Tuesday, October 13, 2015

On Reaching Top 10 Legend in Hearthstone

Almost two years ago I started playing Hearthstone. I was streaming at the time, in between my departure from Stanford and my arrival in Los Angeles to teach. I played Hearthstone rarely on stream, as it was really just a small side thing that I did for fun. I didn't spend any money on the game, and I mostly tried to build silly decks that weren't particularly competitive, but were fun to play. I'm sure watching old videos of myself would be aggravating. I probably misplayed all the time, made poor deck construction choices, and generally was terrible.

At some point in those early months I made a push to reach legend, the highest "rank" you can achieve in a month. I got close - about 8 wins (above .500) away - but stalled out. I was playing a deck called "watcher druid," at the time, named after the absurd 2 mana card "ancient watcher," which has the stats of a 4 mana card, but cannot attack. It can, however, with the help of other cards, be given taunt, or it can be silenced, and for druid in particular this made it a very powerful card. A big, cheap taunt protected the druid player long enough to set up his inevitable "force of nature + savage roar" combo, or else an early watcher plus a silence put a ton of pressure on the opponent.

After that close month, I moved to LA and started working full time at LePort. This was around when Naxxramas was released, and it wildly changed the meta-game to the point where my trusty watcher druid was no longer viable. Because I didn't have as much time to adapt to the new meta, I stopped playing Hearthstone. I'd log in from time to time, of course, and complete a few quests to make some gold or do some arena runs, but I wasn't playing seriously at all. Instead, I started to spend time watching YouTube videos and streams of top players, in particular Trump and Strifecro. While I was playing little, I was learning a lot, and the time eventually came when I got hooked again.

I don't know exactly what did it. Maybe it was the first full expansion, Goblins and Gnomes. Or maybe I just got into the swing of teaching and found myself with more time. Or maybe I was eager to apply everything I learned from watching top players. Whatever the reason, I started playing seriously again. I reached legend for the first time playing "handlock," a deck that runs a bunch of powerful cards that synergize extremely well with the warlock hero power. A few months later I reached legend two months in a row running midrange paladin.

Then this month came. Instead of messing around with fun decks and making a late-season push to legend, as has been my practice so far, I decided to really try. I built my own version on control warrior, a deck that has always been powerful but which has received tremendous new tools recently in the form of "justicar trueheart" and "bash," cards which significantly aid the warrior in survivability and early game removal respectively. I started playing this deck, making tweaks as I went, and lo and behold, I reached legend a week and a half into the month.

A funny thing has happened since I reached legend. I've been steamrolling. I'm not keeping exact stats, but I estimate my winrate is about 80%. Granted, it's early in the month and a lot of players are messing around in advance of the late month horse-race. But even so, I find myself in a surprising position. I'm ranked, as of this writing, 9th on the North America server. I'd be surprised if I finished the month that high - and I'd be surprised if I rank up even higher - but even so it's validation to me that maybe I do know what I'm doing a little bit. Maybe it wasn't absurd to call myself the "Gameologist" when I was streaming. And maybe, just maybe, I should pick up that work again.

I don't think I could be a full time streamer. For one, I love education, I love teaching, and I love curriculum. I enjoyed streaming while I did it, but I actually enjoy teaching, as a job, more. That said, I have been feeling the itch to stream again. My small but loyal following from over a year ago probably won't be excited to see me play a bunch of Hearthstone, but that's fine. The goal, this time, would be to specialize. I still play and enjoy a variety of games (when I have time, which is rarely), but Hearthstone has become my mainstay, and I'm finally good enough, I think, where I can legitimately stream and gain a meaningful following.

But I'm not sure. Reaching top 10 legend has opened up this possibility, but another side of me wonders if I want to. Hearthstone is my fun, my relaxation after a day of teaching and grading and writing emails to parents. And streaming, ultimately, is work. To turn my hobby into a side job - and, frankly, a side job that will likely pay little, if anything - seems dubious at best. Still, it's worth pondering...

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