How I became the world’s foremost game designer creator cover image

How I became the world’s foremost game designer creator

A guest article by Stephen “JustAGuy” Georgiou. He is the father of Cora “Songbird” Georgiou and Sage Georgiou.

Whenever I run into one of my legions of fans, I am inevitably asked the same question. No, not “How did you play video games before they invented the TV?” The other question. “How can I raise my kids to become amazingly talented and successful game designers like you did?” Well, get comfy in your gaming chair for a few minutes and I’ll give you the details.

Gaming across generations

Since I was a kid, I have always loved to play games. Long games, short games, good games, and not-quite-as-good games. The important part wasn’t so much the "what" as the "who." My family was the "who" and the games we played together were the "what." This played a big part in making me who I am today.

When I was a kid, electricity had only recently been discovered, so the games we played were made of wood and parchment and stone and had names like “Backgammon,” “Pinochle,” and “Roll the Hoop with a Stick.” Like many of us when we were young, family game time was meant to be fun and far less importance was put on winning. I mean, what kind of adult enjoys beating children at a card game?

As I got older and the uses for electricity evolved, my family discovered a new genre of games for our collection — electronic ones. The original Pong with its incredible monochrome color scheme and soundtrack was an amazing addition to our gaming world, but not one my parents were much interested in.

I, on the other hand, was hooked. Pong was quite literally the gateway drug of video gaming. My addiction over the years has cost me millions upon millions of dollars (amount adjusted for inflation). What followed was a string of consoles offering bigger and better and faster and prettier games of every form and function.

The Atari 2600, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, and so many others followed over the years — culminating with the pinnacle of gaming existence in 1983, which was my very first PC. It was a genuine IBM PC with 64k RAM, dual 5 ¼ floppy drives, and a beautiful monochrome monitor. How big was the hard drive? What hard drive? This was 1983.

Convincing my parents 40 years ago that a $3,500 ($11,000 in today's money) home computer was a necessity for a 16-year-old kid was an achievement of deception in my life matched only when I persuaded my wife that we should open a software and computer store in 1996 — a job I had dreamed would lead to days of endless gaming that instead turned into a lifetime of shockingly hard work. It seems that gamers frequently make poor decisions.

Showdown in the Badlands key art (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)
Showdown in the Badlands key art (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)

Gaming as a family

When I started my business, we had a nine-month-old daughter at home by the name of Cora. She would be joined by her brother, Sage, and little did anyone realize at the time that the gaming world would never be the same. Spoiler alert: Cora and Sage are both game designers at Blizzard Entertainment working on the Hearthstone team.

For those who are statistically challenged, that’s 100% of my offspring. I have offered to allow Blizzard to perform genetic testing on my DNA to ensure the future of the industry, but so far, I have not heard back.

Am I proud? More than I can ever properly convey. Am I jealous? You’re damn right, I am. At the ripe old ages of 26 and 28, my kids work at jobs I could only have dreamed of. Except for the fact that I have few of the skills that would allow me to be successful in this career — it is still horribly unfair.

Cora playing Hearthstone Arena (Image via SongbirdCora on X)
Cora playing Hearthstone Arena (Image via SongbirdCora on X)

Their jobs allow them to be creative, competitive, compensated, and, most importantly, they enjoy what they do. Can you see how unfair that is? How did they come to achieve so much at such young ages? I’m pretty sure it was entirely my doing.

We played games when they were young — much like I did as a kid. In addition to the typical assortment of various board, card, and educational games, we always had a huge collection of computer games that they loved as well. These included the Jump Start titles, Pajama Sam, and the Putt-Putt series. My little computer shop allowed me to bring home the latest and greatest hardware and software available, so there was never a shortage of options for them to try.

When they were still quite young, they discovered the Pokémon TV show, and I introduced them to the card game. A few years and several thousand packs later, they have transitioned from collecting the cool cards to playing the game for real.

Over time, Pokémon would give way to Yu-Gi-Oh! This led to thousands of additional packs to buy and many weekends driving to various card shop tournaments where Cora and Sage were often the youngest participants. Despite their ages, they were always competitive, and, more importantly, they loved doing it.

I was often along for the ride, sometimes playing casually against children 30 years younger than me. That didn’t stop me from crushing their fragile spirits. Surprise! I’m the kind of adult who enjoys beating children at a card game.

Cora and Hearthstone

Fast forward several years and Cora was now a college student expecting to have a career in radio and television. Sage had recently come across a new digital card game that was still in its beta release, and he shared it with his sister. It had been a while since we all ventured out to local tournaments together, and this new game was doing a great job filling up every minute of spare time that the two of them could find.

Cora’s dorm room at school and Sage’s bedroom at home quickly became Hearthstone havens thanks to the top-of-the-line gaming systems provided by their amazing and underappreciated father. As the months went by and their skill levels and love of the game grew, an interesting opportunity presented itself when Blizzard ran the So You Think You Can Cast competition to find new talent. Cora immediately decided to enter.

