2GG April Saga: A Critical Look

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It goes without saying that Civil War was the greatest thing to ever happen in Smash 4. It may be one of the most important events in the history of smash. The bracket was hype, the crew battle delivered, and all the international talent elevated the event beyond expectations.

There are very few people outside of 2GG doing as much for the community of Smash 4. However, I’m starting to have concerns about the way the organization handles a few things, and have not seen anyone else discuss it. While it feels like Reddit karma suicide, I think the discussion is to important not to have. As such, I want to take a critical look at a few recent events regarding 2GGaming.

The Round Robin

Quickly, before you immediately rush to light me on fire, I ask that you read this article I wrote back in October. You’ll quickly understand that I adore 2GG. I think they are critically important to the success of Smash 4, and in no way want them to go away or reduce the level of amazing work their bringing us. However, I do think there are some things that need to be addressed and discussed so that we can continue to grow as a scene. With that in mind, here we go.

In a recent blog I talked about reactive marketing, and how well 2GG does at building an intentional theme around their events. However, recently I’ve begun to see that there is a trend of reactive management within the organization. Specifically, let’s talk about the April Saga round robin and the current fallout from that event.

As a quick recap, at Civil War a group of players were chosen from the crew battle teams to play in a round robin on Friday. The characters they’d play were voted on by the community, and whichever character won would have the April Saga themed around them.

I was concerned about this for two reasons when it was announced. First, based on Twitter reaction it seemed as though many of the players involved didn’t understand that they had agreed to this event. Ally may have been exaggerating, or just not read his DMs when they explained it, but still that presented a potential issue. More importantly, it showed that 2GG did not already have April Saga planned out.

Reactive Planning

Civil War was towards the end of March. Having the Round Robin at that event meant that they could not even begin to build the theme of the event until after that weekend. We’ll get into all of the problems that presents in a bit, but it speaks to an overall lack of long-term planning within 2GG. A well-organized team would have the theme for every Saga through July already mapped out when the 2GGC was announced last year. There would be levels of planning for each event already in place, ensuring that the right players were available, the right theme components could be collected, etc. Each event so far has been pretty solid, but it worries me that 2GG is not fully thinking through each of their plans, but has this “wait and see” approach to some of the biggest events in the game.

Further, let’s really examine the concept of this Round Robin and the problems it presented. First, the characters chosen for each player were incredibly flawed. VoiD and Ranai very nearly played with their main characters. Imagine how boring that event would have been if everyone was playing awkward secondaries while VoiD combos them to death over and over. It would feel bad for the players involved, and sort of ruin the hype for VoiD having earned a Sheik Saga.

Think of the Miis

Trela very nearly won the event with Mii Swordfighter. Imagine the problems for 2GG if that had happened. Miis are incredibly polarizing within the community, and now you would have a circuit event dedicated to them. Remember the scandal when 2GG changed the rules for Midwest Mayhem Saga to restrict Miis? Think about how bad that would look in the light of a Mii Saga. What ruleset do you use?

The event is about them so they should be allowed to use their movesets right? But then what if a small Mii Brawler wins the event? Do you now have to change the rules for the circuit finals in December? It feels to me like none of these questions were asked before the Round Robin was announced. They just thought of a neat idea and then did it. While the event was really cool to watch, it doesn’t change the fact that it was poorly conceived and potentially dangerous to the community.

Greninja Saga Minus Greninja

Now, let’s take a look at the actual fallout from that event. Ranai won with his Greninja, and so April Saga is now Greninja Saga. Awesome! Super hyped to watch guys like iStudying, Venia, and Some do some great exhibitions. But wait, yesterday we found out that Some cannot attend Greninja Saga because April is so busy in Japan. So now, we’re going to have a Greninja saga without arguably the best Greninja in the world. I’m sure the event would still be really fun  and a great tournament. However, it really takes away from the theme when you can’t actually see the character performed at it’s very peak. Any exhibition, round robin, or tournament would always bear the mark of “but what if Some were here?”

Now, someone suggests the idea of changing this event to a Pokemon Saga. On the surface this seems like a reasonable solution. You can highlight more players, and the sting of losing Some is cut when you have amazing players like ESAM and Abadango added to the theme. Except that Abadango also announced that he cannot attend any tournaments in April. So now Pokemon Saga would occur without the best Greninja or the best Mewtwo. Civil War took a year of planning, but we’re going to now have it’s follow up be a hastily-planned event without two of the most high profile players for the theme? That seems like a real problem to me.

Flip Flopping

Further, let’s look at how quickly 2GG was willing to transition yesterday. From all evidence, it appears that they found out about Some at the same time we did. Does that mean they had not reached out to him yet? Civil War was a week ago, it seems like they probably should have talked to the most important player for their next event within that week. Further, they immediately started discussing Pokemon Saga on Twitter, but had they reached out to any of the Greninjas to get their opinion? What about the people that paid real money to see Greninja and their money was rewarded with a saga? Aren’t we now invalidating that entire round robin and all the money that was invested in it?

What about Ranai? He fought through the Round Robin to give Greninja a saga, was he asked about losing that prize in favor of a Pokemon Saga? We still have yet to see any sort of official statement regarding the situation at all. It’s so wonderful that 2GG listens to the community and responds, but the fact that they could shift that quickly speaks to how flimsy their plans for Greninja Saga were in the first place.

