Hope you guys enjoyed my livestream reveal with Matt Place earlier this week! I had a lot of fun and it’s always one of the highlights of my year to do it.
The arrival date of the expansion is only 3 days after the dump so there isn’t much time to do a review. I’m traveling and unable to do any video content so I figured I could type up some thoughts on a spreadsheet for you guys to read over.
1 – 1.5: Optional Tech
Fringe to mediocre power level card. Might see occasional play. Sometimes only seen as a tech card or one-off. Examples: Soggoth the Slitherer, Kezan Mystic, Elise Starseeker
2 – 2.5: Role Player / Support
Decent power level card that sees some play. Valuable to how a deck functions, but ultimately the deck can survive without it. Examples: Feral Rage, Keeper of Uldaman, Revenge.
3 – 3.5: Archetype Staple
High power level that ends up affirming the deck’s strengths. However, because of its narrowed scope, it’s unable to be a huge player outside of the constructed confines. Examples: Reno Jackson, C’Thun, Arcane Giant
4 – 4.5: Format Staple
This level shares similarities to level 3, but goes a step beyond and dominates the meta to the point where its warped around it. Examples: Grim Patron, Mysterious Challenger, Thing from Below
5: Multi-Format Star
This kind of card might be the one we remember for the ages. It is good in any format you play Hearthstone, whether contructed, arena, or sealed. Powerlevel is off the charts! Examples: Death’s Bite, Dr. Boom, Piloted Shredder
Before we start: I know this title is quite the click-bait and comes off as inflammatory. it’s intentional. I’m not trying to call out specific individuals, I’m calling out everyone. I want to light a fire in every professional and aspiring commentator. Even further, I want to hold myself accountable too. Many things I am writing about even applies way more to myself than others. The things I bring up aren’t about everyone nor am I passive-aggressively saying someone should quit casting. These are my thoughts alone and this is my personal conviction.
I watch a lot of hearthstone. I watch a loooooooooooooot of hearthstone. Sometimes in full screen with speakers on blast, sometimes on mute while I’m multitasking or between transfer flights at an airport. I also cast a ton of Hearthstone and at times, when the meta is figured out and stabilized, I feel like I can cast Hearthstone with my eyes closed.
And truth be told, there have been moments were I feel like I have done events like that. I say the same things every time. I analyze the situations the same.
Druid wants early ramp. Shaman is looking for the early board. Rogue wants the coin/spells. Freeze Mage mulligans for card draw and survival. Well, I guess he didn’t draw Reno Jackson. Turns out Fiery War Axe is pretty good! Lifetap is an amazing hero power.
And while these things aren’t incorrect and quite important to mention, this is the limit of the depth we force upon the viewer. Another way to put it is that I feel like casters make Hearthstone sound less interesting than it is. We can do so much more.
The Current State of Hearthstone Casting
Casters are the only consistent entity at a Hearthstone event. The top 8 results and meta decks will always be shifting and rearranging, but the voices that guide us through the plays and stories are the same. In fact, due to how conversational Hearthstone is without a natural visual climax (nothing like defusing a bomb or a huge team fight), you might argue that good commentary in Hearthstone is more vital than any other eSport on Twitch these days. The fact that we can debate every single decision from card choices to lineup preparation to in-game plays makes this game extremely fun on a competitive level. There exists thousands of different outcomes and each of them are fascinating to discuss.
As such, it’s no surprise we as a community tend to be brutally honest with our talent. While these days, the heckling is more of a meme fiesta more than actual outcry for action, it’s not really as evenly split as half-joking as one might think.
Now there’s a lot of good things casters have done in recent times. I noted in my previous blog that positive energy goes a long way talking about the importance of finding the narrative, build up what’s happening on screen, and focus on the exciting things that are happening on screen. We’ve largely done this across the board and I feel like Hearthstone broadcasts has actually grown because of this trend.
However, I think we’ve gone as far as this horse can go. It’s been mentioned countless times over the years: variety is the spice of life. If every caster sounds like this then not only will the voices drown on in a sea of monotonous praise, but it also makes all the casters collectively seem like actors. That they’re shills for Blizzard/Dreamhack/whoever else they represent.
