This weekend, our final eight colleges battle for the Collegiate Hearthstone Championships crown!
Only eight teams remain in the running for a share of $150,000 in scholarship prizing and the Collegiate Hearthstone Championship title. Let’s take a quick look at the tournament format, teams, and schedule for this weekend’s games!
On Saturday, all eight teams play their final, Standard format, best-of-five, Conquest match of the season. The four victorious teams face a new challenge on Sunday.
Tespa’s nine-class format returns for a second season, forcing teams to take their tactics outside the box. All four semifinalist teams will prepare nine Standard-format decks and will play one best-of-11 series against the opposing team. Players start each round with two “lives” for a total of six per team. When one of a player's assigned decks loses, that player loses a life. Once a player has lost both lives, that player and their decks are eliminated. The first team to eliminate all six of their opponents’ “lives” wins the match.
University of Utah – Varsity
After falling to UCLA in the 2017 Tespa Fall Training Grounds, Utah held tryouts for an all-new varsity Hearthstone team. The revamped roster is captained by Alexander “Zhu” Zhu, six-time competitor in Collegiate Hearthstone Championships and veteran of the Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT). Jackson “jakaso27” Cheleden earned a seat in HCT Copa América. Jack “TBSjacm” O’Donoghue plays the mobile MOBA Vainglory and is a collegiate national finalist.
Utah’s new roster proved itself by emerging as the top team in the varsity division. Now a fan favorite to take the crown, Utah has become feared and respected by all teams in the league, and Zhu knows it.
“We are the varsity division champions and have a player [jakaso27] on our team that qualified for Copa América in Brazil,” Zhu said. “We feel we are the best team in the tournament by far.”
University of California, Los Angeles – West
The UCLA Bruins hold the distinct honor of being the first Tespa Hearthstone team to attend a live finals twice. The team is anchored by Shawn “Triton” Footitt, the 2017 Red Bull Brawl champion and a Tespa Training Grounds semifinalist. Teammates have come and gone but Triton has remained at the core of UCLA Hearthstone since his freshman year.
These Bruins are also musically talented. Triton is learning to play the guitar, Riley “Dovahcain” Runne strums the guitar and bass, while Andrew “Kyrehx” Piro is a cellist in a video game orchestra.
Despite leading the Bruins to a playoffs berth, Triton recognizes that his team has a strong rival in Utah.
“We lost to Utah Esports in the championship match of the Pacific Alliance of Collegiate Gamers and they've proven to be an incredibly resilient team,” Triton said. “We hope we'll have a chance to rematch in the finals.”
Boise State University – Varsity
While many competitors consider gaming a part-time hobby, the Boise State team views esports as a full-time passion—a great way to stay mentally sharp. Team captain Russell “onionrings22” Leininger plays Overwatch and Rocket League for Boise State and hopes to continue his involvement with the BSU esports organization after graduation. Augustin “ForTheHorde” Cheeley hopes to get behind the BSU casting desk after graduation. Jonathan “Bawrkers” Demaree specializes in planning deck lineups. Together, the Boise State Hearthstone team is a well-rounded team of players and friends.
Above all, onionrings credits the university for empowering his team.
“Our school esports program has been essential to our success,” onionrings said. “They gave us structured, regular practices with a coach. Our coach ‘Litiq’ has made us into far better players over the course of the season. ...It feels so good to get this far and show the school that their support has paid off.”
Carnegie Mellon University – East
The Carnegie Mellon University team started with a group of fraternity brothers that wanted to play Hearthstone together. CMU saw themselves as a capable team, but they never expected to play their way into the finals.
“We all thought it was gonna be fun, so with zero expectations, we just participated for the college memories,” said Daniel “Dback” Back.
While these underdogs don't consider themselves competitive gamers, their opportunity for glory has motivated them to begin studying decks and strategies while grinding for finals."
“Initially, competitive gaming wasn't really in the picture,” Andrew “Coly” Liu said. “But as the semester unfolded and we advanced through round after round, our game plans started becoming less of a meme. Every week we walk in thinking we're going to get eliminated, but the underdog mentality has driven us pretty far and hopefully it'll carry us further into the tournament.”
