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February 2, 2017

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Professional Semi-Professional #1


My name is Subzerowins, and I’m a legend ranked Hearthstone player.

If this has the familiar tone of a certain affirmation group, that’s no coincidence. The amount of effort it takes to grind to Legendary makes the game feel like an all-consuming addiction – if the game is more than just a way to unwind, and you want to stream, it takes a concerted amount of time and effort.

Some players have nothing but time. If you’re in high school or college, you can easily make the leap to professional with enough skill and dedication. Some of us, however, are bona-fide professionals living in the real world. We have jobs and responsibilities taking up the time others might use to hone their skills. If that sounds familiar, this article is for you.

Professional Semi-Professional

Want to make a difference in competitive Hearthstone but don’t have much time? This is written as a starting point for those of us firmly entrenched in the real world but who still want to shake up the gaming scene.

As a licensed attorney I have certain demands on my time that can’t be ignored. Grinding ranks must necessarily take a backseat to briefs and memos (a much sadder grind). Not only do I have an obvious responsibility to keep the lights on, I have professional and ethical responsibilities that comes with the privilege of passing the bar.

Many of you face similar obligations. If you’re this far into the article, you’ve probably had to face this particularly tough question at least once: do I play one more game or  get an extra thirty minutes of sleep?

Fear not – although the halcyon days of carefree youth may be behind us, there is still a way for us to make a splash in the Hearthstone scene. With this series I intend to shorten the learning curve between being a simple enthusiast of Hearthstone into what I am calling a full-fledged professional semi-professional.

We may not be able to put in the twelve hours a day it takes to make it to Blizzcon Championships, but if you follow this series, my hope is that you’ll be able to get more out of your gaming experience and be able to make an impact in the gaming scene even with minimal time spent.

This piece tackles the first steps you should take to establish yourself as a Hearthstone player to the community at large.

Being Honest with Yourself

The first step in this process is managing expectations. I don’t need to remind you that the real world comes first: don’t lose important personal or professional relationships because you chose gaming over sleep until you couldn’t function the next day.

If you enter the world of online gaming with the right mindset, you can still go far. I am living proof you can wear Brooks Brothers by day and hit legend by night, but I am also living proof that some months you can’t hit legend because it’s just too hectic to play. That’s okay.

Let’s also acknowledge something that is often overlooked: losing hurts more when you have less time. You’re home from work and your sweet relief is instead a crushing defeat. I get it – it sucks.

Any competitive game, Hearthstone included, is streaky by nature. Sometimes you’re just going to hit a cold streak. Maybe your head isn’t in the game, maybe you were just unlucky. Whatever the cause, when you only get a handful of games a night and they all end in defeat it certainly stings. Just try to remember that tomorrow is another day, and keep your head up.

With these mini-disclaimers out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the article.

The Digital Set Up

If you want to have any sort of presence in the gaming community, you have to carve out your own space. The easiest way to start is to make your own webpage. Look at your Blizzard ID in the game, then go to your favorite web hosting company and see if that name is available. But before you buy it, consider some factors.

legendary name

First, is that name (or similar name) available on Twitter, Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook? If so, buy that domain name and lock down the logins on the aforementioned social media. If it’s not, find a way to harmonize your presence throughout these sites by finding similar or complimentary names. Having consistent branding will minimize the noise your message encounters in a saturated gaming market.

For example, my gaming ID is Subzerowins. I did the relevant research and found that was available, though this particular name was unavailable on all social media. Unwilling to change my ID (or worse yet lose my card collection on a new account), I found a suitable social media handle for streaming under SubzerowinsTV. For me, the name was close enough to consider the branding consistent. I purchased the domain name and created the relevant social media presence.

I am lucky enough to be somewhat literate in HTML5 and PHP, but I still used a WordPress theme as a starting point for my web presence. For the same reason I didn’t make a new account I also didn’t custom design my web page from scratch: I want the best result out of minimal time spent. As professional semi-professionals, that’s our mantra: efficiency.

The next step is linking your webpage to the social media accounts. Handsome little web icons are your best bet and serve to link all of your accounts together. Once this is accomplished, go to your YouTube page. Start the process for getting your channel monetized now – it takes a few business days to link your bank account to your google+/YouTube account. You might as well get some money for your efforts – after all, you’re a semi-pro.