This shouldn’t be the case. Our talent pool is actually diverse should it should reflect that.
HCT Winter Championships Talent — LtR: Savjz, TJ, Sottle, Reynad, Cora, Rob Wing, Old Gods Amaz
So while we’ve done a lot of great stuff pushing things forward this far with Hearthstone commentary, let’s talk about the problem that’s starting to show in recent broadcasts.
For one, it’s starting to get increasingly more difficult for casters to differentiate elite players in Hearthstone. This is because Hearthstone competitions are more open and growing with each season. HCT is the biggest tournament in the world and the amount of people fighting tooth-and-nail for ladder points and qualifying spots gets larger by the event. With so many new faces coming in and out, it’s getting increasingly harder to care which is why HCT works so tirelessly to do fun/memorable player profiles.
Another aspect that coming into play is that casters have no statistics-driven narrative in Hearthstone. There’s no official rankings outside Gosugamers, but their system is imperfect and also lacks consistency. HCT points should be meaningful, but as far as I know, Blizzard does not wish to push elitism in Hearthstone through a ranking outside of legend finishes. We don’t have access to player profiles for win percentages or tendencies outside of what’s provided by Blizzard.
Speaking of which, we also lack a centralized information base that contains player history and data. Liquipedia tried to do it in the early stages but they’ve largely trailed off to focus on only the big events. Since we lack this information, when a new player shows up, the casters do a ton of research to tell you about all the cups and tournaments they’ve played in, but it’s a tough sell considering to the viewer who is watching them for the first time. The only way we can reliably build reputation is through name association. “He is a practice partner of Thijs and Ostkaka” would instantly perk your ears as opposed to “He has 50 HCT points.”
I could talk about these problems more in depth but it’s starting to get off-topic. The reason why I bring it up is because these things all center around one glaring issue: it feels like players are having an even more difficult time setting themselves apart despite the ecosystem become more accessible.
While casters can’t fix this problem singlehandedly, we contribute towards the difficulty of distinction. Our jobs at its core is to tell a story. Right now it’s not that interesting because of the way we tell it.
#1 — Casters Still Lack Substantive Game Knowledge
I’m not nitpicking on the small details that Twitch chat picks on. Yes, sometimes we miss lethals, we read mana crystals incorrectly, and we sometimes even forget that the 2 cards of a deck were played already. All of these things are actually play-by-play moments if you think about it. That’s not lack of analysis, its lack of attention to whats happening on screen which will eternally be a problem in a game with so many numbers fluctuating simultaneously all over the screen while juggling dialogue with your co-caster/audience.
That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s only human to error in this department.
What I’m referring to is how casters need to step up their understanding of WHY things happen in Hearthstone.
If you look at some of the biggest accolades given to an on-air talent, in sport or esport, one of the most appreciated attribute is the ability to dive into the mindset of a player.
As casters, we’re resorting to generalizations of topics because we’re afraid to be wrong. We tend to stick to tried and true basic notions as opposed to understanding the intricacies of the game/series at hand.
Now here comes the very legitimate counterargument: “Well not everyone is an advanced or even intermediate level player. Why are we making it so complex? It makes it inaccessible.”
I used to think like this. Hell, this was the primary reason why I cast the way I do for years now and perhaps why many commentators have followed suit. I want Hearthstone to be accessible, welcoming, and most importantly, fun.
But I don’t get why we as a community act like we can’t have it all. Does Hearthstone really need a play-by-play guy and an analysis guy like other games? As mentioned in my previous Casting Call post, Hearthstone is very unique in the eSports broadcast space. Tournament setup, atmosphere, and pace is very different. There’s no obvious climax a lot of the time. Is there a particular reason why we need to explain what cards are hitting other cards? Part of what makes Hearthstone intrinsically fun to watch is that it’s easy and simple to grasp. A 2/3 visually bumps a 2/1 and survives with 1 health remaining. That makes logical sense.