We Still Love You

I don’t in any way want 2GG to stop doing everything they do for the community, but I think a little bit of accountability is fair. There are real, legitimate problems happening right now, and many more that can be discussed. I still have yet to see anyone from 2GG address the issue of Zero winning multiple circuit events. If anyone from 2GG reads this, please know that it comes from a place of genuine love and affection for your work, and a desire to highlight these concerns in the hope of protecting this incredible organization from future problems. There is always a danger in growth, and I want to see 2GG scale intentionally and carefully so that they can keep bringing us Sagas for years to come.
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Civil War’s Hidden Bosses

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As everyone has said, this is the most stacked tournament in Smash history. In addition to the 47 PGR members, the bracket is filled with hidden bosses from around the world. In an effort to bring more spotlight to these players, we’ll be looking at each of the most dangerous non-PGR players who will be competing this weekend.

Note: This list was made by me looking at the Smash.gg attendees and writing down everyone I felt confident covering. If you feel someone has been left off, please leave a comment here, on Twitter, or on Reddit. If your argument is well-written, I’ll add that player to the list and credit you for the addition.

iStudying–Greninja–Netherlands

The European Greninja main captured the hearts of many with his run at BEAST 6, overcoming Panda Global invaders MVD and ESAM. Easily one of the strongest in Europe, iStudying has struggled to find the same success on the international stage. However, with bracket wins over players like Ally, he has proven to be a danger for anyone not prepared for his slippery playstyle.

FOW–Ness–Nevada

The man with the best “ego twitter” in all of smash, Fow was relatively silent for the latter half of 2016. He has answered Zero’s call to arms, and should be properly prepared for this event. Ness has been an under-used character of late at the top level, perhaps Fow will be able to surprise a few unprepared foes.

9B–Bayonetta–Japan

The best Bayonetta in Japan, 9B is a student of the game and a terror on the field of battle. He came to SoCal early and planted his flag by winning Wednesday Night Fights this week. Will we see the same result in bracket at the main event?

Glutonny–Wario–France

While most have written off Wario as a gimmick, Glutonny is forcing smashers everywhere to reconsider the character. With strong sets against elite players like Anti and Kameme, France’s finest smasher will be a difficult for any opponent unfamiliar with the matchup.

8BitMan–R.O.B–Florida

While his bracket wins are not overwhelming, 8bitman has always lurked right on the fringe of greatness. He has been working hard in preparation for this event, and could elevate the R.O.B meta game to brand new heights this weekend.

Venom–Ryu–Canada

Ally is famous for carrying very little about smash events on his Twitter. However, when Venom’s chance came to fight at Civil War, Captian Canada suddenly came to life. If Team Ally’s general felt he needed Venom for the war effort, we certainly should not ignore him as a real threat.

John Numbers–Wii Fit Trainer–New York

Wii Fit Trainer is a fascinating character who has struggled to find high level success. John Numbers remains one of the few strong players pushing that metagame, and will be looking to make waves this weekend.

Shuton–Olimar–Japan

Shuton will be on the next PGR. He’ll probably be in top 8 this weekend. He is very good, and no one is prepared for his caliber of Olimar play. This is one of the most dangerous hidden bosses in the bracket.

Elegant–Luigi–SoCal

Elegant’s star is on the rise of late. He’s made waves at a number of recent events, and is a permanent fixture at the top of SoCal locals. With a recent sponsorship by the Beefy Smash Doods, Elegant has made it clear he’s ready to take the next step.

Zenyou–Mario–SoCal

With a top 8 finish at Genesis Saga, any competitor would be a fool to sleep on Zenyou. His combos are clean, and his Mario is a joy to watch. There are many elite Marios in this bracket, but Zenyou absolutely has the potential to surpass them all.

2scoops Nicko–Shulk–SoCal

Nicko is among the players most hyped-up by his local fans. As one of the best Shulk’s in America, he’ll be looking to truly test himself against the best in the world. Who knows how far he’ll go, but if the SoCal community is to be believed, this is a dangerous man to sleep on.

Aarvark–Villager–SoCal

When Ranai isn’t in town, Aarvark is the best villager player you can find. Together with his teammate Elegant, the pair will be true contenders for the doubles crown this weekend. In singles, he has yet to really break through, but there is no better time than on the biggest stage the game has ever seen.

T–Link–Japan

To many, Link is a mediocre character with a far superior clone. Those people have not watched T play. With some of the flashiest kill setups in the game, T can turn around a match at any moment, and punish anyone not ready for the Hero of Time.

Tsu–Lucario–Japan

If you have a win against Zero in the top 8 of any tournament, you are a threat to destroy any bracket. We’ve never seen Lucario played at the caliber Tsu showed us at Frostbite, and Tsu will be looking to repeat that performance this weekend. Watch any game you can when Tsu is on screen–if you blink, you’ll miss some of the craziest kills Smash 4 can deliver.

S1–Ness–Netherlands

In most of the world, Ness is consistently falling down the tier list. In Europe, S1 takes names on the regular. To my knowledge we have never seen S1 in international competition, so this weekend could be his chance to plant a flag for his region.

Javi–Cloud–Mexico

While MKLeo is the most famous player from Mexico, the region is filled with killers. Javi is among the strongest. With a solid stable of swordsmen at his disposal, Javi is a terror when playing at his peak.

Fuwa–Marth–Japan

Wife of Earth, and an elite player in her own right, Fuwa is the definition of a hidden boss. She regularly cuts down all takers in Japan, but much of the community has not seen her full potential. The PGR may well have it’s first female player after this weekend if Fuwa can take a few names.

SilentDoom–Charizard–U.K.

Many of the commentators this weekend have signed up for the singles bracket. To me, SilentDoom is the one most likely to do actual damage in the tournament. From his Twitter to his commentary, SilentDoom has the clear heart and mind of a competitor. He’ll be looking to really test his skills this weekend in addition to wowing the crowds on the mic.

Kome–Shulk–Japan

Japan is known for bringing lower-tier characters to international events and shocking everyone. We’ve seen what Tsu, Some, and Shuton can do, perhaps this event is Kome’s turn. If he is playing on point, we’ll likely see Shulk in a whole new light next week.