Hearthstone posted the So You Think You Can Cast results in 2016 (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)
Hearthstone posted the So You Think You Can Cast results in 2016 (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)

Winning was never really in question. So let me take a moment here to tell you a little about my daughter: Cora is talented, smart, stubborn, relentless, competitive, and driven beyond measure with anything she sets her mind to accomplish. As a woman in the gaming world, she has had to overcome more abuse and discrimination than I will ever be able to properly understand and there is nothing she can’t do — except like my tweets or watch any of my YouTube videos.

Being selected as a finalist in the competition would lead to a career as a caster and more trips to the airport than I can recall. She would spend the next few years traveling the world casting competitions in every corner of the globe from France and Poland to Australia and Ohio. On some of those trips, we would arrange to have Sage go along with her because what sister doesn’t want her younger brother to tag along on her travels while she tries to work at her very demanding and public job?

For my wife and I, it was a bonus to have them go together as it not only gave Sage an experience that he wouldn’t have had otherwise, but it provided some reassurance that Cora was not always traveling alone. I don’t know about you, but if you have never dropped your 20-year-old daughter off at an airport knowing that she was traveling alone to a gaming convention in some faraway place often attended by poorly behaved gamer boys, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Hearthstone TITANS artwork (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)
Hearthstone TITANS artwork (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)

Sage and Hearthstone

Having Sage accompany Cora was very reassuring for us. It also allowed him to do something he hadn’t done in person since his Yu-Gi-Oh! days — compete. So let me take a moment here to tell you about my son.

Sage is exceptionally smart and talented, more laid back than his sister, but equally competitive. And when it comes to gaming, he's an absolute savant. He has overcome difficulties as a migraine sufferer that I can’t even imagine, and there is also nothing he can’t do — except like my Tweets or watch any of my YouTube videos, much like his sister.

Sage enjoyed playing Arena in Hearthstone, so when he found out he was going to an event, he only had a few days to prepare for the Standard format competitions. In that time, he studied the current meta, built and tested the most competitive decks, hit the Legend rank in one long evening, and refined his deck lists that needed to be turned in. He did this all the while keeping up with his college studies. In the first event he ever competed in, he finished in the top 8.

Hearthstone ranking system (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)
Hearthstone ranking system (Image via Blizzard Entertainment)

Working in the gaming industry and on the Hearthstone team

Those weekends at the Georgiou household were incredibly exciting and stressful beyond description. Watching both of your children on stream in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers while you waited for every match result and the next segment to air was almost more than my wife and I could handle. The pinnacle was getting to see Cora cast a match that her brother was competing in. How amazing is that?

The experiences and challenges of casting would provide the perfect proving grounds for Cora to take the next step in her unexpected career journey — becoming a Hearthstone developer. She would be the first to tell you that when she decided to apply for the position on the design team, she was not confident that she would be hired.

While she was a fixture in the community and demonstrated her knowledge and skills with the game over several years, she had no background in game design. Aside from that, positions at Blizzard for designers are coveted jobs that always result in thousands of applicants for any single opening. Getting hired would mean being chosen from an incredible number of talented candidates. Was there any real doubt what would happen?

A few years later, Sage was at that very same point in his life’s journey. While still finishing up his final year of college and with his sister’s obvious encouragement, he applied for the position of game developer at Blizzard working on the very same Hearthstone team.

After a series of grueling design tests and an extensive interview process for a position that again, sees thousands of applicants vying for a single job, the result was exactly as you would expect. Sage has been on Team 5 for more than two years now, adding his talents to every aspect of the game’s design and advancing to the position of mid-level developer.

Cora was the set lead for the amazingly well-received Murder at Castle Nathria expansion, has risen to the position of lead designer, and in case you’ve been living under a rock, just took the stage in November as the sole Hearthstone presenter at the BlizzCon opening ceremonies. Not too bad, if I do say so myself.

Raising game designers

Now back to the question you’ve been patiently waiting for me to answer: how can you raise your kids to become amazingly talented and successful game designers? The “JustAGuy” answer would be to send in a self-addressed stamped envelope and $9.95 for my new pamphlet, “10 Secrets to Parenting Successful Gamers,” but if you follow me on Twitter (I will never call it “X”) or have watched any of my videos, you know I sometimes like to kid.

The honest answer is I’m not entirely sure. My children are unique and have distinctive talents and interests and have faced their own incredible sets of challenges along the way that have contributed to making them who they are.

If over the course of their lives, my wife and I have been successful in encouraging and supporting them so that they could discover who they wanted to be and what they wanted to do, then good for us. That was our job and exactly what we hoped for. Sometimes gamers make good choices, too.

And as for me? While I may not have conquered the gaming universe as I might have once dreamed and I don’t get to play video games all day for fun, I have managed to run a small computer business for the last 27 years. That’s not too bad, I suppose.

I am also a celebrated content creator who has one episode of a podcast, a few dozen humorous YouTube videos, and what has been called “The Single Greatest Card Reveal in Hearthstone History.

Would my kids be where they are without my wife and me? Probably not. Where would I be without my children? Well, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be reading this article right now if it wasn’t written by “The World’s Foremost Game Designer Creator.”