Interview with 2017 Guild Ball World Champion, Alex Botts

Alex, by now everyone in our hobby has seen your face or heard that you are the 2017 World Champion of Guild Ball. But I’m not sure if everyone fully appreciates the truly herculean feat you accomplished to get there. A quick recap:


Friday, you jumped into the 83 person Guild Ball meat-grinder that was the LCQ and came out the other end with a 5-1 record that was good enough to qualify you for nationals.
Saturday you grappled against the best players in the US (and the internationals that travelled to SteamCon US) and you crushed all four games to become the National Champion.
Sunday you dominated three rounds of Guild Ball against the best players in the world and became the 2017 World Champion.


1.) What was your thought process like after your round one loss in the LCQ? 

That first loss, in the mirror match to Shane Wattie, was kind of a disaster for me. I went in wanting to prove myself to be one of the best players in the world and I was instantly informed I wasn’t even the best Thresher! There are a lot of things I could blame my loss on in that match, but the main truth is that I went for an overly aggressive early game both against and with a captain who’s all about the early game, and it didn’t pay off. I was pretty disappointed in myself, but I had decided beforehand to play the whole LCQ regardless of what happened, and I knew there were enough slots to qualify for Nationals that I could still make it in if I won the rest of my games. So I did my best to rally mentally, and hoped I could get a rematch against Shane later in the weekend. (Sidenote: Tons of credit to Shane. He plays a very clean Thresher and our 1-1 record and his total dominance of the LCQ should indicate to anybody that he’s an excellent player).


2.) I only saw eight players in your Farmers roster, if this is correct can you explain why your didn’t bring ten players? Also, can you share why you don’t take Grange?

So, my roster was only 8 models for Worlds–it had Fallow and Grange during LCQ and Nationals. I never really planned to play Grange since going into SteamCon I felt that Grange was incredibly weak while kicking off and thus he wasn’t worth the gamble compared to Thresher, who doesn’t terribly mind kicking or receiving. I brought those two last models into my list mostly because, if I went to 2 or more losses in the LCQ, I wanted to test out Grange for fun once I was no longer in the running to advance. Over the course of the weekend talking to other top players, I sort of came around to Grange being more playable while kicking than I gave him credit for, but I still hadn’t really practiced him at all. So when I made it to Worlds, the only tournament at SteamCon that was painting-required for all models regardless of newness, I took out Grange and Fallow both so I wouldn’t have to add them to my Saturday-night painting queue and to hopefully shock or surprise my opponents. It was a suggestion by a friend of mine, Kevin Stewart, and I have no idea if it had any impact, but at least I got a couple extra hours of sleep. Thresher only needs the 8 models I brought. 


3.) How long have you been playing Farmers, Thresher specifically?


Technically I began playing Farmers as a playtester, though my group stopped playtesting before the Farmers were finalized and the ones we tested with were somewhat different than their final forms. I’ve proxied Farmers (and played them on Vassal) on-and-off since their official rules release back in April. The only time I took a break in practicing them was in the lead-up to WTC, when I needed to focus on my Union. 


4.) Does being a play tester gives tournament players like yourself an unfair advantage? Why or why not?


I certainly think it could give a player an advantage, but by and large playtesters don’t have a huge amount of time to practice with the final forms of the models that are released. Plus, they have to do so in secret so as not to break an NDA, so their opponents are limited to other playtesters and they can’t play in public spaces. I’d say it would, at most, amount to a small advantage, certainly not enough to where I’d be unhappy having to play a playtester in a tournament. 


5.) Was your decision to take Farmers based on your comfort level with the team or your perception of their strength in the current meta?


Both! I was relying on surprise factor a bit, and my estimation of them as very strong. Their rules weren’t really a surprise by SteamCon (except Fallow, who I did not play), but from talking to other top players and listening to other podcasts I knew that most people were not regularly proxying them to the extent that I was. That on top of their strength and my comfort with this type of team felt like a winning combo. I’m also very lucky in having local players that are a huge help thinking through matchups and theorycrafting strategies. I’d be remiss not to credit Pat Van Valzah with a lot of my success, since he helped me a great deal in figuring out where and how I should play Grace, my Union pick and only non-mascot flex pick. He’s way better at walking through situations in his head than I am and I value his and Vince Curkov’s perspectives on how to play Guild Ball a great deal. It’s easier to prepare for a tournament with a guild that isn’t tournament legal yet if you have input from other great players. 


6.) Throughout the weekend you played Thresher against a wide spectrum of other captains (Skatha, Pin Vice, Hammer, Thresher, Midas, Harmony, Smoke, Obulus, Vet Rage and Shark) yet your only loss was against Shane Wattie who also played Thresher. Is there a silver bullet out there that can easily handle Thresher? Or if there isn’t a specific captain is there a specific strategy that can be used?


I don’t think there’s a “silver bullet” or easy out to defeating Thresher. Like most of the best teams in Guild Ball, Farmers require a strong plan, strong instincts, and reasonable luck to beat. I do think that Corsair, Obulus, Honour, and Engineers generally (in no particular order) are strong into Thresher. Typically, teams that can disrupt or negate his turn one setup are strong, as are ones (like Pin Vice!) that can threaten high enough and consistent enough damage to take out Thresher with relative ease. Teams with range power are a pain, and I also think Obulus’s (together with Casket) strength at controlling or eliminating one specific model is a huge strength against Thresher, the ultimate super solo. Engineers boast tough-to-kill models and a very strong goal game, Corsair is maybe the only team that can reasonably engage a fight with Thresher on their own terms through effects like Drag, Chain Grab, and Lure, and Honour when kicking can really ruin Thresher’s first turn with back-to-back final activations. 


7.) Do you think Thresher or any of the other Farmers need rebalancing? If not why, or if so, what would you change?


I do think Farmers could use an adjustment downward, though I don’t think it should be drastic and I hope/expect Steamforged to test it before it goes live. The team probably just handles too many situations too well, and of the “super solos” in the game Thresher is definitely the safest investment–it’s ridiculously hard for most teams to efficiently remove him from play without giving up lots of points in return. I’d try out reducing Millstone and Harrow’s auras to 4″ range, reduce Fallow’s jog to 4″, and reduce the range-to-Harvest of Thresher’s Poised and Don’t Fear abilities to 3″. Certainly not a definitive answer though. 


8.) What advice do you have for people out there who were motivated by your journey and want to start winning tournaments?


Don’t be afraid to do dorky stuff like taking notes after playing a game or asking dumb questions from players you see as better than you. The quickest I’ve improved at Guild Ball have been the times when I’m willing to totally throw away what I think about a situation and use somebody else’s perspective to rebuild why I come to the conclusions that I do. Question everything outside of the game, then trust your gut completely while in the game, I guess. 


9.) Lastly, what’s next for Alex Botts? Now that you’ve reached the top are you hungry for a 2018 repeat or do you see yourself transitioning into some other challenge?


I’m definitely not done competing but I’m glad there’ll be a few months without a gigantic prestigious tournament. Over the next few months I’m just gonna mess around with other stuff, Grange, Blacksmiths, Blackheart, and Engineers are all on the list. If there’s an event that’s still on the list it’s definitely WTC–I want to bring that home for the US and Chicago so badly!

If you want to hear more thoughts on the game from Alex Botts check out his podcast, Strictly the Worst

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