How NC State students are working together using eSports as a way to pay for college.
What if, instead of submitting an essay for a chance at receiving a scholarship, you could have fun, make new friends and compete in card games with the same result? That is how Joe Agor, OR alumnus, and Kyle Paret, Ph.D. student, earned scholarships and built friendships while in college. “One of the other students in our office was playing the game, and we asked what it was,” reflected Agor. “After realizing that it was a free download, we decided to download it to learn.” They created a group with other students in other departments and started preparing for, playing, and winning Hearthstone competitions.
Hearthstone is a turn-based card game. Opponents begin with life points and a deck of cards, including a unique hero, minions and spells. Minions are creatures that you control, and spells affect the state of the minions and heroes. The goal is to reduce the opponent’s life points to zero. “It is hard to determine the optimal play during the game as there is a large amount of unknown information,” Paret stated. “We have to attempt to determine the order of decisions which gives us the highest chance of winning the game.” So, the odds of winning are affected by even the smallest change in how each team plays its cards.
Yet Agor and Paret have found that their ISE skills have helped win matches. “We utilized our knowledge of data analytics, probability and expectation to decide what decks to bring each week,” Agor explained. They also use their skills during the match by applying probability knowledge to make real-time decisions. “I believe our strength as a team came from our ability to analyze these pregame and in-game decisions to maximize our probability of winning,” Paret said. Working with students from other departments also helped strengthen the team’s abilities. The group started with ISE students and began collaborating with other students through the eSports club. Currently, the team consists of students from ISE and the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.
Their combination of skills has helped them play and win tournaments. Agor and Paret have both earned scholarship money to pay for college. This past year, the team finished in the top six of the Hearthstone Collegiate Championship, making each of them $400. They have also practiced their ISE skills in a non-traditional environment. Other prizes they have won included cool new tech and trips to larger Hearthstone tournaments, all of which are hosted by TESPA — officially-recognized student gaming clubs across the US and Canada. But perhaps another vital aspect that Hearthstone provides is connections. As Paret reflected, “Yes, there is potential scholarship money involved, but more importantly, it is something players can form friendships through and enable them to become more connected within the student community.”