#2 — Casters, Be More Honest; Players Be More Open Minded
This is sort of two points in one, but they go hand-in-hand. A large reason why Hearthstone is as fun to watch is because we get access to full information and we can debate better plays until we are blue in the face. I would argue this is the most important thing about being a commentator in Hearthstone — the ability to help sift through what’s good and bad. Yes, bad.
There’s a great video put out by Thorin who verbalized an important intellectual concept that “If everyone is good, no one is.” Take a moment to watch at least the first 3 minutes.
It’s different with a game like Hearthstone because the card game variance does lend itself to having closer matchups which either player had a realistic chance to win. But this is not the point.
As commentators, we are often trying to sell the players as being vaguely “great” and their plays are “excellent”. And by doing so, we actually cheapen the value of actual fantastic plays. Even more, we also make the result seem insignificant.
Let’s boil it down in more simple terms. If no one ever makes a mistake in a game and it’s truly evenly matched, then luck plays a large factor. This applies to any game, but especially so in a game that has as much random outcomes as Hearthstone. Thus, if we make it seem like players are on the same level and their plays are always good, then what is the audience led to believe? That one player got luckier than the other.
No matter how salty players lead you to believe, the truth is that there are tiers of players who are playing at a significantly higher level than your average legend player. In fact, it tends to benefit the elite into convincing the majority that skill doesn’t truly matter at the top. Thus, they remain in the top strata by allowing others to think that, similar to Poker.
So it’s important the caster can feel like he can explore discussing things in the truth. Player A played badly. Player B played okay, but since he outplayed Player A he still won. By saying both players did equally well, we de-legitimize the series as well as the game/tournament itself.
However, there comes associated risks with it. First, the audience doesn’t like to hear excessive negativity, especially with someone who has power over the microphone. It sounds condescending, arrogant, and that constant criticism can feel like a mood killer. This is exacerbated when a popular player comes onto camera since many of his/her fans will rally behind them.
But I think that players need to be more open-minded as well. Many of them are as oftentimes you hear in interviews “Man I played like crap” or “That was so sloppy and I’m unhappy with how I played.” Why are the commentators unable to say this? Because we fear the inevitable battle that we have to struggle with once we declare war on someone’s play. It’s not that it will happen every time, but even one time where it goes disastrously may leave a bad mark on the caster’s reputation and relationships, which may have damaging effects further on.
However, there’s a simple solution I feel that ties in all 3 points.
#3 — Casters Need To Affirm Their Authority
Credibility goes a long, long way in Hearthstone, a game of opinions. And simply put, when you get an opinion from an unreliable source, you kind of want a second opinion.
I don’t find it a surprise that people really enjoy commentary from Savjz, Brian Kibler, Reynad, and most recently Firebat. What do they all have in common? They actually have history to back up their words from strong ladder/tournament results. All have finished top legend and placed high in events before. So when they discuss a match up or a decision tree, you feel like it makes more sense since they’ve done it before.
It doesn’t mean they are always right in their analysis. Actually, they’re arguably wrong many times and they readily admit it. But their words carry weight. More importantly, other players trust them to be able to see their perspective and reasoning behind decisions because they’ve been there before.
So to follow up on the previous section, how do we go about bringing analytical criticism to games? I think the key is hiring casters that have a good reputation and can eloquently break down the who, what, and why.
I’m not saying this to cement the existing group of casters and deny entry of new talent. In fact, this should be encouragement to any aspiring commentators to git gud to get noticed. The old timers need to keep up as well. As much as I love Kibler and that this post doesn’t really apply much to him, he still needs to actually sit down and grind freeze mage games to understand this insanely complex deck. Savjz is a fantastic analyst, but he hasn’t played a serious game of Hearthstone in months and would be better prepared if he took time playing some meta decks. Reynad regularly admits he’s falling more behind the meta and is in a constant state of playing catchup. The cream of our crop can improve. We all can.