HIKARU–DK–Japan

Hikaru was added last minute as a goal for Civil War. His goal was met almost immediately. People are hungry to see Donkey Kong destroy a bracket, and Hikaru seems to be just the player to make that happen.

NAKAT–Fox/Ness–New Jersey

As one of the players right on the bubble of the most recent PGR, Nakat will be out for blood this weekend. He is determined to eliminate any doubt about his worth in the standings, and a solid performance this weekend would cement that claim.

DKWill–DK–New York

Other than Nakat, DKWill was the player most viewed as being snubbed by the PGR v2. In order to prove the PG Stats crew wrong, all he has to do is win and keep on winning this weekend.

FinalBoss–Bowser–New Mexico

Submitted by /u/Thecaptaintortilla–Everyone watch out for FinalBoss from New Mexico this weekend! I swear everyone’s gonna be talking about him soon. He made Top 48 at Genesis Saga and nearly sent Komorikiri to losers in a last hit situation. Don’t sleep on him!

Raffi-X–R.O.B–New England

Submitted by /u/kenniky–ROB main from New England who doesn’t travel much out of region. Took a game off ZeRo at Shine and went last game last hit with MKLeo at G4. Placed respectively at most of the PG Key online events, most notably 2nd at PG Key to the Big House. Considered in the running for best ROB in the world alongside 8BitMan.

Venia–Greninja–New York

Submitted by /u/NinjaYoshi36–He’s beaten Mr. E a couple times, WaDi, Pink Fresh, Vinnie, John Numbers and other notable players despite being unranked in NY due to inactivity and also got 25th at Super Smash Con 2016. Most Greninjas say he’s top 3 with Some and iStudying and iStud has said that he’s the best Greninja in the US.

Civil War–PGR Breakdown

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Today marks the start of the most stacked tournament in Smash 4 history. We will be seeing more members of the PGR at a single tournament than ever before. As such, I wanted to create a short primer on the key talking points for each PGR member going into the weekend. The goal here is to familiarize casual fans with each PGR member, and provide you with some quick hits should you end up watching with someone who is not familiar with Smash 4. When they ask “who is that?” you can respond with these points to grab their attention. Also, many thanks to PGStats for letting me borrow their gorgeous player cards.  For more history on these players, check out the wonderful write-ups from Panda Global.

Ned is one of the rising young stars of Smash 4. He was selected for Team Ally in the crew battle despite his low PGR ranking. He has played close sets with multiple top players, and recently won Midwest Mayhem 7. Having left the Unrivaled Tournaments team, he will be looking to prove himself at Civil War to hopefully get picked up by a bigger team in the coming months.

Many top players have acknowledged Kirihara’s talent. However, he had never taken a single tournament win in his career. That all changed last week at Frame Perfect Series 2. Not only did he win the event, but he defeated Zero twice to do so.

MVD has made great strides since the start of 2017. With notable bracket wins at Genesis over top players like ANTi, MVD cannot be ignored. Look for him to especially make waves in the doubles bracket with his static Panda Global teammate, ESAM.

As a dual main of Ike and Roy, Ryo represents hope for low tier mains everywhere. Both characters are considered to have untapped potential, so Ryo could surprise in bracket at any moment with unseen tech.

PGR version 2 introduced us to a couple rising Ryu players. Locus is considered by many in Canada to be a contender against any level of competition. With wins over Mr. R and Tweek, Locus should be one to watch if you’re a fan of surprise upsets.

The other surprise Ryu of last year, DarkShad is an exceptionally fun player to watch. The man will throw elbows for days and suddenly pull kills out of nowhere. With wins against top players, DarkShad’s early matches should be a great way to pull in casual viewers who want to see some action.

There exists in Smash 4 a small pool of high level Sonic players who are inching ever-closer to elite status. Wrath is one of the strongest contenders within that pool. With dominant performances in online qualifiers, Wrath is on the verge of exploding in the scene. Having recently come under some controversy involving a tournament on Nairo’s stream, Wrath will hope to get fans focused back on his play rather than his poor decision-making.

Arguably the best Ryu in the game, Trela was absent for the last several events of 2016. However, after joining Team Zero he has made a resurgence. He dominated MKLeo at Austin’s Really Feeling It, and looks to be returning to form, just when Zero needed him the most.

A top level player, and an elite content creator, False is a pillar of the Smash 4 community. despite dividing his time between content and competition, False is guaranteed to make waves at any event he attends. He represents exactly the sort of upset potential top players should fear.

There are many elite Bayonetta players in the Civil war bracket, and Saj is no exception. He is on the verge of a major breakout. Having defeated Nairo in bracket before, Saj has proven that he is one good Witch Time away from rocketing up the next PGR.

A character loyalist and doubles technician, Pugwest is a player who punishes the unprepared. Often overlooked compared to his brother, Marss, Pugwest recently stepped up with a solid singles showing at PAX Arena. The pair will certainly do damage in doubles, but don’t expect Pugwest to go down quietly in the singles bracket.

Day has constantly redefined the Smash 4 trash-talk metagame. Recently, however, Tsu’s success with Lucario seems to have humbled the Floridian loudmouth. Perhaps with this renewed motivation, we will see Day’s final form at Civil War.

When you play the same character as the best in the game, comparisons are easy to draw. However, Dyr has a style all his own, and plenty of notable wins under his belt. Having eliminated Tsu from competition last weekend, Dyr appears to be in peak form and ready to take names this weekend.

When discussing the greatest players in Japan, Nietono’s name often gets left off the list. However, the Diddy Kong main has regional results that easily rival the Komorikiris and Abadangos of the world. To those that have seen his play, it would be no surprise if the highest ranking Diddy of Civil War were Nietono instead of Zero.

