December 15, 2014
Table of Contents
From Zero To Hero: Hearthstone As A Career #1
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Purpose and Intended Audience
- a beginning or intermediate Hearthstone player looking to go pro and make an income from your passion, or
- curious to learn more about professional gaming and understand the kind of steps involved and the commitment required, and how success is measured, or
- an interested bystander following the successes and failures of one (at the time of writing) insignificant Hearthstone player
I’m also an intermediate Hearthstone player looking to go pro and make an income from my passion, and in this series of articles I will chart my progress on a monthly basis going from a naive beginner with only a clutch of basic cards to her name, to a fully fledged professional. I shall explain the perks and pitfalls of professional gaming, the difference between playing for fun and playing as a job, chart my monthly progress both in the game and in business using empirical data, and give tips and advice I’ve learned the hard way on how to make the most efficient use of your time and resources. I will also present the exact same learning resources I used to grow my knowledge and skill of both the game and the industry.
Why – as a non-expert at Hearthstone – do I think I’m qualified to write about this? Because I’ve made a living starting from scratch in both the pro-gaming and entertainment industry twice before.
This series is meant to be read in parallel with my Hearthstone 101 series which I’m developing in tandem, so I will add cross-links to both sets of articles as and when they are published. The Hearthstone 101 series presents factual information and data about the game (tutorials and guides), while this series shows how I have applied it in a more narrative way.
Disclaimer: this attempt may fizzle horribly. I have outlined the main reasons why I think I may succeed or fail below, but as a retroactive way of covering my *ss, let me be clear that nobody can just say “I’m going to go pro” at a game and then succeed. It may turn out that I’m just not good enough or not cut out for it, and I am not arrogantly assuming I will make it. Time will show.
What I Knew About Hearthstone
When I kicked off this project in September 2014, I was pretty naive about Hearthstone and I probably still am (but at least I’ve moved to conscious incompetence now!). I had just decided to complete Naxxramas and get all my heroes to level 10 then be done with the game, but by then I was hooked. I always vowed never to spend money on digital in-game items, but now I have.
I knew that some people on ranked had better cards than me. I didn’t realize you could unlock cards beyond the ones for levelling up to 10 or playing Naxxramas. I didn’t know about going infinite in arena or its usefulness (see below). I didn’t know how old the game was, or that you could play in tournaments online, or that people streamed it, or that there were famous players. I didn’t know about the ranking system, legend, win streaks or anything like that. I didn’t know about the meta, any current deck archetypes or where to find them.
What I “knew”, was that Blizzard had made a cheap online dumbed down copy of Magic The Gathering with an improved interface and less cards.
I have played Magic The Gathering for some years and in 2014 began playing at a local competitive level with generally lackluster success – mainly because I lacked the money to buy the cards I needed to build a so-called ‘tier 1 deck’. The cards you were allowed to play with in standard format tournaments were due to change at the end of September so I decided to wait, save money, buy the new cards and go pro.
I learned about Hearthstone in the summer of 2014. I quickly and incorrectly concluded that it was too simple, too luck-based and I would quickly get fed up of it. The opposite was true, and in a 1-month stint in hospital from mid-August to mid-September I became very interested in the game.
But before I knew it, my MTG cards started to gather dust…
People go pro for different reasons. Among others:
- Fame – they want to be popular
- Glory – they want to win
- Money – they want to get rich
For most people, all three are unrealistic and they will fail. For me, idealistically I would want to do it for glory. I don’t care about money and I’m already popular where it matters to me: with my friends – but the sad fact is, I’m relatively poor so I will approach it as a business whose primary goal is to produce income. To produce income however, it does help to be very good at the game, with one notable exception (see below).
So I am laying out my policy very openly and honestly here as I feel that is best. Financial income is a major concern that I must somewhat prioritize; the dream goal is (of course) to win BlizzCon – Hearthstone’s World Championship event. I believe this approach is true of many players.
The three motivations all go somewhat hand-in-hand: fame and glory both lead to money in their own ways: fame via streaming income; glory via tournament winnings. Money assists in fame due to having more leverage to do what you want to increase your brand awareness. Glory is a personal motivator.
