During the entire Bahamas week, Alexey “ShtanUdachi” Barsukov played with unmatched speed. Where most players would take all the rope time they could get, Team Spirit’s player played his cards as soon as his turn began.
The quickness of his decision making was only matched by the dominance he exerted over the field. ShtanUdachi took the top spot in Group A, dropping just three games in total. In the quarter finals, he bulldozed over Bohan “Lovelychook” Zhang in a 4-0 sweep which took just about half an hour, posing the question can the Russian really be stopped.
Turns out, his last two opponents almost had what it takes. APAC underdog Samuel Tsao was the first to force ShtanUdachi to a seventh game but the pressure from the aggro Shaman was too much, especially after Tsao took a risky Life Tap, putting him in range of lethal.
Then, there was Frank “Fr0zen” Zhang, North America’s best performing player of last year, a swiss machine, a DreamHack silver medalist, an ONOG champion and the one carrying the star-spangled banner into battle. In a classic Europe vs. NA showdown, ShtanUdachi and Fr0zen went to seven games, a fitting closure to four days of international Hearthstone.
The series see-sawed throughout its entire length and came to a final highlander showdown with ShtanUdachi on RenoMage and Fr0zen piloting RenoLock. Early board pressure from Shtan melted the majority of Fr0zen’s life points but a timely Reno Jackson draw delayed the lethal several more turns. Hiding behind an Ice Block, ShtanUdachi found Alexstrasza to revert Reno’s heal and seal the game: Over two turns, the Team Secret player had more than enough direct damage to blast Fr0zen out of the series.
ShtanUdachi will take the lion’s share of the $250,000 prize pool, making Russia one of the winningest countries in HCT between him and reigning world champion Pavel “Pavel” Beltukov. Despite the loss, North America should still be content sending two players to the World Championship, beating at least in that regard its European rivals. With SamuelTsao taking the fourth and final seed, that leaves China as the worst performing region of the tournament with no semi-finalists to show—a massive upset considering the country’s rise in 2016.