Daniel Negreanu Loves Hearthstone

4 years ago
'Kid poker' Loves Hearthstone
17 Feb

It may seem as though eSports, in various guises has been hitting the poker news more than poker itself recently, but if that’s the case then we can blame a large part of this on some of poker’s biggest stars – and they don’t come much bigger than Daniel Negreanu!

The Canadian has recently been as prolific in his Hearthstone playing as he has been on the green felt , with a show-match against fellow poker/eSports whizz Bertrand ‘ElkY’ Grospelier at the BlizzCon Hearthstone World Championships – and what’s more, Negreanu even came out on top, despite Grospelier’s long and accolade-filled eSports background.

The synergy between poker and eSports was at the forefront of conversation in a recent interview Negreanu gave to ESPN, where the Canadian described the reasons behind his love for the Hearthstone game.

Obviously, as a professional poker player, I like strategy-based games,” he explained. “For me, I just love the depth of that strategy. There are so many intricate decisions that need to be made, much like poker. The software was just so good and they hook you with the different ways you can play the game and the characters you can choose from. It's one of those games that looks like I'll never stop enjoying it and learning new things about it.

His attraction to the game was almost immediate, he says, recalling his first night’s play.

Well, I was in Monte Carlo and I heard some poker players talking about this game, Hearthstone. They were saying that this game had more strategic options in terms of variables than chess or poker. And I'm like, 'Huh, interesting!'. So literally that night, I downloaded it. I was supposed to go to a party at 9 p.m. and was all dressed up and started playing the game at about 8:30: and then I realized at about 4 a.m. that I was not going to make this party because I was still playing.”

For anyone who has grown up with online poker, this will be a familiar story. As will the ‘random’ nature of the game, which Negreanu likens far more to poker than to other strategy games such as chess.

The random effects are one of the reasons why the game is so successful,” he says. “Think about it. Chess is dying! If you're better than me at chess, you're just going to beat me every single time. I'd never win. That's not fun, is it? But with Hearthstone, even if I'm much better than you, you're still going to be able to win a percentage of the time because of the luck factor.”

Not that this luck factor could phase a man who has amassed over $32million in tournament winnings during his illustrious career, placing him top of the all-time money winners list.

Coming from poker, that doesn't bother me. Any game that you create that you want a lot of people to play shouldn't be a game that has no luck, because a game with no luck essentially results in the better player winning almost every time.”

When it comes to the specifics of Hearthstone, Negreanu comes across as someone who knows the theory and strategies, but isn’t scared to have his own views.

He knows his decks, stating:

"I love the Tempo Mage and it's my go-to favorite, but I unlocked the Golden Mage at 500 victories, and now I'm very close to becoming a Golden Shaman,” and then he recalls the ‘good old days’ as though he were reminiscing about his poker beginnings.

I prefer the Shaman that was more of a tempo/midrange Shaman, but that just can't win in the meta today. It's terrible. So I've been playing the aggressive, face-type Shaman. It works, but if you run into a deck in which someone's playing Reno Jackson, you're just dead.”

For those who want in on the lingo, first understand that Hearthstone is a fighting game. With that in mind, tempo decks try and always stay one step ahead of the opponent. This means monsters and spells that do a little more and cover more angles. Midrange means playing slow in exchange for bigger monsters, and agro means playing the smallest fastest monsters.

But his favourite card, for example? “My favorite card changed as I got better,” he says enthusiastically – as he seems to do everything in his life.

When I started playing, my favorites were Defender of Argus and Direwolf Alpha. But my favorite card now, by far - and it's been my favorite for a long time - is Sludge Belcher.

The poker maestro also has his views on how to bring eSports such as Hearthstone and Magic: The Gathering into the mainstream, where poker has been for around a dozen years now.

If Hearthstone went to real-money gaming”, he claims, “poker players would be there in droves. Most professional poker players do it to make a living, after all, and getting good at Hearthstone means you have to dedicate a lot of time to it.”

Of the big tournaments in which he is centre-stage on the poker tables, Negreanu’s dream would be doing something similar in Hearthstone. “I'd love to. I'd absolutely love to!” he enthuses.

Just the experience of playing against ElkY on the main stage and winning was amazing. My goal was to not look stupid and get crushed. But to actually win! How did that happen?”

Indeed, ‘ElkY’ has been around the scene for a long time. He was champion eSports player long before he turned to poker, and the man who recently became the first ever joint-sponsored poker/eSports pro when he signed with Team Liquid.

The hugely successful poker player, who has amassed over $10million in tournament earnings, announced in November that he would “return to his gaming roots to play Blizzard Entertainment’s popular online collectible card game Hearthstone for the Netherlands-based eSports organisation.”

For Negreanu to win even a one-off match against a player of ElkY’s calibre says something about the ability of the Canadian to turn his hand to other games – and it has also landed him a new fan-base.

Yeah, actually a lot of fans think it's really cool. They go, ‘Oh my God, you're way cool! You play Hearthstone!’ And tell them I'm totally addicted!”

The future of the two games seems destined to remain extremely close: New Year saw Full Tilttake on sponsorship of the G2 Esports' Hearthstone team, and Mark Ody, marketing director at Full Tilt, thinks it will be a two-way street.

Esports players love the thrill of competition, the battle of wits, and facing off against a tough opponent as they move into the unknown. That's why we think that they'll love learning more about poker, which is one of the modern world's finest games, because it is a great mix of turn-based strategy and role-playing games."

And to finish with, let’s see what Daniel ‘ Kid poker’ Negreanu had to say when asked by Espn’s Dan Szymborski:

Q:OK, one starting hand in Hearthstone and one hand of poker. What would you prefer? 7-2 offsuit or a handful of Magma Ragers?”

To someone such as your author, whose working knowledge of Hearthstone is limited to the very (VERY!) basics, the question is too easy – what could possibly be worse than 7-2 offsuit in any game? Negreanu, of course, knows the score somewhat better…

“A handful of Magma Ragers? Geez, how can you win? Seven-deuce I can bluff with. Five Magma Ragers and I'm screwed. So give me the seven-deuce!”

Articles 1963

Andrew from Edinburgh, Scotland, is a professional journalist, international-titled chess master, and avid poker player.Read more


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