The secret to his success? 14,000 hours behind the camera
The secret to his success? 14,000 hours behind the camera
To a person who doesn't watch Twitch streams all that often, professional Hearthstone streamer Octavian "Kripparrian" Morosan's channel might not seem to have much going for it.
For starters, Kripp doesn't actually say or do much. He sits there, he thinks to himself quietly, and he responds to situations as they unfold. Even in the more highlight-worthy moments, Kripp rarely yells or turns the moment into a spectacle. He'll throw his hands on his head in Aaron Paul-style disbelief or get giddy and start laughing to himself after overcoming tough odds, but that's the extent of it. When things don't go well for him, Kripp doesn't have the talent of a streamer like Jeffrey "Trump" Shih for turning bad luck into slapstick humor. Sometimes, after a bad beat, he gets visibly upset. Despite its success – he's the most-watched Hearthstone streamer in the world, and a member of the prestigious Team SoloMid – Kripp's stream rarely feels like a show; it feels like sitting there and watching a guy play video games.
But the shtick works, and while it might not look compelling on a day-by-day basis, the payoff is highest for repeat viewers who follow Kripp in his thorough, systematic dissection of every game he picks up. "When it comes to planning, execution, strategy, he's the best," says professional Hearthstone shoutcaster Dan "Frodan" Chou, who met Kripparrian even before he devoted himself solely to Blizzard's smash hit card game almost four years ago. "He's always been able to research things and understand the numbers. But more than anything, he's willing to put in the time."
It's evident even after a quick look at Kripp's output. Even though he's only months away from turning 30, he spends five to seven hours each day streaming himself as he plays Hearthstone. After that, he and his partner Rania Hatzi edit the streams into bite-sized YouTube videos. The last few hours of the day are spent dealing with business inquiries, doing chores around the house, and, if he's lucky, playing a game that isn't Hearthstone. Then he goes to bed, wakes up, and starts the whole routine over again.
"People ask me what the secret to streaming is, and I tell them, stream for 14,000 hours. Because I think that's how many I've streamed, " he says. "The reality is, I play very few games for very long periods of time so I can just really, really master them. And that's what I like. I like exploring, and understanding, and learning how to be the best at something."
He's a different person entirely in his pre-recorded videos – he radiates with the confidence of an expert. To kick off almost every YouTube video he posts (there are more than 2,040 of them to date), Kripp records a vlog-style talking head segment where he rants about balance issues, expounds on innovative new playstyles and strategies, followed by some highlights from that day's stream.
If this lifestyle sounds intense, Kripp's not complaining. He's been obsessing over games like this since his family left Romania to live in Canada more than 20 years ago. After some brief stints with single-player games like Lemmings and Prince of Persia, Kripp latched onto Blizzard's Diablo 2 and plunged headlong into its world of online forums, damage output spreadsheets, and late-night dungeon runs over voice-comms with his fellow obsessives.
Kripp's gaming fixation didn't sit well with his academic family: his mom, dad, and grandparents all have Ph.Ds in their fields, and they naturally expected school to be Kripp's main priority. But even when he didn't dedicate enough time to studying, he did what he had to do to make middling or even slightly-above-average grades, and that was enough to get him by. "I don't think, at the back of their minds, they were thoroughly disappointed," Kripp says, calling to mind the moments throughout the years that his parents would scold him for underperforming in school. "They could see that I was a very smart person, and they could see that if I needed to get the grades, I got the grades."
When his parents divorced during middle school, he took advantage of the fragmented household environment to double-down on his commitment to games: "I started to treat them like a science, " he says. After that, Kripp dedicated his entire life to mastering every game he's gotten a hold of. He beat a 200-person raid in Dark Age of Camelot with just one friend. He joined the US' top raid guild in WoW and topped the hunter DPS charts. He finished a world-first run of Diablo 3's impossibly difficult Hardcore Inferno mode.
When he reached the pinnacle of the WoW community, Kripp started to feel like he wasn't getting a sense of fulfillment from the game anymore. So he sought out other ways to engage with other players. Even though there was no reliable way to make money from videos at the time, he started making YouTube guides, and eventually became one of the top content creators on YouTube in Canada. This was where he uncovered the core of his affinity for gaming, and more specifically, the fact that the games themselves were never really his focus. Instead, it was the community: "I didn't think World of Warcraft was a better game than Dark Age, even after having played it, but World of Warcraft was a game where you'd go on the forums, you'd come up with a new idea, and you'd have hundreds of people talking about it."
On August 19, 2013, Kripparrian posted a video called "HS First Impressions," where he chats for seven minutes about his experience playing the new beta release of Blizzard's Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. To the surprise of most of his fans, the card game would soon become his fixation, and it's remained the primary focus of his channel for almost four straight years.
Looking back on Kripp's very first Hearthstone videos, it's clear that he's not a natural talent when it comes to picking up the intricacies of a new game. Where other high-level players like Lifecoach and Strifecro latched onto the game's concepts of value and tempo at a fast clip, Kripp made bad trades, he overestimated low-quality cards, and he put together cheesy decks that didn't really work in real-life scenarios. "I'm not a very fast learner, but I'm very good at connecting dots," Kripp says about his ability to dissect and discuss his favorite games. "And once I understand the fundamentals in a game, I seem to connect more dots than anyone else."
