Hyped for Artifact

November 10 2018
Team Liquid couldn’t possibly be more excited to announce the first member of our pro Artifact team. Everyone, say hello to George "Hyped" Maganzini!

We at Team Liquid have big plans for Artifact and are sure that Hyped is the best first signing we could have made. Hyped is somebody we've actually had our eye on for a long time. A long long time if you are familiar with his success in past games. If you aren't yet familiar with this multi-esport star, then keep reading for a full history of Hyped and maybe even the secret to his crazy success.

If you’re a fan of Blizzard esports, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard about Hyped. WoW fans will know him from his time with Kripparrian on Exodus, one of the top raiding guilds in WoW history, or from his multiple #1 finishes in the 3v3 Arena with Reckful. Hearthstone fans might remember him from his domination of the early ladder as a member of team Tempo Storm, where he played three years of pro Hearthstone before setting his sights on Overwatch. Hyped then became the starting flex tank for the Immortals team that beat Team Liquid in the finals of Overwatch Contenders Season Zero (we forgive you George), which went on to became the LA Valiant in the inaugural season of the Overwatch League.

With such an impressive esports resume, I almost forgot to ask Hyped about Artifact. By the time we’d walked through his career as a WoW, Hearthstone, and Overwatch pro, it was all-too-easy to see how Hyped was able to accumulate nearly twice as many ladder points as the second place finisher. Hyped is widely recognized as one of the top Artifact players in the closed beta, and will be competing and casting in the upcoming BTS Artifact Preview Tournament this weekend.

Hyped began our conversation by reminding me that there are tons of Artifact fans who still haven’t had a chance to get their hands on the game. He quickly but politely deflected my question about his hours played in the beta. “I think that kind of rubs it in people’s faces.” Despite his name, Hyped is calm, soft spoken, and very careful with his words. “People will do the math and say wait, I’ve played zero hours, and I don’t think that’s really fair to them.”

It’s hard to imagine a more deserving closed beta participant than Hyped. He played in both the Hearthstone and Overwatch betas, and was able to claim rank one in the very first competitive seasons of both Hearthstone and WoW Arena. For a man who so often sees his name next to the number one, one of the things that impressed me most about Hyped was his humility.

“The beta for Artifact was very hard to get into. But I thought, I know some people, and I owe it to myself to do everything I can to get in. So I sent out a bunch of DMs which is totally unlike me, I feel gross asking people for stuff, but I did it anyways because I believed in myself and I wanted to give myself the best shot. I couldn’t not do it.”

Given Artifact’s non-disclosure agreement and touchy closed beta status, Hyped was eager to indulge me when I selfishly changed the topic to his gaming history. As a fellow Blizzard fanboy with countless hours in Hearthstone, Overwatch, and StarCraft 2, my not-so-hidden agenda for our interview was to try and understand what allowed Hyped to be so much better than me at every single game we’ve both laid our hands on (including Artifact).

Hyped grew up in La Habra, California, a small city on the border of LA. His father worked for a company that produced CDs in the mid 90s, including game discs for Sony and Playstation. His dad brought home a PS1 for lil`Hyped and his brother when he was 5 years old, which was his first exposure to the world of video games. “My brother is 2 years older than me, and he was always better than me no matter what at every game we played. So from 5 to 14, I was pretty much just getting pummeled by my brother at games.” They played mostly competitive games like Super Smash Brothers, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark, but Hyped also spoke fondly of all the Gameboy accessories he had picked up for Pokemon Red and Blue version.

In high school, George’s friends started taking him out to LAN cafes to play competitive games like Counterstrike and StarCraft, which quickly drew him into the world of PC gaming. It would be a few more years until George would start to get recognized for his gaming abilities though. “I was a newbie”, recalling that he was nothing special at CS or SC compared to his friends at the cafe.

When WoW was released in 2004, Hyped was immediately swept up in the craze. “WoW was just such a good game, it just beat out everything else at the time.” He immediately started talking about PvP, even though it only existed as a casual 1v1 duel system when vanilla WoW was released. “I really got into it. I loved figuring out how to beat every single class in the game and discovering all these different strategies. Then the new expansion came out which brought the Arena, which was a much more serious form of PvP, and I got into that in a super big way. When Arena first came out I think my 2v2 partner and I played for 24 hours straight, I remember playing into the morning and just really loving it.”