Hearthstone is a card game that doesn’t require intensive mechanics or fast reaction time unless you count the days of OG Patron Warrior. Outside of crippling healthy problems (anxiety, for example), there is literally no excuse for people who call themselves professional Hearthstone casters to assert themselves with some results on ladder or in tournament.
I feel like this post was probably a bit too brutal and no doubt some people mentioned or implied will message me privately/publicly to explain why I am right or wrong.
But I welcome it!
This post is supposed to serve as an example in itself. Similarly to how I attempted to dissect Hearthstone’s current commentary trends in 2500 words or so, perhaps we should also try exploring Hearthstone plays more honestly with vibrant discussions. After all, we are there to entertain you guys. Hopefully with less than 2500 words. But don’t put your money on it. I’m a Talkstone caster.
Sorry I haven’t been updating this as much as I would like to. A large reason why I have stopped blogging once a month as planned was because I picked up streaming on a consistent basis. As such, I usually ventilate for hours on a nightly basis. This consumes my creative free time and I’m too busy or exhausted to sit down and jot down notes.
Now the reason I broke my blog silence is because I feel particularly moved to talk about a time-sensitive topic.
Too often I find that even me, Frodan, who has fully immersed himself in the world of cardslinging, knee-slapping action of Hearthstone, has too often had to ask basic questions such as:
What are the important events in the Hearthstone scene?
When are they happening?
Who is playing in it?
Why should I care?
This is the reason I’m making this post to explain why you and everyone who is within earshot distance of Ben Brode’s laugh (read: every human being on the planet) should be watching Dreamhack Austin this weekend from May 6 – 8th.
2015 is old news as we’re more than a full week into the new year. I took a very nice vacation and time away from the computer (but not my iPad, still had to hit legend!) so I apologize for not getting this out in a timely manner.
The eSports industry moves at a breakneck pace. Heck, any part of adult life tends to go at a blinding speed compared to when you’re stuck in school counting down the minutes until class is dismissed. But when you’re bombarded with event after event, it’s hard to digest it all and process wtf did we actually see this year.
Linkin Park closing BlizzCon 2015!
In light of GosuGamer faithfully following the scene and handing out their yearly awards, I too wanted to do like a 2015 Frodan awards of “Best Player” and “Best Team”. However, I feel like it’s redundant to pick the obvious choices like G2/Nihilum, even though all their recognition this year is desreved. Nor do I find it particularly interesting to redundantly discuss things that you can find out yourself with a bit of Liquipedia research and reddit browsing.
Instead, I’m just gonna write down random stories of the year, reminisce about my favorite moments, games, conversations, and other things.
Warning: This blog ended up getting massively long (4k+ words). At this point, I’ve sunk so much time into it that I won’t be doing much editing. Sorry!Continue reading →
It’s been years since I seriously competed in an event. The last one I can remember was for Halo 3 at MLG Anaheim 2009. I had forgotten everything which made me love eSports in the first place — the thrill of experiencing intense competition. Sure I had done other sports in middle/high school, but there is nothing quite like the indigestible feeling that the entire world is watching you play versus the best. It’s like a burning thirst which can be quenched by victory alone. Desire to win is not enough and losing will ignite the flame even more. The worst part about this bloodlust for glory is that once you taste it, you want to feel that again. That’s what gives me the drive to compete…or used to drive me.
Me [green shirt] and my two buddies LANing it up with H:CE back in 2006.
I had lost much of this feeling over time as my priorities shifted into commentary, production, and behind-the-scenes busy work. Casting still has some performance pressures, but usually get many chances to prove yourself throughout a tournament. Even better, you have the wonderful luxury of even correcting a mistake by simply explaining what you meant or having a co-caster playfully banter to pull you out of a hole. There is rarely such an opportunity as a player. Missing your chance means you stand in the background celebration pictures clapping for someone else who took your trophy. It sucks. I hate that feeling. It’s often said that many greats have a stronger hatred for losing than a love for winning. I identify with this sentiment completely.
So I stuck with commentary. I was better at talking than playing and after five years or so, I still love doing it.
