In many ways, 2014 was the year of Hearthstone. From a standing start, the game has been one of the year’s blowaway successes in both esports and gaming as a whole. Hundreds of thousands of people tune in for tournaments. Twenty million people have played it in just under a year. And it’s often one of the most popular games on Twitch. The game has enjoyed success that few could have imagined for a fairly stripped down collectible card game.
It’s very difficult to pin down a strict list of who were the most influential people in Hearthstone’s first full year in existence. But we’ll still give it a try. Here are the 10 individuals who helped grow Hearthstone to the unstoppable force that it became in just a year.
Love him or hate him, Hearthstone fans seem incapable of stopping themselves from watching Andrey “Reynad” Yanyuk. Very few figures in Hearthstone attract as much attention, negative or positive, as Yanyuk. A popular streamer and founder of the Tempo Storm team, Yanyuk’s outspoken and “salty” persona makes him one of the most watched people in the scene. While his tournament success has been limited, his popularity and high profile ensures that he has maintained a regular presence in invitational tournaments. Aside from all of that, Yanyuk is very committed to the Hearthstone community. Look for him to continue to build his organization and reach in 2015.
Dima “Rdu” Radu was undoubtedly one of the best performing players in 2014. The teenage Romanian prodigy dominated Hearthstone throughout the summer, taking the DreamHack Summer, HyperX Invitational and Deck Wars season 2 titles as well as placing at IEM Shenzhen, DreamHack Bucharest, and WCA 2014. Not only was he very successful, but Radu also had the distinction of giving the Hearthstone community one of the first great scandals when viewers accused him of cheating after chat messages appeared on screen during the DreamHack Summer final—“hi mom” has gone on to become a meme in the community. Radu had competed for the Meet Your Makers team but has recently parted ways with them. Look for him to join one of the major organizations in Hearthstone and continue to make an impact next year.8) Tiddler Celestial
For the most part, Hearthstone’s Asian and Western scenes have stayed pretty much separate throughout 2014. Only a few opportunities, such as WCA, WEC, IEM Shenzhen and the World Championships, presented themselves for the two scenes to test themselves against each other. Wang “TiddlerCelestial” Xieyu was one of the few Chinese players to be heavily involved in all of these meetings, reaching the final of both WCA 2014 and the World Championships. He showed skill that could be put up against any player in the world and crucial consistency that made him a real contender in any tournament. While his individual success is impressive, perhaps more influential was his success proving beyond any doubt that Western fans could not count out the Asian players.
Jeffrey “Trump” Shih could easily be described as the elder statesman of the Hearthstone community. He was one of the first big Hearthstone streamers and still enjoys strong popularity with his mix of entertainment and education. While not hugely successful in tournament play Shih was a member of Team Liquid Value, one of Hearthstone’s early prominent teams, and took part in the ESGN Fight Night tournaments. Since then, he picks and chooses his tournament appearances under the Team SoloMid banner.
Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski was one of the first figures in the industry to truly embrace Hearthstone as the next big esport. One of the most prominent StarCraft 2 commentators out there, Stemkoski easily made the transition to being a key figure in Hearthstone. After ending last year by winning the Blizzcon Innkeeper’s Invitational Stemkoski, was part of Team Dogehouse and the ESGN Fight Nights as a player and caster. His presence undoubtedly helped bring legitimacy to Hearthstone in its infancy and, though he is less involved with the scene at this point, Stemkoski is still a key figure in what got Hearthstone to this point.
5) Ben Brode
It is almost impossible to compile a list of people who made Hearthstone what it was this year without including Senior Game Designer Ben Brode. Part of what has made Hearthstone so quickly take hold with a passionate and committed fan base has been the efforts of the developers to get out there and engage with the community, and none of them have done this more than Brode. Appearing on pretty much every Hearthstone podcast with his trademark laugh and a refreshing candor, he is also incredibly approachable on Twitter and answers just about any question to do with the design of the game with good humour. Brode also made his casting bow during the World Championships, and proved himself to be hugely entertaining in that role also.
As summer turned to fall, Aleksandr “Kolento” Malsh emerged as an almost unstoppable force. Originally coming to prominence as part of Team Mana Grind, Malsh was picked up as part of the initial Cloud9 roster in July. An almost terrifyingly consistent player, Malsh was almost ever present at the top level of tournament competition throughout 2014. As Radu and Chan started to falter, Malsh came through to be considered by many as the best player in the world for a period of several months. It seemed for a time that there was not a tournament Malsh could not win, taking home victory at the Viagame House Cup, VGVN 2, Prismata Cup 2 and DreamHack Winter.
A list of people who defined 2014 in Hearthstone wouldn’t be complete without the world champion. Winning the tournament in November at Blizzcon, James “Firebat” Kostesich instantly became the player who had won the most prize money in Hearthstone to date. Despite being considered by many insiders to be one of the very best players in the world Kostesich struggled for recognition and tournament invites prior to his world championship success, floundering under the Copenhagen Wolves team banner. However, since winning the $100k tournament and joining Jason “Amaz” Chan’s Team Archon, Kostesich has been at just about every major event—and crucially has maintained his form. Expect him to be a major force in Hearthstone in 2015.
To many, Dan “Frodan” Chou is the voice of Hearthstone. He commentates and hosts more tournaments than anyone else in the community and has casted everything from the ill-fated but high profile ESGN series to the World Championships. Like many in Hearthstone’s first full year, Frodan came from a background in other games—he’d been involved in StarCraft for a number of years. But in Hearthstone, Chou has really found his voice and become almost omnipresent. For some fans ,a tournament isn’t a tournament without his voice. Now the team manager of Tempo Storm, Chou continues to be as big a contributor to the Hearthstone community as any player.
Alongside Radu, Jason “Amaz” Chan enjoyed great success over the summer. He won IEM Shenzhen and came in second at DreamHack Summer. For several months, he and Radu battled for the right to be considered the best player in the sport. But’s Chan not just a successful tournament player, he’s also one of the most popular streamers on Twitch attracting tens of thousands of viewers to his daily streams. During the recent Goblins vs Gnomes release, a peak of 90,000 people watched him continually fail to log in to the overloaded servers. Chan also formed Team Archon after leaving Team Liquid, signing the world champion James “Firebat” Kostesich.
This was a breakout year for Hearthstone, one that early fans of the game could hardly have dreamt of. With the first full expansion, Goblins vs. Gnomes, released earlier this month, and a spectator mode and World Championships in the books, the future is bright for card slingers everywhere.
Screengrab via Hearthstone/YouTube