Episode 1: Captain’s Log: In a Hearthstone League Far, Far Away You Win or You Die
I want to believe that there’s someone out there who has watched only one Star Wars movie and that one is Return of the Jedi. That means they only know Luke Skywalker as the badass in black who destroys flying sand yachts and chops off his dad’s hand. They never saw impotent Tatooine Luke, never heard pouty Dagobah Luke, they only know this fully formed Jedi asskicker.
I wonder what newcomers think of THL when they stumble on the league now? We’ll have 16 full teams of five next season. We have a weekly tournament to go with a weekly talk show that is both incredibly hosted and amazingly produced. To see the League now is to see a scarred, battle-forged Luke staring into a funeral pyre, and not realizing he was once a scrawny manlet haggling over droid prices.
After Season Proliferation’s first captain’s meeting, and on the heels of the “BibleThump Novella”, I could not help reflecting on leadership within the THL and my own journey as a captain. My training did not begin as a Padawan, I had no Master to guide me. Being a captain Season Alpha could be likened to growing up a Spartan. Your were thrown to the wolves, and if you survived, you were deemed worthy. We went through some growing pains those first few seasons. I went through some growing pains those first few seasons.
I hope that what follows helps new captains navigate the Narrow Sea, reinvigorates returning captains, valar dohaeris, and gives outsiders a perspective on how the Seven Kingdoms maintains order. I will not lie I also wanted to share my story, my struggles, and ultimately my love for this league.
Episode 2: “What Could Go Wrong?”
You know what sounds great when working 110 hours a week at a therapeutic boarding school? Adding more to your workload. But that is exactly what happened.
I have had a long history with competitive gaming. Holding top 10 spots in Halo 2, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Gears of War, and Call of Duty World at War in my college days. Coordinating and running gaming organizations was not a big deal for me. As a co-founder of the once great ESAD XBOX clan (yes that’s where the twitch handle comes from), I had to organize 129 people over 16 squads. How hard could running a team of five be, especially in a game like Hearthstone? Harder than I could imagine.
I founded Entropy alongside two of my close IRL friends, Xaether and JonWilks. Xaether and I used to throw down in epic Izzet Vs. Golgari showdowns, and argue over how to properly build Amumu when your team is ahead by 4k gold. JonWilks was my old college roommate, and 2’s partner in both SC and SC2. I had already worked alongside these guys, organizing a team with them should have been cake, right?
Step 1: Team name
Solution: Xaether, “Entropy, cause chaos, yo.”
Step 2: Fill out team
Solution: Find players who can fill open slots: Edennnnnnnn, and Scepha
Step 3: Win league
Solution: Show up and dominate.
Plan in place, job done. Right? Good Captain, you get a Scooby Snack!
Episode 3: Scooby Snacks and Kudos for All!
Having edennnnn, at the time one of the most coveted players in the THL, and one of our first “streamers,” felt like a sure-fire win. I sent out a weekly email the day classes were due to remind my players to submit their classes, and made sure to always lead by example scheduling my matches. I continued to play games like StarCraft with Jon, and Xaether and I would occasionally duel in Hearthstone, but to say it was “practice” would be like saying getting a chicken sandwich at McDonald’s is the healthy choice on the menu, it’s just not. We still managed to stumble our way to the playoffs, but not on merit.
The truth of Season Alpha, was a sad one. I won the majority of my games off DQ’s. Some teams dissolved entirely. But why? If we had a looking glass to the future, we would have been able to see the greatness that is to come for the THL. But why was it failing now? Season Alpha would be put under the magnifying glass, dissected, and rebuilt (we had the technology afterall). Onward and upward Season Beta!
