Jeff "Appa" Clark: A Student of the Game
In esports, it is already tough to be considered a professional. The amount of hours dedicated to a single game potentially outweighs that of a full-time job, not to mention the multiple events that need to be attended to make that practice worth it.
But to be a Hearthstone pro and a full-time student? It may seem impossible, but Jeff "Appa" Clark, who currently plays under Cyclone Esports, is the man who has dedicated his time to this balancing act, and is majoring in Astrophysics to boot.
It all started when Appa was a professional Magic player for three years, until he found a small issue with his ability to play with fellow professionals.
"I moved away from my hometown where everyone was playing Magic, and I didn't really have anything to do," Appa said. "So I was just playing game with my friends online, and one of my friends said, 'Hey, there's an online card game called Hearthstone. You should try it out.' So I tried it out and just got hooked."
Despite the differences, the transition from a physical to virtual battleground was transferable for Appa, although there was a bit of detail work he needed to do. In that case, he had to become not only a college student, but a Hearthstone student.
"It was easy for me to grasp the core concept of the game and expand on that," Appa said. "I had to teach myself all of the new stuff, and there is a lot to learn, and I am still learning today. There is so much to this game."
Sean "Slak" Matthews, founder and owner of Cyclone, knew that this Hearthstone pro hits the books just as much as he hits face, and loved that characteristic when he picked up this rising star.
"Appa definitely makes time to both practice and study," Slak said. "I remember there was a big tournament ahead of him, which was America's Summer Championship. He had to juggle practice and school, and the dude grinded hard for both I guess as he placed top-16 at that event."
On July 12, Cyclone picked up Appa a month out of the America's Summer Championship, where he swept well-known pro FireBat during a losers round run that ran late into the ninth round. In joining the organization, Appa was honest with his intentions, but was glad to join a new team that was run by a sincere owner.
"Honestly, a lot of it is covering travel costs and stuff, because I'm in college and I do that full time," Appa said. "So I don't really have a primary income. So if I can get someone to cover the cost of travel, and also represent an esports organization, that would be awesome. In talking to Slak, whenever we were talking about it initially, he seemed like a really geniune guy and the organization was really new, and I think getting into an organization and trying to help build it from the ground up is awesome."
At the time of signing, Slak went through his connections to find Appa, who was relatively unknown at the time, but had a wealth of talent and potential. Looking to make his team's presence known in Hearthstone, he wanted someone who would grow under the Cyclone name, while also giving his young organization an outstanding prospect.
"I knew a very knowledgeable manager who worked closely with Hearthstone players at the time and was manager of a few major players, so I hit him up one day and asked about some Hearthstone players who are currently free agents, have good past placings and don't have a major following," Slak said. "Appa has grown on us as an individual in this organization and we love the guy."
Appa has made his presence known in the North American Hearthstone community after that championship, and was rated #61 in the World and #16 in NA on gosugamers.net, the popular media outlet that also doubles as a ranking website for several esports, including Hearthstone.
Over the summer, Appa sprung up as a young championship contender for Hearthstone, and he may have continued to rise up in the rankings... if it wasn't for one of the roughest semesters of his entire college career.
"This semester has just taken a beating on me," Appa said. "It's been really hard, and I haven't been able to play as much ladder as I would have liked to, but I've been hitting legend every season and I made it a priority to get into the last prelim of the season. But it's been really hard."
That made him lose out on several months of events and playing, including several EU LAN events, which in turn dropped his rank to outside the gosugamers.com rankings. But that does not mean that he'll stay silent in 2017, as Appa is ready for more opportunities to show his skill in more events to reclaim and surpass his previous high rankings.
"I'm looking forward to just competing more," Appa said. "I'm planning on going to all the DreamHacks, because there are three in the United States,"
Slak is projecting big things for his only player in his organization, and harps on his dedication to the game as the reason why he'll be successful.
"He is dedicated to the game as any player striving to be the best should be," Slak said. "Appa has a few major tournaments coming up in 2017 and I wouldn't be surprised if he took a top-eight placement at them."
The first DreamHack in the United States this upcoming year will be held in Austin, Texas on April 28-30, with the other two events happening in Atlanta and Denver later in 2017.
Until then, Appa has a few finals to finish, as well as another semester to go through, and a whole lot of ladder to grind.
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James Mattone is a journalist for GAMURS and can be contacted on Twitter -@TheJamesMattone.