Anyone who watched the 2016 Hearthstone World Championship on Twitch likely saw a rotating reel of player interviews, conducted by TJ Sanders. These player interviews, with 2 for each player, played during the breaks between matches. While these are often described as “cringey,” there seemed to be an overwhelming theme of national/regional talk in them. All the talk of national pride may me wonder whether nationalism actually is a thing in Hearthstone, or whether it is just a banal narrative thrown in.

Region/national talk in player interviews

  • Cydonia – none
  • Handsomeguy – “You’ve sort of proven Korea’s dominance in Asia this year, which regions do you think are the best in competitive Hearthstone?”
  • Bbgungun – none
  • Naiman – none
  • Breath – “There are a lot of players in China… do you think it gives you an edge having to compete against so many players”
  • DrHippi – “Do you think Europe’s the best region in the world?”
  • DDaHyoNi – none
  • OmegaZero – “Do you think Chinese players are a little bit better?”
  • JasonZhou – “Where do you think China ranks for the regions in competitive Hearthstone?” “What’s been the difference between the competitive scene in China and the competitive scene in the Americas?” “Is there a big difference between the Chinese ladder and the Americas ladder?”
  • ThijsNL – “Where do you think Europe stacks up against the rest of the world in competitive Hearthstone?”
  • che0nsu – “Do you think that Korea as a region in competitive Hearthstone is the strongest region?” “What do you think is the best region?””Do you think Korea has an edge over China or the Americas?”
  • Hamster – “How do you think the competitive Hearthstone scene in China ranks with the other regions in the world?” “Are you trying to show the world that China has more creativity, by bring decks that nobody else would bring?”
  • Amnesiasc – “If the going gets tough, Captain America.” “I’m feeling the sense of NA pride.”
  • Yulsic – “It proves that Hong Kong player is good.” “You want the player scene in Hong Kong to improve if you win, how would that happen?”
  • Pavel – “What’s the Russian Hearthstone scene like?”
  • HotMEOWTH – “What about the age-old argument of Europe vs Americas?”

12 out of 16 players had some talk about region or country. Amnesiac initiated the NA pride agenda, and Yulsic brought up bringing a Hearthstone scene to Hong Kong. So 10 out of 16 players were asked about a region or country by TJ. This does not include all the talk in the post- or pre-game interviews.

 Why it is such a prevalent narrative

I think that it is fairly clear that the reason that country or region is brought up so much, is to put eSports in a familiar light. Soccer/football, arguably the most popular world sport, has strong ties with national pride and flag waving. Olympic sports, however obscure they may be, are all about blindly rooting for your country.

The world of eSports is still nascent in terms of moneymaking and recognition of legitimacy. So it makes sense they rely the nationalism crutch present in some sports. There is also some value in this, as some of the players have never competed against one another. This is particularly true for the players on the China server, who only compete against players in that region. So there is no way for players to have beef with players from other regions to China region players. Talking about a country or region will provide something to otherwise liven the mundane proceedings of two people playing a children’s card game.

Problems with the current narrative

It got too repetitive

As evidenced above with the number of mentions during the player interviews, it was mentioned for most competitors, specifically many players in the Asia, Korea, or China servers. The NA vs EU rivalry was mentioned a few times, but that topic is often beaten to a dead horse on Twitch chat already.

Players don’t really buy it / It doesn’t make much sense

Some players get heated (artificially or not) with the NA and EU rivalry, but the winner of the Hearthstone World Championship, Pavel, seemed to not care about it at all. He didn’t even mention anything about regional rivalry, unless prompted by Frodan, in which he lukewarmly endorsed the EU region. These players are competing for personal gain and glory, not specifically to promote national pride.

In Soviet Russia, there are no “EU plays.”

It will drown out other narratives

To my knowledge, everyone in the Top 16 was either White or Asian. This is pretty typical for the competitive Hearthstone scene right now. If a Latino/Hispanic or Black player makes it to the stage, they will likely be inundated with nothing but questions about nationality or race or ethnicity. Continuing this discussion would undermine individual accomplishments and hard work of said player to get to the big stage.

What I would like

Tone down on nationalism

I would put a lesser emphasis on nationalism because I think the viewerbase isn’t particularly interested in it. It is definitely fair game in free-form commentary, but shouldn’t be the predominant question asked in the player interviews.

More creativity

A few of the interviews, notably the one with DrHippi, were silly and jocular. Amnesiac’s first interview stressed his Young Savage moniker. Obviously, you could only pull this off with better-known players. But I would have liked to see some more variety in questions and production.

So much cringe, it was one of the better interviews.

More about the players’ niche

Not much was said about what Hearthstone players bring to their respective communities. For example, HotMEOWTH is one of the editors/writers with Vicious Syndicate. I don’t think this fact was really mentioned at all during the championships. It’s possible that the most competitive Hearthstone players are unlike streamers, in that they are more uniform.

More about players’ personal lives

I really enjoyed banter in the player interviews, like BBGunGun’s talk about Alaska, or Naiman’s marriage/family. It really makes the players easier to relate to. Further, providing facts of a player’s personal life could open the door to more interesting narratives and motivations to win.


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