While his fellow students were preparing for their first week of class, Edwin “HotMEOWTH” Cook was busy tearing through the the finals bracket of the 2016 Americas Summer Hearthstone Championship.

Stealing the $25,000 first-place prize and ticket to the BlizzCon Hearthstone Invitational away from ROOT Gaming’s Jeffrey “Tarei” Liu with a terrifyingly close 4-3 upset. Edwin is in his third year studying Computer Science and Engineering at  the University of Nevada, Reno and is the star Hearthstone player of Nevada Esports. 

Tespa: How long have you been playing Hearthstone and how did you first get started?

Edwin: I've started playing Hearthstone around September 2014 (when the first adventure Naxxramas had just come out). I had just started school as a freshmen in college. I liked playing card games like Yu-Gi-Oh back when I was a kid, and when I got to college, during spare time in the library, I saw a fellow colleague/friend (Prem) playing Hearthstone, and I instantly got hooked onto the game as soon as he introduced it to me.

I was really addicted to the game's exceptionally fun and interactive gameplay for a card game. I played Hearthstone in-between classes and even during classes later on, when Hearthstone was introduced to iPads and phones. Hearthstone was a really fun and chill game to play in a short period of time, or to kill time chilling in-between college classes or when I am bored on a bus or during a lecture even though that's probably a bad idea.

After initially getting hooked onto the game, I went deeper into the game later and kept grinding in ranked play during my spare time on my own computer, and soon I managed to take the game to another level by competing at high legend ranks.

Tespa: What was your strategy when approaching the HCT Americas Summer Championship?

Edwin: I started playing this game competitively towards the end of 2015. I played in a lot of open tournaments, and also participated in the seasonal HCT preliminaries later that eventually qualified me to be one of the HCT championships. I think most of my strategy comes from experience of the tournament meta by playing in lots of online tournaments and LANS.

My strategy usually revolves around predicting what people play the most in the current Hearthstone meta both on ladder and tournaments and by tracking the tournaments and ladder games I play. Then using that data to analyze the stats of what people tend to play the most; and from there, I start building a lineup that either consists of the best decks in the meta or a lineup that targets it as I see fit.

Tespa: You’re a member of Nevada Esports at the University of Nevada, how did you first hear about them?

Edwin: I first started hearing about Nevada Esports back when it was my first week as a freshmen in a club fair event, I was interested and excited to participate in Nevada Esports events, and I competed in quite a few of the LANS they hosted. I was more of a League of Legends player at first back then, but I eventually transitioned to a Hearthstone player.

Nevada Esports was a great club organization in my college, and they created several local LANs that include games like Overwatch, Super Smash Bros. League, DOTA 2, Hearthstone etc. to bring colleagues and local friends alike together, and created a medium for locals/college students to start playing video games competitively. 

Tespa: Can you describe your experience within your local chapter and how they’ve supported you in your journey to reach one of the biggest stages in esports?

Edwin: The Tespa Chapter of Nevada Esports gave me a medium to get started playing in a competitive environment for Esports. The local LANS they hosted helped me connect with other competitive esport players in my college/local area.

Being able to play in local LANS and meet new people that loved video games helped me to be able to be less anxious on the HCT stage where I am competing for way more (big prize pool, BlizzCon) than just having fun. 

Tespa: How do you think your involvement with Nevada Esports and Tespa shaped you as a gamer?

Edwin: I think being involved in Tespa gave me the opportunity to start playing hearthstone competitively as a hobby. They have many tournaments , such as the Tespa Collegiate Coliseum and the Tespa Collegiate Hearthstone tournament that gave me the opportunity to play video games competitively for scholarship.

By participating in ongoing competitions where different college students from different colleges around the nation compete against each other for scholarship, it helped me become a stronger competitor as a gamer.

Tespa: How do you balance practice, playing competitively and school work? Any tips for other students looking to jump into esports?

Edwin: I think I would advise most people to focus on school and work first before esports when just starting to get into it. For me, I think it's definitely hard to balance school and Hearthstone, especially when I am trying to play at a competitive level. I have to prepare lineups and strategy for different tournaments and also climb the ladder to high ranks (top 100 legend) at the same time.

I think the key is to have good time management, a good schedule to follow through to separate time for video games and time for school work since both of those things are relatively time consuming, and needs long periods of time to focus and do well. And I think if someone were to play as competitive as me, I would try to take less credits/courses to take it easy on myself, since again, video games and school work are just both really time consuming and requires you to put intensive amount of work in order to do well.

Tespa: At BlizzCon, many say you’ll be representing not just yourself and your university – but collegiate gamers everywhere. What example do you want to set for others who aspire to reach the same heights? Is there anything you want to say to them.

Edwin: I think the most important thing is really just having fun playing the games you like and being passionate about it. If you are passionate about a certain thing, whether it is a video game or a college major that brings you closer to your dream career. If you put in hard work and intensive amount of time needed into it, you'll eventually get there.