Since June, PVPLive has been bringing you some of the best produced Hearthstone action ever. Their Hearthstone Pro League (HPL) runs from Monday to Thursday on their twitch channel and is hosted by Nathan “Thats Admirable” Zamora and THE Tannon Grace. While Zamora has long been a part of the Hearthstone Scene, Tannon Grace is a rather new face. Many people have asked about Tannon’s origins, his background, and how’d he get into Hearthstone. Today we discover this and more, as we score an exclusive interview with THE man himself.
DR23: Hello Tannon, glad to have you here with us today.
TG: Thank you for having me! Big fan of what you’ve been doing here, always nice to see someone share the passion for competitive Hearthstone.
DR23: HPL is probably the first time the Hearthstone Community is getting to know you. A little Google search told me you were a Magic: The Gathering player, and also did some Poker. But what about Tannon Grace the person, the human being? Tell us a bit more about you and your life.
TG: Well, I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and from an early age I’ve been a gamer. I was briefly in Major League Gaming on the Halo circuit about ten years ago while in high school, and I’ve been playing Magic for even longer than that. Competitive gaming is what I know best.
Outside of gaming, I graduated from Louisiana State University (Geaux Tigers!) and I’ve been playing poker professionally for the last eight years. I also love fantasy sports, and in particular baseball. In fact, I might be better at fantasy baseball than any of the other games I’ve played!
I did the same odd jobs as everyone else – restaurants, retail, even a golf course – but gaming is what my real calling is. I’ve always been driven by that, it’s what rules my life.
DR23: Let’s take this back to gaming. We’d like to know more about your experience with MTG and Poker. Tell us about the skills that you picked up from doing that, and how you think they translate to Hearthstone.
TG: I actually know Nathan from Magic, since he’s from the Houston area and we used to go to the same Magic tournaments around the southeast. He is actually the one who got me into Hearthstone. I’m what you might call an ‘old school Magic player,’ and my claim to fame is a Grand Prix top 8 way back in 2007! And as I mentioned, I had played poker for a living for nearly the last decade. Poker, Magic and Hearthstone have a lot of skills that overlap.
The resource management skills I learned chiefly from Magic have helped my understanding of Hearthstone. The ability to read patterns and understand what an opponent is planning to do in the next turn or two – or five or six – is a skill I’ve honed thanks to my understanding of poke. It’s a game where thinking one level ahead of your opponent is absolutely crucial.
I’d say playing poker made me a better Magic player, and playing Magic made me a better poker player. The same could be said about Hearthstone.
Poker taught me the human aspect, what we call “playing the player.” This is especially useful for a league like HPL, where the meta isn’t about decks or cards, it’s all about what’s in the other player’s head. Poker is perfect training for this. It doesn’t matter what’s on the board, all that matters is what the other guy’s thinking.
Magic is all about game theory – how to actually play games optimally. It’s where I learned things like card advantage, tempo, all of the concepts you hear us talk about every night on HPL. All of these things we talk about in Hearthstone – Zoo, Aggro, Control – they originated in Magic. I call it the first “real” card game.
DR23: Since we are coming back to Hearthstone, why don’t you share with us what drew you into this new game?
TG: The thing that was most attractive about Hearthstone to me was its ease of use. Unlike Magic or poker or even Halo, Hearthstone was so much more portable. I could pick up my tablet or phone and play anywhere!
The thing that really hooked me on Hearthstone was that, much like chess, it was easy to learn but extremely hard to master. It had all of the things I like about the other games I love with even more added benefits. The simplicity is so elegant. There’s no waiting, just a much better pace and rhythm all around.
It’s a fantastic game.
DR23: I agree, Hearthstone is just so accessible. It’s easy to see how it has become so popular. You mention the portability of Hearthstone, but that’s a rather recent development, how long have you been playing Hearthstone? Are you doing well on the Ladder these days?
TG: I began playing Hearthstone seriously last fall, maybe in October or so? The funny thing is, I much prefer Arena to Ladder!
I think that my understanding of Arena in particular makes me a good Hearthstone commentator. With the knowledge you learn from having to play less-than-stellar cards, you’re forced to think about Hearthstone on a different level. And sometimes you learn that a card might be good enough for constructed that might not otherwise have been given a second look! Now that I think about it, maybe this is where guys like Kranich and ErA get their style!
