Derek “DunkTrain” Arabian, the special guest analyst for this year’s Heroes of the Dorm tournament, has been involved within the Heroes’ scene since its inception. A former professional player for Cloud9, DunkTrain won the first-ever Heroes of the Storm World Championship before announcing his retirement to pursue a career in streaming.
When not playing a variety of games while streaming (sometimes on a treadmill) DunkTrain has been known for his involvement in the Town Hall Heroes show, his signature beard, his big picture perspectives on the game and insightful commentary on a variety of subjects.
Recently, DunkTrain sat down to talk with me about his long-time ambitions, what he’d do if he was a developer for a day, how youth football started a long-time friendship and much more.
How has the Heroes of the Dorm casting experience been for you thus far as we approach the live event?
It’s been really awesome and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I’ve been impressed by a lot of the teams. I didn’t expect the level of play to be as high as it was but it seems like each year the teams are making progress over the year prior, similar to how the pro scene does. It’s made the games a lot more interesting to cast.
What do you think you bring to the casting desk in terms of your analysis that separates yourself from your peers?
I would say that, in general, what I bring to an announcer’s desk is pro player experience. First and foremost, actually having the experience being on the big stages, you know what it’s like, you essentially have that understanding of what’s going through the players’ heads above and beyond what the other casters can bring in that arena. I would say that, combined with my game knowledge, are my biggest strengths when casting Heroes.
Speaking of the player’s perspective, you’ve been out of the competitive scene for quite a while. How close have you actually came to returning as a player?
Thinking of going back, it’s the kind of thing that probably goes through every retired player’s head. In reality, I don’t think I’ve been particularly close to going back at any point. It was never really something that I’ve seriously considered. Daydreaming and musings are about it, but never a legitimate attempt to return or seriously consider an offer.
Why is that considering the level of success you had when you were competing?
Why is that? Hmm, I think there are a lot of factors. It’s tough to find a team that you really believe in and believes enough in you that you think you can go all the way with. It’s pretty stressful and time intensive to be a pro player. The practice, scims, stuff like that compared to streaming when you’re your own boss, you’re not relying on anyone else and you can do your own thing which is a little bit preferable to me.
One thing that has remained from your competitive days is your relationship with Keaton “BamBam/Biceps” Consentine. Talk a little about your relationship and how it has evolved over the years.
I actually met him playing football when we were young and we weren’t actually friends after that. We went our separate ways and it wasn’t until years later that we met back up through mutual friends playing League of Legends. We were the two highest rated people that we knew so we played together and then after that, when Heroes came out, I had him swap over to Heroes with me. He played early in the competitive scene with me for a little while and we always stayed friends from then on.
"He plays video games at a high level but he is probably the most technologically illiterate human being I know. It’s actually amazing."
He’s always been one of those people who is really outgoing and has a super loud personality so I knew if he ever streamed he’d be great at it. I finally convinced him to start streaming in the fall of last year and he’s just been absolutely killing it. I’m really happy for him.
Did you give him any words of wisdom when it came to streaming as you’re a veteran in that space?
[Laughs] I didn’t just give him words of wisdom, I sent him a computer that could actually run the game well enough to stream. I helped him set up all his broadcasting settings, basically everything. It’s funny, he plays video games at a high level but he is probably the most technologically illiterate human being I know. It’s actually amazing.
Is streaming something you want to do full-time for the indefinite future?
I’m not sure about the indefinite future. With streaming, there’s some sense of, “Is this a limited time thing I can do?” There are some people who are older who still stream and do well but I think you have to consider: What’s the Twitch audience? Can they relate to you as you get older? Are you going to still be interested in the games that are popular? That sort of stuff.
For me, I expect to transition into more of a game design and development role within the next five years. That was my passion before I got into esports and started playing professionally and it’s something I still love. It’s a little more stable of a career choice than streaming.
You’ve dabbled on stream playing games such as Slay the Spire, Dead Cells, Hearthstone, Heroes and more. What piques your interest when it comes to game design as the ones above are very different from one another?
It’s funny you mention that as I was just opening the new Hearthstone expansion packs right before this call. For me, I’ve always been interested in a wide range of games. My first love as far as really getting into the gritty details of how the mechanics interact and balance, I think MOBAs are my favorite by a pretty wide margin. I’ve been playing MOBAs since Starcraft: Brood War customs, Warcraft 3 customs, the original DOTA and I think experience with all of those different maps and wildly different versions of the MOBA actually helped a lot with my understanding of MOBA-fundamentals to get good at Heroes.
MOBAs are my favorite but I have also been playing card games and MMOs my whole life. Any of those three would be dream-come-true-level when it comes to games and development.
Speaking of Heroes, which has gone through numerous changes in the past few years and is looking to further evolve in the future, how would you describe the current state of the game from an enjoyment perspective, ease to stream, ect.?
I’ve been playing Heroes for just over four years now and the game has gone through some pretty radical changes. I think there has been a lot of growing pains as the development team has tried to figure out what they want their game to be. MOBAs are, essentially, living environments. They’re constantly changing, the design direction is changing and what’s allowed to be in the game is changing. If you look at the game two-and-a-half years ago, it’s completely different.