Viability Research and Revenue Streams – HS vs MTG vs Poker
It is important to understand that going pro in any game is a business, and a job, and must be viewed as such. It is a serious commitment that takes time and effort – much of it away from the game itself – and you need the right attitude. When you go pro in a game, you have to establish a brand identity and push that identity with a web presence unless you are absolutely cream-of-the-crop. It is not enough to just sit at home grinding on Hearthstone every day unless you are one of the elite few who can get to the top ranks in legend on a regular basis. Blizzard records the top 100 legend players in each region every month and discards the rest, so if you can hit top 100 your chance of being invited to closed invitational tournaments increases. In this case, you can sit on your own and grind. For everyone else, there are easier revenue streams to aim for, and it’s also important to realize that you don’t have to be a world-class player to make a living playing a game; you just have to be very good at it and popular.
In the 2nd half of September I did a quick feasibility study on Hearthstone vs Magic The Gathering and concluded that Hearthstone was right for me.
It is important to choose a game that is right for you, and everyone will have their own reasons. I chose Hearthstone because:
- I am poor at reflex-based games where an eSports community exists such as CSGO (Counter Strike: GO) and Dota 2 (which is partly reflex-based)
- I am very good at strategy games
- I have a background in card games – poker and Magic The Gathering – and I’m good at them
- My mobility is severely reduced due to illness (see below) and competing at MTG involves a great deal of travel around the country and abroad if you are taking it seriously
- Most importantly: my feasibility study found that there were far more revenue streams available in Hearthstone
I have never been involved in eSports before, so I researched the revenue streams available for Hearthstone:
- tournament income (this is the only thing most people think of when they hear the words ‘pro gamer’ – you must be in a tiny top minority of excellent players)
- streaming income (from broadcasting on Twitch; this can produce income whether you are good or not depending on your personality and charisma with your audience, and your ability to promote yourself)
- writing income (from acquiring writing contracts on sites like HearthstonePlayers – you must be fluent in communicating in writing with your audience)
- coaching income (if you become a known player, you can charge $50-100 per hour for Hearthstone coaching sessions – IHearthU has a page where you can book coaching from known players and view prices)
- sponsorship income (if you become famous enough, sponsors will pay you to advertise their products)
- team income (if you become a member of a team, they will hook you up to paid events)
To be successful, you should ideally embrace as many of these things as possible to maximize your earnings potential. Some recommended reading for you is Forbes writer Cameron Keng’s article Professional Gaming is a $300,000 career choice which contains a number of useful tips you may not have thought of.
In Magic The Gathering, the top 5 all-time money earners from official organized play have earned a combined total $1.2m as of 2006. At this point, the game was 12 years old. Hearthstone is officially 8 months old at the time of writing and I would posit that the total prize pool given away in tournaments since the beta ended on 31st March 2014 approaches this figure already. Additionally, while steaming MTG on Twitch can provide an income, Hearthstone streamers earn more. There are 2-3 million regular Magic players; there are already 20 million Hearthstone accounts in existence.
Poker provides a much higher potential income than Hearthstone. I used to play poker semi-professionally and quit with earnings of approximately $170,000 after 2 years because I got bored of it. That was over 10 years ago and the potential earnings from poker are much higher now with the influx of TV coverage, tournaments and poker play sites. The problem with poker is that the risk factor is much higher. That was ok in 2003 when I was rich to start with; in 2014 as a long-term sick individual who filed bankruptcy, I have neither sufficient starting capital nor the stamina anymore to play poker full-time, so poker is not an option now.
Availability is also a concern. Availability means how easy it is to get into paid tournaments and make a name for yourself vs the amount of money you have. In Magic The Gathering, the online game platform MTG Online gives reasonable availability but some of the game formats are limited to Friday-Sunday and some of them don’t trigger because there are not enough participants. Additionally, the client is so awkward and frustrating to use even once you are used to it that it makes the games more of a chore to play. To play in MTG Online you usually have to pay to enter a tournament and you also have to buy all the cards you need, so the upfront investment is higher; and these virtual cards do not translate to their paper equivalents. To make the most tournament income from Magic The Gathering, one must travel – which is expensive. This is also true in Hearthstone but the online availability of tournaments and reduced availability of real-life tournaments makes earning from home significantly easier. (Note: Hearthstone tournaments often take place on both EU and NA servers, so for maximum availability you need to maintain at least two accounts with good card collections)
MTG Online offers a revenue stream that Hearthstone does not and likely will not have: a real-time market for trading virtual cards. This functions more or less like the stock market, where prices go up and down on an hour to hour basis and technical charting analysis is available online. A good deal of players make a tidy living just from day-trading cards, so if you have expertise in the financial markets, this is also an option for you. I considered this too as I once worked as a futures broker (futures are a financial instrument that can be traded like stocks but work differently).