The Pennsylvania State University Blue – East
Penn State is the first-ever college to field two teams to a single Tespa live finals event. Thankfully for PSU, the sister teams start the weekend in opposite corners of the bracket.
Naturally, there is no shortage of exceptional talent on either roster. Yoonjae “Capilano” Lee plays multinationally, achieving high legend finishes in both Standard and Wild on the Asia/Pacific server. Team captain and Tavern Hero champion Adam “Zeh” Kleiber’s overall record in Tespa Hearthstone is 40-9. The team’s third teammate, Abdullah “Ninja” Mosaad, mainly plays for fun.
The University of Utah awaits Penn State University in the quarterfinals—a tough opening match, but Penn State Blue remains undaunted.
“We have no rivals because we are the best team by far,” Zeh said. “No teams pose a challenge to us.”
The Pennsylvania State University White – East
While Penn State Blue hopes to crush the competition, Penn State White’s players each have their own motivations for playing. Team captain Timothy “DREADICUS” Jasper is a leader in the Hearthstone tavern and on campus, and currently leads an initiative to help integrate junior Hearthstone players into competitive teams. DREADICUS reminds us that competition isn’t just about raising the cup—it can also be about inspiring others.
“Anyone can play video games at a competitive level in college if they put in the work,” said DREADICUS. “More and more people every day are becoming attuned to gaming culture and will undoubtedly look to others on how to hone their craft. I want to be that example, not just for myself, but to pave the way for my community.”
His teammate Richard “Reubexcube” Reube has a simpler goal—payback.
“I want to play UCLA to get revenge for a loss to Triton at Redbull Summer in the Championship match,” Reubexcube said.
Stanford University – West
Stanford is an underdog in this tournament, but their strategies set them apart from the rest of the pack. Their preparation tactics are deliberate and pragmatic, fitting for a team of scientists. Jerry “Jay” Kuang studies bioscience, Kelly “Quarkie” Stifter researches dark matter for her doctorate degree, and team captain Mitchell “Caeadas” McIntire has published papers on a variety of scientific subjects. Despite their accomplishments in the classroom, the team recognizes its weaknesses and chooses to play to its strengths.
“We are all casual Hearthstone players. We probably aren't the most gifted Hearthstone team mechanically,” said Jay. “But I really do believe we've been the best-prepped team in Tespa this season.”
The teammates compensate for their shortcomings through fierce dedication to the game and each other. When they’re not conducting research, the team pumps hours into match preparation, even using computer simulations to help make lineup choices.
“We spent over 40 hours in three days finding the best lineup [for the Championship Bracket] and then playtesting every possible matchup against all lineups in our bracket,” Jay added. “Qualifying for live finals was just an incredible feeling [to share] with my teammates.”
Georgia Institute of Technology – South
Georgia’s team captain Michael “MooshRum” Marotta is an outstanding leader for his team and his campus community. He is a Tespa Chapter Leader, Esports Club President, Overwatch master, and Hearthstone legend. Like many finalists, MooshRum is incredibly busy and intensely competitive.
“I balance [education and esports] by removing sleep from the equation,” he said. “I never expected to go this far especially since both of my teammates were people I didn't know.”
MooshRum plays alongside Izaan “izaankml” Kamal and Eric “Zopherus” Zhu. Like MooshRum, izaankml shares a long-standing passion for Hearthstone and competition and wants to pass on his skills by working as a Hearthstone coach at Georgia Tech. Zopherus plays because he loves Hearthstone and wants a respite from the stress of studying.
Unsurprisingly, Utah has become a common nemesis among the top eight teams, and Georgia Tech is no exception.
“I would love to have a chance at playing against Utah again,” MooshRum said. “We lost to them in the first round of the top 16 after drawing really poorly and making some questionable plays. I want a chance to redeem ourselves against them. They are a strong team, but I'm sure we won't make the same mistakes as last time.”
Can Utah live up to the hype, or will the underdogs rise up and steal the crown? Find out live this weekend on twitch.tv/playhearthstone! The broadcast kicks off on Saturday, May 19 at 9:00 AM PDT with the top eight matches. The final four teams will return to the stage on Sunday, May 20 at 9:00 AM PDT for an epic conclusion to the championship.