For example, there was way less mobility in the game. Burst is not that prolific or hinged on level 20 talents. There were a lot of changes to the game fundamentally that make it very different. While I think there have been some really great designs lately, like Stukov, for example, I think the current flow of the game is not what I fell in love with.
Does that mean that you love it less or is it just the growing pains of a long-term relationship?
I think it’s just growing pains. There was a time period in the game where it was the Diablo-Tyrande Winter so there are always going to be ups and downs in the meta and the game where things shift. You can be in love one day and then there’s a patch and it’s not your favorite or the hero you like to play gets changed. Maybe a couple months later it changes again and you love the game even more than before. It’s just the ups and downs of playing and making your day-to-day based on the wildly shifting environment.
Give me the DunkTrain crash course on game design with some suggestions that Heroes could make that would either marginally or drastically improve the playing experience.
Putting me on the spot here, huh? First and foremost, I would probably go back towards actually having a standardized pool in the talent tree to deal with things. For example, the removal of Cleanse from a lot of Supports was a mistake. Even if Cleanse is wrong to take at most playing levels, just because they didn’t utilize it effectively enough, according to the statistics, there’s something to be said for having access to a particular tool. You have a catch-all system, you have essentially a release valve to where, if there’s too much of “this” one thing going on, I can always choose to pick “X.”
I feel like Cleanse was a very powerful tool in that respect and now, one of the things they’ve done now with the design of a lot of healers is taking Cleanse off and put crowd-control specific Cleanses on those talent tiers that make the healers more narrow and niche. I think that’s a big problem, specifically with the Support role.
Additionally, I would roll back on unlimited quests. I know a lot of players seem to like quests but I think that even in their recent public posts, Blizzard has kind of talked about how they want to walk back a little about the proliferation of quests. I personally believe that uncapped quests are actually bad for the health of the game because they make so much of the hero’s power level dependent on the composition of the teams.
Throughout Heroes’ lifespan, especially when I was a pro player, we always felt that the draft decided a lot of the outcome of games. There are a lot of really tough matchups, compositionally speaking, to where draft just has a huge emphasis. You can’t get away from that but you have to be really careful to design not to make that worse. I think something like unlimited quest stacking like Chromie and Zul’Jin have, is something that does actually does make that worse.
Specific matchups become almost unwinnable or you have to nerf those heroes into the ground of unplayability or the meta shifts can decide the heroes power level way too much. Not that heroes need to be generic or general but you have to be careful how high the spikes are and how low the lows are.
People have argued that the development team takes a little too long sometimes to make changes to the game (Ex. adding a third ban, removing Hanamura). Do you think the scene would benefit from more rapid big changes like that?
There are definitely people, specifically people who spend a lot of time playing the game, like me, like most streamers, like pro players that, in general, would get more enjoyment if the game changed faster. But, I don’t think that’s necessarily a healthier style for the game overall. I think it’s really easy as a streamer to be like, “I play 8 to 10 hours a day and I see X, Y and Z are all wrong. Oh my God, why haven’t they fixed this yet?”
It’s really easy to say that but it’s very tough when you’re the actual designer and balancer to look at all the information from the whole population and think, “Okay, if I change this how does this impact all the levels of play? Does changing the game too much too quickly alienate some of your player base who only logs on every day or every other day for a couple games?”
“MOBAs are, essentially, living environments. They’re constantly changing, the design direction is changing and what’s allowed to be in the game is changing.”
If their favorite hero is nerfed or changed repeatedly back to back patches it can be a very frustrating experience. I understand the reason that a lot of these changes take a while and to the most avid players, it feels like the game changes too slow I would say but I can acknowledge that there are difficulties changing the game quicker.
You cast tournaments, participate in Town Hall Heroes, stream numerous different games and listen to rock music, which activity brings you the most joy?
I think I’m the happiest when I’m playing a game that I really love and I’m streaming it and, it doesn’t have to be anything crazy, but even just people in chat saying stuff like, “Thanks for streaming,” “That was a really cool tip,” “I love the way you play that hero, I haven’t seen that talent build before, that was cool.” That moment of connection between streamer and their viewers is probably the most satisfying aspect.
Casting is super fun but you don’t get that immediate response from your audience, so, for me, being a streamer, it’s getting that instantaneous response when chat goes crazy over something you did well or when chat flames you for doing something wrong. That social connection is what really does it for me.
I’ll get you off on this, you’re a self-admitted metalhead and always have music playing in the background of your stream. Give the people three bands they should be listening to right now according to your musical preference.
Three bands you should be listening to right now that you may not know about are: Judicator who just released his new album that is absolutely fantastic. If you haven’t heard Battle Beast, I highly recommend. They were one of the first artists that I put on my power metal playlist and who people seem to absolutely love. You want to get one of the classics of power metal, so go ahead and check out Kamelot, The Black Halo specifically. Not their new albums so much but the old albums are unbelievably good.
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