One of the first things you'll notice about Kripp is that he's not a typical Hearthstone pro. For starters, he hates the game's more popular "constructed" format, and says it's "like going to the dentist." Instead, he's focused his efforts on becoming the top player in Hearthstone's dynamic, chaotic Arena mode, where players draft the best deck they can from a set of random cards, then see how many opponents they can beat before losing three times.
My goal is to be as respectful and thankful to every viewer that comes and watches. And I think over a long period of time, the people that stick around are the ones who realize that.
To Kripp, the ideal Hearthstone experience is one with a low learning curve and cost of entry, but a high skill cap so that the best players will need hundreds of hours of experience to perform well at tournament level. When he does play constructed mode, he gravitates toward complex "combo" decks with minimal margins of error, where players use the early game to set up intricate stratagems that can overwhelm opponents in one fell swoop. The decks aren't always reliable, but their driving elements of synthesis and skill play into Kripp's prime fascination with the game. "If you're smart enough, you can still probably figure out a few new decks that would work or that would be fun, " he says. " Or that would have very cool interactions, or would play completely differently. The fact that that's out there, and the fact that with enough knowledge, you can find it, is really the addicting quality of Hearthstone."
To help bring that philosophy into the official Hearthstone tournament setting, Kripp moonlights as a tournament organizer. His "Challengestone" tournament, in partnership with the esports organization Tempo Storm, is an attempt to shake up Hearthstone's tournament scene. A consistent crowd favorite, it asks top players to build decks based on criteria announced at the beginning of each tournament round (it was also the official Hearthstone exhibition at last year's Blizzcon). "Kripp's not willing to sugarcoat his opinions when it comes to what the game could improve on," says Dan "Frodan" Chou, "but he's willing to package it in a constructive way."
This is Kripp at his best: taking initiative, putting complex thoughts into words, and sharing his ideal vision of Hearthstone with other people in the scene. Compared to, say, the telegenic pro player and caster Brian Kibler, the pragmatic, and often salty Kripp isn't the most charismatic character in the Hearthstone scene. But people still love him.
Kripp's got a few theories to explain why people might like watching him so much. The first can be hard to swallow for Hearthstone detractors, but it's a good argument for the value of the game itself: "Hearthstone is the best game in the world for a viewer. Because you see the decisions, you know what you would do, and you are immediately satisfied with the result. When someone watches Hearthstone, they're learning the game on such a different level compared to every other game that I've seen, that I think makes it one of the best viewer experiences."
He also feels that his simple, human regard for his audience sets him apart. "I actually respect the people who watch me," he says. Unlike other Hearthstone personalities, he never limits his chat to channel subscribers, and he doesn't clutter his broadcast with donation pop-ups or chintzy overlays. "My goal is to be as respectful and thankful to every viewer that comes and watches. And I think over a long period of time, the people that stick around are the ones who realize that."
For most of his peers in the streaming scene, the act of achieving success is transformative not just because it yields cash, but also because it turns otherwise normal people into instant celebrities with massive (and often petulant) audiences. Not everyone deals with that visibility in the same way. Having already received his share of personal insults from the community, Jeffrey "Trump" Shih has spoken out against toxic viewer behavior. Other streamers, like Tempo Storm head Andrey "Reynad" Yanyuk, have used their success as a jumping-off point for other business ventures within the esports scene.
Kripp thinks the likes of Trump and Reynad are letting down their audiences by curbing how much of themselves they're willing to give. "I see a lot of streamers who, when they get big, they change a lot of what they do," he says. "Suddenly, they really only care about people who donate money to them. Suddenly, they're putting their chats in subscriber mode... A lot of people have corrupted ideals of how their streams should run."
Even so, Kripp's approach – which ditches flashy production and money-making gimmicks for uninterrupted gameplay and dialogue – doesn't seem to be about "respecting" viewers as much as it's about cultivating an open community: "My original chat rules are, 'you can say whatever shit you want about me or what I'm doing, but don't start trash talking each other. I don't want the idea of me talking to the chat undermined."
But Kripp's got another unwritten rule: don't mix the personal with the professional. When viewers noticed a ring on Kripp's finger in one of his streams a few years ago, Kripp put together a quick vlog that playfully put speculation to rest.
"The truth is that I am... Gollum."
It's not a very satisfying reveal, but Kripp makes his intentions clear later in the video, even as he refuses to confirm or deny any rumors: "The reality is that my adventures in 'Middle Earth' have nothing to do with my stream. They have nothing to do with my YouTube." He wants to grant his audience the free reign they had in the MMO glory days, but he also wants to participate in that community as a peer. And to him, the only way to do that is by maintaining some of his own anonymity.
Frodan says it's working: "These days, when more money comes into the space – when there are more opportunities than ever to say 'yes' to the right people and get paid – the feeling we get from Kripp is that he's still the same guy."