In a crowded convention center in San Antonio, Texas, Cal State Fullerton students Thomas Gideon, Matthew Kelly and Alex Hernandez competed to win part of a $160,000 scholarship pool playing “Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.” The trio came in second, each taking home $3,400 in scholarship money.
Hernandez said his excitement intensified as he watched their scores surpass their opponents’ round after round.
“I could see the score sheet right next to us. It was nice to see everything keep going up and up,” Hernandez said.
The Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) “Hearthstone” Tournament pitted the trio, who call themselves the Titan Kings, against teams from all across the United States and Canada in January.
“Hearthstone” is a virtual strategy card game playable on PC, Macs and smartphone. Gideon sees the game as a “mixture of poker and chess.”
Gideon, Kelly and Hernandez have only competed together as the Titan Kings for one semester. The trio is part of the CSUF Gaming and eSports club on campus. While the club competed in “Hearthstone” tournaments before, this is the first PAX tournament for the team.
“In the past, our club has participated in ‘Hearthstone’ tournaments, but this is the furthest we ever made it in the tournament,” said Jeremy Wan, president of the CSUF Gaming and eSports club. “Before, the highest we made it was to playoffs, but we didn’t make it past that bracket.”
The Titan Kings competed against 676 teams in the group stages, followed by the regional playoffs before they made it to the grand finals.
“Once we made it past the West Coast and we were actually in the grand finals, it was like we actually made it,” Kelly said.
The Titan Kings came to the grand finals in style. They sported team jersey’s adorned with the logos of their sponsors. Sponsors include Tespa, the organization that helped put on the tournament, Twitch, a platform for streaming video games, PLAYlive Nation, a Fullerton-based social gaming lounge located, Gigabyte, a computer hardware manufacturer and distributor, and Titan Shops.
The grand finals were single-elimination format so if a team lost one set of games, they were out of the competition. The Titan Kings represented the West Region and lost to University of Illinois in the finals. Though the team didn’t win the first-place scholarship, it placed second and each player won $3,400 in scholarships.
“We’re really happy to see them go this far and we think that’s really special. Not a lot of people get this kind of opportunity to enjoy their hobbies, get scholarships out of it and get travel perks,” Wan said. “This is really awesome and this is happening. Anyone that has the passion for gaming can do it.”