Hearthstone Dad, Dean "Iksar" Ayala, has announced that he is leaving Blizzard Entertainment. Most recently, Dean took over the role of Game Director after Ben Lee left the Hearthstone team a little over 6 months ago.
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After 11 years, I am leaving Blizzard. Hearthstone is an incredible game. To have played even a small part in its creation is an honor I'll never forget. Thank you to all the players, and a special thank you to my fellow game creators. I am proud of all we built together.
This tweet comes a couple of days after he quietly stated that folks should contact Gallon and Cora starting next week should they have any questions about the game. Sneaky.
I agree if you have any questions for me after this week, I also forward you to @GallonHS. Or @Songbird_HS.
Dean's History at Blizzard
Dean started at Blizzard back in June 2011 in their Quality Assurance department, working on World of Warcraft, Diablo III, and Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm (Source). His journey through QA brought him into the Hearthstone team as a Game Designer all the way back in 2014, a month prior to the release of the game.
Since his time as a Game Designer, Dean worked on many of Hearthstones different systems and was involved in over two dozen card expansions, 5 Battlegrounds expansions as a lead, and lead community interaction efforts over the years by being a vocal member of the team on Twitter, communicating with us and taking time to host weekly Q&A periods.
To say the team is losing a titan, would simply be an understatement.
Blizzard Entertainment (11 yrs 4 mos)
Game Director, Hearthstone (Full-time, Feb 2022 - Present)
- Define the long-term creative vision for a team of 100+ developers.
- Lead 38 game designers across 5 design teams. Responsible for overall content quality and mentorship of design leaders.
- Key contributor and executor on multi-year franchise product roadmaps.
- Lead of outsource studio development on unannounced Hearthstone projects. This includes both content and product vision along with the oversight of 35 multi-discipline outsource developers.
Lead Designer, Hearthstone (Nov 2016 - Feb 2022)
- Led 21 designers on 3 design teams. Responsible for management, growth and mentorship of all designers on these teams.
- Led the live-service development of card expansions, features, & Battlegrounds.
- Shipped 18 card expansions, numerous feature updates, and 5 Battlegrounds expansions in a lead capacity.
Game Designer, Hearthstone (Feb 2014 - Nov 2016)
- Primary contributor for the first 10 Hearthstone card expansions.
- Lead designer for various experimental and permanent features over the first years of Hearthstone's development. This includes single-player, tavern brawl, heroic tavern brawl, arena, ranked systems, matchmaking, new-player, UX, and more.
Quality Assurance Analyst (Jun 2011 - Feb 2014)
- World of Warcraft QA analyst for Cataclysm, Mists of Pandaria, and Warlords of Draenor expansions.
- Diablo 3 console analyst. Worked on the console team as a performance analyst with both Xbox and PS consoles.
- Hearthstone analyst responsible for game design and balance feedback. Eventually led to full-time role on design team.
Where Does Dean Ayala Go Next?
Dean hasn't made an announcement yet of where he is going next, nor has he made mention of having something lined up.
The only thing we can do is take a wild guess and expect that he'll join his old friends from the Hearthstone team at Second Dinner and work on Marvel Snap. Dean's wife, the wonderful Molly Fender Ayala, who previously worked on the Hearthstone team as a Community Manager, left Blizzard to join Second Dinner almost two years ago - this could be a professional reunion in the making and I'm certain that'll make dinner conversations less awkward.
Regardless of where Dean goes, if he stays in the gaming space, any team, and community, would be lucky to have him.
Thank you for everything over the years, Dean. While I'll miss covering your Twitter shenanigans, I'll be even happier to see what your next plan is.