Jun 04, 2017
Andrey Yanyuk: From Poker Pro to Esports CEO & Famed Twitch Streamer
By RTR Dennis
Over the past few years, many poker pros have dabbled in Hearthstone, an online collectible card game that involves skill. But Andrey 'Reynad' Yanyuk has done more than dabble in Hearthstone.
In fact, he's gone from a poker pro to owning Tempo Storm, a highly successful esports team. Yanyuk has also been one of the most-followed Twitch streamers in the gaming world, thanks to his outspoken manner and brash attitude.
So how did Reynad get to this point? Let's discuss Yanyuk's backstory, which begins with Nintendo 64 and Gameboy.
Yanyuk Grew Up Playing Cards & Video Games
The fact that Yanyuk grew up to be both a Hearthstone and poker pro is no surprise when looking at his upbringing. He was born in the Ukraine and moved to the American state of Minnesota at age 6. Most of his youth was spent sharing Nintendo 64 consoles and Gameboys with his friends.
At age 13, he got into computer programming and dreamed about being a game designer one day. During a trip back to Ukraine at age 15, he played Magic: The Gathering for the first time.
According to Glixel, this is where Yanyuk would begin his rise to fame, excelling in Magic tournaments when he returned to the United States.
Introduction to Poker
After becoming a good Magic: The Gathering player, Reynad was eventually drawn to the quick riches of poker. He was so entranced by the game, in fact, that he started cutting class to play poker.
"Things were pretty bad at home around that time," he said, citing how skipping school cost him a diploma. "I was missing two years of credits. But I did an online class and got those credits in like two weeks. I kind of wish I did that from the start."
Hustling to Make a Living
Upon turning 18, Yanyuk left home and moved to Nashville, where he earned a living through Magic and poker. For Reynad, beating card games wasn't just a hobby – it was necessary to eat.
This urgency has fueled him ever since and made him one of the world's most-competitive gamers, whether he's playing poker or streaming through Twitch.
"I have a really massive ego. It's something I'm aware of, but you can kind of channel it the right way once you're self-aware," he said. "It's one of the reasons I wanted to stream on Twitch.
“I didn't think it was the career that would make me the most money or anything, but the platform clicked with me. I saw Twitch as the next evolution of YouTube, and a way to get validation from strangers."
Magic Ban Leads to Full-time Hearthstone
By 2012, Yanyuk was 100% focused on Magic and streaming his sessions on Twitch. However, his downfall in the Magic community began when he put an unlisted card into his decklist during an event.
This was a minor infraction as far as the game goes. But Reynad blew it up by complaining about the Wizards of the Coast governing body. They returned the favor by banning him for 18 months, leading to his retirement from the game.
Little did Yanyuk know, but this was a fortunate turn in his gaming career. He went from earning $500 a month through Magic YouTube streams to jumping into the early stages of a Hearthstone boom.
"Before the ban, I was already talking about retiring and stopping," Reynad explained. "You're not meant to play any of those games for that long. When the suspension came along, it didn't really affect me that much. I just saw it as a good time to take a step back. I would've moved to Hearthstone regardless."
Becoming a Hearthstone Icon
It didn't take Yanyuk long to make a name for himself in the Hearthstone world. In fact, he started a phenomenon in 2014 by creating the "Zoolock" deck, where he stuffed lots of aggressive cards into a Warlock decklist (one of the nine Hearthstone classes).
Reynad called it "Zoo," a term used in Magic to describe decks heavy in animals and creatures. Today, Zoolock has become one of the most-common decks in Hearthstone. In South Korea, they call this the "Reynad Deck" as an ode to its creator.
This is just one element that’s played into Yanyuk becoming one of the most-successful streamers in Hearthstone.
"For anyone who streams for a very long time, it's impossible for it to be an act," Reynad said when asked if his cocky attitude is ever put on for show. "You're doing it for so many hours, for so many years – you can't fake being someone else for that amount of time. It's just not human. Even if you tried, you'd end up being the person you're faking."
Starting Team Tempo Storm
In May 2014, Yanyuk took another big step in his career by starting the professional esports team Tempo Storm. This was a bold move at the time because Hearthstone was almost non-existent in the rising esports world. But Tempo Storm grew along with the Hearthstone scene.
Tempo Storm has become such a success that they've expanded into FIFA, Heroes of the Storm, Overwatch, Super Smash Bros., and World of Warcraft. All of this has plunged Reynad deeper into his CEO duties, and taken away from his gaming time.
"Hearthstone was new to Twitch, but I wasn't. I was aware of the things I liked about it, but I was also aware of the burnout that I experienced before in Magic and how long-term it might not be healthy," Yanyuk explained. "On top of that Hearthstone was a brand new game, so I can't expect it to be around in a decade."
He continued discussing his CEO transition by saying, "At the time, in early 2014, every deck on ladder was a copy from my stream. I had the highest ranks, I had this massive following, and I had kinda hit the cap for the game. So I figured ‘what's the next step, and what's best for job security?' I thought I should leverage [myself] into a brand that wasn't me being a camgirl."
Why Reynad is the Right Esports CEO
Much like online poker in the mid-2000s, esports is in the midst of a boom. And this is leading to massive amounts of money being thrown at the industry, mostly coming from rich, old guys who have no experience in the industry.
This makes Reynad different because he has the gaming experience to vet potential FIFA signees, then turn around and hire the right office staff.
"One of the things I think I've done a really good job of is hiring the best people across all roles," he said. "Our staff collectively is a lot smarter in the space. But there is a lot of dumb money involved right now – a lot of people getting in on the hype in esports and not necessarily putting money in the right places."
Is Yanyuk worried about the Esports Boom Ending Any Time Soon?
"As far as a bubble burst, it won't be the industry entirely, just certain places where people seeking investment have spun a really attractive narrative and have gotten money for a really stupid idea," he explained. "But esports in general will continue hockey-sticking and it will outpace traditional sports faster than people think.”
As a guy who once squeezed a living out of poker and Magic games, Reynad has experienced quite a rise in the esports world. And he believes that having to grind so hard for his money in the early days has given him the skills to succeed today.
"I didn't like how little money [being a professional card player] made, but I liked all the skills I picked up playing all those games at a high level," said Yanyuk. "It teaches you world-class resource management and risk assessment. And those skillsets translate really well to business."