Luck And Variance
We have not yet talked about luck and variance. Luck is a component of any game that features a random element. Some games are more or less skill-based than others. Variance is a mathematical measure of the amount of upswing or downswing (the amount of good or bad luck) that can occur against your average expected win rate over a given period of time. Luck plays a role in Hearthstone, Magic The Gathering and poker. In poker, pros were expected to have a win rate of about 55% per session on average; in Magic 60% is a pro level and in Hearthstone we look for 58% (see below). This indicates that poker has the highest ratio of luck-to-skill and it also has the highest variance.
For reference, a game like chess is 100% skill and 0% luck. If you play optimally all of the time, your variance will be zero. In roulette, the game is 0% skill and 100% luck. Our card games fall somewhere in the middle. So why does any of this matter? Well, obviously you can only make a living playing a game if it is more than 50% skill-based, and Hearthstone passes that test. Secondly, the more variance, the more emotionally tolerant you have to be of long winning and losing streaks. Hearthstone is more “streaky” than Magic The Gathering but less streaky than poker.
A Brief Word on Another Revenue Stream
Surprisingly, I have learned that there is one group of people who don’t actually need to be good at Hearthstone to make a tidy living from it. The sad reality is that a number of females make significant income on the game streaming platform Twitch simply by being female, acting ‘cute’ and ‘showing a little’. This route is not open to most of us; I am also female but my ‘assets’ are small, and that doesn’t sell. If that route was open to me, I would probably use it to my advantage, and in my research it seems that different people are willing to leverage their bodies to different degrees to increase their income. I love Hearthstone, and I am here for the game, so this is not a path I would want to pursue to a large degree if it were at my disposal, but I cannot deny that being cute from time to time doesn’t hurt. Just being honest; overall though, this is where I draw one exception to the usual business rule of “use whatever means you have available” – unfortunately sexualized imagery is a very powerful selling tool.
It is important to set challenging but not impossible goals for yourself on both a short and long-term basis. If you set goals that aren’t attainable, you set yourself up for regular disappointment and demoralization. If the goals are too easy, you will not advance at a sufficient rate. Be realistic about your own skills in both playing, promotion, personality (for streaming), how much time you have available and so on. Project that everything will take way more time than you expect it to – doubling or even tripling the amount of time expected to accomplish a particular goal is usually quite reasonable and this approach is often taken in project planning in business too. I have worked in IT for some years and it is common practice to multiply the expected time to complete a project milestone or deliverable by 2-3.
I will not sit here and claim that I can win BlizzCon. Here are the long-term goals I set myself – yours may be different:
- Make a minimum-wage equivalent income from streaming
- Make a name for myself by writing professional educational guides and demonstrating good knowledge of the game (my gut feeling says that I am better at understanding and explaining game theory than I will be at applying it)
- Become good enough at Hearthstone to reach top 1,000 in legend rank every month; overall win rate of 58%
I took an anecdotal sample from a few pro players I talked with and 58% was considered a minimum benchmark percentage to be able to play at the pro level. 60% is considered superb. This is your win rate at rank 5 and above; your win rate will vary from rank to rank, time of the month (due to the way ranking is reset, ranked play is harder at the start of the month), whether you are playing in ladder or tournaments and so on.
In the short term I set the following monthly goals:
- October 2014: Reach rank 5 (top 2% of players)
- November 2014: Reach legend (top 0.5% of players)
- December 2014: Participate in a paid tournament
- January 2015: Start streaming regularly
October 2014 was to be my first full season playing Hearthstone and I had only basic cards plus a few commons and rares.
Reasons To Succeed, Reasons To Fail
It is very important to consider both sides of the coin; estimate your strengths and weaknesses before you begin and you will be better poised to have realistic expectations and work on the areas where you struggle (if possible).
