Fifty million people in the world play the online card game Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Ten of those people belong to a club on campus for the purpose of playing the game, meeting fellow gamers and even competing in intercollegiate bouts for tuition money.
Creating a positive social atmosphere for players to come together and share in their love of the game is at the core of the club. Goebel said that twenty years ago, playing video games was a shameful thing.
“[Now] people want to label themselves as a gamer,” Goebel said.
The club was founded last year after Russell Goebel, a junior, reached out to Sebastian Greene on reddit.com on a post about Hearthstone on the Western subreddit. The two talked about starting a club, which they dubbed “A Viking’s Adventure.” Before long, the two had a booth at the Info Fair in Red Square.
“I think there’s a degree to which you have to have a competitive side to a video game, and I think that draws people who are interested in casual play even further in,” Goebel said. “If Western has a Hearthstone team and you see players showing up at tournaments, that would be really cool.”
“When I first heard that the reward would be scholarship money, I got pretty excited.”
The Hearthstone club is on its way, as four students are competing against other colleges through an organization called Tespa. Tespa is a network of college clubs founded to promote gaming culture and rewarding teams with scholarship money. The top-ranking Hearthstone team this year will earn $6,800 per player toward tuition simply by playing a video game.
“When I first heard that the reward would be scholarship money, I got pretty excited,” freshman Kenta Emura said in an email. “I would have participated in Tespa even without any rewards since I wanted to get more involved with the game … The scholarship money seems to be as an added bonus for doing well.”
Emura competes on a Tespa team and hopes by representing Western in competitions, more students will get involved in the Hearthstone community.
Even if players don’t feel skilled enough to compete, Emura said socializing with other players and playing casual matches is still a primary reason to play.
This year, Goebel didn’t have a booth in Red Square, so the 10 students who attended the first meeting were either part of the club last year or actively searching for a Hearthstone club at Western — such as senior Andrew Leadbeater.
“I thought it’d be fun to play with people physically rather than just over the internet,” Leadbeater said. “I really like card games in general. I like playing poker — anything with cards really. I love strategy games as well. I play loads of strategy games, and I like that you can see yourself improve.”
Hearthstone requires a lot of time to play the game at a high level. Legend is the highest rank a player can earn each month before the ladder system resets at the beginning of the next month. Goebel has been playing since the game was released in 2014 and has achieved the legend rank nine times. Goebel said a lot of players in the Hearthstone club have the ability to reach legend rank.
“I think that’s one of the better barometers of skill, to a point,” Goebel said. “I think that whether a player is capable of getting to legend basically indicates whether they’re a competent, competitive player.”
Leadbeater said how competitively he plays the game depends on how much free time he has during the month. Achieving a high rank requires a sizable time commitment, and it can be difficult to devote time to a game while in school or working.
“I used to play a lot of League of Legends and that was a time sink, and it’s addicting, really,” Leadbeater said. “Hearthstone isn’t addicting, it’s just fun to play maybe a couple of games a day. Games usually take between 10-20 minutes, depending on the decks you’re playing.”
Leadbeater said he has convinced friends who like card games to start playing Hearthstone. Goebel heard about the game through a friend as well.
The four members of Western’s Hearthstone club have yet to win a match in the two Tespa games it has played so far this year, but Goebel hopes the exposure will spur a bigger gaming community on campus.
“I know I want to get other gaming clubs together to try and unite us in some way and host bigger events,” Goebel said. “I think it’d be cool if we had a gaming night where multiple games were played in multiple rooms.”