"Entropy kept winning through the meta-breaking strategy of submitting classes on time"
Season Beta brought new hope, along with new teams. The league had garnered some attention and numbers grew slightly. Being the good captain I was, I had to sever ties with Scepha who struggled to meet the “time requirements” of being a member of Entropy, and was fortunate enough to
Week 1 of Beta was a smashing success for Entropy. We won 10-3! I lost 1-3, and the rest of my team smashed their opponents 3-0, by simply remembering to submit their classes. Yay … I think. But hadn’t we fixed all the issues? Didn’t “The Powers That Be” use their magical wand in the off season? Aren’t we perfect yet? I mean damn, wasn’t my once a week email the key to a successful team? What more could I possibly do here?
Season Beta continued, Entropy kept winning through the meta-breaking strategy of submitting classes on time, and I was the rolemodel all captains wanted to be when they grew up! Until reality hit.
Episode 5: I’m Skipping Four Because This Next Part is Empire Strikes Back, Where It All Went Wrong, Oh So Wrong
Entropy made another successful run into the playoffs, we were like the first runner-up in the Miss Universe Pageant. We didn’t win, but everyone still wanted to get with us … right?
So it came as a shock to me in the offseason when Xaether and edennnnn expressed wanting to part ways. Xaether, who I knew in real life, and edennnn, our golden goose, wanted to leave Entropy? Was it my fault, was it something I did?
Well, technically, it was what I didn’t do that cost Entropy two of its strongest members. I didn’t create a team, I simply managed a group of players. The two are not the same, and it took the implosion of Entropy for me to learn this lesson.
Episode 6: Becoming a Family
One of the greatest things edennnnn contributed to Entropy, outside his record, was his parting advice. He told me that he wanted a more active team. Something more structured and organized. A team that practiced and communicated more. It was stated so matter-of-factly, and with no malice, just honesty. Don’t know if I ever thanked him for that. I see him hanging around HS communities sometimes, so if you find your way here Eden, thanks.
So, why did Entropy fail to become a “team,” what was the missing link? It caused some extreme soul searching on my part. To be honest I was tired. I was physically and emotionally drained from my job, and I knew I was half-assing this captain thing a bit. Should I hand over the reins? I mean I got stuck with this Firpo guy last season, he seems
"It was at this time that I did something I had never done before, I reached out to the dark side, I asked other captains for help."
It was during this process that I had to truly ask myself, why was I doing this at all? Did it even really matter to me? I was putting in the bare minimum effort to keep the team together. Yet there was something in the pit of my stomach that just felt empty when I thought of abandoning Entropy. Plus if this ship was sinking, I navigated us this far, I was going down with it.
It was at this time that I did something I had never done before, I reached out to the dark side, I asked other captains for help.
I started hanging out with other captains in Skype calls and Facebook chats. I played friendly matches to build rapport. I engaged with the League, I didn’t simply play in it. I took notes on what other more successful captains were doing. How did Team Rank 5 have such a good time together. Why have so many members of The Hairy Generals stuck with Jedi for so long? What the hell is a Killajive, and why would anyone want to associate with it? And how could I apply all of this to Entropy?
Episode 7: How to Actually Steer the Damn Ship!
One of the hardest things to do as a leader, is to turn the critical eye back on yourself. But in order to help others find out who they are, and what they are capable of, you must first know who you are. So I created an inventory of who I had been as a leader, and what I noticed from the captains I had been observing.
Some things that needed to change in order for Entropy to be successful:
- A dedicated leader giving their full time and commitment
- Better communication
- Interacting outside of the confines of the League
- Creating an experience, not just a different way to play Hearthstone
- Get to know your players and their needs
- Test and check, always try to improve the experience. If it doesn’t work, try again.
Places I sucked:
- Being a leader
- Creating a family vibe
- Connecting with my players as a captain, or a person.
- Being good at the game
The funny thing was, I thought being good at the game was most important to being a good captain. It’s not. Lucky for me, it might be the least important piece.
So Season Kappa here we come. All my ducks are in a row, therefore all of Entropy’s ducks are in a row. Let’s pick a time and we will practice each week. We will have an email chain where we discuss strategy and picks/bans. We will be like TR5 and have a Skype call we are just always hanging out in. It’s going to be great!
