Terrence “TerrenceM” Miller, one of a few black Hearthstone competitors, recounts a tale that follows a familiar narrative — that of a person wanting to do well for himself while encountering racism as he aims to inspire other black people to join him in playing the game he cherishes.
“I sometimes feel a responsibility to continue to do well to represent,” said Miller, who most recently competed in World Cyber Games in Xi’an, China in July, collecting $10,000 for his second-place finish. “A lot of motivation for me to just continue to go out there and be at the forefront and stay relevant and put myself out there.”
A20 Watcher on a 3 streak https://t.co/vwkYT2E0Bt
— Terrence Miller (@TerrenceM_HS) October 4, 2019
Many black people participate in esports, but predominantly in fighting and sports games. Playing digital collective card games such as Hearthstone is different, Miller said.
“Thinking about Hearthstone specifically,” Miller said, “there’s under 10 black guys that I know that have accomplishments in the game or are very prominent.”
Miller has played card games such as Yu-Gi-Oh! TCG and Pokémon TCG since he was young. “I got into esports scene when I was just watching League of Legends in high school, and then Hearthstone came out,” Miller said. “It was … something I could be competitive in. Within the first year, I qualified for some collegiate tournaments and got flown out to Seattle to play.” From there, his career took off as he played in more tournaments around the globe.
Miller’s breakthrough moment occurred in May 2016 when he finished in second place at a Hearthstone tournament at DreamHack Austin. Twitch, the video livestreaming service, aired the event, and unbeknownst to Miller, racist commenters deluged the chat with anti-black invective at the sight of a black man dominating.
“It wasn’t something that I was seeing while it happened,” Miller remembered. “It was something that I heard about pretty much right after I got off stage and I had won a match.
“It was a little distracting because the tournament was still going on and because I didn’t really know the scale of it. I had to wait until that night, until I got to the hotel and, like, instead of being able to focus completely for the top 16 or top eight the next day, my mind was on that. I know that a lot of my family was watching at the time as well. So how they felt about it was mostly what was on my mind throughout the rest of the tournament.”
But Miller refused to let it hinder his performance: “It was a very, very good tournament for me because I was just doing so well, I was just focusing on my game.
“Later during that year,” Miller told me, “I played at another tournament in Germany; the name for the secondary Twitch channel was taketv_black. That in combination with me casting some games on the secondary stream led to some comments in the chat that people compared to what happened at Austin, although not as big of a scale.”
Twitch, since this ordeal and others, has put tools in place to confront racial harassment. And Miller has endured far less racist venom in recent years. “I would say me personally experiencing racism while on Twitch died down in late 2017,” he told me.
One of the people Miller has inspired is Jasmine Gallman, a black female Hearthstone player. Miller learned of Gallman when she placed in the top eight in a tournament operated by Badass Women of Hearthstone, a community that promotes women who play the game.
“I didn’t see the DreamHack event unfold in real time,” Gallman said. “Instead, it was one of the first articles I came across when researching Terrence online after randomly seeing him compete on Twitch. My excitement of seeing a black Hearthstone player online was instantly replaced with disappointment when I read how he was treated. I remember one article even suggesting that the acts of racism may have helped him in some way [because of the resulting publicity]. It was a ridiculous notion but, sadly, I wasn’t too surprised by the response.”
A few months ago, Miller met her at a Hearthstone event. Gallman approached Miller and told him how he encouraged her.
“My words to Terrence were very quick and direct because of shyness, but I told him that he has inspired me to play more competitively. Seeing him onstage really made it clear that it was possible to break in and compete. It broke this subconscious belief that for whatever reason I couldn’t try.”
Miller hopes other black people play Hearthstone competitively but said that “it’s hard for me to sell card games. I think about what my draw to card games is. It’s so natural to me. It’s something that I’ve done as long as I can remember.
“But if you’re someone who’s into strategic games and like outthinking your opponent, [Hearthstone might be the game for you]. If you’re not as good as the things that require you to press a button and be quick enough, something like fighting games and things like that, it is a really good game to play.
“The biggest draw to me isn’t the game itself, it’s the experiences through them. All of the tournaments I get to go to and travel and meet different people, that has been the biggest part of card games for me. I’ve gotten to travel to so many places like China, Germany, Sweden.”
When he goes to these events, he’s often the lone black person there. But he views it as an opportunity.
“I know that if I do well, there will be some black people who say, ‘He’s playing this game and doing well, and he’s making it so that it’s easier for [us] to be able to join the game and not have to deal with what [he] dealt with.’ ”