Heroes of the Storm, like all esports, has a unique equalizing effect. Pro players have access to the exact same characters and in-game tools as anyone. To the untrained eye, a Varian, Chromie, or Medivh looks exactly the same in a quick match as they do on the Blizzcon stage. That said, what makes the HGC truly special is the group of hard-working, passionate gamers fighting for the right to keep pursuing their dreams. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at the men on the other side of the screen. It’s time for you to really get to know the Roll20 Esports Heroes of the Storm team. Check out previous interviews at the end of this article.
Last week we finished up the last of the last of our player interviews. Today, we’ll be continuing the series by talking to one of the founders of Roll20, and the face of the company in the Heroes community. Nolan T. Jones and I had a chat about the origins of Roll20 as a company, the founders’ affinity for Blizzard games, and the esports org’s goals at Blizzcon. To change things up, we did today’s article as more of a Q&A session rather than a standard profile. Let me know how you feel about the change in format in this week’s Reddit thread or on Twitter. Now, on to the interview!
Can you tell us a bit about your history in gaming?
Nolan: Personally, I’ve been playing games as long as I can remember. My parents had an original Nintendo Entertainment System, and I started there. Played computer games since they installed via floppy disk. My partners in Roll20, Richard Zayas and Riley Dutton, are also both lifetime players, and my earliest memories with both of them include video games. Fun story: Riley initially was wary of Richard because on my recommendation Riley loaned Richard a copy of the original Fable, and Richard took a little too long to return it.
In a twist that would surprise a great many Roll20 users, we really didn’t start playing tabletop games until college.
How did you get involved with Roll20.net?
Nolan: Two years after college I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and Richard to the Washington DC area– both of us following our spouses’ careers– while Riley stayed in Kansas where we had all gone to school. Fast forward a few years later and all three of us were losing touch. I started playing some D&D with a local group and wished I had a way to do it online with my other friends. Riley had a pretty elegant solution to gameplay in-browser, and I thought we could launch it via Kickstarter. Our 2012 Kickstarter was successful far beyond our initial ask, and from that point on the three of us worked together to build the company into what it is today.
In a fun note for Blizzard fans, our actual company name is The Orr Group, LLC., named after our World of WarCraft guild, the <House of Orr>. Much love to oldschool Andorhal.
What is your role within the company?
Nolan: Initially I did a lot of community management and branding, while Riley did all of the programming, and Richard handled the finances and intangibles (and a head’s up to anyone starting a new business– there are a LOT of intangibles).
As of this year, Riley and Richard have stepped back from the day-to-day of Roll20, but I’m the Managing Partner of the company. I would say my biggest contributions to the platform currently are finding new hires and guiding expansion.
Who’s your favorite hero in Heroes of the Storm?
Nolan: ETC by a hair (with Tyrande a close second). Tanking is probably the role I’m best at, and ETC was the first character that helped me understand positioning in the game.
Why was Heroes of the Storm the launching point for Roll20 Esports?
Nolan: It’s a game the three of us know, understand, love, and wanted to share with our company employees and community-at-large. When Heroes of the Storm first launched, I had sworn that I was done with Blizzard games (burnt out from the WoW cross-server swap in the middle of a Grand Marshall grind and high-tier arena play, and disappointed-beyond-reason that the story of StarCraft II was not Raynor out for revenge against Kerrigan for killing Fenix). Richard convinced me to give it a shot, and I’ve become the biggest fan of the game– closing in on 4,000 matches played.
As I’ll say to anyone who listens, I think Dustin Browder’s original inspirations coming out of basketball coaching legend John Wooden’s book “On Leadership” really set Heroes apart from other team games. It was because of that team-based emphasis that I felt this could be an esport that properly represented the camaraderie of the Roll20 roleplaying community in a competitive environment.
What made Team 8 the right team to partner with to start Roll20 Esports?
Nolan: They were continuously underestimated, and I liked that about them from the start. What really made them THE team for us was that they were holding out to get properly compensated by a sponsor. That’s a core Roll20 business belief; as creators of a platform and content, we think payment is important, and knowing that this team was aware that they had worth was appealing. Particularly as Blizzard had done so much this year to help put money into the scene with the HGC format, it seemed like the right time to step in and be a part of that process.
So to other teams still looking for an organization, you’d say it’s important to understand your own value?