Since his 9th place finish at EVO, Vinnie has struggled find similar success. However, his performance on the FGC’s biggest stage proves that this player can shine in the biggest moments. At Smash 4’s most important event, perhaps Vinnie will find that EVO magic once again.

Fans of ANTi’s Twitter are also big fans of Tyrant. Between his saltiness and bold proclamations, it is easy to become enamored with the SoCal native. However, he also happens to be one of the finest Meta Knight players in the world. As a character specialist, Tyrant will represent trouble for anyone with a bad matchup, or lack of familiarity with Smash 4’s version of the tiny evil swordsman.

The very definition of “slept on”, Falln is rarely discussed or featured in content about top players. However, making it to 33rd on the PGR cannot happen by accident. Falln’s wins and placings speak for themselves even if few other people will. Perhaps this weekend will be his chance to join the conversation and make his mark as a member of the elite.

Another unique character specialist, Dath is feared and respected at any event in Florida. With a 3rd place finish at Shine 2016, he has also proven that he can perform in the big moments. Robin is a very unique character to watch, and few outside of Florida will have experienced a Robin of Dath’s caliber. It should come as no surprise if he starts to take the names of high level players outside of his home region.

Since Kameme’s performance at EVO, Scatt has become known for two things. He is the PGR player who uses a Wii-mote and nunchuck, and he’s “the other Mega Man”. However, Scatt has proven time and again that his unique controller and character choices do not hold him back. Scatt tasted victory recently at Final Round, and will be out for blood this weekend.

If you are a fan of patient, defensive gameplay, 6WX is your player to watch this weekend. With KEN unable to attend, and Komo favoring Cloud, 6WX is the Sonic that will do the most damage this weekend. If he is playing at his peak, we could be in for a very long weekend of time-outs and spring rides.

Fans of Armada should look to rally behind the PGR’s Peach representative. Where many have traded in this princess for newer models like Rosalina, Samsora has proven that a pink dress can be a deadly weapon. Expect him to float past anyone not prepared to face the wrath of a strong, independent woman who don’t need no man.

Captain Falcon is really fun to watch. Fatality is very good at Captain Falcon. If Fatality is on stream playing Captain Falcon, you should be watching.

Armed with opinions, secondaries, and mugs to the camera, ESAM will be a joy to watch this weekend. The self-proclaimed “Bayonetta slayer” knows his matchup spread well, and will delight fans with some incredible off-stage play. It will be especially interesting to see if ESAM can overcome his recent Rosalina problem.

While a god of Melee, Mew2King has struggled to find the same success in Smash 4. However, this will be M2K’s first every Smash 4-only event. Perhaps with no other games to distract him, Smash 4 will see a god reborn.

Formerly a Pit specialist, Earth has recently been favoring Corrin. Both characters are rarely seen in high level competition, giving Earth a unique matchup advantage against any opponent. This will also be his first international major competing with his static doubles partner, and wife, Fuwa.

While a constant presence in the grand finals at Xanadu, Pink Fresh has struggled to see the same success at the international level. He competed well recently at PAX Arena and was a strong enough player to earn his own 2GG saga last year. It should be no surprise if Pink Fresh either leaves the event in pools, or winds up in the top 8.

One of the best Mewtwo’s in the world, Rich Brown is a threat at any event. With his recent signing to Panda Global, as well as his popular music livestreams, Rich is a star in the making. With a few upsets under his belt this weekend, Rich Brown’s stock could skyrocket for the remainder of the year.

Fans of Xanadu are intimately familiar with WaDi. A week in which the Mewtwo main is not in grand finals in his home region is a strange week indeed. While he did not travel to many majors last year, WaDi has kept his competitive edge razor sharp, and will look to do damage on the international stage this weekend.

Smash 4’s reigning villain, Captain Zack has no fear of the spotlight. With top 8 after top 8, Zack is regularly silencing all would-be detractors. Many fans will continue to attack the flamboyant Bayonetta main, but expect Zack to keep fan-dancing and taunting his way to the top.

One of the finest swordsmen in the game, Mr. E is a quiet, humble, stone-cold murderer. At any moment he can create havoc in a bracket. As a member of Team Ally, Mr. E will have to step up and reclaim his title as the best Marth player from his opponent, MKLeo.

There are several Cloud players competing in the Civil War crew battle. Unfortunately for both sides, none of them are Tweek. Having recently signed with League of Legends squad Phoenix 1, Tweek will be competing at Civil War to represent his team, and make both crews regret leaving him out of the selection process.

Zinoto was the first player to make fans really understand the weight of the Civil War. After calling out his Team Zero rival, ANTi, Zinoto set the Smash community aflame. Now, it will be up to him to back up all that chatter with his play in bracket.His placing have been lackluster of late at the highest level, but his narrow loss at CEO proves that Zinoto always has the potential to make a run against the game’s best.

There are technical players, there are flashy players, and then there’s Marss. No one styles on their opponents quite like Denial’s ZSS main. Whether it’s round one of pools or the qualifier for top 8, expect Marss to go for the risky, awesome-looking option every time.

Everyone loves watching Ranai play. His set with Zero at Genesis 3 remains one of the finest matches in Smash Bros. history. Unfortunately, fans did not get to see much of Ranai in the latter half of 2016. However, they have gotten to experience plenty of his greatness at major events this year, and Civil War is no exception.

After defeating ESAM at FPS2 last week, Salem is determined to prove himself the unquestionable best player in Florida. With recent wins over top players like Zero, many likely believe that debate has already been settled. However, a strong showing at the biggest event the game has ever seen will put any doubt to rest once and for all.

