In a game that has been released for three years and has developed its own diverse cast of popular personalities, Disguised Toast has quickly risen to become one of Hearthstone's biggest streamers.
It was that intriguing detail — that he had managed to carve out his own spot in a well-established field — which led me to seek him out at the 2017 Hearthstone Winter Championship in Nassau, Bahamas.
On the first day of the tournament, as press and fans were still arriving to the Hearthstone Championship Tour venue, I sat down with the enigmatic Toast to discuss his road to this point as well as his advice for prospective streamers.
Style often follows substance, and in Toast's case, the substance was his YouTube channel. The style came from the voice line for Rogue minion SI:7 Agent, which some redditors had trouble understanding.
"When you play him, he says, 'This guy's toast.' And there was a post on Reddit, a guy asking, 'Why is he saying disguised toast, that makes no sense.' And people kinda made jokes about it, turned it into a meme," Toast explained. "But when I first started creating content, I needed a name. And I was like, alright, the community loves this name, I'm part of the community. I'll just take this name and called myself Disguised Toast."
The name seemed funny, he said, and he decided to adopt the toasted slice of bread, complete with sunglasses and (presumably) fake mustache, as his logo.
That logo would ultimately make the jump from digital to physical when the Toronto-based streamer attended a Fireside Gathering, essentially an event for the local Hearthstone community to congregate.
"And I knew [streamer Octavian "Kripparrian" Morosan] was going to be there, so I'm like okay, I might have to appear on camera, but no one knows what I look like."
Toast won the casual tournament at that event, and the mask seemed memorable for the attendees. He decided to adopt it whenever he made a public appearance, and it became a common feature in his video content.
It would remain a staple until, during one of his streams, disaster struck.
This guy's Toast?
"There was an incident where, during streaming, I kicked my webcam cord. And it pointed at my face. Uh oh," Toast said. "I had the mask on the table or something and it was pointing towards that, because I don't want to wear the mask when I'm streaming, it's kind of uncomfortable."
At the time, Toast said, only 300-ish viewers had seen it. While the error could have had a big impact, he didn't think anything would come of it.
Nothing happened immediately, but he had underestimated the curiosity engendered in his fans by the strange, toast-shaped mask.
"A lot of the time, when you hide something, it just makes people more curious about it on the internet. Why is he hiding? Is he like super ugly, or super handsome? It's neither. [laughs]"
Half a year later, a redditor began posting images from the accidental unmasking in various subreddits. Though the posts were often removed, they eventually stuck in r/livestreamfail, a subreddit devoted to clips of livestreamers.
Faced with the involuntary unmasking, Toast opted to take charge of the situation. He began streaming without the mask.
The reception from fans was positive, he said, and in some ways he wishes that he'd done it sooner. It turned out that while the mask was an intriguing lure, the fans were there for him.
"When I first started doing streams with my face ... day one was like 7,000 viewers, but it kind of tapered off. And I kind of expected that, because everyone was just like, 'I want to find out what he looks like. Okay, that's what he looks like? I'm out,'" Toast said. "But then more people started showing up, and it was growing, and growing, and growing. I thought this was a one-time thing. So that was really surprising, and I feel very lucky. "
"Calling it a job is kind of harsh"
Toast is currently a full-time Hearthstone streamer, typically devoting five hours an evening to playing the popular digital card game for his viewers. But his work experience is in computer programming, and he said that he had been on the other side of the YouTube paradigm.
"Back when I was a programmer, I made this game, and a popular YouTuber did a video on it. And he got like a million views, and I saw it and was like, 'Whoa, this guy is playing my game, and he's making content out of it,'" he said. "But now it's really weird to be on the opposite side where I'm playing someone else's game, and my videos get like ... I think I have a few up to a million right now? And it's crazy to think how I'm now on the other side."
One constant I noticed as I wandered around the event was that the streamers — Blizzard labeled them "Influencers," a word which means about as little to me as "Breathers" or "Existers" — were always plugged in. There was a streaming station, of course, but I also saw Toast streaming from his laptop in the common areas.
While he admits that streaming is a full time thing, he said that "calling it a job is kind of harsh."
"At the end of the day, I get paid to play Hearthstone, so that's super awesome. But there are certain elements too, where I can't take a day off ... or I could, but it's just really bad," Toast explained. "I have to stream at exactly 6 p.m. Eastern, I can't take a long vacation. Even here in the Bahamas, I brought my laptop and stream setup."
During our conversation, Toast calls the amount of work "totally fine," noting that a streamer's time commitments and extra activities, like maintaining a YouTube channel, are up to them.
But it's also clear that streaming can bring costs of its own. Extended breaks can mean a drop in viewership — something that Toast notes might not be apparent to newer streamers.
"And they're like, 'it'll be there when I get back.' In a real-life job you can be like, 'I'm going to take a one-month vacation.' And when you get back, your job's still there. But as a streamer, that's not really a luxury you can afford. You leave for a month and you come back, sometimes you only have like 20 percent of your viewer base remaining."
How that sort of pressure translates to a streamer's daily routine is largely up to them. Toast said that his schedule puts him at odds with the social lives of his friends, who are at work during the day but then want to go out in the evening.
"I can hang out after 11 p.m., but they have work the next day. So I haven't really gone out with friends ever since I started streaming. I think maybe like twice in the last five months? And it's not because I don't want to, it's because I have to stream at that time, for a specific amount of hours," he said. "You can miss it sometimes, but at the end of the day, you're getting paid money to play video games."
"You have to give people a reason to care"
Toast got his start through finding something that gave him an audience, and building from there. He said that he gets a lot of questions about how to become a YouTuber or a Twitch streamer, and it's not an easy question to answer.
It's because both those endeavors have become so popular, and continue to grow, that finding a specific niche — Toast calls it a "spark" — has become increasingly important.
"A lot of people just say to stay consistent, keep at it, just turn it into a passion project. But I don't really believe passion alone, or consistency alone, is able to do it," he said. "I think the big thing is you need a spark. You have to ask yourself: do you give people a reason to care about you?"
In other words, even if you're a charismatic person, it's unlikely that common ideas — like pack openings or Let's Play content — will get you an early following. It's not that no one wants that content, it's just a difficult way to start given that there are already established personalities who provide it. Asking why viewers would want to watch the content is an important, if difficult, step in developing a following.
Toast's streaming content walks a fine line. He enjoys winning, he said, but he also respects innovation. Especially before Journey to Un'Goro came out, he relished the chance to run into these kinds of decks — and often made fun tweaks to existing meta decks himself.
"It's nice to be able to run into people playing fun decks. And you kinda want to drag them out, because it doesn't happen that often. Whether I win or lose doesn't matter."
But his initial spark was to present content in a new and approachable way.
"The first content I ever did was an infographic poster kind of deal, where it listed the mulligans of an existing deck. I think that's a great first step. There was a lot of research, a lot of statistics, and it presented it in a really beautiful way, which hasn't been really ... done before," Toast said. So I gave people a reason to care about it."
Staying consistent is still important, of course. And gathering a following is rarely easy. But for Toast, the journey has been worth it.
"It's fun. It's a good life."
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.