Here are the mental lists I made. Why I am well-positioned to succeed:
- I’m good at business – I worked as a project manager, managing people and finances on various IT projects
- I’m good at strategy games – I played poker semi-professionally, and Magic The Gathering at a local level; plus my software development background makes me good at math, and I am self-taught in human psychology
- I’m good at writing – I have a professional game development blog (www.djkaty.com) and have worked as a game reviewer and columnist in the past
- I’m good at teaching and communicating – teaching was to be my 2nd career choice after being a software developer; I have taught math and programming to beginners many times in the past and they always comment that I explain it in a better way than their actual teachers; I know many teenagers and I help some of them with their homework (by explaining the principles; not by doing it for them)
- I’m good at entertaining and promoting – I created Scandinavia’s largest electronic music network, which was also the 5th largest globally online some years ago. I had a popular radio show, so I have good charisma with my audience. My friends often tell me I should’ve been a stand-up comedian.
Why I may fail:
M.E. (myalgic encephalomyelitis)
Sometimes known very euphemistically as CFS or chronic fatigue syndrome), M.E. is the single reason why I stopped being able to work, lost my income and savings, ended up in a small state-owned apartment, lost my mobility and therefore a portion of my social life, and have to rely on help from others. It is also a major cause of stress and depression, when you can’t do the things you want to do, are in constant weakness and pain, feel like a burden on your friends and all the time have to fight a health service that doesn’t care and a welfare service that tries to screw you for every penny at every turn, leaving you with no financial security. My income is enough to survive and exist but not to live, so a small amount of extra from Hearthstone will help tremendously with this.
A lot of people do not understand M.E. and some do not even believe it is real; I encourage you to read my articles Living with M.E. as a Software Developer and Dying with M.E. as a Software Developer to learn more if you’re interested (the party mentioned within has now been completed and there is now some doubt over the terminal nature of my particular condition even though its status as degenerative holds; you can still donate if you want and it will go towards Hearthstone work).
M.E. has also impacted my memory and concentration so I am not as sharp as I used to be; I have noticed this in my Hearthstone play and I would frankly not be confident playing poker at this stage. It also makes me late for deadlines, scheduled stream start times and sometimes miss tournaments – it is very frustrating, and I am looking for coping strategies.
Luck and timing
It was October 2014 when I started. We are late to the party. There are already many established pros who are famous and have large followings. On top of that, acquiring all the cards you need takes a lot of either time or money (not as much as Magic The Gathering though if you are playing what are called ‘legacy’ or ‘modern’ formats), and all the pro players have them all already since many have been playing since the beta in 2013. Many pros also come from other games such as Starcraft II, and therefore already have a larger following than someone who is starting from scratch in Hearthstone.
Senior Game Designer for Hearthstone Ben Brode recently tweeted:
“You don’t need a full collection to be able to “compete at all levels of play”, only 30 cards.”
He later wrote that this was the justification for why there is no catch-up mechanism needed for new players to catch up and collect cards more quickly. I strongly disagree with this statement, and here is why:
- While you only need 30 cards to make a deck, acquiring those cards is a game of getting enough dust to craft them since the contents of packs are unreliable; in the meanwhile you will collect many cards
- To play in tournaments you usually need 3 decks, which is 90 cards
- A few of the cards will be epics or legendaries which are particularly difficult to acquire
Nonetheless, there is no catch-up mechanism so card acquisition is another problem that has to be dealt with. Conveniently for Blizzard, the easiest way to deal with it is to pour money into card packs.
The luck element of making it as a pro is basically whether you get noticed by the right people at the right stage of your development or not. It also depends on who you manage to forge connections with, which will most often happen by chance.
Voice and appearance
Rational members of society may find such a claim surprising, but there are a couple of issues at work here.
First, as a woman, there are certain expectations the general public has when you stream: you should be pretty and have visible cleavage. I am average-looking and have small breasts and therefore no proper cleavage. Many people on Twitch will enter a channel simply because they see it is a female playing, then get disappointed and leave. It’s sad, but it’s true. The net result of this is lost revenue.
Secondly, I have a unique problem which is a defective male voice – not a deep voice, a male voice; the result of a genetic birth defect. This problem has plagued me so much in my life that I moved from the UK to Norway where people are less inclined to dictate my own gender to me. I was always aware that streaming on Twitch would open myself up to the same world of abuse I used to suffer, and indeed it has. This has two effects: lost revenue, and an impact on your mood when you stream and potentially afterwards, which reduces your in-game performance and your capacity to entertain the rest of the audience. When you have something about yourself that makes you a soft target, expect an increase in bullying and a decrease in revenue. I imagine that I will have to work three times as hard as anyone else to become popular – this may or may not be true.
