SunBaconRelaxer: Journey To the Top
Today, Battlegrounds has become the premier Hearthstone game mode. The auto battler has taken off since it was first introduced a few years ago, and it only continues to climb in popularity as time goes by.
There are many great streamers who have taken up the game, and they all bring something unique to the table. Some are entertaining, some are instructional, and some are just plain skilled.
SunBaconRelaxer is all three.
The streamer perpetually sits near the top of the leaderboards, and, as shown by being the first to break 13k mmr, is constantly finding new ways to push the envelope.
He streams every day for hundreds of fans, has thousands and thousands of page views, and gets to play video games for a living.
However, as with most success stories, it wasn’t always that easy.
Sometimes, life just gets in the way.
A Streamer’s Start
As with so many other popular Battlegrounds players, SunBacon didn’t start his Hearthstone journey with the game mode. Rather, he first came onto Twitch a few years before the release in 2015. Back then, he knew he wanted to be a streamer, but he didn’t quite know where to start.
“I started playing Standard...Didn’t like it. Didn’t have a lot of cards. So I played arena. I think a lot of players do this. They can’t really afford all the cards, so they just play arena. Get all the cards for free”
Being able to access everything appealed to him, as did the ability to build a wide variety of different decks. With so many cards at his disposal, he slowly made a name for himself. It started off slow, but he knew right away he had a knack for the game mode. He even went as far as making his name 12WinsHS (after the best you can do in an arena run).
Unfortunately, even back then, arena didn’t exactly rake in the views.
“I played arena for three and half years. And streamed it for two. From 2016 to 2018. That was my Junior and Senior year in college at that time, I was really good at the game, but arena was not a popular game mode...For smaller streamers, it was always hard to stream arena. So I wasn’t very popular.”
Despite the odds being stacked against him, Bacon managed to put together a solid following. He regularly had a good number of viewers, and was building a fan base in the way he wanted. Then, as it so often does, life got in the way.
There and Back Again
There are many challenges to being a streamer. Not only does the game you play come with its own set of trials, but real life puts up a fight too. Bacon first came to the U.S. for college, but when that time ran out, he had to return to China.
There, streaming was not as easy as in the U.S.
“I couldn’t stream on Twitch anymore because in China there’s no Twitch server...At that time I was really struggling. I really enjoyed streaming and then after I went back, I couldn’t.”
However, he didn’t let a few setbacks stop him. His drive to be a great streamer, just like his drive to be the best at whatever game he plays, persevered. Rather than accepting his time on Twitch was over, Bacon applied for grad school back in the states. He got in and just eight months later was back on the platform he loved.
Twitch has always been a passion for Bacon. Though many get on the platform with dreams of glory, that was never his primary drive.
“My goal was not to be established at the beginning. I just wanted to come online and talk to people who had the same interests. I didn’t have a donation button or a subscription button for the first two years...I streamed five hours a day, but had no income from streaming itself. At the beginning it was for passion.”
He loved playing Hearthstone, and being able to do it with like-minded individuals that he could interact with online was more important to him than a paycheck or getting a lot of views. That made him unique, because it enabled him to play the game he loved without worrying about any of the other pressures that typically come during those early streaming days.
He just got to go to class and interact with a game he truly enjoyed.
“When I was in college, sometimes I would even skip classes to stream...I averaged nine to ten hours a day. I didn’t stream that long, but in terms of gaming time, and time I spent watching others playing the game as well, it was like nine hours.”
Despite his affinity for streaming, he graduated from USC with flying colors. Even at this point, having built a solid following, he didn’t plan on turning streaming into a career. His goal was to be a teacher. However, once again, things didn’t quite go as planned.
This time, for the better.
“I graduated, then Covid started. I was supposed to apply as a teacher, but the schools closed down. So I thought...I’ll give streaming a try...I just went to BestBuy, got a 20 dollar camera.”
However, after being off the platform for so long, coming back had its own set of challenges. On Twitch, consistency and loyalty reign above everything else. If you don’t have a schedule or need to take a long break because you’re in another country, it might not be so forgiving. Luckily for Bacon, his personality and skill made him quite popular.
“I wasn’t expecting my old viewers to come back. But actually on the first day, 50 people who used to come to my stream stopped by. I was really excited.”
From there, he slowly increased his following. He was still playing (and enjoying) arena, but there weren't a ton of views in the mode.
Then Battlegrounds came out, and everything changed.
A New Mode
Anyone familiar with Hearthstone’s auto battler knows that it was popular right off the bat. It had a lot going for it, and was insanely popular straight away. That was especially true of Twitch. In fact, it was so popular that even Bacon (then 12WinsHS) wanted in.
“I was playing arena at the time, and everyone was streaming Battlegrounds. When I was playing arena I would go on Twitch I would fish for people who played the game...Everyone was streaming Battlegrounds. It was so popular, I had to give it a try.”
Unfortunately, he didn’t get enamored with the mode like so many others. The first few times he played it, he didn’t like it. It didn’t have the same appeal to him at Arena. It was too random, and he didn’t think it had the depth of other modes.
Even so, due to the numbers and popularity, he kept giving it a shot. What first seemed like a slot machine style game with too much RNG soon gave way to a much more strategic game about timing, life management, and smart drafting.