Over the last few months, Komo has become something of a people’s champion. You will be hard-pressed to find smash fans who dislike him. After a tragic, controversial loss at Genesis, Komo will have an opportunity at redemption and revenge this weekend.

After his performance at EVO, Kameme single-handedly put Mega Man on the map. He has yet to repeat that level of performance, but still remains a persistent threat at every event. Kameme is also a player unafraid to pull out unique secondaries when the situation demands, making every set a must-watch.

Mr. R represents easily the most anime storyline of Civil War. Team Ally sent one of it’s strongest fighters off to train in the Hyperbolic Time Chamber of Japan, and none have seen him compete in tournament in weeks. Will he arrive having become that which we feared? Is this the legendary Super Saiyan? Find out on the next episode of Dragonba–er…Civil War.

If you aren’t following ANTi on Twitter, you’re really struggling through life far more than you should. Immortals’ bombastic pro is a delight in game and out. With a pocket as deep as the game’s roster will allow, anything can happen in an ANTi set. Even if he fails to live up to expectations, you can expect the Twitter feed to remain interesting all weekend long.

Once upon a time, Mr. R declared that a young boy from Mexico was easily top 10 in the world. Many laughed, but now that boy has won Genesis. MKLeo is a murderer and he is coming for your bracket life. He will kill everyone this weekend, and spectators will struggle to look away from the carnage.

See all those numbers on Abadango’s player card? Notice how all of them are lower than 10? This guy is really good at Super Smash Brothers for Wii U. Recently he has developed a few secondaries that have proven effective against elite competitors like Zero. As one of the strongest members of Team Ally, much will rest on Abadango’s shoulders this weekend, and he has more than enough power to deliver.

“Shiek has to work too hard for kills.” “This game really requires that you have secondaries ready.” “Void will never crack top 4.” In 2016, Void proved every one of these statements to be a lie. He has struggled a bit thus far in 2017, but at any moment his consistency will return, and Void will demand a spot in every top 8 once again. All other competitors will just have to pray that time does not arrive at Civil War.

Fox may not be the most honest character, but Larry Lurr is honestly a phenomenal smasher. Many people have been wondering who will be the next top 10 player to claim a major win. Larry Lurr is an odds-on favorite to do so. Plus, there’s always the chance he pulls out the pocket Donkey Kong to the delight of fans everywhere.

The definition of a technical player, Dabuz is a fixture of any top 8. Recently, he has added a Bayonetta to his list of pocket picks when Rosalina runs into a bad matchup. We have yet to see that option live up to it’s full potential, but perhaps now is the time that Dabuz’s intellect and preparation give him all the tools needed to claim victory.

No team has embraced their star smasher quite like NRG have with Nairo. With a pockets full of secondaries like Lucina and Bowser, preparing for Nairo is virtually impossible. His sets will be exciting, his character selection will be hype, and Nairo will end the run of many a competitor this weekend.

At last we come to the reason for this whole event. As team captian, Ally has put in a lot of work preparing his Johns in advance. However, he has proven time and again that the very best in the game can fall to his Mario at any time. In both the crew battle and bracket, expect Ally to take on all comers, and up-smash them into oblivion. Unless, of course, there are any Kirby mains lurking about in pools.

There is no debate when declaring ZeRo the greatest player in Smash 4. However, the God-King has been made to bleed many times this year, particularly against Japanese competitors. While ZeRo is a safe bet in any fantasy bracket, he will have to fight through all of Japan’s greatest threats to claim victory this weekend. Will Team Ally rise to the occasion, or will ZeRo prove once again that he is incapable of losing twice in a row? The time has finally arrived, war has come to Smash, and nothing will ever be the same.

Reactionary Marketing in Smash 4

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In the past, we’ve touched on the marketing struggles of Smash 4. Today, I want to go a bit deeper on a specific trend I’ve seen. It is my belief that this core, philosophical paradigm is at the root of Smash 4’s stagnation. We’re going to talk about where smash 4 is going wrong, why we don’t see the same in Melee, and how to solve the problem. Strap it down, because we’re getting into some high level marketing tech today.

Define the Concept

First, let’s define the concept of “reactionary marketing”. Essentially, this is when a tournament just copies what is popular right now. We saw this with the over-abundance of crew battles over the last year. Crew battles were really hype and brought in tons of views early in 2016. Because of this, all other TOs wanted a crew battle at their event.

Frostbite was built entirely around it’s Japan vs USA crew battle, and that was decided back in October. By February, we had seen USA vs The World at Zero Saga, the round robin at Genesis, and a dozen more. People were sick of crew battles, leading to very little hype or marketing around the Frostbite crew battle which was supposed to define the event. Had Tsu not made his run, Frostbite would have been just another tournament with nothing special about it.

We see the same thing in how tournaments are seeded. Tsu being seeded 2nd at FPS2 was laughable when looking at competitive integrity of the event. However, because he was the most talked about player for the past month, the organizers tried to engineer a repeat of Frostbite.

It is perfectly natural to copy what you see working elsewhere. However, there are a number of issues with this reactionary strategy in Smash 4. First, most tournaments are planned months in advance. What’s popular today will likely be played out within the next 3-6 months. Further, players are notoriously inconsistent in this game. Outside of Zero, you cannot build an event expecting certain players to succeed. This is why the crew battle at Civil War is so brilliant. The event is not built around Zero and Ally meeting in bracket. They have set up an environment where 2GG controls all the variables around their central storyline. They’ve made lots of other mistakes in the marketing of Civil War that we can talk about later, but in this one area, they have done better than anyone else.

