How's your bracket looking? No, not for basketball. That nonsense is over. I'm talking about your bracket for Heroes of the Dorm, the collegiate Heroes of the Storm tournament that has its championship match on April 10.
Forget free throws and three pointers. Actions (clicks/button presses) per minute are the most important stat to track in Heroes of the Storm, which takes characters from Blizzard Entertainment's popular franchises (including Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo) and pits them against each other in team-based strategic action.
Heroes of the Dorm challenges five-player teams from U.S. colleges to work their way up a bracket for the chance to win big money. All five players from the winning team earn tuition for their entire college career (up to a maximum of $25,000 per year per person for a maximum of three years, according to the official rules).
It's also got its own scandals. The team from Harvard was kicked out for "violating several tournament rules."
The competition began with 64 teams on March 19 with matches that aired on ESPN3 and were streamed on YouTube and Twitch. A handful of Texas teams actually made it to the final bracket of 16 colleges: Texas Tech, Texas A&M, UT Dallas and UT Arlington.
But at the end of March, only one local competitor was left in the "Heroic Four": UT Arlington.
The UTA team, named Dark Blaze, will be playing against a team from the University of Tennessee at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle on April 9, and they hope to be back for the finals at the same location the next day. Matches for the "Heroic Four" and Grand Finals are aired on ESPN2 and can be streamed online.
Who's on the team? Regular college students -- just like in any other college sport.
Eugene Tseng, who goes by Yuuj in-game, is a 23-year-old finance major and the team's captain. He says that the Heroes of the Dorm team met through the school's eSports club.
"We used to play League of Legends," he says, referring to a similar game that is also played for big money on both collegiate and professional levels. "This current team is basically the exact same [League] team with one add-on."
The team practices regularly -- three to four hours each day, usually -- but their regimen isn't as strict as it can be with other sports. That's something that Andrew Rodrigues, a 23-year-old exercise science major, really appreciates.
"It's definitely more accessible," Rodrigues, who goes by MiST in-game, says. He's also on UTA's ice hockey team, so he's got experience with a more "traditional" sport experience. "I have to drive 30 minutes to the rink where we practice for hockey, and after awhile that gets old. I wake up on Wednesday mornings at 6 a.m. for practice. But with gaming we don't wake up early, so it's pretty nice."
When it comes to balancing the game and school, both players agree that it's not a problem as long as you're careful.
"It's really not too hard," Rodrigues says. "As long as you manage your time well you can do anything."
Tseng stresses that they prioritize school over the game, but many of the players hope that, in the long run, they can turn gaming into a career.
David Nguyen, a 22-year-old accounting major who plays as DXN, hopes that a win in Heroes of the Dorm leads to bigger and bigger things. "It would reaffirm my beliefs that I could go pro," he says. If not playing Heroes of the Storm, then maybe in playing Counter-Strike, which he's spent more time with.
"My major is accounting, but I'm probably going to go back to school to get a computer science degree after a few years of working," he says. "I want to do something with the eSports community one day, because it's an evolving world that really lines up with my passions."
As for their next match, the team is confident about the semi-finals and think one of their biggest challenges is behind them.
"We were considered one of the favorites to make it to the finals of the tournament, but Boston College was a really tough matchup for us," Tseng says. "We were more concerned about them than we were about the semi-finals, and at the moment we’re really looking forward to the finals and planning out our strategies more specifically than our next match."