Eventually, he came around and began to love it. The more he played, the more there was to discover. Then he got good. Really, really good.
Being such a competitive player, he always strives to do better. It is that spirit that pushed him further and further into Battlegrounds. The better he got, the more he wanted to succeed. The more he succeeded. The more he played.
Pretty soon, he was at the top of the leaderboards. And, as his skill grew, so did his popularity.
Before he knew it, he was a popular streamer. His shot had truly paid off.
The Once and Continuous Grind
Being a popular streamer, while not Bacon’s initial goal, comes with plenty of perks. He gets to play Battlegrounds every day, interact with the chat he enjoys, and is invited to exclusive competitive events.
Still, nothing is ever quite as shiny as it first seems. Though he’s now a better known name with plenty of viewers and sponsorships to go around, he’s still that competitive kid at heart just looking to share a game he loves with similar people. The lights got bigger, and when that happens, everything can feel a bit different.
“Now, things have definitely changed. Even now, I don’t like the idea of streaming for money, but I kinda have to...I feel there’s more weight on my shoulders. That’s both good and bad. I don’t enjoy the game purely...I have to be here every day. It’s a little stressful, but I feel that I’m doing something greater. Four years ago, I just wanted to play games.”
Now, it’s his job. A job he greatly enjoys, but a job nonetheless. That’s a struggle every streamer faces, and Bacon knows better than most that sitting down and playing the game day in and day out comes with its own challenges.
“It’s taking a toll on my body. Streaming for two years straight, full time, on an RNG game, and then you have a lot of people who feed on your defeat, who get happy when you lose...That’s a huge toll. Physically and mentally.”
Putting yourself in front of a screen for hours every day is not easy, especially when you need to be as good as Bacon is at Battlegrounds. Being off simply isn’t an option, when dealing with chat or climbing up the leaderboards.
So, how do you deal with it all? In Bacon’s words:
“I need a vacation, to be honest.”
His Competitive Spirit
Bacon came a long way to get to where he is, and while the grind does get to him, he doesn’t let that stop him from enjoying what he does. Where some streamers simply quit or drop off after putting in so much work, he still values being able to play a game.
He just comes at it from a different angle.
“When I’m reaching that burnout point every time, I drop MMR. Then, I see people doing better than me, and my competitive spirit kicks in...I feel the push to stay at least in the top 10 level.”
The same competitive spirit that got Bacon into Hearthstone is what keeps him going on the tough days or during rough losing streaks. It’s not just about being able to succeed, it’s about being able to be the best of the best.
“It’s the initial drive. The compassion. The competitiveness. That keeps me going. I don’t think this is a job for everyone. For people who do this, including myself, I want to give them a round of applause.”
However, it’s not all leaderboards and MMR for him either. Bacon’s first love was being able to interact with chat, and that’s something he still values. Though he does have to deal with the occasional troll or backseat gamer, for the most part getting to interact with his fans is a big part of why he does what he does.
Being number one in the world is important to him, but not for his own reasons. A teacher at heart, he wants to be good so he can help other people improve as well.
“Battlegrounds is a game I love still...I want to stream something I can teach people...I don’t want to purely have fun.”
Battlegrounds: Then and Now
Bacon’s life has undergone a lot of changes over the past few years. Battlegrounds has as well. The game, which didn’t get a lot of love from Blizzard at the start, is not rife with balance patches, new heroes, and a ton of shifts.
Some people love the way the game is going, and some aren’t as enamored with how Blizzard has handled it. Bacon is somewhere in the middle.
“I think the general direction is very good. They have done a lot of good balancing changes. They used to not care for months. Now, they fix something that’s broken within a week. I think the game is in a really good state for what they have done.”
While he’s excited about the mode’s future, he, like so many other popular streamers, believes Blizzard could do more to support the game. It’s one of the most popular games on Twitch, but is still left in the dark when it comes to bigger tournaments or cash prizes.
“Battlegrounds has a huge amount of potential. Blizzard is not putting enough money and time in the competitive scene...It’s not getting the same amount of attention for Standard.”
There’s no doubt that the lack of a strong monetization policy has hurt Battlegrounds chances at becoming bigger, a sentiment Bacon readily agrees with, and there doesn’t appear to be a big drive to bring in more players to a serious scene.
Bacon understands that such a shift would take some work, but with how well the game does on Twitch and Youtube, he doesn’t think it would be that big of a leap. There are millions of players all over the world, and getting them even more into a mode he loves would be extremely exciting.
“Even without promotion, the game is doing well. You can just imagine how much better it would be if they did a once a year tournament.”
What the Future Holds
Bacon’s journey to where he is today was not a quick one. It was a multi-year culmination of luck, timing, and circumstance. A blend of passion and competition that ended in a long realized goal.
The game has gotten tougher over time. Battlegrounds continues to become more challenging, as does the streaming grind. It’s not as easy anymore. Not as relaxing. There’s more at stake, more to manage, and more pressure.
Bacon welcomes it all.
Not only does he find the extra challenges to be worth it, he thinks the increased difficulty brings an extra layer to the game. Being a streamer isn’t for everyone, but it sure is the life for him.
And he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.
“If I can be a streamer in five years. If I'm physically healthy...If I can still support myself financially. I’ll definitely still do it.”