Building a Theme

While on the topic of 2GG, let’s talk about how to do reactionary marketing well. 2GG in 2016 was excellent at this. They built each saga around a specific player. However, the event wasn’t just about watching that player win. It was a celebration of them as a character in the smash community. There were round robins for their main that highlighted unique characters like Falcon and Mewtwo. Each saga’s logo was about the player and their character. The stream overlay was unique for each event and fit with the theme. This sort of theme only works if the player is popular at the time of the saga. It’s the definition of reactionary marketing, and it worked like a charm.

Let’s look at Frostbite again, and see how reactionary marketing could have been turned into a proactive strategy. From listening to The Set Count, we know that Vayseth’s inspiration for Frostbite 2017 was to increase our awareness of Japanese players and their strength. He observed that there was a growing interest in players like Kameme and Ranai. As such, he wanted to bring a crew of Japanese players out to battle against America’s best.

So, we have a clear goal for this event–introduce the average smash fan to some of the hidden bosses of Japan. However, looking again at Frostbite, nothing about it shows that as the central theme. The logo has nothing to do with Japan. From the stream overlay and brand design, Frostbite just looks like a tournament happening somewhere cold.

Now, let me quickly clarify that I loved Frostbite. It was an awesome tournament, and it was a big success for Smash 4. I’m simply using it as an example because it happened recently and works as a clear template.

Do It Right

With that said, let’s look at how a proactive marketer might have planned for Frostbite. First, ideally the name would have been completely different. Something that conveyed the theme of highlighting Japan. If the event had to take place at Frostbite, then there should have been a tagline. Frostbite: The Rise of Japan or something. The logo would be changed either in design or color to reflect that this event was all about these Japanese hidden bosses.

Everything about the announcement and initial marketing would be about making absolutely certain that all compendium goals for these players were met. Then, the call to action would change. #CometoFrostbite would be about so much more than friendly setups and side events. It would be about testing yourself against Japan’s finest. Getting to play friendlies with players you only see at majors, or those that never travel outside Japan.

After initial announcement and call to action, you would begin to build the threat. You’d get Zero on skype to interview him about each of these players he battled when he was in Japan. Highlight videos would be released of these hidden bosses doing incredible things. Conversations on reddit would be created comparing American character specialists to their Japanese counterparts. Is Day as good as Tsu? How does Shuton compare to Dabuz on Olimar? Why can’t American Greninjas do what Some can? Leading up to the event, everything would be about getting to know these players. For the 12 days leading up to the event, each player would get a written profile to accompany their highlight reel. We would learn about their competitive history and career highlights. We’d learn about their hobbies, their favorite anime and manga, etc.They would tell us which players they are excited to defeat or battle in America.

Solve the Problem

Suddenly, Frostbite has the same immunity to crew battle fatigue that Civil War has now. It isn’t just another themed crew battle–it’s the coming out party for Japan’s hidden bosses. With a clear theme and an emotional connection to these players, we can more easily appeal to casual viewers. Even if they don’t play smash, every high school anime club can get immediately invested in our theme, and we market directly to them. We’ve appealed to a current trend in Smash, while creating a clear, central theme that still provides something new. Even if people get bored of crew battles, Frostbite is suddenly about so much more.

When planning an event, don’t just try to copy what’s happening today. Think of a clear, central theme and build around it. If you want to do something that’s popular now, how can you protect it from getting stale? What will happen at your event that I will not experience anywhere else? By thinking more about marketing at the planning stage, you not only encourage attendance, but build hype with a more mass appeal for your stream audience.

The 5 Key Civil War Storylines

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This weekend marks the biggest, most stacked event in Smash 4 history. With a concert, cosplay contest, crew battle, and even an actual tournament bracket, Civil War looks to be a pivotal moment in our game’s growth.

Everything about the event itself is set up to grab a casual or new fan and bring them deeper into the community. From unique character specialists to foreign players to a stacked commentary roster, much of what will happen this weekend will be the best of what our community has to offer. As such, many people are expecting the view numbers to be record breaking for Smash 4.

Let me be very clear: I am beyond excited for Civil War. I am adjusting my schedule, and have told my family to leave me alone during the times when I can focus on watching. However, I am not sure people understand just how much help the event still needs in order to break that critical 50k barrier. Our most intense grand finals of a Smash 4-only event barely crested 35k. This tells me that the core audience of Smash 4 is likely around 28k at peak viewership, and the presence of Lucario and Zero being sent to loser’s by that Lucario brought in the extra numbers.

I think breaking 50k is absolutely doable for Civil War. However, the community being excited will not be enough. We need to evangalize this event. We as a community need to unite behind this goal, and really push the conversation in eSports for the remainder of the week. I don’t have space in this post to get into why this number matters so much, but if you care about the growth of Smash, trust me when I say it is the most important thing we can do.

As such, I want to provide you with the tools to help control the narrative. To draw in a casual observer, nothing about the actual play or mechanisms of the tournament matter. “This tournament is so stacked” or “Best of five starts super early” are not the impactful pieces for someone who doesn’t actively watch smash or fighting games in general. To bring in your mom, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, or your manager you need storylines. They need to be invested in the right players, and told about the emotional weight of this event. With that in mind, here are what I believe to be the storylines that would be interesting to a brand new/very casual fan.

1. The Crew Battle

I don’t care if you’re burnt out on crew battles, or you think Team Zero is way too stacked, the crew battle is incredibly cool to a newbie. Ally and Zero have been rivals for over a year, Ally is the only player who’s been able to really contend with Zero for dominance, and their rivalry has split the smash community in half. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but remember we’re trying to draw in new people.

Talk about how Zero and Ally recruited their friends and colleagues to defend them. Show them the Zinoto and Anti videos. Have them read my Front Line report (shameless plug). Tell them about how the whole event affects the war effort. Show them the posters of everyone as marvel characters. Civil War was an incredible movie, it has ingrained itself in the zeitgeist. Use that, and you will get people to tune in.