Once all this is done, make sure your channel name and URL are customized. Here’s where some of that tech literacy came in handy: the easiest way to get a customized URL is by linking your google+ page (and therefore your YouTube ID) to the header code in your personal website. Even if you struggle with this it’s still much faster than getting an initial 1,000 subscribers, which is the other trigger for getting a custom name.

Now that a digital foundation is set, what’s next? You need to make sure you have the hardware components to stream. I use a Logitech Webcam C930e: it has high resolution recording and even higher reviews online. It rests firmly on my monitor, which is lucky because I bought it online and couldn’t test it out prior to my purchase. For streaming programs, I use Open Broadcaster. It has easily searchable instructions and is open-source and free. It syncs well with Twitch, which in turn lets me export 1080p/60fps to YouTube. Make sure your account in Twitch is set to archive your videos so you can do the same.

With the stage set, everything from here on out is just Hearthstone.

Netdeck to Start

There, I said it. I’ll even say it again: I GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO NETDECK. (For those unfamiliar, the practice of researching high level players and what decks they use so you can use them yourself is called net-decking.) Several members of the Hearthstone community consider net-decking bad form. I’m telling you that it’s not.

Top level pros track hundreds of games on decks and use that knowledge to make subtle tweaks to their card pool and strategy. We don’t have the luxury of that practice time. It is the height of hubris to think that we can magically reinvent the wheel, especially at the early stages of our semi-professional venture. Look at the results pages of major tournaments. See which names keep popping up and see which deck types keep topping the charts. Chances are, those commonalities are a great place for you to start on your deckbuilding adventure.

Cobble the deck together and take it into ranked play. You may even be compelled to read the numerous free guides on this site to help you out if you’re really struggling to understand your new deck. Be persistent. Each netdeck has been crafted with a certain pro’s play style in mind. You have to acquaint yourself with the strategy and spirit of the deck before you can deem it a success or failure. At this stage of the game, don’t worry about losing ranks, just practice and learn to rely on the strengths that you’ve acquired in your professional life.

Using Your Strengths

As an attorney I have a particular set of skills. Some aren’t transferable to an online card game, but many are. First, I have a good head for research. Netdecking comes easy to me because it’s very similar to looking up case law: researching previously successful precedent and comparing its applicability and strength for a current case is a similar mental exercise to picking a solid deck for the current meta-game in Hearthstone. Picking the right argument (or in this case deck) can make your day much easier.Track and edit all your games.

Many professionals also have a strong head for data collection and comparison. Get a game tracker like “Hearthstone Tracker” and have the program passively collect your win/loss data in the background. Use this data to objectively see your successes and failures. This type of program lets you see what works while forcing yourself to be honest about what doesn’t work.

Furthermore, a common thread among academics is an appreciation for logical thinking. Hearthstone is a game of strategy. Take your choices in the game seriously and reflect on their results. Did you plan a turn ahead? Did you need to use the coin right then? Should you have cleared out their board rather than attacking their face or vice versa? All of these events make ever-branching decision trees than can be analyzed using your real-world-honed logical skills. Take some time to evaluate these choices and improve your play.

Finally, be patient. As an adult, you handle real-world scenarios that are much more important than taking your internet opponent from thirty to zero. Utilize this patience to make good plays. You should also use this skill to weather the inevitable fourteen-year-old internet trolls who spam emotes. This patience will serve you well and help you avoid the burn-out that many aspiring professional players suffer from.


With the right perspective, tips, and skills, there’s no reason those of us with lives outside of Hearthstone can’t achieve meaningful success in the gaming community. I hope this article has served as a good starting point for your journey into being a professional semi-professional. As always, reach out to your community below in the comments. Good luck on your new adventure, and I’ll see you again in our next installment.

Yours truly,


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Leave a Reply

  1. Good article. As the second in my series is going to talk alot about social media presence and setting up streaming, i can confirm that this is an utter time sink which is initially thankless and simply gives you even less play time. Its important work if attempting to go pro, but i think for somebody with an hour a day to play, youre probably just better off doing that rather than trying to push a web presence. I am working on HS full time and there arent enough hours in the day to play, stream, maintain web and social presence, study, research, practice, write articles, talk with your fans, decktest, promote, find volunteers for graphic, sound, code, moderation work etc. My strong recommendation if readers have limited time is, just play and forget about the rest.