Hyped said there was “a lot of luck involved” in finding his way to Ministry, the guild which would eventually become Exodus. Around the time that Naxxramas came out, the top raiding guilds were getting stuck on tough bosses and Mages were in high demand. “Someone from a larger server saw me with my Tier 3 shoulders in Alterac Valley and that was really all it took. I tried out for his guild, and I was super newbie but I made the trial. It wasn’t that great of a guild at the time, but it was a huge jump for me. It was a top 50 guild, which to me was a big deal. In the next expansion, Burning Crusade, we became Exodus and jumped from a top 50 guild to a top 10 guild. And the expansion after that we became a top 5 or top 1 guild depending on who you talked to.” Hyped would raid from 5pm to midnight “pretty much every day” as part of Exodus, a full-time job for a kid still in high school.

When PvP was properly released in WoW and a ladder was introduced to the game, Hyped set his sights on rank 1, day 1. “We were able to get that pretty quickly on, in the first season. We got to the top extremely early. In 3v3 we were rank 1 and rank 2 was another team from our guild. There was this huge margin from 2nd to 3rd and nobody was even trying to touch us. But it wasn’t until season 3 that I was able to get my first rank 1 finish, and that was with Reckful who was pretty new at the time too.”

From “lucky” Mage to best PvP team in the world? What was it that enable Hyped to so quickly light the WoW PvP on fire?

“I’d bring it back to the dueling. I could counter each class perfectly, just understanding how each class worked.” But I could tell he wasn’t confident in his answer. I tried to dig a bit deeper, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on the special sauce that separated him from the thousands of other hardcore WoW grinders looking up to see him on the top of the ladder. Perhaps we’d find the answer in another game.

“It was never about WoW itself, it was just the best game at the time.” Hyped’s interest in WoW began to wane, jumping into StarCraft 2 to scratch his strategy itch. “This was the summer before I went to college, so I had a lot of free time, and I just full on played SC2 during that summer and it was really fun. I only played for about a summer, just a few months, and I really wanted that grandmaster. I got really close, I got to gold star master which was the very top of master, but I didn’t quite get GM.”

StarCraft piqued his interest in esports, but college was looming and Hyped had his priorities in order. “I remember IdrA talking about how he quit college for esports, and I wasn’t about to drop out of college because I obviously wasn’t at that IdrA level yet.” He finished out his degree in Psychology at Cal State Fullerton, largely taking a break from competitive gaming in the process.

“Hearthstone came out right as I was finishing college. The beta came out during my last semester, so I told myself that I’d play it for a bit while ostensibly looking for a job. And I always say this, but it was easier for me to find a job as a pro Hearthstone player than it was to with a degree in psychology.”

After a four year break from gaming, Hyped had a reinvigorated hunger for competition. He began to play Hearthstone on a full-time basis during the beta, and when the game eventually added a ladder he quickly ascended to rank 1. “I got rank 1 in a dominant fashion mid-season. I didn’t want to queue on rank 1, so I made another account and got to rank 2 with that. That was a pretty big moment for me. When season one finished I ended up at rank 2 and 3. My friend passed me for rank 1 at the last moment, but it’s okay.”

Something in the tone of his voice suggested that he was slightly less than okay about losing out on that rank 1 finish. Despite his calm and unassuming manner of speaking, it’s easy to see that being the very best, being rank 1, is at the core of what motivates Hyped to compete. “Figuring out how to become the best, quickly, is the most fun part of a new game, it’s the thing I really enjoy.” You don’t hit rank 1 Legend, make a new account, and do it all over again just to prove a point.

Still digging for the secret to Hyped’s cross-genre success, the greatest obstacle before me was his constant humility. Hyped is loathe to compare himself to other gamers and resistant to words like “skill” and “talent”. I stop to remind him that he was demonstrably able to achieve the highest rank in the world at WoW Arena and Hearthstone in their first ever competitive seasons, and that we haven’t even gotten around to talking about Artifact or Overwatch yet. “Surely,” I ask, “you have to realize that you’re doing something different from everyone else?” He takes me back to his days of getting crushed by his brother at Super Smash Bros, which he credits as the primary fuel for his drive to best.

