Corey Pollack

Corey Pollack

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From WSOP to Esports: How Hearthstone Captured the Imagination of Some of the World’s Best Poker Players 

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Poker players don’t get any bigger than Daniel Negreanu, the man who in 2016 helped to create a buzz around what was then a new online game.

Online poker has been a phenomenon for some years, of course; attracting countless amateurs players who use the best online poker sites like the ones found here in a bid to become the next Daniel Negreanu. But what about Negreanu himself? When you reach the top of the tree, what do you do for fun?

When it comes to Hearthstone, going back to 2016, we’re talking about a game that had only been around for a few months. However, it was already gaining in popularity, having made an impression on passionate eSports fans. It also impressed upon poker players like Negreanu and Bertrand Grosspeillier, who faced off in a game of Hearthstone during the 2015 BlizzCon.
Negreanu is in the Poker Hall of Fame, has twice been named World Series of Poker Player of the Year, and has amassed over $32mn. He defeated Grosspellier at BlizzCon 3-1 when he said that he was attracted to Hearthstone because other poker players had told him that it contained more strategic elements than such traditional games as poker and chess.

That the software provides players with such a high level of characters and variety makes the game not only interesting but addictive. Negreanu said that the fact that luck had a role to play in Hearthstone makes it an even competition because even if a player has a weak strategy, he could still win the game is he has enough luck on his side.

According to Negreanu, another reason that Hearthstone appeals to poker players is the psychology involved and how it forces you to improve with each passing game. He doesn’t believe, however, that the poker industry will be threatened by the game as making a consistent living with Hearthstone isn’t easy.

Negreanu added that if Hearthstone changed to real-money gaming, it would attract a horde of poker players seeing as most professional poker players play the game to make a living.

Small-time poker player becomes Hearthstone legend

While we’ve heard about such players as Negreanu, Grospellier, Isaac Haxton, David Williams, Brock Parker, Justin Bonomo, and Lex Veldhuis all turning their attention to Hearthstone, a perhaps more interesting story can be told about Andrey Yanuk. “Reynad” was no household name in the game of poker. Like a number of other players, he got into card-playing via Magic before he found poker. After leaving home at just 18, however, he swore off both games.
In 2012, Reynad began streaming Magic on Twitch. That was before Twitch became the phenomenon it is now. After he was banned from Magic for violating the rules and being critical of the decision on social media, he decided to give Hearthstone a try. He applied the skill and knowledge that he built up at both Magic and poker to become something a name in the world of Hearthstone.

Reynad created numerous deck strategies that dominated Hearthstone in its early days. He eventually took the next step and created an eSports organisation he called TempoStorm, bringing him more success in the industry. Reynad went from playing poker in a bid to pay his rent to being on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list as CEO of his own company.

What does this mean for the future of poker?

While Fortnite has gained many of the headlines over the past couple of years, Hearthstone remains the eSport of choice for poker players. Having heard Reynad’s story, it may be easy to conclude that all small-stake poker players should leave poker and play Hearthstone instead. That isn’t necessarily the case, however. Under one percent of Twitch streamers have a sufficient viewership to make the Twitch partner program. Compare that to poker, which sees around eight to ten percent of players making a long-term profit. Even if you’re sufficiently skilled or entertaining to be accepted as a Twitch partner, the money made from donations and subscriptions for small-time streamers would only constitute a small fraction of what skilled pro, or even semi-pro, players can make.

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