Nolan: Absolutely. Don’t over-estimate it, but negotiate a value, and then expect your organization to follow through. This situation coming to light in regards to Playing Ducks is disgusting; the fact that the players aren’t being paid is sadly not completely abnormal– which is why players may need unions and the like going forward to help quickly expose organizations looking to take advantage of their playing rosters.
What is your favorite part about owning an esports team?
Nolan: I enjoy supporting the overall community, honestly. I probably take it too seriously for as corny a concept as it is, but I like the idea that I’m helping to contribute joy to players and viewers. Roll20 is a gaming company, and I really believe that means we are supposed to be having some fun.
I’ll also say that the Roll20® in-game stuff still blows me away– that’s a logo made by a good friend of mine that represents a thing I made with two of my best friends and came to represent a whole fantastic community full of folks… and now it’s in the crossover mash-up of these Blizzard games that my friends and I have loved for decades.
What does it mean to you to have your team headed to a world championship in its first year of existence?
Nolan: I would have honestly felt that this roster underachieved if we weren’t going to BlizzCon in one of the automatic North America spots. These guys are very talented; when they lose, it is often because they collapse on themselves.
The bigger question is how we can capitalize on this opportunity. Can this roster clean up and elevate their play to its max, and how far does that take us?
Would you say that your goal for the team this year is to win BlizzCon?
Nolan: To give a very honest-but-John-Wooden answer, my goal is for us to play our best. There’s a degree to which I’d be disappointed with winning the whole damn thing if the other great teams sputter and our play is sloppy. What I want is for all five guys to be able to look at their performance at the end of the week and know they did their best to prepare, and then played to the best of their ability. I’ve won and lost a lot of very competitive basketball games over the years, and the result is not what matters the most to me– it’s always the feeling that my teammates and I pushed ourselves to our limits.
Any sidebets planned at BlizzCon with the owners of other teams?
Nolan: I’ve only gotten to talk briefly with two other sponsors in HGC. As such, I’m really just excited to meet folks from some of the other organizations and make relationships.
What should Heroes of the Storm fans know about the Roll20 app if they’re interested in checking it out?
Nolan: Roll20.net is the number one way to play tabletop games online and if you, like me, grew up with computer roleplaying games, let me tell you that tabletop roleplaying games allow a whole new level of freedom that you will cherish. If you’ve ever been frustrated that your imagination seemed trapped by the limitations of a game’s programming– that the dialogue options didn’t have what you wanted to say, or you couldn’t go beyond a certain wall– then you will really, really enjoy what games like Dungeons & Dragons have to offer.
What’s your favorite class in D&D and why (bonus nerd points for specific edition)?
Nolan: I’m frequently a rogue. My favorite character I’ve ever played was a 4th Edition D&D Dragonborn brawny rogue.
Since you mentioned it (and personally 4th is my favorite edition, Warlord for life) I’ll ask: what’s your take on 4th edition as compared to the other editions of DnD?
Nolan: I think that 4th Edition is a great introduction for people who are coming from video games– Final Fantasy, World of WarCraft— where min-maxing and tactical planning are key. I personally adore it, and hope that it will eventually have the same sort of “Open Gaming” licensing permissions we’ve seen for 3rd and 5th editions.
Is there a specific game or edition you’d recommend to newer tabletop gamers investigating the platform?
Nolan: There is not, because there are so many different games that supply so many different experiences. My advice is to not end up paralyzed by trying to decide what game to try first, but instead simply try and find a group of people that seem like fun and play! Then you can start to refine what parts of tabletop are most appealing to you in the long run.
Anything else you’d like to say to your team’s fans?
Nolan: Thank you. For the outpouring of social media support, the Twitch bits cheering / in-game-item-repping, your excitement about jersey, and onward.
This process of introducing and intermingling fans-of-a-roleplaying-platform and fans-of-an-esports-team has been overall really gratifying. If I might, though, make an ask of our venn diagram of a following: help each other out. Let’s make certain as the Roll20 community expands that we remain known as the folks who will help bring more people into their hobbies and make more friends along the way.
Thank you so much to Nolan for taking the time for this interview, and to Roll20 for the opportunity to chat with these awesome players. As we roll on towards Blizzcon, stay tuned for more HOTS coverage and Roll20 content!
Want to show your support for Roll20? Head to the R2E shop and pickup an official Roll20 Esports jersey!