Why we all may fail: Cyberbullying in eSports
I have spoken to a number of other streamers and pro players – both male and female – about online cyberbullying. All were of course supportive, and a recurring theme was that everyone gets ripped apart on Twitch, regardless of whether they fit societal stereotypes or not. From degenerates calling the superb player and teacher Trump autistic, to the gross Twitch chat during BlizzCon about excellent player Tiddler Celestial’s appearance and calling him Hitler Celestial, to a female streamer who wishes to remain anonymous who reached out to me in private and told me she wants to go pro but had stopped streaming because she was repeatedly called fat and ugly (she is neither of those things), to my own experiences with people telling me what kind of genitalia I have or asking me if my parents were brother and sister (my father died when I was 22), cyberbullying is real and it is rampant. You need a thick skin to survive in the eSports industry and we urgently need change. Be prepared for it. I thought I was, but I wasn’t. I am slowly learning to ignore it, but remember: the more known you get, the bigger a target you will become.
At BlizzCon 2014, Mike Morhaime gave an excellent speech about cyberbullying – which I strongly recommend you to watch – but minutes later the obscene online chat continued apace. Trump also made a passionate speech about cyberbullying at the end of one of his shows; this was really from the heart and prompted me to message him in support.
Twitch is not the only source of hassle; Reddit has a popular Hearthstone subreddit which is more or less an essential hangout; pros and even Blizzard use it. Unfortunately, some Redditers believe that being anonymous gives them a license to be rude and obnoxious no matter what you post. More or less everything I have posted there gets down-voted and torn to pieces no matter what it is about or the quality. Be prepared for this too; I tend not to visit the subreddit unless I have to, which is unfortunate.
Study Resources and Protocol: Read, Watch, Practice, Review
In my research of the game I came across a bunch of resources and discovered there is a thriving Hearthstone community. Everything I know about Hearthstone – including all of the business aspects – I know from reading, watching, and paying attention to the news and happening in Hearthstone on a daily basis. Playing is only part of the job. If you’re serious about Hearthstone, you should try to do the same.
Here are some of my favourite reading resources from when I was starting out to get you going:
Hearthstone Wiki @ Gamepedia – this awesome site explains fully how ranked play and arena work together with percentile data, has a strategy and counter-strategy for every card, explains the different card sets and how to acquire them, how much arcane dust a card is worth when you craft or disenchant it. This was the guide I used when starting out and I still find it useful from time to time. It’s also great while you are trying to memorize all the secrets; just type ‘mage secrets’ or ‘hunter secrets’ etc. into the search box to get up a handy cheat sheet!
Hearthpwn – a general Hearthstone fan site; I like this site most for its news content
Hearthhead – another Hearthstone fan site; my favourite feature here is that you can add in your own card collection, so that when you search for decks you can see your personal crafting cost for the deck. Decks can also be filtered by patch level, which is important when certain cards have their stats changed by Blizzard.
IHearthU – IHearthU has a weekly meta report every Monday which can be useful to read each week while you are getting into the swing of things
LiquidHearth – this is a team web site but they have some interesting guides and articles
Hearthstone Calendar – this is where you can find out what tournaments are on that you can watch or participate in. Refer to this daily to find useful streams.
ArenaValue – this great site allows you to see projected card values of cards you draft in arena before you select them. Don’t blindly follow these recommendations, but if you’re starting out in arena and have no idea how to build a good deck, this is a good first step. It also lets you track your long-term win rates and a host of other arena-related stats. Some people also like an alternative site ArenaMastery – personally I prefer ArenaValue; ArenaMastery has better stat tracking and more features, but ArenaValue lets you enter cards far more quickly and easily and has a much better visual interface and companion app – in my opinion only of course!
HearthstoneTracker – a powerful desktop app which allows you to track your play across all servers and all game modes, with all decks. I make extensive use of this app every day and it is my primary form of charting my in-game progress.
HearthStats – an alternative tracker. I’m not a big fan of the app but the web site has a monthly report which is extremely interesting as it shows – among many other things – the average win rate per class, per rank. This can help you select the best deck for a given rank if you are struggling.
And of course, you are already at Hearthstone Players, which is the most popular independent site with guides and articles written by pros. I would not be writing here if I didn’t think the site was great.
