a champion and now a father. Ole “Naiman” Batyrbekov, who’s been competing in CCGs for the last five years, has now confirmed his move to Artifact, donning again the colors of Virtus.pro. Now, ahead of his second Artifact tournament appearance, we sat down with the Kazakh to talk fatherhood, transition to the new game, and his thoughts on Valve’s newest creation.
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First of all, congratulations on becoming a father! How does fatherhood feel like?
Thanks. It will take a lot of time to describe my new feelings. After my first tournament win in Hearthstone, I answered “feelsgood”. Right now, I can say that it feels awesome. Every single day, I get an emotional roller coaster. I still can’t believe I became a father.
You named her Jaslene, quite the beautiful name! What does it mean?
It’s a long story. Initially, we wanted to name our daughter Jasmine which means “gift from God”. This name is commonly used all over the world and in Kazakhstan too. When we told my parents about the future name, my mother noticed that it’s almost a mix of my wife’s name (Alina) and mine (Oljas). The only difference was in the letter “M”. So I asked my wife if she wanted to rename herself to Amina. She refused and then we came up with the idea to call our child Jaslene. Jaslene became the perfect mix of our names.
What’s changed the most in your life now that your daughter’s in it?
My wife’s sleep schedule. [laughs] On a serious note, my daughter is now the meaning of my life. I want her to grow up healthy and to ensure that she’ll enjoy her growth in all aspects. Therefore, I need to work harder, be more responsible. I want to ensure that my daughter will have a wonderful childhood and further life.
During my first three days in Artifact, the game seemed to be way too difficult for me. Bad thoughts started to come to my mind.
Moving on to some good old card game talk. You recently returned to active competing with Virtus.pro. What VP GM Roman Dvoryankin had said earlier, was that you and DrHippi remained contracted with VP even after the disbandment of the Hearthstone team, with the option to form their Artifact roster if you like the game. How far in the beta test did you know this was the game for you?
During my first three days in Artifact, the game seemed to be way too difficult for me. Bad thoughts started to come to my mind. The thing which triggered me the most was that I had a lot of expectations for myself in Artifact. A few weeks after I improved in the game, I realized that it is for me after I became successful in alpha testing’s gauntlet rankings.
Around what time did you decide, “OK, time to let VP know I want to play Artifact for them?” Was it immediately after you got the hang of it, or did you need some more time?
After our Hearthstone roster disbanded, the team maintained close contact with me and DrHippi. After being a part of alpha testing and after we liked the game, both of us wanted to represent the team, which helped us become who we currently are in the new discipline. The final negotiations with the team’s managers were made around a week before the announcement.
Did you think about continuing with Hearthstone or any other card game with a different organization during the downtime? A time away from the spotlight can often be harmful to a player’s exposure.
After the disbandment I got a few offers but I ended up not signing to any organizations.
Artifact has been getting a lot of praise from a lot of card game veterans, and everyone seems to like different aspects of it. What drew you to Artifact?
The decision making. The game has various decisions throughout the game and it’s hard to judge early key decisions until the end.
I want your take on a couple of notions that pros have expressed recently. When I did my top 10 hero rankings, Gaara said it’s almost impossible to flat out rank heroes, because the colors are so very well balanced. Do you feel that’s really the case? Isn’t there a color that’s perhaps too strong or too weak?
From my point of view, the colors aren’t completely well balanced, and especially the heroes. There are still things to be improved. In the upcoming WePlay tournament, I’m pretty sure that we won’t see a lot of people playing black.
So you consider black to be the weakest? Why? Is it because it feels a bit straightforward with its mechanics?
Black is my favorite color but the other colors have ways to deal with it through wide boards, AoEs, armor.
The colors aren’t completely well balanced, and especially the heroes. There are still things to be improved.
Do you feel this is the same for draft? Is there a different power balance in that mode compared to Constructed?
Draft is so awesome. I think right now the power balance is way better there. The current problems in Constructed are: stronger heroes, stronger cards, stronger improvements, stronger spells. The amount of playable cards and heroes in Constructed is way lower than the amount of cards which can be played in draft.
Speaking of draft, Savjz recently tweeted that Artifact right now is all about drafting, and that it would be unwise from Valve to push Constructed hard at launch. Do you feel the same way? Is Constructed an inferior format in Artifact right now?
I agree with Savjz. But the release of the game might make Constructed better since people will come up with new ideas and synergies.
Do you think there’s anything Valve can do to improve the Constructed experience? Or is it up to the community to figure it out first?
I like Valve’s attitude towards changes and reacting to the community. But here I need to mention that adding deck tracker and then removing it was a mistake. Removing it after the community’s reaction is a mistake, that is. In terms of Constructed, it seems that Valve want to see how it will go with a lot of players and then take actions. I think it’s a wise step.
I think they’re putting the deck tracker back again though, it’s what they wrote in a recent piece. Do you like the feature overall, though? Seems something pro players would be against.
Deck tracker will definitely benefit stronger players.
In Hearthstone, and other card games too, the majority of the player base flocks to Constructed, because it’s the novice friendly format. Do you feel Artifact having an inferior one at start might hurt its position on the market?
I think that Artifact doesn’t want to be like Hearthstone. If Valve go the same path as Blizzard, they might always be compared to each other. My point of view is that Valve try to take the best from the current cards games and to make something new which people will like. People got a little bit tired of the current card game. Why don’t you offer them a new experience to attract them while providing additional novice formats?
In a recent article, pros mentioned their wishlist for the game, as in what features/fixes they want to see implemented. What’s on your list?
I’d love to see a competitive format of picks and bans of heroes like in Dota.
I think that Artifact doesn’t want to be like Hearthstone. If Valve go the same path as Blizzard, they might always be compared to each other.
How would that work if you were to design it?
Tough question. Divide 44 heroes in 11 groups. The last group is basic heroes. Ban1 / ban2 / pick2 / pick1 / ban2 / ban1 / pick1 / pick2. In the end, players will have two groups of heroes (eight heroes total) and four basic heroes to choose from for themselves. The only thing which is left is to decide to arrange heroes in groups.
This week, you’re playing in the WePlay Artifact tournament. Your top pick to win the tournament?
Most of the participants are on the same level so it’s hard to say but I’ll say Heffaklumpen. Heffaklumpen played extremely well in the last draft tournament. I was impressed by his plays.
It’s Artifact’s first Constructed event. What do you expect to see from the meta there, apart from the no-black thing?
Drow Rangers, Kannas, Axes, Legion Commanders, Treant Protectors. [laughs]
What are your top sleeper heroes, i.e. such that are not widely considered Tier S but can be meta defining with time?
One of my favorite heroes is Ogre Magi. I think it is very powerful
Is it the hero passive or the Ignite card?
Both of them, but mostly because of the Ignite card.