Tempo/Storm Frodan: "Hearthstone's biggest advantage is also its biggest weakness"
We sat down with Dan "Frodan" Chou, one of the industry's most recognizable and beloved casters. Find out more about it!
- So we had a small introduction, but could you tell me a bit more about yourself?
Frodan: You summarised it pretty well. I’m 26, I’m from New Jersey, USA. I’ve been playing games since I was seven or six years old and I love my job.
-Does your nickname have any special meaning or significance?
Frodan: My sister is the one that gave me this nickname when I was young. She’s the one twho actually got me into gaming in the first place. I wasn’t that much into games when I was pretty young. I liked doing like drawing, puzzles and these kind of activities, and going outside as well. So when I was creating some aliases I went through a lot of different ones, but the one that always stuck around is the nickname that my sister gave me, so it felt kinda nice because my sister is like one of my best friends in the world so I carry that around wherever I go, so I like having it because it reminds me her.
- So you have a long history in esports, competitive Halo, Starcraft casting and of course nowadays Hearthstone casting. How did that journey begin and advance to where you are today?
Frodan: I started off, like usually commentators do, as a player, I really wanted going into professional playing. I first caught wind of Major League Gaming (MLG) back in 2005 I believe. I started following the circuit around 2006 and ever since then I just felt like it was really cool to one day get involved. It was more of a hobby than anything. I wasn’t really intending on starting to work on it, let alone be a caster. At first I was a person that just helped organise community events and then I was a big fan. I saw that other people were commentating and play, I really wanted to get involved. I started trying to compete myself and I always thought I was better at communicating and talking as opposed to playing at the highest level. I think it takes a certain amount of dedication and insanity to be as good as the top 1 percent of players. So I started commentating some StarCraft and just incidentally I ran into some other clans who were casting StarCraft and they asked me to help them out and then one opportunity led to another and that's where I found Hearthstone. So that’s just a short version of it. There’s a lot of like small details, so many people helped to get where I am along the way and I’m very thankful for all of them. People always think that you are responsible for your own growth, but I’ve had a lot of people help me along the way.
- You have also played Hearthstone competitively, and more specifically in SeatStory Cup where you had a very good run. What keeps you from playing it professionally?
Frodan: Ha! I think that I'm much better served as a commentator for Hearthstone. I definitely don’t think that I will stop competing ever, I think competing once in a while is actually good and it shows that you are very active and you are willing to put yourself in the seats of the players and I think that’s more powerful as opposed to competing regularly where I don’t think that’s where I’m best at. I feel like if I compete I wouldn't be one of the best players and I wouldn’t have that great results and I would miss the commentary booth a little bit too much and then also I do a lot of work for Twitch and my role on Twitch involves me on being very actively communicating to all the organisers and that’s what casting helps me do as well. So I think doing commentary expands a lot of my influence a lot better than just playing, although I wouldn’t turn down an opportunity to play if it makes sense and I really want to. I'll always be competing in Hearthstone as long as I'm casting.
- If you are in charge of making some changes in Hearthstone, what would you change?
Frodan: That’s a really hard question, there’s so many things that I’d wanna change about Hearthstone. Just like in the game itself there’s a lot of features that need to be implemented very soon. One of them is social features where you can connect to other people and I think that one of the biggest tragedies that Hearthstone has right now is that it’s really hard to share your stuff with other people. The best thing you can do is add somebody and then have them spectate your games. You know, being able to watch how some people build decks or be able to share collections with each other in some capacity or even the social features of, for example there is one event happening and it’s local to your game shop, you can connect to that through a button that says like “Find Local Events” and connect to friends, because Hearthstone, one of its biggest advantage is also one of its biggest weaknesses. The big advantage that you can play anywhere. You can play on your phone, your tablet, your iPad or your PC, you can play it on train you can play it at home and outside at the park, but because of that we’ve become so used to not playing with other people cause we just play by ourselves and I think that’s one of the biggest downfalls because in card games we are always playing other people, we’re not necessarily playing against computers all the time so it’s a very good experience to branch out the social aspect of Hearthstone and that’s what really kept a lot of other card games alive through many years, the fact that you’re going out, meeting people, having fun, competing, playing against them, sharing collections, sharing tips, it gets a lot more fun and it and anybody who’s ever sat down and tried to get to legend for example, tried to get well with arena and they have someone sitting next to them talking about stuff, they know how fun it is already so I’d love for the social aspect of Hearthstone to continue to improve. I think more formats in general, not just tournament, for the players to engage in. I think arena is a very good entry point for people to start engaging in the draft type format, but drafting is one of the most fun things also about CCG's (Collectible Card Games) in general. Like any kind of card game where you are able to build different decks with all kind of strategies, you need to have multiple draft type formats and arena is just one small piece of the big pie that could actually end up being like a very fun format. As for the competitive scene there’s a lot of structure that needs to be changed. I could go on and on about it, but the short version is that Blizzard needs to find a way to make a good, compelling tournament format as well as not sacrifice too much just for the sake of making their tournament circuit the No. 1. This sounds like a really weird way to say it, but Blizzard tends to try and make their tournaments the most important circuit and it ends up kind of becoming this black hole, like every tournament has to shape around their events. That’s okay, you know having like a World Championship, but this year was too much. You know we had two preliminaries weekends and then three championship weekends and then you kind of throw in the other regions having prelims. There's like five, six, seven weekends out of every quarter that are just taken up by the HCT (Hearthstone Championship Tour) and then BlizzCon. We don’t have much time to have cool formats. People always ask me for example, “Why aren’t you doing Challengestone?”, cause I’m in charge of kind of putting it together and I just don't have time. Not only am I busy doing the events, but once HCT is over, DreamHack has to happen then SeatStory Cup has to happen, then StarLadder has to happen. Where’s the room for all these other events? So there’s a lot of volume going on, Blizzard is just experimenting, they went from last year not really doing any tournaments to this year doing too many. We’ll find some middle of route, so there’s a lot to be done but I guess the good thing is that Blizzard is very optimistic and they keep trying to improve, so as long as they don’t give up and say “Ah, screw it, let’s just give up on it altogether”, I’m pretty hopeful.
