By day, Matt Koutsoutis is a third-year electrical engineering student at Rutgers University.

Outside the classroom, Matt is better known as Noblord, the legendary captain of Rutgers' varsity Hearthstone team, The Scarlet Crusaders. In April 2017, he led his team to its first championship title in the 2017 Tespa Collegiate Series.

Humble Beginnings

Noblord’s passion for video games started with classic titles like The Legend of Zelda, but his Hearthstone career didn’t begin until high school. He discovered the popular digital card game after taking break from video games to focus on his studies. A competitive person by nature, Noblord was quick to compete in open tournaments to fuel his growing collection.

Using his knack for creative deck building, Noblord secured a series of victories in online open cups and battled his way to the top of the Legend ladder. Still, the Rutgers Junior reached higher. “When I started I didn’t think I could reach the level I’m at now. Obviously, I want top level results, but right now I’m on the edge of that.”

Noblord earned his first professional accolades when he qualified for HCT Americas Last Call, a 2016 tournament in which highly ranked players could take one final shot at qualifying for worlds. “Qualifying for [HCT Americas] Last Call in 2016 is what put me on the map. With months to go, I said ‘I’m gonna go for top 8!’ I made up six months of work in three months. Through that, I gained the respect of other professional players. But [TCS Hearthstone] is what definitely made me more well known to the public — I’m the Tespa guy!” He laughed, “I followed [TCS Hearthstone] up with second at Dreamhack, which is good to show that I have consistency.”

While many college Hearthstone teams field the four most popular ladder decks, Noblord’s approach to lineup creation demonstrates his prudence. “Sometimes when I build a lineup, I want to go against the grain,” he explained. “If you want to find the ideal strategy, it’s probably going to be different than what other teams are doing... I think lineup building is the most fun part of Hearthstone. It really represents that you know how the game works.”

Teamwork Wins Championships

Noblord’s teammates are Michael Causing and Julio Clemente, better known as Orpheus and Ludicolo respectively. Orpheus is a human resource management major with a deep understanding of how to succeed in the team-based environment of Tespa championships. “So the way [our team] usually works is that Matt calls the shots when it comes to tuning our decks,” Orpheus revealed. “Our major responsibility is to just know the decks we're running so that we know our outs.” Out of all the tricky decks that Noblord has brewed, Ludicolo’s favorite was the off-meta Razakus Priest the team brought to TCS playoffs, while Orpheus praised the Freeze Mage that carried them through finals.

“With Matt, he vocalizes what he thinks is the best line of play right off the bat. A lot of times we agree with what he says simply because he took the words out of our mouths... I feel like we're a fresh pair of eyes on the game to support Matt through every turn,” Orpheus said, attributing much of the Scarlet Crusaders’ success to team synergy. “An ideal team would have three experienced players that are quick at communicating what they think. This comes up a lot in the trinity series and you can see that even pro players waste their turns disagreeing and then it's kind of awkward when the rope expires.”

Time is often the enemy in Tespa’s Hearthstone league. Each turn, teams only have 60 seconds to make a move. Conflicting opinions can make it difficult for a team captain like Noblord to be decisive. Yet, through team cohesion and a clear hierarchy, Rutgers’ roster has turned time management into one of their team’s greatest strengths. “I think having teammates in this game is a great experience, in part due to the fact that none of us are shy about speaking our minds and don't waste time arguing,” Orpheus explained.

Looking Forward

While Noblord likes to entertain the idea of playing professional Hearthstone, he agrees that going all-in on “going pro” is a risky hand to play. “If I considered Hearthstone work, I probably wouldn’t be happy with my wages,” he laughed. “When it comes down to it, Hearthstone is a video game. You have to remember to have fun. I derive my fun from competing.”

Apart from competitive play, Noblord has also considered pursuing a career working behind the scenes in the esports industry. As the founder of Rutgers' Hearthstone club, he helped build a local community for new and experienced players, many who continue to support the Rutgers team as they compete abroad. While they plan for the future, the three Juniors are determined to play collegiate Hearthstone for one more year before they graduate together in 2018.

This fall, Noblord and the Scarlet Crusaders are competing in the Tespa Hearthstone Collegiate Championships with their victorious three-man combination from the 2016 Collegiate Series. When asked if his team feels any pressure to defend their Tespa title, Noblord answered with confidence. “I’m not really the type of person to feel pressure. In terms of my play, when I’m on stream, my level of play is higher than when I’m off stream. I’d say that having a little pressure makes me even more focused on the game.”

Despite the intense competition, their experience playing in collegiate leagues has built an unbreakable bond among the teammates. “Something that has been really nice is that we've all stuck together since we started playing in the collegiate scene... Matt continues to get better every year which makes it even easier for me and Ludicolo to learn from him,” Orpheus said. “Our team is super favored to win because of the notorious N.O.B.”

Head to our National Championship Preview to read about the bracket and schedule for OSU's final stretch!