Specific articles I found useful:
Jimmy’s Top Ten Tips To Becoming a Better Hearthstone Arena Player – on this very web site, this was the article that introduced me to the site and the one which helped me learn about arena strategy for the first time
Massan’s Mid-range Arena Guide – Massan is a pro player and streamer; this arena guide teaches the importance of sacrificing card value to stay on mana curve, among other things
Trump’s Arena Tier List – crucial reference material for going infinite in arena. Again, you should not use these figures blindly; rather, refer to the explanation articles at the bottom of the page which give an excellent explanation of the merits and drawbacks of most cards in arena
Sheng’s 3-part Beginner’s Arena Guide – taught me the importance of memorizing all the class-specific removal spells among many other things!
Chris Hoffman’s 6 Tips for Getting More Gold, Cards and Dust in Hearthstone – this will show you how to optimize and mulligan your daily quests among other things
There were many more, but these were key; I encourage you to do your own research. Astute readers will notice these are all about arena; that’s because if you are poor and need cards, arena is the best way to acquire them. The rationale for that is explained in Analysis of Buying Packs for Arena. You cannot earn cards or dust by playing ranked (although you can earn gold to buy packs or play arena).
I’d never really spectated people playing games before except when looking for YouTube walkthroughs when I was stuck on console games. Don’t underestimate the value of watching other people play: it can be highly educational, but only if you are paying attention. Don’t watch passively! That means, stop playing Hearthstone, turn off your Facebook and focus on the show. Watch every major tournament you can as well as people playing both ranked and arena on streams to learn the differences in play styles, and the opinions of the pro players on various cards and tactics. Try to predict what the streamer will do on his or her next turn, and see how you match up. Don’t worry if you get it wrong frequently. I do too – it’s all about learning.
There are lots of streams out there; I found some to be great and others very lackluster. Here are my favourites:
TrumpSC – Trump is the self-proclaimed King of Value Town and I credit him with teaching me to play arena. His stream is highly educational, Trump is highly intellectual and he often explains his plays and arena drafts in detail. My favourite stream (besides my own of course – my stream is amazing!)
MassanSC – located in South Korea, Massan is polite and mild-mannered and also talks through his plays
Don’t forget to also follow these channels to get your dose of tournament coverage, remembering to check the tournament schedules on Hearthstone Calendar:
PlayHearthstone – the official Hearthstone tournament channel
Some of the stuff I watched in October – besides Trump and Massan’s streams – included:
- BlizzCon EU and NA qualifiers
- Prismata Cup 2
- Seatstory Cup 2
- … plus others
When I watched these, I did nothing else except watch them and take notes. Famed casters Frodan and Artosis who present most of these Hearthstone tournaments became a regular fixture in my living room as I stopped watching normal TV to focus on improving at Hearthstone.
I played Hearthstone for 142 hours in October, 103 hours of which was spent playing ranked. This doesn’t include the time between games or the time I spent studying or watching streams. You must treat pro gaming as your work. If you get up in the morning and don’t feel like playing, well that’s tough luck for you (I haven’t had a day like that yet, but I’m sure it will come eventually; this was a lesson I learned from poker).
There is no point in practicing if you don’t learn anything, and one technique I strongly recommend is taking notes. That is, take written notes, with a pen. Memorizing things that happened or misplays – or writing them in Notepad – is all very well but I personally tend to find things stick in my head better if I write them down. Copy-pasting is a real mistake too. Here you can see that – as I kept getting owned by removal in arena – I wrote down the removal spells and combos I saw most often in a little notepad that I keep by me at all times when playing, to help in the process of memorizing them. Of course, I know them all off the top of my head now, but at the start this is very useful.
Since I am committed to approaching Hearthstone in a serious way, I decided to take out some pro coaching. I hired Lawrencejame for this and it helped tremendously. Not all of you will be lucky enough to afford this, but if you get streaming regularly you might just be able to sneak in a lesson or two from donations.
Blizzard published a chart showing the percentiles of players at various ranks. Do note that the graph is slightly incorrect; rank 10-5 should read 5%, not 5.5% (the chart adds up to 100.5% of players; the correct values can be inferred by reading Blizzard’s description below the graphic). Please note that Blizzard has confirmed that ranks 25-16 include only those who actively play ranked, so claims on the internet of these figures being distorted are likely incorrect.