Something really simple (for the social aspect), in my opinion, would be to have in-game deck list sharing and capability of building. In Diablo or World of Warcraft for example, if you link something in a chat, someone can click on it and it immediately pulls up a picture of the items that you dropped for example. Same thing in Hearthstone. If you link a card to someone you're chatting with they can hover over it to see what that card is doing, or even better yet if you can kind of share your deck list and then someone goes in the collection and kind of builds it out for them so they can have easier access to discuss the cards and the deck lists instead of using these weird chat features like Gyazo or Push or imgur, you know screenshot stuff, and then you can't even click the links because they don't want people to get in trouble for clicking links on the game client because they could get viruses and stuff... There's a lot of things that they could do just to improve the aspect of making friends and communicating and improving the experience of Hearthstone altogether that I would really love.
- When you were in college you won an award for a speech concerning esports. Can you tell us a bit more about this? What did you cover in your speech and how did people react?
Frodan: A lot of them played games, so they were actually very supportive of my speech. When I was saying stuff people were like nodding and clapping. So during my time at university they offered for every person within the schools to do a speech on a subject, very similar to TED Talks in that it was an open forum. I talked about esports and why it’s a growing industry and specifically trying to relate to why I think it’s the next generation of entertainment and a lot of people liked it and my professor ended up awarding me. They picked five people to give the actual speech in front of other people at the auditorium and I was one of them. That was pretty cool.
-What are your goals for this year and maybe the first months of the upcoming year?
Frodan: I already achieved one of my main goals this year, which was to not embarrass myself at the SeatStory Cup. I think I actually did the opposite. I was able to redeem myself. Last year, for people who remember, when I played my first SeatStory Cup I did really bad and I felt like it’s just not very good for me to have that kind of showing and then people hear me commentating, and they're like “Ah he did so bad at SeatStory Cup what does he know?” So I really wanted to come back and do well, and I did well last one and at this one this year so it felt good to accomplish that. Then another one of my goals is actually to start climbing to top 100 Legend finishes consistently. I haven’t been able to really achieve that. I did finish in the top 100 this past season, but this past season didn’t really matter because some players gave up so it felt good to get like top 50 in Europe server for August, but it’s not as meaningful as doing for the year. So that's some of the goals, like I want to continue to improve my playing skill in Hearthstone. For the first months of the upcoming year, I think I just want to make sure that the projects I am working on, because I’m putting on some events with other organisers, will be successful and I am not talking about successful from the viewership point of view, but I want them to have lasting community impact. I want people to think that the event would be fun to go to or bring friends/family to come to those events as well. I want little kids to adults to young people like me and you to be able to go to events, have a lot of fun and just look forward to the next one. Hearthstone shouldn’t just be a game where people sit in an auditorium theatre and watch. It’s a game that as soon as you watch something happen, you kind of want do it yourself, and you know you can, you can play those cards, you can play those decks and strategies. I want that to be something that people really enjoy and it’s a shame that many people say they’d rather watch Hearthstone than play and I think that both are just as important for the experience. By the Summer of 2017, three events should be happening that I'm involved in which are pretty neat and I hope people enjoy all of them.
- Do you have any advice or thoughts you’d like to share with your fans or other aspiring casters that want to become like you?
Frodan: Oh man advice...! The easiest thing to do is to complain and just give up. I think a lot of people who want to become commentators and just want to get jobs in the industry at all, they see how hard it is initially to get in and they make every reason or excuse not to get involved like “Oh, I am too busy with my real life job” or “I wouldn’t be good at it” or “It’s too difficult," It would take too long." You just have to get started, but you don’t even have to go like all-in. You don’t have to quit your job, you don’t have to break up with your girlfriend or boyfriend, you don’t have to ignore your kids. You can do it as a passion hobby and that’s how a lot of people got started. The industry is also looking for a lot of good people, not just players and commentators but also graphic designers, people who understand business sales, lawyers who can handle contracts and journalists too, we actually don’t have that many great journalists, we have to rely on those very few in order to get a lot of the word out, so if you’re a good writer, author, artist, if you’re good at music even, at design, marketing, all these things are really important. So the industry is going to continue to grow, keep exploring what really excites you and make no excuses, keep pursuing.
- I think we can wrap it up. Any final shoutouts?
Frodan: Yes, thanks to you for reaching out and I know that it’s really important for people to continue to connect to the community in some way and I think journalists in general are like one of the most underappreciated and undervalued resources of the community. The media in general is very sparce with doing the good stuff. Big shoutout to Tempo Storm as well, I know that we are not always the No. 1 results for Hearthstone but we’re always keeping the community interested as our No. 1 so I think that even though people see that we are not necessarily competing and winning in all the tournaments, keep in mind that we’re always trying to build something that the community can enjoy.