With the sudden news of Ben Brode's departure from Blizzard, today feels like a good time for me to repromote this profile charting his unstoppable rise, from January this year. As our writer Luke Winkie noted at the time, these days every major developer wants its own Ben Brode. Not just because he's smart, funny, and thick-skinned enough to handle fronting a game with an audience of millions in the brutal internet age, though he is all of those things. But more because players recognise that Brode is the real deal.
Hearthstone fans might not have agreed with everything he said (note the joke about the soul of the team in his outgoing message, a cute reference to his comments about the the soul of cards circa the Warsong Commander nerf), but they understood that this was a supremely passionate guy who wanted the best for the game.
Brode has always been prepared to front up for what he believed in and explain the team's thinking. Even if that meant admitting mistakes—in our most recent interview with him, he said they'd done a "terrible job" around communicating the problems with the legend ranked ladder—or dealing with harsh criticism in the most public way possible, as he did with his typically calm and well-reasoned response to Kripp's call to buff bad cards.
Our feature also describes how Brode only wanted to do the management thing on his terms, which meant being completely candid with the press and public. And under his leadership as game director, which he took on in late 2015, I would argue that Hearthstone's has never been in better health. Certainly the relationship between development team and players, though never entirely without friction, has been far more cordial thanks to Team 5's improved response to balance issues and the regular communication from Brode and other senior devs on Reddit and elsewhere. It's vital that whomever steps into Brode's plaid shirt continues his push for ever more transparency.
On a personal note, I'm gutted to see him go. Brode gave me several of the most fun interviews of my career. However hard I tried to push him about whatever passing controversy the community was up in arms over, he remained indefatigably positive and endlessly patient—but without ever ducking questions in the way some suffocatingly media-trained interviewees can be. So I'm going to miss him a lot, though I have no doubt he leaves the game in good hands, given the amount of talent still at Team 5.
As for Brode, no doubt his rise will remain unstoppable. It's something of a shame to read between the lines and suspect that what has led to his departure is the pressures of being the senior manager on such an enormous brand, and how that ultimately removed him from the creative process he so clearly loves. A lesson there, perhaps, for all those publishers still looking for their own Brode to front a huge game. From the sounds of it Brode is going to be back at the creative coal face at his startup company, so I can't wait to see what they make first.
We'll certainly be able to hear him coming.