I’ve played most of the same games as Hyped, but I obviously don’t have anywhere close to the same kind of cross-pollinating gaming skills which Hyped so clearly has. I’m a decent Hearthstone player, but I’m fair to middling at StarCraft and an average Overwatch player on a good day. I bring up my paltry ranks and embarrassingly high number of hours played, and ask him about the delta between a gamer like me and a gamer him. He begins to tells me of the first time he played Settlers of Catan:

“I was playing against 3 to 5 of my friends. Some of them were new, and some of them weren’t, but I won every single game. Seven in a row or something. So I think can say that clearly, there was some kind of way that I was thinking about or approaching this game was very different from other people. My opponents clearly weren’t thinking about things the same way I was.”

Hesitant to brag about his gaming skills, he pauses to choose his next words carefully.

“So here’s something that I’m good at, something I don’t mind being a little cocky about. In Hearthstone, what I think separates me from other players is that I very naturally think ahead, and I think that’s what made me good at WoW as well. I’m not sure if this the right word, but predictive reasoning? Visualizing the future and predicting what will happen next - visualizing and planning ahead.”

We explore this idea a bit more, at some point I hear a light bulb come on over his head through our Discord call.

“Okay, so something I do in life, and I think I do this a lot more than the average person, is that whenever something happens I immediately think about all the different ways it could have possibly played out. I think I do it too much, to a bad degree almost, but it’s just the way my brain normally thinks. It’s sort of related to social anxiety too, and it can be sort of paralyzing at times, but that’s just how I think normally. These really simple things can just explode in my head even when it isn’t super necessary.”

Did we finally crack the case? We talk about about decision trees, and his need to completely traverse them in all manners of situations, gaming or otherwise. Though this kind of impulsive habit could be a major pain in the ass in social situations, it apparently manifests as a tremendous benefit in turn-based strategy games like Settlers of Catan, Hearthstone, and Artifact. But it doesn’t explain his success at highly instinctual and present-focused games like WoW and Overwatch. When I asked how many transferable skills there were between WoW, Hearthstone, and Overwatch, Hyped confidently answered “not much”.

“The way I see strategy in Overwatch is that you come up with the strategy outside of the game, and you practice that until it becomes subconscious, sort of like practicing a playbook in football. There’s not that much deductive reasoning going on in the game, because then you’re not focusing on your mechanics as much. It’s much better to have these preset strategies that you can shift to mid-game than to think up strategies on the fly. You want to be mindful, as much in the present as possible.”

Hyped got into the Overwatch beta pretty early, but he didn’t come from a competitive FPS background like most of the other top beta participants. He had to break into the pro scene the hard way, by ways to play in as many competitive scrims as he could. He started out as a “ringer” for the teams like Complexity, a substitute for when the regulars couldn’t show up to a scrim. Eventually a competitive ladder was added to the game, which one again provided Hyped with an opportunity to show the world that he was on another level than the average gamer.

“I think I met what became the Immortals team in a pub. The team was called Sodipop at the time, and I was playing a lot Tracer around then and just working on my mechanics. They always played in a 3 stack, and I kept getting queued against them and was kind of owning them. I played against them a bunch over the course of a few weeks until eventually I played a game where I was on their team, and in voice chat they said ‘hey you’re pretty good, are you Hyped from Hearthstone?’ I think they needed a Tracer so they asked me to try out, so I did and I made it on the team.”

Immortals would eventually go on to become the #2 ranked Overwatch team in the world before getting signed to the Overwatch League as the LA Valiant, and Hyped was there for the for the entire ride as their starting flex tank.

“It was really a perfect mix of people. There was myself and Chance, who was this former Starcraft player that was really really good and able to beat Koreans (including MarineKingPrime). Him and I were sort of the older experienced gamers who thought the same way and had the right mindset, and the other half our roster was under 17 at time and we were able to have a really good influence on them. There was Agilities, Grimreality, and Verbo, and then me, Chance, and Nomy who would guide the team and not let them make mistakes or get complacent. For example, when the team did well and was starting to get recognition we could sense a bit of what we recognize as ladder anxiety, and wanting to rest on their laurels a bit, so we had help them refocus on long-term goals.

