My name is Todd ‘Anakin’ Rolls and I signed up to take part in the Team Dignitas Hearthstone UK Gamer Search tournament to see how the online tournament process worked.
It would be the very first tournament I had ever played in and I figured that its conquest style and Swiss format [where participants play in every round and are paired based on their records] would be a good learning experience.
But the prize was tempting. The top four players would receive paid travel to Dreamhack London, where £2,500 was up for grabs. Better still, Team Dignitas would also choose one player to receive a pro player contract, a salary and paid trips to events.
To be honest, I never expected to make it past stage one.
The competition came around at just the right time for me. I had just finished a Magazine Journalism degree at university and I was writing a few articles here and there, while reluctantly looking for a part time job. While far-fetched, the possibility of signing for Team Dignitas or even winning the UK Gamer Search event was an opportunity I couldn‘t pass up.
Losing would mean looking for a regular full time job
When the day of the tournament finally arrived I felt very nervous. I felt confident in my ability and in the decks that I had chosen, even though they weren’t the most popular decks in the game at the time. But I knew that this was probably the only opportunity I‘d have to become a professional Hearthstone player. Losing would mean looking for a regular full time job.
The first game I played was unlike anything I’d expected. My opponent played very peculiar decks, which just didn’t seem to work and I ended up winning comfortably. I knew that the level of difficulty was bound to increase after every game, but I was still hugely proud of myself for winning my inaugural competitive match.
Maybe, just maybe, I had a chance of winning after all.
The way the Swiss format works meant that I would have to play a total of six games, winning five to guarantee a place in the second day of competition. I won all six. I couldn’t believe it! The games did get much harder after every victory and I almost lost a game on a couple of occasions. But I made it through. That made me more nervous than ever.
Day two brought a whole new set of problems with it
Day two brought a whole new set of problems. Due to some games having been streamed on the previous day, the remaining eight players had been given each others’ decklists so that no one had an unfair advantage. This approach was new to me and so I needed to devise a whole new strategic approach for the next matches.
Although the rules had changed, the goal for the day was still clear — win two games before I lose two games to go through to the final. Oh, and my games were being streamed live now, adding to the pressure.
I easily won game one, so I was just one game away from the final.
I lost the second game, leaving one more chance for redemption. I feared the worst. It seemed just like me to win seven games in a row only to fall at the final hurdle, one game short. To make matters worse, my opponent’s decks were the three best in Hearthstone at that time.
However, what I had failed to recognise up to this stage of the tournament was that I am, apparently, a pretty good Hearthstone player and, despite my opponent‘s clear advantage in deck choices, I managed to win all three games against him to take the series 3-0. This booked my place as the fourth player going into the finals.
I trained day and night for the finals
With the finals a few weeks away, I put everything on hold and trained day and night, playing and watching Hearthstone. By the time the finals arrived I was fully prepared and took my three best, tried-and-tested decks with me.
Again, stage three featured a different format, where we would all play each other once to determine the winner. As it turned out, I managed to win my first two games. When other results went my way, I didn’t even need to play my final game.
I had already won.
This is where the anxiety kicked in. Although I had won the tournament, there was no guarantee that I would be awarded the illustrious and coveted Team Dignitas contract at Dreamhack. I knew that I would be in contention, given my overall performance. But I was also aware that I faced stiff opposition from another player who had more experience on his side.
The Dreamhack event was amazing. But throughout it, the realisation of what was at stake became more and more intense. This was heightened by the fact that the BBC were filming it for an eSports documentary, interviewing us periodically as the day went on.
Eventually, after six agonising hours, all the worry and excitement reached a climax. I felt as if I had been thrust into a much nerdier version of the X Factor as we were made to gather on stage, cameras rolling, waiting for what seemed like an eternity for Team Dignitas manager Michael O’Dell (ODEE) to reveal who would be the newest team member of Team Dignitas.
Guess what? See that guy on the right? It was me.