2. International Talent

I’ve had this debate on Twitter–people have said that all this international talent coming to Civil War will draw in casual observers. While they are not wrong, their reasoning is flawed. To an ingrained smasher, all this talent from around the world is amazing because it is different from what we’re used to seeing. We finally get to see what Glutonny can do at an S-tier event. We get to see Tsu and Shuton play again. We’re getting the answers to hypothetical questions of “who would win if…” A newcomer doesn’t have that background. If they know eSports at all, international events are the standard, not the exception. They are used to international players dominating, it’s nothing special. In Smash, however, the story is way different, and has far more emotional weight.

There are all these foreign players coming who wanted to support their team, who wanted the chance to compete and show what they could do. They just couldn’t afford it. 2GG swooped in, and with the help of the community brought in players from all over the world. For many of them this is their first time in America. Many players have either quit jobs or used all their vacation time for the chance at this dream.

With our help, they’ve come to America to challenge our greatest players. As a patriot, you need to watch and support our home-grown talent. As a fan of underdog stories, you need to watch and support these kids that have been given the chance to change their lives through the game they love. As someone from another country, you must watch and support your local players in what may be their only chance to defeat America.

3. ESAM

The Smash community does not understand what a valuable tool it has in ESAM. He has a very distinct look, a very accessible personality, and freaking plays freaking Pikachu! I don’t think the average smasher understands just how much people love Pikachu. Even your grandma probably knows about that little shockmouse. Next to Mario, he is the most easily recognizable character on the roster. Frankly, he may be more appealing than Mario to a casual observer. Just pulling up the stream during one of ESAM’s matches is virtually guaranteed to draw more interest from a casual observer than anyone else simply by the virtue of Pikachu’s mass appeal.

Now, add in the story of ESAM. He was ignored for both teams. Both teams have players on them that are ranked lower, but neither captain chose him. Now, ESAM and Pikachu have to prove those jerks wrong by defeating all comers in bracket.

To a smash fan, you can talk about ESAM as the Bayo slayer. Everyone who plays this game hates Bayonetta, especially casuals. ESAM and Pikachu are the game’s most notorious Bayonetta slayers! The little yellow rat utterly dismantles this character who makes so many For Glory players rage quit. You may not like ESAM, or think he is the best player ever, but don’t be foolish enough to ignore his mass appeal. The man has more Twitter followers than Anti, clearly he has something that lot’s of people are drawn to. Use it to bring in more viewers.

4. The 2GG Circuit

Since 2GG has done such a bad job of it, allow me to remind you about the 2GGC. The winner of each monthly 2GG saga is automatically qualified for a $50,000 invitational at the end of the year. Players who place well at each event also earn points towards a qualifying spot.

For many of the players at Civil War, this will be the only 2GGC event they can attend. Smash is a game so many play for the love of it, but want that one shot at turning pro. The 2GGC is their shot. This is the definition of an underdog story. Zero won the last two events. He literally stole someone’s shot at qualifying last month. He’s the blonde dude in the Karate Kid.

This is someone’s chance to not only beat up a bully, but to make their dreams come true with one miraculous run to victory. Winning this tournament has the chance to change someone’s life. Tell someone about Tsu and Kirihara, about how these japanese players have made the God King bleed and are hungry for a chance to do it again. This time, if they are successful, they will earn their shot at $50k.

5. The PGR

We will go into it in detail another time, but the PGR is incredible. Even the PGStats crew themselves don’t fully understand it’s full weight and value. I don’t think anyone can. It represents the clearest unifying storyline for the year. Getting a higher rank affects your ability to go pro. It changes your standing in the community. It opens doors that were previously closed. It is a really, really big deal. Plus, it’s really easy for a casual observer to understand.

Everyone has been ranked at some point in their life, and understands the desire to climb to a higher rank. Many people understand DKWill and Nakat’s current situation of feeling left out of the special club. However, the PGR is a cold, unfeeling meritocracy. The only way to change your rank is to play better. Defeating bosses and placing well at big events, these are the only things that matter to the monolithic ranking system.

Civil War is so stacked, it will define the PGR going forward. Getting top 8 at this event will give you so many good wins, you’re virtually guaranteed a good placement. Further, since the PGR influences the tournament tier system, this is also a chance for international players to influence the weight of tournaments in their local region. The final standings at this event will forever shape the future of Smash 4. If someone makes a crazy loser’s run, it carries more weight than at any other tournament in history.

There are so many fascinating, human stories surrounding this event. Remember, most people don’t watch sports for the high level play on the field. They watch for the drama. For the human stories more true than reality TV. People want to see underdogs succeed, titans fall, young kids overcome their circumstances through talent and hard work. This event is so much more than just a weekend of people playing Smash Bros really well. Make people see that, and you can bet they will tune in. Sell these stories, and watch our community explode with growth.

My Civil War Wishlisht

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Civil War is on it’s way and I could not be more excited. Between the international killers being brought in, the concert, and crew battle–it’s like this big messy amalgamation of things that are cool.

However, over the last few weeks, I’ve been getting a bit concerned that we’re losing the “war” part of Civil War. There’s been basically no trash talk, and all we’ve seen from 2GG are these new players being flown in, and a hastily slapped-together round robing for April Saga. They’ve accomplished an incredible thing by bringing in so many hidden bosses, but I am still way more excited for the confrontation. With that in mind, here are some things I really hope to see that will make Civil War the unique, incredible event it should be.