Immortals eventually picked up a few star Koreans in Kariv, Fate, and Envy and went on an absolute tear though the pre-OWL Overwatch pro scene from late 2016 through the mid 2017, including first place finishes at the Overwatch Winter Premiere and “season zero” of Overwatch Contenders. Though it wasn’t quite rank 1, Hyped was still able to put up an impressive top 20 ladder finish in Season 3.

When I ask about the Overwatch League, Hyped let out a disappointed sigh. He was on the initial roster for the LA Valiant, but didn’t make it onto the roster that opened the season. He felt like the long-term plans for the team “weren’t communicated to him as clearly as they could have been”. Envy was already in the picture for the flex tank position, and the team would sign another all-star youngster, Space, shortly thereafter.

Hyped truly enjoyed being a part of Immortal’s meteoric rise from unsigned team to Overwatch League contender, but he was more than ready to leave Overwatch when the team experience started to sour. He wasn’t having a great time in the team house, and the ladder was only getting worse and worse.

“It was really hard to get a team of 6 on the ladder where you’re actually learning and improving. I wasn’t enjoying the game that much anyways, so when I had the opportunity to try and sign with other teams I wasn’t all that excited about it. So I had all this free time and and I decided to see what Hearthstone was like these days, and I was actually able to get rank 1 again with Razakus Priest. Though rank 1 was a common occurrence in the past, this meant a lot to me. It meant that I still had it.”

A few weeks later, Hyped head about Artifact for the first time from a friend at Blizzcon 2017. Though nobody knew anything about the game at this point, his friend was very excited about what Artifact could mean for Hearthstone, as Blizzard would finally have some proper competition in the digital card game space.

The rest, as they say, is history. I’ve been very familiar with Hyped since my very first day in the beta, where I checked the leaderboards and saw his name in first place by a mile. He managed to ruin not one, but two perfect Gauntlet runs on my first day in the beta. I tell him this story (mostly as humble brag, something that Hyped would probably never do), and he laughs apologetically.

In my selfish attempts to pin down Hyped’s cross-genre success on a single, immutable factor, one that I could somehow apply to finally reach Masters in Overwatch, the biggest lesson I learned from my interview with Hyped was that such a factor simply doesn’t exist. Hyped kicks ass at Artifact because he kicks ass at Artifact. He also just so happens to kick ass at Hearthstone, Overwatch, and WoW. No matter how badly I wanted them to, his successes in one game didn’t at all define his successes in the others.

Despite the obvious overlap between Artifact and Hearthstone, you don’t reach rank 1 by leaning on shortcuts and borrowed heuristics. You can certainly learn heuristics to get “good” at a game. Hell, you could probably lean on tips and shortcuts all the way to “great”. But top competitors like Hyped set the bar higher than great. If it’s rank 1 or bust, shortcuts simply won’t do.

Though Hyped’s obsessive need to over-analyze certainly factors into his successes as a card game player, he was highly aware of how this habit could hold him back in both WoW and Overwatch.

“In the more mechanical games you need lean towards your instincts, but when you play Hearthstone you almost have to eliminate your instincts. I’d say WoW and Overwatch are mostly instinctual games, while card games whip you into shape and teach you that you can’t always follow your instinct, and that you have to always question it. They’re kind of a mindfuck. In FPS games confidence is huge, but in card games if you’re overconfident you’re gonna make mistakes left and right. But you couldn’t have this mindset in Overwatch, because if you overthink things you’re going to be missing your shots.”

If there is a common thread which connects all of Hyped’s esports successes, it’s his humility. He repeatedly brought up the importance of mindset and the pitfalls ladder anxiety, which to him was the same thing as “complacency”. Despite his professional status in 4 different games, he deflected or belittled every opportunity to credit natural talent, citing years of butt-whooping from his older brother as the reason for his drive to be the best. Rank 1 isn’t good enough for Hyped, and that’s what makes him so scary.

Writer // Aleco

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