I produced the following graph showing the top percentiles of players at each rank. The trendline is a 6-order polynormial which was the lowest order that exactly hit the points at each rank level (if you don’t understand this, don’t worry – just refer to the black line on the graph!).
From this, we can deduce a few approximate stats:
- Rank 5: top 2%
- Rank 4: top 1.8%
- Rank 3: top 1.65%
- Rank 2: top 1.5%
- Rank 1: top 1%
- Legend: top 0.5%
This will not be exactly right but if you are interested in the fine details of your progress, it’s a reasonable guestimate. Do remember though, ranking up in Hearthstone is only a relatively small part of the business of going pro.
The Importance of Tracking
People have mixed feelings about tracking their results and there are two main schools of thought: the first group sees tracking as a useful metric to see how you are progressing, while the second group sees it as a pressurizing factor that can lead to stress and disappointment, and that if you rank up each month, the day-to-day results don’t matter.
I can certainly see both sides of the argument but I tend to lean towards being in favour of tracking. Not only does it let you track your general results, but it also lets you check per deck win rates against each class so you can see where a deck is strong or weak, as well as tracking your opponent heroes so you can see what is popular in the meta at your current rank. The key is to not be too results-oriented and not poring over the graphs 24/7, because then you will get frustrated every time you have a losing day or week. Variance is part of the game, and in poker it is even common to have entire losing months.
Therefore, I recommend that you track your games, but don’t look at the charts after every game. Review it every couple of days. This will be hard at first as the novelty of having a tracker kicks in, but once you have settled the stats will be fairly easy to ignore until you need them. I tend to have the app running on my laptop as well as the machine I play Hearthstone on, and HearthstoneTracker is nicely suited for this as it allows you to use the database over a network share while having the client open on two machines at once, without any corruption. Try all the trackers out there and pick one that works for you.
Free-to-play or real money?
My initial plan was to grind arena until I had enough card packs to play in tournaments. I have since concluded that if you want to go pro, this is not feasible because even if you can go infinite in arena it takes way too long at 1-2 hours per pack, when you need several hundred packs to kick off. Additionally, you are running a business and you will need to invest money to make money (I show below what I spent money on in my first season), so swallow your pride and just shove as much money as you can afford into packs.
Note, this advice is only for those who want to go pro and need to get on with the business of hitting legend and competing in tournaments with competitive decks quickly. For everyone else, grinding arena is definitely a better use of time and money. Even as a starting pro, you should play quite a bit of arena as it exposes you to unfamiliar cards and situations, and the practice can strengthen your game as well as being a nice break from playing ranked to avoid burn-out.
Quality of Life Impact
Again, Hearthstone or any pro gaming is a serious commitment. You will have less time to socialize and less time to play other games. I was fortunate enough not to have a job to quit; most of you won’t be so lucky (which to be honest is a good thing for you). Be prepared to make social sacrifices. Also understand that working from home requires the discipline to get up and do your job; nobody is yelling at you or threatening to fire you if you don’t, but if you slack then you won’t be earning any money; if you have a regular scheduled stream you will lose viewers, and viewers equals revenue.
Finally, think about your health: sitting all day or night at strange hours (due to tournaments in other time zones or peak streaming viewer hours) on a chair staring at a PC screen is not healthy. Make sure you have a comfortable keyboard, mouse, chair, sitting position and posture that supports your body and arms appropriately; take regular breaks including on your stream (something I notice many streamers don’t do), stretch, walk the dog, do whatever helps you refresh, stay awake and keep the blood circulating around your body. I know most gamers see this as secondary, and I can’t say I exercise regularly myself, but just stepping away for 5 minutes and jogging on the spot for 60 seconds will help clear your head and re-energize you. Don’t forget to eat.
How to compete with no cards
I started by finding out what were the cheapest competitive decks to build, which at the time turned out to be Zoolock and Aggro Hunter. By a few days before the end of October I had just scraped together enough cards to make a Zoolock deck. Before that I used a variation of warbaker’s Doctor Draw deck. This is a basic-only cards deck, and I simply switched out a card or two for better ones as my collection grew. After trying several basic-only decks, this was the one that performed best for me at my skill level and in the meta at the time.
Although I tweaked the zoolock deck constantly, an approximate version of it is shown to the right (this is just for illustration; it may not be viable in the meta when you read this).
