Hearthstone teen prodigy defends pro gaming in Ted x Youth talk

When I interviewed William "Amnesiac" Barton last September he was already one of the hottest prospects on the Hearthstone scene, though he hadn't yet signed for Team Archon. At the ripe old age of 15, I found him to be a startlingly bright and eloquent speaker, and wasn’t surprised he went on to win the 2016 Hearthstone Americas Winter Championship in March, netting a $25,000 prize and qualification spot for the BlizzCon world finals in the process.

He spoke about that experience in May, as part of a Ted x Youth talk given in Wayland,  Massachusetts. The video of his talk was recently published and you can watch it embedded below. In it, Amnesiac dismisses the conventional stereotype of the gamer as a sun-shy recluse, saying: "Gaming is a huge part of my identity, but no more than say my love of maths, or tennis, or basketball, or even getting to see the world with my family." 

Speaking about his big win, Amnesiac described how competing in front of thousands of viewers, with only his thoughts and the white noise from the headphones competitors must wear, as “easily the most stressful and draining experience of my life...” but “...also unspeakably satisfying.”

The thrust of Barton’s talk focused on how gaming should be seen as a positive part of a well-rounded lifestyle, saying “many people see gaming as a blemish on smart young people’s identities,” something he put that largely down to misinformation amongst older generations. He added “The experiences I’ve gotten through gaming have been like no other, and have shaped me, and given me the comfort and confidence to even do a talk like this.”

You may scoff at the idea of a digital card game as a source of self-improvement. But Amnesiac pointed out that pro gaming opens up valuable experiences which education can’t. “I’ve always done well in school, but at the same time felt it didn’t have everything I wanted it to offer me,” he said. “Gaming, for me, has been a great outlet for someone who takes a heavy interest in learning outside of school. Especially Hearthstone, as it’s primarily decision making-based. I feel as though I’ve learned more than just how to play a specific game, but also about how to evaluate certain situations and keep my cool under pressure.”

It’ll be interesting to see where Amnesiac’s gaming career goes next. Team Archon has all but exited the competitive scene with the departure of Firebat, Orange, and most recently Zalae, leaving Amnesiac as the only serious tournament player now that Amaz is more focused on the business side of the organisation. What’s certain, though, is that Amnesiac is an excellent ambassador for Hearthstone, esports, and gaming in general. If he does decide to join another team, they’ll be getting some talent.

Tim Clark

With over two decades covering videogames, Tim has been there from the beginning. In his case, that meant playing Elite in 'co-op' on a BBC Micro (one player uses the movement keys, the other shoots) until his parents finally caved and bought an Amstrad CPC 6128. These days, when not steering the good ship PC Gamer, Tim spends his time complaining that all Priest mains in Hearthstone are degenerates and raiding in Destiny 2. He's almost certainly doing one of these right now.