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Being a Professional 'Hearthstone' Gamer Is Harder Than It Looks

We talked to the professional gamer known as Kripparrian to find out how he regularly live-beats the shit out of noobs and other pros alike.

For those who've never heard of Hearthstone (which, wake up, losers), basically it's Magic: The Gathering but set in the World of Warcraft universe and all online. You collect electronic cards, make decks out of them, and strategize to defeat other players head-to-head in turn-based battle, where you assume the role of a mage, a warlock, a paladin, or one of several other classes. Countless summonable creatures with names like Aberrant Berserker and N'Zoth, the Corruptor fill the board, while hundreds of spells deal damaging blows to your opponent. It's addictive, endlessly strategic, and with more than 50 million users at the time of writing, it's getting bigger every day.

If you've played Hearthstone with any regularity, you probably know the name Kripparrian (real name: Octavian Morosan). From both his YouTube channel and his nightly livestreams on Twitch, which draw a regular audience of more than 30,000, the 28-year-old Canadian has developed a following of loyal fans, many of whom have been with him from his years of dominance on the WoW stage. Today, he makes a living playing Hearthstone and sharing his insights on the game day in, day out, in an obsessively analytical, creative style that transcends the obvious or popular. Like the great artists of any field, he finds a way to bend the rules and recreate the terms of play, while also regularly live-beating the shit out of noobs and other pros alike.

VICE: If I'm not mistaken, you were in college and then dropped out to pursue streaming and playing World of Warcraft, correct?
Kripparrian: I was going to school for math and physics, but I realized I don't really like that field. I was pretty miserable in school, and I didn't really want to continue that for years and years to get a master's. So I dropped out and just found a job as a computer technician. At the time, there was no ambition to make my gaming a big thing. I just wanted to play in my spare time and live a modest life.

How did you go from casually playing for fun to making a living streaming and making videos?
In one of the previous games I played, Dark Age of Camelot, there was a very big video-sharing community. People really liked to see other people play with death-metal music and the most epic things you did in the game, so I mostly wanted to push that idea forward because a lot of people didn't experience the game on the level that I played it.

When I started making my own videos, I was living literally at the very top of game world of World of Warcraft—I was the best guild in the US. I was doing recruitment. I was doing raid-leading. I maximized my character. I would organize and run many different raids throughout the week. I was very competitive.

From there, I grew my channel very naturally. I just basically had a link to my YouTube channel, and I would be a very avid poster on big WoW forums. And I'd write up, like, a hunter guide. Like, "Well, if you don't want to read this shit, you can go to my YouTube video." And that's how I grew my base.

So you played because you loved it and then the money followed?
I didn't make a penny for the first three and a half years of doing it. I was one of the most popular channels in Canada. But during this time, it was very difficult to have your videos monetized because, back then, the recordings of the game were considered property of the developer. So people didn't really try. Suddenly, when you could make money off of video content, that's really when YouTube exploded. And then I realized that I already had like thirty-six thousand YouTube subscribers, and I thought that if I work really hard and make one every single day, then maybe I could make a thousand dollars a month, which was about what I was making as a computer technician. It seemed possible I could play video games full-time.

Sounds much better than a desk job.
Some people see it as like "the dream," and in some sense it is. But on the other hand, especially nowadays, we're spending most of our eight hours video editing every day. We're not just screwing around playing whatever game we want and then going to sleep. Some people watch the stream, and they just see a dude playing video games, but we do our absolute best seven days a week, fourteen to fifteen hours a day.

Can you walk me through your average daily schedule?
I get up in the morning and usually the first hour is pretty slow. I usually just kind of check out what other people are doing on Reddit, on streams, on some of the popular Hearthstone sites like Hearthpwn. I'm looking at what other people are doing, their thoughts on things that have happened in the game's community.

Then, after we eat, I have to go through all of my recorded streamed content for the video I want to make. When I'm streaming, if something interesting happens, I note the time, and it takes me about an hour every day to find and cut out these segments. I have a hard drive with hundreds of segments, and then when I can, I group up a certain few to deliver on an idea.

So it's about an hour of digging and another hour and a half of the preliminary editing, and then [my collaborator] Rania does the rest, which is many hours after that. Then I usually have about an hour where I have to talk to business contacts. I do a lot of sponsor deals, so I play a game because someone else approached me with a promotional offer. "We'll pay you this much money to stream our games this many hours." You have to work out the deals and sign the contracts. You have to make sure they're happy with the statistics.

And then after all the business-end work, you play?
And yeah, then I stream for like seven hours. It takes me about an hour to wind down after the stream, because when you're streaming, it has to be pretty high-energy. Not excessively so, but you can't just sit there and say nothing. And on some days, especially at the end of a seven-hour stream, it can be a bit tiring. I'm not making a big effort to be very energetic like some people do, but I'm like—intellectually on. So it usually takes about an hour before I can go to sleep.

So most days you don't go outside.
It was much worse before I met Rania. During the winters, there would be like a month that I wouldn't leave the house. You don't feel very well if you haven't been outside in a month, I can tell you that. With my old streaming schedule, I wouldn't even see the sun. It would just be dark all the time.

Would you say you have OCD?
When I play the games, I want to be better than the other people who I'm playing.

In Hearthstone, you seem to be interested in trying out and experimenting with cards that maybe other people think don't work.
To come up with a deck that highlights an unusual card and doesn't suck is sometimes a bit of a challenge. The formula for being good at Hearthstone is already set in stone, and that is: Find the statistical best deck and learn to play it so you make no mistakes, learn which cards are the least important so you can switch those out to put in other cards, and play at certain times in reaction to what's trending.

Honestly, Hearthstone's not a game that effectively highlights the best player; it's a game that highlights a player with a lot of things going for him or her. Nobody thinks I am the best-constructed player, yet a lot of people watch me for construction because of the way that I do things. I'm not going to play any deck that's already been proven to be good already; that's not my goal. Because if I play a deck that's good, yeah, I might get a higher ranking, but I don't see the point. I want to try decks I have very few hopes for.

Follow Blake Butler on Twitter.