Recently I’ve been trying my hand at Zoo and Aggro Paladin. They are endlessly malleable in terms of how they can be built, and they are also very powerful. I’ve had a good amount of success, but I still have a lot more to learn.
If you absolutely have to ask me about ranked play, I’m currently right on the cusp of Legendary. Why, got a good decklist?
DR23: Well, we do have some decklists here at BlizzPro (Trademark Tannon Grace Cheap Plug). But anyway, lets get back to your casting gig. Did you watch a lot of competitive Hearthstone before getting into the scene? Who were your favorite casters and hosts? Is there anyone from the Hearthstone scene or any other sport that influences your announcing?
TG: I would occasionally watch Twitch at the beginning when I was just starting out in Hearthstone. Obviously watching the pro’s stream is one of the best ways to learn. If you’re going to learn, learn from the best, right?
Once I found out that HPL was a possibility, I started ingesting everything Hearthstone I possibly could. I would even be sitting there at the poker table watching Twitch on my phone in between hands.
My biggest influences with my commentary are actually sportscasters like Stuart Scott and Scott Van Pelt. I love the way balance the nuts-and-bolts gameplay commentary with entertainment.
DR23: So, how did you get involved with PVP Live?
TG: I had been told by several friends that I should try out a new game called Hearthstone right when the Closed Beta had started. Nathan Zamora was one of the first to encourage me to get started right then, but at the time I felt that I couldn’t devote the attention needed to start in a brand new game at the time. A few months later, after the Magic Pro Tour was over, I turned my attention back to Hearthstone at the behest of Nathan.
Nathan and I had long discussed possibly working together to commentate games. When Nathan began discussions with PVP Live on the Hearthstone Pro League, he pretty much immediately suggested me for the job. PVP Live saw a few of my past commentary videos that I’d done, and they agreed that we’d be a good fit together. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The biggest selling point for me is the coworkers. They’re the cream in my coffee. I love the atmosphere, it’s professional and fun at the same time. We’re encouraged to be the best while also being ourselves. I don’t just get to be Tannon Grace, I get to be THE Tannon Grace.
DR23: Twitch Chat is ruthless, and they are notoriously harsh with casters. Throughout the duration of the league, some viewers have questioned your abilities on the announcer’s desk. What do you make of the criticism? Has it affected the way you look at casting in any way?
TG: I welcome criticism. I am by no means perfect and I am constantly trying to improve. I have definitely grown and evolved my style in just the first weeks since we began broadcasting HPL.
The thing about criticism is that if the viewers didn’t think we could possibly be good enough, then they’d just stop watching. There are plenty of other streams to watch, or other things to do on the internet for that matter.
If they’re leaving comments and active in the chat, that means they have hope for us. The fact that the viewers use the chat means they believe we can be great. And I believe we can be great too.
Keep the feedback coming, it all gets read, and I learn from every bit of it.
DR23: Personally, I think that both you and Admirable have been steadily improving. You can easily observe how you two are developing better chemistry together and how you feel more comfortable about the format. Had you worked with Nathan before? Were you familiar with his body of work before you started co-hosting HPL?
TG: It’s a funny story actually: Nathan and I had commentated a very small Magic event for a comic book store in Louisiana many years ago. As he tells it, he knew from that moment that he wanted us to be a commentary duo.
Of course, we went our separate ways in life as people do. But we kept in contact with each other, and I kept tabs on his career. I was pleased with his rise to stardom in Hearthstone as I watched from afar, not necessarily expecting him to reach out to me to be a part of it.
But thankfully, reach out he did! And working with him is great for exactly what you said – every episode is another chance to hone our chemistry and work together to be the best.
And bonus, we have a lot of laughter along the way.
DR23: Hopefully you succeed in your quest to be the very best, like no one ever was. Meanwhile, we will continue to enjoy your performance as a host of HPL and everything you decide to do in the future. Thanks for your Time Tannon!
Tannon Grace was recently a guest in the Well Met Podcast, you can follow him on Twitter @THETannonGrace, and watch him host HPL every week.
For more information on HPL, head over to PVPLive’s Website, and check the matches live on their Twitch Channel from Monday through Thursday, starting 6:30pm Eastern. Check all of our HPL coverage Here!