Feature

Gamer – Evolve Pro Player Zaq "Maddcow" Hildreth

by Jeff Marchiafava on Mar 31, 2015 at 10:33 AM

This month the ESL Arena played host to the Evolve PAX East PRO-AM tournament. The day-long single elimination tournament culminated in a best-of-five final match between two accomplished squads: Team Venom Hound and Pushing Daisies. After losing the first two rounds, Pushing Daisies made an impressive comeback to win the tournament, with Zaq "Maddcow" Hildreth single-handedly clinching two of the team's three back-to-back victories as an indomitable Kraken. We talked to Zaq about the tournament, what it takes to be a pro Evolve player, how novice monster players can up their game.

Name: Zaq Hildreth
Occupation: Google Fiber employee            
Twitter: @MaddCowQQ
Location: Provo, UT

You chose to play as the Kraken for all three rounds in the final match. What made you choose him?
I chose Kraken for my first match in the tournament because I didn't know how good the competition was and Kraken is my strongest monster I feel. I wanted to assert strong monster dominance from the start to mess with my opponent's heads. I then chose Wraith and Goliath for my next games due to keeping the teams off guard on what I will pick in the finals and to show that I am good with all three monsters and not just one. This was intentional to keep them on their toes as they didn't know which one I would pick. After that, I just stuck with my tried-and-true Kraken. 

What is your favorite monster in the game?
I love the Wraith due to how fluid she is. Kraken's flying can get clunky at times and Goliath can have issues with leaping into things and having climbing issues. Wraith goes where you want her to when you want her to.

You suffered a narrow defeat against Team Venom Hound in the first round of the finals. What do you attribute that loss to?
They did a great job on keeping pressure on me in that first tunnel engagement. Once I couldn't keep them back any further, I tried to dart outside and got snagged by three harpoon traps. I kept trying to attack them but they didn't get cut and I took tremendous damage from an orbital strike and the full team firing on me. After that I got the Assault down and felt I could have ended the game, but the Assault went down in an awkward position. It was a clutch [healing] grenade from their medic Caira that got Daisy back up that then got the Assault up. After that it was GG.

Did you see something in that first round that affected your approach in your subsequent rounds as the monster?
Not really. As a Kraken player I observe the battlefield and look for openings to crack through a Hank/Caira setup. Eventually I was able to single out players and that was the beginning of cracking their defense.

I noticed you avoided selecting the Kraken's aftershock ability. Can you outline your approach to choosing and upgrading the monster's skills?
I dislike using aftershock at the moment because it doesn't help clear out Markov's mines or Maggie's harpoon turrets. This can get you into some hot water against a lot of the current team setups at the tournament, as they ran both Maggie and Markov. As for my build, I always think about what skills are best for farming food and preventing damage should I get domed at Stage one. Kraken's Vortex and Banshee mines fulfill this purpose very well. Both are good at farming food and slowing down/pushing the Hunters around should I engage in a Stage one dome. After that, I max out Lightning Strike at stage two to be my primary source of damage.  

Round three was the first make-or-break moment in the final. What did your team say to you before the match began? 
My team had confidence in me to the extreme. They all told me that "You got this." I was really proud of my team's support at that moment.  

What were you feeling during that final round, and when did you know your victory was in the bag?
As soon as we lost the second round I was thinking "Wow, we just lost the tournament," and I felt defeated. I got good compliments from my team and chose my monster. Once I was in the final round I had a great start and evolved quickly without having to engage the Hunters. When I armored up and started to look for a good engage, I caught the Support by himself and very quickly turned him into toast. Once I got that first strike and started to fly away to get the next engage up, I had this perfect Zen-like moment and I knew somewhere deep inside that we just won the tournament.

Coming Up Next: Tips for starting Evolve players...

How many hours would you say you've put into Evolve so far? What's your typical practice schedule for a week?
Between all the alphas, beta, press release, and retail release, I would say over 400 hours. My practice was pretty hectic, but it usually started when I got off work around 7:30PM and we practiced until we had to call it. Usually we got a good 3-4 hours in, but some days didn't work for everyone so we tried to cram what we could when we could.

Do you have any tips you could share for someone who is starting out as the monster?
The biggest thing I could say is learn how your Monster feels and get a good feel for the maps. Learn where good feeding areas are, learn where the good places to engage Hunters are, and where it is really bad to get domed and stay away. At first, concentrate on getting to stage two as best you can. If you get domed at stage on, do your best to survive. Once you hit stage two, try engaging the hunters on your terms. Engage them in hostile wildlife areas or areas with a lot of walls that you can use to break line of site. Deep water is also hard for the Hunters to work with.

What do you consider to be the most important aspect to succeeding as the monster?
Knowledge and staying cool. A lot of information needs to be processed and decisions need to be made all the time. Experience and knowledge will help you through these moments. Try to avoid panicking. It's easy to panic when you are alone and can see your doom. Learn to play your opponents more than anything else. This game is 60-80% mental and 20-40% skill-based.

What's the biggest mistake you see monster players make?
Not putting enough distance between yourself and the hunters if you are trying to eat on the run. Map knowledge is another. Go in straight lines; if you circle or double back a lot, the Hunters will catch up a lot easier. Avoid dead-end sections of the maps.

What do you think Evolve's long-term viability is in the eSports scene?
I think it is a fantastic eSport. It's great at competitive level play and a joy to watch because there is a lot of mental acuity involved, on both sides. It's similar to poker; there is a lot to be said of trying to read your opponent and then exploiting their weaknesses.

What do you want to see most from future content? 
Variety in monsters, hunters, and maps. Variety is the spice of life.

Do you play any other games at a professional level?
I used to. The most recent being Fantasy Flight's Netrunner LCG. I won every tournament and regional that I went to for about a year and a half. Then Evolve hooked me.

What are your plans for the future? 
I'm slowly building up a Twitch and YouTube channels. My ultimate goal would be to help coach/train/mentor aspiring gamers and helping them with their strategic thinking in games across all genres.

Do you have any closing advice for aspiring pro players?
Don't be discouraged by losing. It is the best way to learn sometimes. Most of all have fun with your team and yourself; if you aren't having fun it becomes a chore.