Despite an impressive tenure as a competitive Hearthstone player for G2 Esports, Thijs "Thijs" Molendijk has somehow also managed to simultaneously build one of the more popular Twitch streams in the game.
He was a European champion in both 2015 and 2016, and qualified for the world championship at BlizzCon 2016 — a repeat appearance, uncommon enough in Hearthstone — but fell short of his own expectations, finishing 13th-16th.
Thijs also recently attended the 2017 Hearthstone Winter Championship in Nassau, Bahamas, but he didn't qualify as a player. Instead, it was the first major Blizzard event he attended as an "influencer," a nod to both his popularity as a player and a streamer. His Twitch channel just recently passed 300,000 followers.
It can be difficult enough under normal circumstances to spend the time needed to build a stream following, but balancing that against his career as one of the world's more consistent Hearthstone players is another challenge entirely.
"There has been too much changing for me in the last two or three years. It has been like a roller coaster, and things have gone super fast. It started really with a lot of competing, but I saw how much appreciation I got from streaming, from so many people," Thijs said. "It surprises me, that it can be so educational and that people learn from it and enjoy it so much."
On maintaining a balance and finding time
Thijs has spent the last two years keeping both his pro career and the stream as balanced as possible, noting that he's "worked really hard for it," and that he finds streaming to sometimes be more relaxing than competitive play.
"It's hard to combine it, you have to also accept that when you're streaming, you cannot always be the competitive player here and there. I think how I combine it is pretty nice, and I'd like to continue to do that for a time."
That hard work has come at a cost: when he spoke with theScore esports at the Winter Championship in March, he said he hadn't had any real breaks in over a year and a half and planned to make the most of his time in the Bahamas.
But the experience of heading to an event to mingle and stream was substantially different than leaving for a competition: the pressure was gone.
"It was strange: going onto the plane, I'm always like ... you're so prepared for the tournament as a player, in your mind you're thinking the whole game through and what can happen. And now, I was like, 'Okay, this is a little different.' I'm going to stream here and there, do some activities," he said. "You don't have to think. You have nothing to worry about. So for me, it was kind of refreshing ... I'm going to enjoy this a little bit!"
On the relative youth of Hearthstone and Trinity Series
It's easy to forget that Blizzard's digital card game has only been officially released for just over three years. While there are obvious parallels to existing, physical card games, there are also challenges that can only be encountered in the digital space.
The discussion regarding the preferred competitive format has been around for as long as the competitive scene itself. But some events have tried to think outside the box, testing the boundaries of what the game can be.
One recent event, ESL's Trinity Series, saw teams of three players enter the fray. While one player actually piloted each deck, the other two members of the team were able to see the hand and board state, and communicate their opinions on the best course of action to their teammate.
"I think it's definitely a really great format. The meta, tournament-wise, was in general not that great, in my opinion. But in the Trinity Series, where there were more decks involved, and you play as a team," Thijs explained. "It's just a totally new way of playing Hearthstone. It's so different, and Hearthstone has so many opportunities. This is one of them: it's so great, it's not really being used, but ESL is doing this now. I really appreciate that they bought a Team League into Hearthstone."
Thijs competed as part of G2 Esports' three-player team alongside Dima "Rdu" Radu and Adrian "Lifecoach" Koy, both accomplished players in their own right. While not the first team event by any means, it was the biggest in recent memory, and produced by ESL.
One thing that a team league format lets players do better, Thijs said, is to show their overall knowledge of the game. In a normal Hearthstone match, neither player is explaining their moves — viewers rely on the casters to help them understand what decisions the player may be grappling with, or what factors they are considering.
While Hearthstone boasts a strong stable of insightful casters, it's a different experience to hear the players say it themselves, and allow them to demonstrate the decision-making process that has made them competitive staples.
"We work really hard. We work eight hours a day, some days, just to become better at the game. You cannot always show that off in a Hearthstone game, because it's just too small of a sample size. And you don't know what is going on in our heads," he said. "There are so many things happening in our way of thinking, but isn't always being shown off. It's really nice to see that appreciation regarding what we're thinking about."
On trying out other games
Besides Hearthstone, Thijs has recently been playing another of Blizzard's competitive titles, Heroes of the Storm.
"Sometimes if you play [Hearthstone] eight hours a day, you want to try something else. I'm just really bad at shooters, these are just no option for me, I keep dying," Thijs said. "And then I die two times, but I finally know where you are, and I'm going to shoot you ... but then I'm still slower and I die again."
So Overwatch is out of the question. But MOBAs, on the other hand, Thijs can play. He said he's achieved Master rank in Heroes in past seasons, and has done that by mostly playing Jaina.
"I really want the Jaina, that's where my high win rate comes from. If there is one picked, or it doesn't fit in the comp, I don't do it. But I specifically ask for it," he explained. "A lot of people at high ranks will check my history and see that I'm not playing [much else], so they're like, let that guy go with Jaina, otherwise it might just become a mess."
Despite the occasional jaunt into the Nexus for a change of scenery, Thijs said that he was still loving Hearthstone. At the more intimate Winter Championship event in Nassau, fans could mingle with both pro players and with popular streamers and community members. Thijs is both, and was a familiar sight in the numerous common areas at the resort.
"I love Hearthstone, I'm so passionate about it. So I walk around here a lot, doing some streaming and some influencer activities with the community. But also just having fun, playing other card games, just having fun with everybody that is here."
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.