However, for one magical weekend, I decided to give competing at SeatStory a second try where the atmosphere is laidback and very player-friendly. You always get a chance to go to the couch and talk about what you were doing or what you were trying to accomplish. It’s one of the best events to do it.
As a caster, you naturally are a people pleaser meaning you are extra vulnerable to the heavy criticisms. It’s extremely rare for a caster to successfully take the mic off and step into the player booth. Usually it’s the other way around! But Hearthstone is one of those games where anyone can win. I’ve hit as high as top 10 legend before and won some practice series against teammates so I knew I had at least a little bit of good stuff, but boy was I not prepared for what happened at all.
There will be two parts: the background of competing in the event and the lessons I’ve learned from it.
I’ve re-written this post 3 times now. In my first draft, I had written 1500+ words on the state of Hearthstone commentary and nearly convinced myself there were no good casters at all in Hearthstone, which I don’t think is necessarily true at all.
I purged it with fire and started from scratch. In my defense, it started off promising. I felt like I hit some great points with strong video examples to drive my point home. But I did a quick read-through and the tone was overly negative which is ironic given the title for this post. Didn’t like it at all. So I’m taking the post in a different direction.
Generally, I want to use this series to talk about my own casting experiences and share any knowledge I have for any aspiring casters or interested fans. Above everything else, I believe even writing it out helps me improve which I’m always looking to do.
Today’s topic is positive energy and the value added to a broadcast by consistently having lots of it!
Introduction – Hearthstone is different than other games
Hearthstone is very unique compared to other games on Twitch. There aren’t many climaxes in the game because all of the intricacies are cerebral/strategical. Lots of downtime between turns also can make the pacing slow…especially if players take their sweet time to make a pivotal decision. As such, sometimes long drawn out games can feel boring or tedious.
Yet, the game is fun as hell to watch. Both for personal streams and tournaments streams alike! There are several games where I don’t enjoy watching players stream from home, but I love tournaments. The converse is true as well…don’t think I can bring myself to watch many Heroes streamers, but the tournaments themselves are pleasantly entertaining at times.
I think ultimately the biggest reason why Hearthstone exploded onto the broadcast industry is because of the level of engagement of the personality has to the audience. Brave streamers can read chat, answer questions, and thoughtfully figure out ways to interact. Tournaments rely on the casters to engage the audience — that’s where guys like me come in.
Imagine trying to cast a game like this. Talk about ResidentSleeper…
What makes someone want to watch others play video games?
To some, it’s the level of play demonstrated such as a ridiculous no-scope headshot from in an FPS. To others, it’s something they can relate to since they don’t really play or care about traditional sports. In the future, fans might even care solely due to culture, which is what Dreamhack has achieved. Pretty much everyone around that part of Sweden goes to the Elmia because it is one of the most fun and epic social events of the year.
Today, the vast majority of fans are drawn by one thing: the story lines of the players/teams and the rivalries behind them. Continue reading →
This is my first post in a series I want to call “For the Record.” Oftentimes, I see a comment or a post that might have misunderstandings based on a story he may have heard through a friend or on stream. I’ll summon this series whenever I feel there is something cool to share or a need to address misconceptions. Leave a comment or question. Enjoy!
I know I put up topics to write about and I promise I’ll get to them, but I wanted to do a warm up post to get the writing juices working before I dive into some deeper topics. Besides, today is probably the last day I can write this as we are on the eve of The Grand Tournament which releases sometime in the next 30+ hours from now. Continue reading →
Many people recognize my work for being able to tread the line carefully and be professional on camera. However, what people may not know about me is that I am also really, really opinionated when it comes to certain topics.
Why a blog?
A few months ago, I got fired up to talk about a few pressing issues I felt was going on in the community. Originally, I wanted to start an audio podcast to vent my thoughts, but after I did my first 45 minute recording/rant, I ended up with many problems, most notably failing to record on multiple channels so the fun audio stuff I had planned messed up (T_T). Pushing the project through would turn out to be much more work than I anticipated…plus I realized I am not good at verbally ranting as I thought I was hahaha! Continue reading →