I got some time to chat to poker legend and Hearthstone pro player Liquid ElkY at the Insomnia i57 Truesilver Championship – here’s the video and transcript of the interview!
John “JoRoSaR” Sargent: Welcome back to i57 – I’m sat here with Liquid ElkY. I’m so happy to be here – I’ve watched your stream and followed you for ages – but I’m not going to fanboy or anything (it’s not ’cause I play poker, I promise!). For those of us who may know you more recently from Hearthstone, give us a short introduction of your ridiculously long and varied career. What has lead you to this moment?
Bertrand “ElkY” Grospellier: So, what happened first was that I was the first European pro gamer for StarCraft: Brood War. I really loved the game when I graduated from high school. At the time, nobody was really making a living from video games except, like, two guys in Korea. So I thought “Fuck it, I really want to do it, you know? This is my time and this is my chance” and I got lucky enough to do it!
So I was living as a progamer in South Korea for four years and got second place at the World Cyber Games (WCG) 2001 losing to SlayerS.BoxeR – but that’s almost like a win at the time. Then I got top 3 / top 4 in OnGameNet StarLeague, then moved into poker in like 2005.
I won the poker Triple Crown which is like the Grand Slam equivalent, winning the EPT title, World Series of Poker title and WPT title. I’m still a professional poker player but now I’ve also joined Liquid last November. Liquid is a team close to my heart – I’ve known Victor [Goossens, one of the owners of TeamLiquid] for 15 years and we spent time together in Korea. Now I’m really back into gaming. I was always a big fan of gaming and eSports, but before Hearthstone there wasn’t really a game that I could play alongside my poker career. It was [previously] impossible because StarCraft is just so time consuming and such a hard game that if you don’t play for hours a day you just fall off and you can’t catch up. So Hearthstone is still a great game, and I can compete without spending all my time on it [to also still play poker]. So I’m very happy about it!
J: I’m going to talk to you about StarCraft before I talk more about Hearthstone, but before that I want to talk a little bit about transitions. How do you go from StarCraft: Brood War to poker? What was the thought process, what led you to make that jump? Obviously you’ve been really successful, but in the beginning what caused you to jump over?
E: In 2003 Chris Moneymaker won the main event [of the World Series of Poker] and he created a huge poker boom. I had a lot of American friends from my StarCraft days of course, so I was chatting with them and they said “Hey, you should play poker” and I thought “What the hell is that?”, and they said “Yeah, just go on PokerStars, use $10”. So I thought I had a few hours with nothing to do anyway, I might as well try!
And so I tried, and I logged into PokerStars, and I loved the game instantly. It’s such a great game, it’s like a mix of everything – mathematics, strategy, psychology, risk-taking. It’s kind of the same in StarCraft – it’s such a great game and easy to learn but takes a lifetime to master. I fell in love with the game and was still a StarCraft pro at the time, so at the beginning the game [poker] was my hobby, then after a while I was doing so much better at poker when I took it seriously. At the same time there were some problems with our manager and some members of our team went to the army because in South Korea you have to do 26 months of military service, so everything started coming together [for the transition].
StarCraft was really great but because of the things that were happening and the contracts didn’t have the freedom I wanted. Poker gave me so much freedom and all sorts of opportunities to travel the world. It was something I really wanted to do and I had to make a decision at the time.
J: You look at StarCraft nowadays – it’s a very different scene now. You have players based in South Korea who are going all over the world to compete and it’s really different from back in Brood War in a sense because everyone is flying everywhere. [Blizzard are] obviously region-locking things a bit right now but how do you feel the scene has changed, taking a look at yourself from 2001/2003 and comparing that to 2016? What does the StarCraft scene look like to you now when you go to events and watch?
E: It’s really amazing that it’s changed so much and it’s great to see all the support Blizzard are giving to the game. I remember when we were competing in 2001/2002, I don’t even think there was a BlizzCon back then. I went to BlizzCon in 2008 to try StarCraft II and now it’s a huge [international] scene. Not only BlizzCon, but everything in general – it’s great that there are worldwide tournaments and the fanbase allows people from all over the world to play together and to attend events. Before, it was mostly in Korea and everybody had to travel to Korea which wasn’t always easy. So I think it’s a great thing. I’m sure eSports is only the beginning – it’s getting really huge but for sure it’s only the beginning. There’s no way it’s going to stop here.
J: Speaking of eSports of course, let’s talk again about transition. You’re going from poker back in with Team Liquid, back in with Hearthstone as well. You mentioned Hearthstone can be juggled with your poker career which makes sense. At the same time you’re taking it seriously, you’re here to compete – at the end of the day you’re here to win. Where do you see yourself going, and where do you see Hearthstone going over the next year or two? Are you pleased with how the game has panned out?
