Thijs Molendijk, Hearthstone Hero
I spoke with Thijs Molendijk in between two big tournaments. He just got back from his Neumunster (Germany) victory, where he won first place and was crowned ‘Hearthstone Superstar’ and had to leave for China for China’s Open Championship in the next couple of days. (Thijs won the Open Chinese Championship by the way, which is a big thing!)
Despite the preparation he needed for his trip to China, Thijs took the time to talk to us. What mainly emerged from the interview is that Thijs is indeed as sympathetic as is said! The interview took way longer than anticipated and he especially took time to answer the fans’ questions. This while Thijs was supposed to be in bed by 19h00.
Thijs, why did you choose to use your own name instead of an abbreviation or a nickname?
“well, creativity is not my strongest point. Besides that, I never had any big things planned. When I started playing Hearthstone all I thought was ‘this is a great game’, which I just wanted to try. I never thought that my name would be relevant. I kept my own name and added ‘NL’ to it because that represents The Netherlands. That my name would even matter is something I would have never thought.”
What is your favorite card?
“I’m a big fan of Ragnaros. I think it’s a very fun card which mainly comes up at the end of the game. It’s one of the few cards that can change a game in a way to get back in the lead. It’s a great card to see in action, for fans, gamers, for everybody.”
What is your favorite deck and class?
“My favorite deck is Freeze Mage. It’s the deck I use the most and am known for playing. Druids is the class which has gotten me the most and best results over the past 3 years, it’s the one I feel most comfortable with.”
Which mechanic do you prefer now?
“This has to be Discover. It has been here since a year and you can choose out of 3 cards. Especially for the competitive scene it’s a fun mechanic to use. You do have to know the ins and outs of the game to get the most out of it, I hope there is more coming for this one!”
Do you already suffer from typical Esports injuries?
“Personally, I don’t suffer from any injuries. I play Hearthstone, where it’s not really about speed, but more a thinking process which leans towards chess. Physically it’s not as intense as for instance StarCraft, but I do try to eat healthy and have a daily routine. I do a lot to stay in shape, running, a steady rhythm, cycling, nutrition.”
In 2016 three all-female teams have been formed. Organizations work hard to accept women in the world of esports, some say it’s a lost cause. Losing to a woman, is that a bad thing?
“In Hearthstone, when playing opponents who are on the same level as you are, chance is also a factor, the same as in poker. You can’t always win. There are not a lot of women playing at a high level, but there’re certainly women who do and they are really good. I don’t believe I’ve ever lost to a woman, but I’m not sure. Honestly, I don’t care.”
Match fixing, ever experienced it? Does the Hearthstone Deck Tracker make match fixing easier?
“The program Deck Tracker doesn’t make it easier for match fixing, it makes the game easier for players, which I find disappointing. I find it hard to get a view on match fixing. Not too long ago there was a big scandal in China, but I don’t know the ins and outs. Personally, I have never been in contact with it, but I don’t want to have anything to do with gambling anyway. I just hope it happens as little as possible, but to exclude it from happening, I just don’t know.”
The chance for esports to be considered an Olympic sport is there in 2024. The recognition for esports to be seen as a real sport, is that important to you?
“It really doesn’t matter much to me, we are not focused on other sports, we have our own events with our own audience whether if it will be an Olympic sport or if we call it the World Championship. Yes, it might be worth something if the appreciation for what we do is recognized because the events get sold out stadiums. I hope it, perhaps, but if it will matter, I don’t know.
I’ve accepted that appreciation or respect outside the world of esports isn’t there. People who do appreciate esports will show it and if you don’t, I don’t care. You can see how big esports is, you see that there are millions of people watching. I understand that there is a generation gap which makes people look differently to what an esporter is, but we are top athletes. I train 8 to 10 hours a day trying to get better at my game. The hours that are left in the day I use meaningfully to make sure I can perform as good as possible and I’ve been doing that for the last two to three years.
How is the bond between the Dutch international gamers, do you keep in touch?
“That’s hard for me, I stay in touch with Manuel (Manuel ‘Grubby’ Schenkhuizen), but we are all very internationally focused and I’m more abroad than I at home. That’s why I don’t have a clear vision of how esports is developing in The Netherlands. A lot is focused outside The Netherlands, as soon as there’s a talented gamer, he will be picked up by an international team, just like I got the opportunity to play in Germany fairly quickly. I know quite a few Dutch gamers, but it would be nice if there is a Dutch program to help the development of the gamers and get more Dutch gamers out there.”
What could the Dutch Esports Federation do to help the gamers? Negotiations with foreign teams, (medical) insurances?
“I do think there is a need for a roll The Federation can provide for gamers that get picked up by foreign teams. As a player you just want to play the game and don’t think about arranging things like insurance and pay. I was in a unique position, G2 did a lot of those things for me, but not a lot of organizations provide 1 or 2 managers for a team like ours has.”
China’s upcoming success in the past couple of years, how would you explain that?
“The thing I really see a lot in China is that gaming is a culture. There is a lot of funding in China and there’re already a lot of big events and tournaments. If you’re good at gaming, you get picked up real quick and motivated to get better. That’s not the case here. I had to do it all by myself, there were no helping hands reaching out to me when I started. I think there’s a huge difference there, but esports is still a very young sport. In South Korea, where it’s already hot for over 20 years and it’s broadcasted on television all the time, that’s where it’s really big.”
Is there a difference in value between the games and gamers amongst each other?
Yes, Dota is the most complicated game in esports and the gamers act superior to for instance Hearthstone, but also LoL. Hearthstone is a totally different game and attracts a different kind of audience. Some gamers won’t even consider it an esport. Not everybody likes a game of chess or a game of cards. Thoughts and attitude towards each other’s games differ indeed, but well, I don’t care about that.”
Who are your biggest rivals?
“there’s always good rivalry between Kolento (Aleksandr “Kolento” Malsh from Ukraine) and me. He’s a good European player who entered the scene just before I did. We’ve met so many times, it goes back and forth, he wins, I win, but every time we play it will get promoted as a big thing. The same goes for my teammate Lifecoach (Adrian “Lifecoach” Koy from Germany), with whom I spend a lot of time. Whenever we meet we play series of two, two and a half hours. Those really are the games that make it worthwhile.”
Is it like Badr vs Verhoef? “Yes, the small version of it, but it feels huge.”
How do you deal with jet lags?
“Jet lag is really difficult. Sometimes you travel so much, you don’t know the actual time anymore. I try to adjust as much as possible before going to a different time zone. Going to the US is the easiest, you try to go to sleep 2 or 4 hours later and wake up 2 hours earlier. That’s doable. China is a different story. I try to stay up as late as possible and get the rhythm of that time zone, that’s really important. Sometimes I try to get used to it at home before I leave, like now, I try to go to bed an hour earlier every day. Today, I’m going to bed at 19h00 so when I’m in China I can sleep around 11 or 12 at night. You have to give up a lot, you completely adjust your lifestyle for the sake of gaming.”