Hearthstone's forgotten heroes: the pioneering pros you may have forgotten
In November 2013, Blizzard hosted a showmatch tournament for its upcoming card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Though no money was on the line, the event—held at the company's annual convention and esports extravaganza, Blizzcon—fired the starting pistol on a competitive scene that, in 2015, was worth more than $2 million.
In that match, Dan "Artosis" Stemokoski bested Octavian "Kripparrian" Morosan in dominant fashion using cards that have long been consigned to the scrap heap (Avenging Wrath and Argent Commander anyone?) In that emerging scene, players took a chance on the unproven game to compete for a few thousands dollars at a time—if they were lucky.
While some stalwarts have remained competitive, others have faded from view for various reasons. From competitive bans to new career opportunities to early retirements, these are the stories of some of the early leading lights.
Current Hearthstone esports fans owe a lot to Dan "Artosis" Stemkoski. A popular former player and caster in StarCraft, Stemkoski jumped into Hearthstone early and helped propel it to its earliest heights.
Before Blizzcon played host to the Hearthstone World Championship, in 2013 it hosted a prize-free Innkeeper's Invitational, the showmatch tourney mentioned above. With most of the game's big early streamers invited, Stemkoski bested the likes of Octavian "Kripparrian" Morosan, Kacem "Noxious" Khilaji, and Jeffrey "Trump" Shih to lift the prestigious tankard. From there, he competed in a number of early tournaments, taking second place at both IEM Katowice and the OGN Invitational. He was also captain of Team DogeHouse, competing in the first four seasons of ESGN's popular-if-short-lived Fight Night series.
Nowadays, Stemkoski returns to Hearthstone sporadically for major events like Seat Story Cup, but he now combines his StarCraft schedule with casting and helping grow another Blizzard game—Heroes of the Storm.
It wasn't exactly Dan "Alchemixt" Walton's choice to stop playing: He was banned from the game. But before that, he was a stalwart of major tournaments throughout 2014.
Though he failed to make any notable grand finals in his Hearthstone career, he was a consistent performer and often placed respectably. In those days, tournament prize pools were often $1,000 if you were lucky. So Walton went home empty handed for a fourth-place in Tavern Takeover 2. He also travelled to China for the World Cyber Arena and World Esports Championship events.
Walton's playing career was cut short by a competitive and account ban from Blizzard for alleged win trading. He did admit to breaking the terms of service, but claimed it had not been deliberate or malicious. He last competed just under a year ago, eventually forming Team Illuminati, which later became Splyce. He remains with the team as manager, but has ruled out a return to competitive play.
Former DogeHouse representative Max "Nyhx" Siebel is one of the most mysterious players from Hearthstone's early history.
Siebel is the odd-man-out of the players who competed in ESGN's Fight Night. Compared to Stemkoski and others who still lead the scene like Cong "StrifeCro" Shu and Janne "Savjz" Mikkonen, he disappeared almost as quickly as he appeared.
Like the rest of the DogeHouse team, Siebel had a background in the World of Warcraft card game, as well as Yu-Gi-Oh! and other similar games. DogeHouse was the first team in Hearthstone, meaning Siebel has the honor of being the first player in the game's history to leave a team. After DogeHouse's participation in Fight Night ended, the team entered the Gentleman's Cup team event with Siebel notably absent from the first match. He left the team officially a few days later, retiring from the game just two months after it had been officially released.
According to his former teammate, Marcin "Gnimsh" Filipowicz, Siebel was a "really emotional player" but got "burned out" on the game. Just a month after his departure from DogeHouse, all the remaining players (except for Stemkoski) were acquired by leading esports franchise Cloud9.
RealzThough he now works for Blizzard helping to balance Hearthstone for mere mortals like you and me, Ryan "Realz" Masterton was once a leading pro player himself.
Like many early pros, Masterton first appeared on ESGN's Fight Night series. Though Johan "Darkwonyx" Hansson was nominally the captain, it was Masterton who appeared to be leading analysis for the players in between games, giving them feedback on mistakes and what to avoid in the next matchup. He showed off this analytical side in casting the inaugural Hearthstone World Championship in 2014, his last appearance on a Hearthstone broadcast.
Masterton also enjoyed a measure of success in his own right. He won the first Tavern Takeover tournament and placed highly in a number of other online events, with his crowning achievement a top-four finish in Hearthstone's first major tournament, DreamHack Summer 2014.
It may have been a surprise when he took a position with Blizzard, players and fans welcomed it as a sign the developer was taking the competitive scene seriously. Certainly there could have been no greater acknowledgement of Masterton's analytical skill and understanding of the game.
Image via Hearthstone/YouTube