Tavern Talks: Itachi
Gather ‘round and listen in, it’s time for Tavern Talks, the series that highlights some of the many amazing members of our fine tavern!
Dominique “Itachi” Roberts is a community advocate for inclusivity with a history in competitive gaming. Here, he talks about his time in the tavern, gives tips on coaching Hearthstone, and discusses elevating inclusive community development. So, pull up a chair, it’s time for Tavern Talks!
The following interview has been edited for readability.
Q: Tell us about yourself! How did you get into Hearthstone?
A: I’m from Birmingham Alabama, where I was raised, but I currently reside about an hour outside of New Orleans, Louisiana. I’m 29 years old and I work in grocery retail management. I found Hearthstone in 2014, around when Curse of Naxxramas launched. By that point, I had competed in a few other card games, so I was excited to play Blizzard’s take on the genre. When I started out, I was a huge Arena player. I didn’t have a big collection, so I just played all the Arena I could. I made it on to the Arena leaderboard a few times back then.
Q: And then your interests shifted to tournament play?
A: Yeah, once I built up my collection, I started playing in a lot of third-party Hearthstone tournaments like the old Strivewire tournaments. I played in Dreamhack Anaheim, beating Justsaiyan, Killinallday, and Muzzy to eventually finish Top 4. I did a couple Black Claws Qualifier Cups and I ended up getting first place in one of them, which qualified me for the Hearthstone Championship Tour Winter Playoffs for that year, which was really cool.
Q: What is your current involvement with Hearthstone like?
A: I’m a coach on Clash School, coaching Battlegrounds and Standard—the modes I play most right now. I’m the first Hearthstone coach that they’ve added to their service, which has been pretty great so far. I’m also a member of Amber Flight Gaming, which is a competitive team that is looking to do a lot of expansion and a lot of engagement with the community. It’s been an awesome experience to be a part of this group of passionate people who love to play the game. I occasionally play some Wild as well, mostly for achievement hunting or if I want a break from my main modes.
Q: What would you say to people who are interested in getting into coaching?
"Everyone deserves to feel like they belong, and everyone should feel as if they are part of the community."
A: The way that I coach is that I like to watch my student play a few games, and then we talk about what areas I think they are most and least proficient in. That could be macro decisions, micro decisions, closing out games, or the mulligan phase.
My biggest tip to people thinking about getting into coaching is to record yourself just playing the game, and then practice coaching yourself as if you were coaching another player. I recorded myself and basically coached myself through some plays: told myself what I would and wouldn’t do, what aspects of my play were off, what potential reads were, discussed decisions that might have changed the outcome of the game, discussed where percentage points could have been won or lost, and that type of thing. It’s something that I wish I had done when I started coaching! Once you get some practice evaluating those things in your own play, then it gets really easy evaluating those things in other people.
Q: What are some of you favorites? Favorite card, favorite class, favorite expansion…?
A: That’s my favorite question! For me, my favorite expansion is Saviors of Uldum. I like highlander cards, but it wins on its theme song alone! It’s far and away the most replayable theme song. I can recite the whole thing.
Speaking of highlander cards, my favorite card is probably [[Raza the Chained]]. People don’t like that, though, so I don’t talk about it a lot. I also love [[Zephrys the Great]], largely for the science of trying to figure out ways to use Zephrys that people might not have known. I would throw hundreds of ladder games just experimenting to see what cards Zephrys would offer in niche situations.
My favorite class is Rogue. For years, maybe up to the first four years that I played, I hated Rogue. That hatred is actually the reason why I did terribly at Winter Playoffs! Odd Rogue was the deck that I should have brought for my lineup, but I refused to play it and brought Odd Warrior instead. That was an event where everybody brought combo decks, so Odd Warrior got swept every single match. But I’ve come around on it since then, and now Rogue is my favorite class by far.
Q: You are someone who is active about promoting inclusion in our community. If you could say something to the rest of the community on the subject, what would you say?
A: I would say that everyone deserves to feel like they belong, and everyone should feel as if they are part of the community. The best way to make people feel that way is to show them that inclusion. So, I’d say to the community, “support people regardless of what they look like.” There are people who I’ve seen harassed. There are people who had made strides in Hearthstone, who were playing at high levels and had done a lot of work towards making the game better, or making the community better. To see those people treated like that, to the point where they didn’t want to be part of the community any more, is disheartening. But at the same time, I know there are people like me and the people I look up to who don’t stand for that, so I know the community can do better, and I hope we can get to a place where that’s the norm.
Q: Who are those people you look up to?
A: I look up to a lot of people on the dev team! I have played a lot of games where I never knew who was behind a lot of decisions about what went on in the game—I never had contact with those people and those people never seemed to have any interaction with anyone, outside of maybe a rare blog post. There are always community complaints with any game, but in those other games there were never any answers to those complaints, whereas here, the team chooses to put itself out there for everyone to access, complain to, congratulate, or thank, and I really appreciate that openness from the team.
And then there are members of the community like Dog, RidiculousHat, Dragonriderdk, and pretty much anyone who is willing to do something like start a Hearthstone team or podcast, or to put their opinions and values up for community discussion. Those people who continuously put themselves out there, or who have been faces of the community for a long time, are praiseworthy people in my book.
Q: Any other shoutouts or closing words?
A: I’m very partial to the Amber Flight Gaming community, including my teammates DragonRider, Nejiboston, FairestBiscuit, Doctorfeesh, BitBeaker, RonMexico, and Basedinc. And there is also the Team Hearth Legends community, which is where I got my start in playing competitive Hearthstone in the first place! It’s very fun and I still play in it every week, which drives my competitive edge. That community is awesome and I hope that it continues to grow.
You can follow Itachi on Twitter at @Itachi_HS and catch his stream at twitch.tv/Itachi_HS! Also, Itachi will soon be helping with admin work for a community Battlegrounds tournament organized by sway_bae. You can catch the event on her stream when the broadcast goes live at 12:00 p.m. PT, June 26!