The reality of Season Kappa, was nothing like that I had imagined. The season started as quietly as Beta ended. There was no Skype call, no weekly meeting. Email chain, you talkin’ about an email chain, get outta here. It was not that these measures failed because my players did not try, or did not care. The methods were simply not right for Entropy.
As a captain, I wanted to make spreadsheets like Viridae (damn you Archon Storm). I wanted to have fun like Team Rank 5. I wanted to be respected like The Hairy Generals. I wanted to be the wise sage like Jingbudda. But, truth, that’s not who I am, and that’s not what Entropy was.
So here we are. Six, seven chapters and who knows how many words in, here is everything I’ve learned about being a successful captain.
Know yourself, know your team.
For Entropy, anything that demanded weekly commitment to a specific chunk of time, was not going to work. Our real lives were too hectic to commit. But as a leader I was not okay with a lack of communication and practice. So we developed a system of communication using Google hangouts. Something where we could chat in live time, or catch up if we, idk, teach? It also became our forum for weekly tech and ban discussions, as well as a place for cheeky banter. Was it ideal for me, no. But did it work for my team, sure.
This is one of the most undervalued qualities in human existence. Being consistent sets a standard and norm for the rest of your team to follow. Part of consistency is transparency. You cannot lead while you tip-toe around important topics and make wishy-washy rulings. Have regular availability and access for your players. Approach leading with the same demeanor and rules. Set emotions aside, and be who your team needs you to be.
Delegate responsibility when you can
I know there are captains out there ripping out their hair at this one. But it is true. I have watched captains who love this game, love this league get burnt out after a season or two. It was not uncommon in Inception to come across an Entropy practice with Markshire at the helm. Our picks/bans were often a thesis by Firpo or Almace. And it seemed there was always someone willing to pick up any slack when the time came. Often, it was my job just to get out of the way.
Make the hard choices
This works both ways. Sometimes a player does not fit your team’s mold. They don’t mesh well with the other players, they always have excuses, they just bring the team, or a single player, down. They may be your top player. But the truth is, if they are not good for the team, they most likely aren’t good for the League. Sometimes you have to let players go. This is also true with passing over a player who while skilled, may not be a fit for your team. Part of the family building process, is signing the right people to begin with.
"This season we are expanding like never before. So, to all the new captains out there, the message I have is simple: No one expects you to be perfect, but remember you set the example that future THL generations will follow."
On the opposite side of the same coin, are the Almace’s of this community. One of my all-time favorite Entropy people, and considering two of my IRL friends have played on this team, that says a lot. I could have kept him on this team as long as he would have stayed, but that would be a disservice to this league. Some people were made to spread their wings. Whether they are Cassity the Journeyman, Almace the New Captain, or Brunson the Village Drunk. Some people were made to serve the community in ways other
Do what is best for the league
If you were to ask me, what is the best thing to happen to the THL since Alpha, my response might seem odd. It is not Tavern Talk, which is the highlight of my week. It is not the growth of the numbers in the league. It isn’t even the friends I have made in this league. It is the attachment that people have to this League. The fact that people care. That is the best thing to happen to the THL since season Alpha. What made season Alpha feel like a failure more than anything else was the fact that people didn’t care enough to make it successful.
The DQ rate between Kappa and Beta is a testament to what you can achieve when you put people who care into positions of power. People who put the success of the League before themselves. And despite the triumphant success of Kappa, it was overshadowed by an explosion of content and community in Season Inception. Because WE have created something people want to see succeed.
Epilogue: Live Long and May the Force Be Hodor
The THL has become a family, a large dysfunctional family with multiple drunk Uncles, but a family all the same. We care about each other, and we care about this league.
This season we are expanding like never before. So, to all the new captains out there, the message I have is simple: No one expects you to be perfect, but remember you set the example that future THL generations will follow. You are not simply creating a team, you are leaving a legacy. What kind of legacy do you want to leave? Will you be the next TAW, or the next Gosu Casuals.
It’s up to you to decide.
THL is life, THL is love.