I also made a list of the most important cards I needed to craft, so that I could use my limited arcane dust wisely. I disenchanted everything I wasn’t using or likely to use – even commons – to get enough dust to craft things like Leper Gnome – the rationale is that you’ll get those other cards back later. I decided to build the decks in order of expense: Zoolock, Aggro Hunter, Control Priest. The Aggro Hunter required Snake Trap which was out of my budget, and the priest needed – among others – two Cabal Shadow Priests and Sylvanas Windrunner. Everything else was even more expensive.
Starting with 7 bonus stars from dabbling in the game in September, the blue line shows my rank in October across just under 800 games. The graph is intended to be read such that if the line is between two ranks (left Y axis), I am somewhere in the rank denoted on the upper line. As you can see I hit a wall at ranks 15, 7 and 5. The red line shows my percentile (what top percentage of players I am in), using the formula described earlier (right Y axis). As you can see I briefly sneaked into the top 2% at the end of the month before falling back to rank 7. My goal for October was to hit rank 5, so I succeeded in my monthly goal – just in time. Half-way through the season I drew the conclusion that arena was taking too long and bought my first set of card packs (15), then finished the zoolock deck. Although Hearthstone is not a pay-to-win game, the graph shows that paying for packs sure accelerates the process if you already have the basic skills nailed.
I think that going from not knowing about non-basic cards to hitting rank 5 in one season is a pretty good achievement.
This is my weekly average win rate at ranked on the EU server. I attribute the strange bump in week 3 as follows: I bought card packs for the first time that week and my rank suddenly accelerated; then I came up against better players and my win rate slipped again, as you would expect. Overall, the curve goes in the right direction, but to break through rank 5 I will have to achieve a win rate higher than 50%. Note that in my best week the win rate was 53.5%.
My win rate in arena was an average of 3.2 wins. This makes me a break-even player at arena.
Besides playing, I kept my eyes open for opportunities around every corner. HearthstonePlayers had a site banner asking for new writers, and I figured I had nothing to lose by showing them my portfolio of earlier articles so I shot them an email and got lucky.
I discovered there was a big real-life Hearthstone tournament in my area (GigaCon at Telenor Arena) via Hearthstone Calendar, and even though I couldn’t afford it I went and spectated, which was awesome fun – it was even televised here on national Norwegian TV. The top three players shared out over $4,000 and known player ThijsNL was present, so this was very exciting and I was fortunate to be able to attend. Most importantly, I learned how the logistics of real-life tournaments work first-hand.
Income and Expenditure
Figures are converted from Norwegian kroner and are approximate.
|15 Packs of Hearthstone Cards||$25.67|
|Twitch channel subscription (to one HS channel I wanted to support) (per month)||$5.67|
|Hearthstoneplayers.com subscription (per month)||$5.50|
|1x Arena run||$2.50|
|Professional Hearthstone tuition (arena) – 3 hours||$50.00|
|Webcam driver (for stream later)||$2.33|
|XSplit Broadcaster personal license (for stream later) (per 3 months)||$16.83|
|XSplit Broadcaster Premium License upgrade (for stream later) (per 3 months)||$17.17|
- Reached rank 5 on ladder (top 2% of Hearthstone players – this was my monthly goal)
- Got a position on the writing team at Hearthstoneplayers.com
- Went to first real-life Norwegian Hearthstone tournament at Telenor Arena
- Had first paid professional tuition from a pro player
- Hit 11-3 (one from maximum possible score) in arena for the first time (top 1.12% of arena runs)
- Acquired first card packs (15 packs on 14th October 2014)
- 1162 matches tracked in October
- 53.5% win rate for best week in ranked (target for pro level play: 58%)
- EU account at level 261
- NA account at level 157
- Preliminary work on stream/TV show (more about this next month)
If there is one thing you as a beginner or intermediate player should take away from this article, it is that playing a game for a living is somewhat about playing the game, and in large part about other things like brand, marketing, communications, initiative, relentless study, keeping up to date with the news and managing finances. The importance of “doing your homework” cannot be overstated. If you are one of the exceptional world-class players who can make money just by playing tournaments alone, none of the above may be true and you can get away with just playing the game. For the rest of us, we need to be a bit more creative. Everyone else has a head start so you may need to be willing to part with some cash to catch up.
My primary goal for October was to reach rank 5 and I accomplished that. For November, my primary goal is to reach legend. Find out how I did next time!
I hope you found the article interesting – please leave comments and feedback below!
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