  2. ringzero says:

    Great article, and I definitely fall into this camp with a full-time career, a 3-hour commute, and a wife and 3 kids. I think it’s important to define what the article is about. Is it about getting Legend, or is it about becoming a HS streamer and gain a following? In my opinion, for those of us who have limited time, it can’t be both, especially if it’s necessary to set up a website and social media presences.

    Pick your priority. Perhaps a social presence should come first, because once the busy-work is out of the way, the accountability will drive you to reach new levels of HS performance you’ve never found before. But setting all of that up will absolutely come at the expense of having the time to hit legend.

  3. Anonymous says:

    As someone that usually only plays enough games to complete my daily quests, this article helps me feel better about hovering around rank 12-13. I don’t have the time to go for Legend and it sounds like for the amount of games I’m playing this isn’t really such a poor performance after all :)

  4. glasnost says:

    I have to say – another really great solution is to just play arena. You can track your general average winrate and there’s no grind at all. There’s no shortage of ways to measure your long-run improvement – it’s understood what the max win average is that you can realistically reach. Play as many games as you have time for, whenever you want. There’s no artificial cut-off where your work is flushed. There’s only one “season”, it lasts your whole life, and the score is your average.

    • Subzerowins says:

      If you are just looking for some quick games this is definitely a fun mode to play. Ranked play comes with more control over what type of deck you get to play, and is the “only game in town” for tournament play – so far. Also, the Legendary card back feels more satisfying than the 12-win icon :-)

      • glasnost says:


        No offense, but I think you’re underestimating just how seriously and how analytically the best arena players approach it. It’s not just for fun; it can be done with just as much analytics as ranked. Re the other subjective factors I’m neutral, except to add that from a certain perspective, every arena is a tournament.

        You won’t get the recognition factor, which is something you seem to want, though. That I admit. :-D.

        Check out some “the Arena Co-Op” vods.

  5. Jonaingo says:

    This article really resonated with me. Lately I’ve been having a rough time figuring out how to reconcile my desire to play games with all the adult responsibilities of work, family, social events, volunteering, etc. I’ve definitely had those evenings where I only had an hour to play and all my matches went poorly and it was just discouraging to not be able to put the time in to get the result I wanted. Its encouraging to know that I’m not alone and that others like me are finding a way to make it work.

  6. Ra-V says:

    Hey, I’m a licensed attorney, too! Great read with lots of good info. Thanks!

  7. pcdarling says:

    Just a wee question from someone in a similar position. You say there are some months you can’t reach legend due to ‘real’ life being too busy. How much time do you find is needed minimum to reach legend for yourself?

    • LightsOutAce says:

      I’m not the author, but I face a very similar situation. I’d say it takes 150-200 games to make legend, so at ~10 minutes a game that’s 25-35 hours. If you don’t have a weekend or two to really jam out games it’s going to be tough.

      • Subzerowins says:

        I think your estimate might be optimistic. A hasty Google search indicates your estimate might be correct for a 70-75% win-rate, which is tough to maintain rank 5-Legendary [Though not impossible, I fell in that range with zoo one season, but that was pre-soulfire nerf]. It is so tough to accurately estimate because win streaks before Rank 5 change the games needed. Also, each loss in the rank 5-Legendary stretch means an extra game that has to be accounted for in the final tally.

        • LightsOutAce says:

          It’s certainly optimistic from 5-legend (last time I took 95 games, or ~63% win rate), but from 16-5 my win rate is over 70%. I’ve made legend in 140 games before (I didn’t lose any games from rank 12-6).

          It’s certainly harder now that we don’t have broken decks like pre-Leeroy nerf Miracle or pre-Buzzard nerf Hunter.

  8. Composer 99 says:

    As a grown-up with a similar ambition, I found this article to be one of the most helpful in my current situation. (I write as I now face the dilemma of playing one more game… or putting out the recycling and going to bed.)

    Very timely and just the thing I need to come back to when I get my act together and start streaming.

    Thank you.