At any given time, there are approximately 180 content creators broadcasting Hearthstone on Twitch, according to data aggregation website TwitchTracker. Add in the number of individuals on Facebook and YouTube and the number is even higher.
To stand out among the sea of talent requires separating yourself from the rest in one way or another. Some don silly costumes, others magnify aspects of their personality that they feel could keep viewers on their stream if/when they stop by, and a couple of individuals are known for lulling the opposition into a sense of security before blasting away their life totals in a flurry of moves that leave an audience/opponent thinking "Wait...what?"
25-year-old Clark "Hellscream" Hutchings falls into category number three.
Fans of the collectible card game have likely stumbled upon the Indiana resident in one fashion or another while consuming Hearthstone content. Whether it be in a popular compilation video on Andrey "Trolden" Nolden's YouTube channel or in a clip on Hutchings' social media, his persona is hard to forget and even more difficult to describe. If Russell Brand picked up a midwestern drawl, a bottle of conditioner, a nearby hair straightener, and played the drums in his spare time, he'd start to look like the Hearthstone streamer who has found ways of entertaining thousands while having an equally good time himself.
In a recent conversation with Inven Global, Hutchings dropped the veil on how carving out a niche in a game played by millions daily has allowed him to keep his head above water in a cutthroat industry.
If you grew up in the era that Hutchings did, it's not hard to imagine the appeal for card games that had an over-the-top level of flair to them. In the early 2000s, Yu-Gi-Oh began to sweep across North American and those young and old became enamored with the television show and card game that quickly became apart of pop culture.
Digital dragons, combat, and a protagonist with a cool demeanor who aimed to save the world? What's not to like? Funny enough, it was Yugi Moto's patented one-turn-kill combo that resonated with Hellscream when he picked up the card game himself.
"I originally started playing Yu-Gi-Oh and one of my favorite archetypes was just the Exodia archetype," said Hellscream. "You know? Just draw the cards and win the game."
Unlike in Hearthstone, there is no turn timer in Yu-Gi-Oh so players can essentially play through their entire deck in a given turn, execute their combo, and leave their opponent just sitting there forced to watch a flurry of abilities play out. With only so many different ways to play Hearthstone and stand out from the crowd of entertainers on Twitch and YouTube, Hutchings channeled his inner Yugi into a deck-building strategy typically frowned up and seldom seen: janky combos.
"With Hearthstone players, if you play the game competitively, you're probably playing with like 20% of the cards, if that," said Hellscream. "It was kind of like a puzzle that I wanted to challenge myself with. And since I loved combos and I loved being able to kind of like make these very specific decks and not just, you know, mindlessly grind my brain until my latter rank is where I want it to be."
When expansions are released throughout the year, the vast majority of the playerbase looks for the most powerful ones to make decks out of or slot into their existing ones. Not Hutchings though. He squints his eyes in search of diamonds in the rough.
Considering how optimized 30-card decks can be at high levels of play, Hellscream points to the thousands of cards in the game's ecosystem that can act as unique catalysts to some pretty exceptional clips that no one would have expected. One such card, Meat Wagon, has acted as a key cog in numerous Wild combos he has been able to pull off live on his stream or in a myriad of YouTube videos.
"It's just why I love Wild and the common theme with my channel is: I want to try and make people think twice about the cards that they're seeing because no, this card isn't trash, it just needs a little bit more support.," Hutchings said. "Yeah, it's no Demon Seed, but I mean, you can't have an ace every single time, you know?"
Over the years, it's become routine for players in the game's community to see a card with high base stats or a powerful ability and slot it into an existing deck or develop an archetype around it. Finding use out of an ugly duckling can often times be just as complex as executing the combo it's involved it.
As for how a combo mastermind is able to curate a monster from thousands of pieces scattered across the floor, there are methods to his madness...most of the time.
Hutchings says there have been times when he's laying in bed at night and an idea will come to him; others where it's a simple math equation that requires a bit of luck, patience and execution on his end, and a handful that the hardwork has been done for him and are presented to him on a shiny platter from a place he has come to anticipate and call home.
Hutchings, who doesn't call himself a particularly good deck builder, has curated a community through his social media and streaming platforms that not only invite individuals to share zany ideas they come up with but encourage it. If he's able to pull off the fan creation, he makes sure to credit its' brain child on his platforms.
"If somebody comes up to me with a really awesome idea, especially if it's something that I've already perceived and wanted to do, I'm going to do it," said Hutchings as his demeanor shifts.
It doesn't matter how long it takes or if the win rate of the deck he's playing after dozens of attempts is in the single-digits, Hutchings is going to see it through to the end.
A home-brewed creation that put those facets to the test (and may have aged him a little in the process) was pulling off a Highkeeper Ra OTK Druid combo that he's particularly relieved to have pulled off.
As explained by Hutchings:
"There was this one combo I came up with, I think it was right when Celestial Alignment came out... But it's me doing a Mogu Cultist, Highkeeper Ra combo to where I essentially build up a full board of Mogu Cultists and then once they make Highkeeper Ra, I'm able to make copies of the Highkeeper Ra because the combo that I'm talking about cycles, [Elise the Enlightened], Faceless Manipulator, as well as a Mulch in order to make room on the board.
That is probably the most intense, big-brain combo ever came up with... a Mogu Druid combo.
I often come back to playing that deck to just kind of, to re-live that experience because in terms of like [actions per minute], you have to start from the very beginning [of a turn], otherwise the animations are just going to kill you."
In a vast ocean of Hearthstone content creators, it requires thinking outside of the box in order to make a name for yourself and drive eyeballs to you when there are many other options available. It's a good thing that's Clark "Hellscream" Hutchings forte.
Tim Rizzo is the editor and a reporter for Inven Global. He joined the company back in 2017.