Tirth Mehta was surprised by the warm welcome he received from Jet Airways when he set foot in Bhuj again. He was so overwhelmed, that he took to Twitter to express his emotions, saying, “Was pleasantly surprised by the amazing welcome I received at my home town's airport.”
“I did not expect my whole family and friends to come down and greet me at the airport with flowers and a congratulatory cake,” he gushes, in a chat with Sportstar .
But was the surprise justified? After all, he had made the nation proud back at Jakarta. Tirth Mehta was one of the few talented ones who made it to the eSports event at the Asian Games this year.
He led India’s charge in the Hearthstone tournament and returned with a respectable bronze medal. Hearthstone is a collectible card video game, which was developed by Blizzard Entertainment in 2014. The multi-platform game can be played on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
The bronze he won, though, was not included in the medals tally as eSports was just a demonstration event at this edition of the Games. However, eSports might officially be included as a full-time sport in 2022 when the showpiece multi-discipline tournament takes place at Hangzhou in China.
“It is not officially confirmed whether eSports would be included at Hangzhou as of now says the ESFI (ESports Federation of India). The progress is somewhat around 80%. But, I am fairly confident that it would be there. The only problem is the Olympic Committee which is sceptical about its inclusion in the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, due to the violence involved in many shooter games. Does not make sense,” says GCTTirth, a name the virtual world knows him by.
However, this is not the first time that Tirth has made it big. He held India’s baton at the ESL (Electronic Sports League) in 2015 for Hearthstone, too. However, an unlucky network glitch had seen him grab the runner-up position against Germany. “I was disappointed. It was not because of my shortcoming that I lost the $1500 prize money and the international trip to California,” he said.
However, he refused to give up hope and continued to take part in multiple online international, national and local tournaments, both big and small.
“I had participated twice in Hearthstone tournaments that had been organised in Thailand. I had been to Indonesia also,” he said.
When he qualified for the Asian Games, Tirth felt as if he was in a dream. “The selection procedure had no tough regulations. If you have a valid passport, you are welcome to participate. If you clear the first round of the qualifiers, you qualify for the regional rounds. I was pitted against players from Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The selection process was completely from home, online. However, for Clash Royale and Arena of Valor they had the qualifiers organised in China. I used to practice for around 15 hours a day,” the 23-year-old medalist said.
He recalled the fine experience he had at the Games village. “It was an unimaginable experience. What was an immense surprise was the treatment we received. It was like any other sportsperson would have. All the volunteers were very welcoming and they put in genuine effort to make the event a grand success. The Director of ESFI, Lokesh Suji, who was also there, took care of every one of us,” he said.
Not a follower of traditional sports, Tirth also got to meet sportspersons like Hima Das, Amit Panghal and the Indian Hockey Team. Tirth says, "Hima Das was very encouraging. She said that even though ours is a non-conventional sport, we have to work equally hard as them. She encouraged me to take this up seriously. That coming out of an established sportsperson felt really good.”
So was he chalking out a future in the virtual world? “I want to pursue my first love, which is programming. I am planning to become a gameplay programmer. Once I get my Masters degree in science, I would want to work full-fledged and also keep playing on a regular basis.”
Tirth, who started playing Hearthstone in 2014 said that his parents were fully supportive of him. “I am fortunate enough to have them. They trust me enough to understand that I would be balancing gaming and my studies well. They have always been like this, even before there was no regular remuneration flowing in,” said Tirth, who was pursuing IT (Information Technology).
Tirth believes that eSports are the future. In India, although it has not seen good days, it is a big thing worldwide. “Definitely it will grow. Also with competitive games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (more commonly known as PUBG), and Fortnite on the mobile platforms, eSports are sure to see better days,” hopes Tirth, who back in the time of Incheon, could never imagine eSports in Asian Games.
Tirth, however, has bigger dreams to chase. He hopes to compete in the Hearthstone World Championships and win it someday. “Being too far-fetched, but no harm in dreaming right?” he asks.