In a game dominated by stoic faces of intense concentration, where victory is celebrated with just a smirk or confident nod of the head, a Hearthstone player like Anthony 'Ant' Trevino stands out.
Rising from his chair by the hearth after every victory during the Hearthstone Spring Championships, his beaming smile lit up the room as much as any flashy pyrotechnics. He bounded across the stage. He punched the air in delight. In a post-game interview he let out a "hell yeah!" that echoed throughout the arena.
Chatting with Ant, you get the sense of just how much he enjoys playing Hearthstone. Coming to the game from Magic the Gathering, like so many others, there was something about Blizzard's digital CCG that caught his attention. The exciting minions, the colourful spells and, as he puts it, the way you could point that arrow at someone's portrait and maybe sometimes they'd explode. His enthusiasm for the game comes across when discussing every aspect: whether it's excitement for the new expansion or talking through his mindset when playing in such a high pressure environment.
"I'm a positive person. It's hard to get me down," he says with a grin after defeating Ki Yin 'Mage' So and securing a qualification spot for this year's World Championships. His aggro-focused line up made quick work of the Kiwi, even after a small wobble with his aggro Druid deck in the third game gave Mage room for a comeback. In a moment that had the crowd in disbelief, a nigh-unbeatable opening hand for Ant in the fourth game shut Mage out for good, though.
"Before the match I was looking at Malfurion in his eyes and I was like 'please give me the Innervate [and] Fledgling' because I had a feeling he was going to queue Paladin and save the worst match up for last, which was the Rogue versus Druid. So, yeah, I was like just 'come on Malfurion. Just give me the Innervate and Fledgling in the opening hand'. When I saw Innervate and Fledgling, and I had the coin to get another Fledgling out, it felt great! Then he didn't play Doomsayer on two. It's incredible!"
The pair of adapting beasts gave Ant the final game win he needed incredibly fast. Unfortunately, he couldn't carry that momentum into his semi-final match against eventual tournament champion Frederik 'Hoej' Nielsen, but Ant's performance has at least got him the ticket to the World Championships.
"It means everything, man. It validates you as a player," Ant says. "I don't think I have that many people saying I'm bad or anything, but now you can say he made it to the World Championships. I've always heard beside my name that people say he's really good, but he hasn't really won anything so I'm glad at least I qualified for Worlds now."
It's been quite the journey for Ant. All the way back in 2014, when competing in the Top 16 Americas, he looked set for a illustrious Hearthstone career. However, the big results never came. At no point did that stop Ant, though. He continued playing, continued grinding and continued staying positive that the results he was after would follow. Asking him why now was his time, though, and he can't pinpoint a particular reason.
I didn’t play for a week coming into the tournament as I didn’t want to. I needed time to clear my head
"I don't know, I think that's a hard question to answer. I don't know if there's a reason. It all came together at the right time. I had a great mindset. I didn't play for a week coming into the tournament as I didn't want to. I needed time to clear my head so I had a really good attitude coming in. It's good to have that kind of attitude, as it really helped me in the tournament. I could tell, physically, Mage was really nervous. I could just tell. I was still nervous, but I don't think I was as nervous as him."
It's an interesting approach to walk away from the game prior to a big competition, when the natural instinct must be to play and play until you've ironed out any concerns. On the other hand, in a game like Hearthstone, where once decks are submitted you know what you're likely to face and you know each match up inside out, there's only so much additional preparation you can do outside of researching your opponents.
"Yeah. I actually talked a bit to 'RDU' about it," Ant explains. "He's like, 'yeah, the best thing to do after you submit your decks is just don't play and just clear your head. You can’t practise any more than you’ve already done so just take the time off and chill out'. Like Glacial Shard says!"
Safe to say, once you can quote the voice lines from specific cards, you're probably in a pretty good shape tournament-wise. Now Ant can return home to Fresno, California and be happy that those three years of pushing himself to pursue Hearthstone has finally paid off. As we all learnt in a moving background video produced with Ant in his hometown, the game has been a way for him to temporarily escape some real-life issues. The Worlds qualification has also proven to his mother that his time hasn't been wasted.
"It's indescribable," he replies when asked how it was to film the mini documentary. "These people coming with their camera crew and just filming me for a day about me. I don't know, it's great, it made me feel famous! It was funny because everybody there had just had a kid so I also got a bunch of life lessons as they were all doing their dad talk. It was fun. I had a great time working with all those people."
Ant is perfect for the spotlight: passionate, personable and a very good player of Hearthstone. A strong performance at this year's World Championships and no doubt there'll be more people wanting to learn more about one of Hearthstone's most positive figures. Until then, what's the plan for Ant? "I'm just going to keep playing Hearthstone and keep the positive vibes. That's all I can really do."