P: In my first game today I was playing against control Warrior after winning the first game. I have Crackle in my hand, he’s on 13 life – I needed to top deck some damage or Doomhammer. I top deck Lava Burst, and have exactly seven mana – so I roll a spell power totem, hit for six, he has seven life left…I’ll just Crackle. Crackle for seven!
J: He must have been so angry.
P: And then I won game 3 on turn 5!
E: I think the game’s improved a lot. There were ups and downs of course. It’s very difficult because perhaps unlike StarCraft it’s not a game that was designed for eSports, it just happened to become so popular that eSports is now a part of it. But I think they’re doing a lot of good things with content and the new expansion. The Standard format is something that’s very exciting as well.
Also, for eSports, Hearthstone is an awesome game to play and watch – so it’s difficult to compare it to StarCraft. It’s not the same kind of action and not as intense. The game is interesting and it’s a great game but the action is not as intense as StarCraft. So it’s a different animal from other eSports games but I think it’s going in the right direction. There are so many Hearthstone tournaments now and it’s all going well, but it’s going to be difficult to know where it’s going to be in the next few years. As for myself, I really want to improve and become one of the best in Hearthstone. I’m able to win some competitive games but I really want to be one of the best, not just another player.
J: Are there any other eSports aside from Hearthstone and StarCraft that you’re following? Obviously you may not be playing them but are you watching for example, CS:GO, DOTA2, League of Legends or any of the other eSports that are out right now?
E: I watch a little bit once in a while. When I was in Katowice for IEM, I watched the CS:GO semi-finals. It was so crazy because they had Virtus Pro team who are Polish. So when they came on, the whole stadium was cheering for them…
J: The place shakes every time they take the stage!
E: That was insane, it was really really cool to watch. I also watched the League of Legends finals and I watch DOTA sometimes. I used to play a lot of DOTA 1, actually, and a lot of Heroes of Newerth.
J: Techies for life!
E: Haha, yeah, Techies! So yeah, because of that I still like to play DOTA – actually, before I played Hearthstone I was still playing some DOTA2. The problem was that the games take so long. I travel a lot and it’s more fun when you play with your friends – it’s hard to assemble a group of 5 people at the best of times. I hate losing too so I can’t quit on a loss – I’d start playing at 11pm with my friends and then it’s like 3am and we’ve lost four games in a row – “Fuck it, one more game, we’re going to win this one!” and then I have a flight at 8am! Oh man, I couldn’t sleep…
J: Standard gaming life, man! Haha.
E: Haha yeah, it sucks. But Hearthstone is much easier because one game is like, 5 minutes, right? So if I lose 5 in a row I’m like, “Okay, I can win the next one”.
J: Now away from poker and away from eSports, what does ElkY do in his spare time? What kind of stuff do you do away from public ElkY that everyone sees?
E: I love travelling, so I try to take advantage of the travel I do and experience different cultures. I’ve been with my girlfriend for 3 years and am really in love with her, so we like to travel together. I like to experience mostly the food of each country, I like that a lot – travelling and experiencing the world. Besides, with poker and Hearthstone it’s already keeping me very busy. The thing is right now there’s too much eSports and I feel like there’s things to watch all the time! Even if you just watch Hearthstone and StarCraft there’s things to watch all the time on Twitch!
J: If you’re doing nothing but eating wherever you travel and watching stuff on Twitch you need to give me a couple of lessons on how to lose this, mate! *points to stomach*
E: Haha! Actually I need to go to the gym too – I think it’s important to keep a balance. As much as I love eSports and gaming and staying home, which is obviously much more exciting than going to the gym – come on…
J: Tell you what, on day 1 of arriving at Insomnia, I had cornflakes and a bowl of fruit for breakfast and I felt so good. By the end of day 1, I thought “Tomorrow morning I’m having a fry up, I can’t do this anymore!”
E: Yeah, for sure. It’s important to go to the gym, you know – cause I really believe [in balance]. I also do meditation to increase my focus, and I really believe there is something like a body-mind connection. If you’re in a bad physical condition, then there’s adrenaline and if you’re really excited about something you can make up for being tired. I play like 30 hours of poker and I played StarCraft for days on end – when I was younger and trying to quality for Korea I’d play like 20 hours on end. But there’s a point where an adrenaline rush just can’t make up for everything or [losing] focus, so you have to be in good physical condition.
J: Fair enough! Well thanks very much for taking the time to sit down. Do you have any shoutouts before we sign out?
E: Shoutouts of course to my sponsors, PokerStars and TeamLiquid – and everyone who’s following me everywhere! If you want to follow me on Twitch it’s twitch.tv/elky and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram it’s at elkypoker. Hope to see you guys there – and thanks John!
J: Great! Thanks very much for sitting down with me.
The full link to the interview with Liquid ElkY on YouTube is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnnZ7JMaDXs&list=PLL7FoA_XuuOnEqUkeuF3F9K4mqEnN9ggk