1. A Live Score Tracker

We’ve been told that everyone’s bracket wins, merch sales, and other factors will determine who actually wins the Civil War. If Civil War is actually supposed to be the through-line for this whole tournament, keep me updated all through the bracket on who’s winning. With each upset and clutch comeback, tell me what that does to the war effort as a whole!

2. Whose On What Team

The overlay, the casters, the smashgg bracket–everything should clearly tell me what is happening with regards to the teams. I want to know when two players are on opposing sides, and when someone is about to eliminate their fellow soldier. Think about how much more interesting this would make the early pools!  Even the local randoms get to have a part to play in the overall war effort. Every win, every elimination, it all matters for the greater good!

3. PG Statbooks

There are so many international players coming, and tons of little rivalries that the average viewer won’t know anything about. Odds are the casters won’t know the set counts between japanese players, or how many times Gluttony and iStudying have battled. At Pax Arena, the casters had these beautiful statbooks from PG Stats that clearly outlined the story between all the players.

Doing this for all 700 entrants would be insane, but if two players from the same region of Japan are about to play for the fifth time in bracket, I want to know! I never get to watch international stuff, so this is my chance to learn about those scenes. Tell me their story!

4. No MC During the Crew Battle

2GG is wonderful, and does so many great things, but holy cow the wrong people holding a microphone will destroy the hype during a side event. My hope is that three great casters are put together to commentate the full crew battle, and that they are the only people that ever talk. Unless a professional is brought in to coach the teams on how to sell the feud WWE style, they just won’t do it justice on their own.

Let EE, Keitaro, and Shofu get on the mic and handle all the smack talk, callouts, and subtle jabs for them. Frostbite was epic because they casters were allowed to carry the hype with the MC just providing the connective tissue. Hopefully 2GG learns from that, and really lets our amazing caster talent shine during our biggest crew battle ever.

5. War Aftermath

Someone shave their head, losing team has to all change their Twitter Bio to say “Esam knows more about smash than me”, everyone from the winning team gets to to throw a pie at Champ–something! The money is awesome, and a great reward for the players putting themselves in this spotlight, but lets get some real stakes going! If we’re taking a break from crew battles after this, let’s send them out with a real bang.

 

I think Civil War is going to be amazing, but I really hope some of these small details get emphasized so that the viewing experience is really something special. Let me know what you’re hoping to see, and which team you think will ultimately emerge victorious!

How To Practice When No One’s Around

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Last week while we were discussing coaching, I received some questions about ways to improve the effectiveness of your team’s practice time when you aren’t all able to commit pro-levels of scrim time as a team. Maybe someone has a job with weird hours, or someone gets sick so you can’t play as a full unit. Maybe you’ve got a chair league match next week, but the full squad can’t get together until that night because of everyone’s real life commitments. With that in mind, here are a few things that you can do either alone or as a smaller group to make your time more productive when you can’t all be together.

1. Play the Game

There’s just no substitute for it. Every pro in every MOBA complains about solo queue and how awful it is, but want to know what all the elite players do? They play. They play hours and hours of solo queue. Think of it like how a linebacker will just practice tackling a dummy for hours. Playing solo queue keeps your mechanics sharp, and commits more details of your play into muscle memory. The less you have to think about how to play a hero, the more your mind can focus on what the enemy is doing, where your allies are, and other game factors. Every game you play is a point of positive practice time, no matter how bad the matchmaking might be, or how stupid the team composition seems. Just play the game a lot.

2. Watch the Game

Maybe your computer crashed, or you are stuck on a family trip without access to your setup, but you have lots of down time. Get out your phone, go to YouTube, and watch some pro matches. Don’t just watch them for entertainment–get out a pen and some paper. Look at the draft and think about why certain picks were chosen, or where they went in the order. Think about who on your team would play each hero in that comp and why. Pause the vod every 5 minutes and note the levels, structures, kills, etc. How does that compare to your team? How does Khroen’s hero damage on Li Ming compare to yours at the same time in your last Chair League match?

When watching the game, it is immensely important to focus on your own personal growth. If you are the team captain or main drafter, look at how you can adopt certain strategies, but otherwise you should be exclusively focused on comparing their play to your own. If you’re the warrior for your team, focus on watching where Fury positions, not on what Jun’s doing. Take notes! watch three pro matches, and write down two takeaways that you want to try to focus on the next time you play with your team.

3. Team Bonding

It cannot be understated how important team synergy is in a MOBA. Being good friends with your teammates actually does matter. You shouldn’t only be talking about the game, or only communicating during practice time. Set up a discord and chat!  Talk about your favorite anime, sports, whatever. Get to know each other. Challenge yourself to know the answers to the following questions for all your teammates:

How many siblings do they have?
How old are they?
What’s their favorite Disney movie?
Who is their favorite Dragonball Z character?
Who’s their favorite hero to play?
Who’s their favorite pro team?
As a little kid, what did they want to be when they grew up?

If just randomly asking deep personal questions feels awkward, do some stuff together out of game. Watch some pro matches together and chat. Play Rocket League together. Schedule a practice night to just play ARAM or brawl all night. Set up an inter-team Hearthstone tournament. Do something to make everyone have more fun spending time together.

4. Spreadsheets!

Google Docs is the greatest strategic tool in any HOTS team’s toolbelt. Plus, you can access it from anywhere! If you are bored at work and can’t play tonight, get on your team’s drafting doc and theorycraft some drafts. Adjust your hero priority lists. Send an email out to the team and have everyone create a tierlist for their role based on the current meta. Work on your map priority chart, and organize your map-specific comps.

If you don’t have any of these things, get to work! This is the first step for me every time I consult for a team–it’s that important. I can’t do anything until I can see on paper how highly your flex player prioritizes the Lost Vikings. I’m not going to spend a bunch of time prepping drafts around Stitches if your warrior player thinks he’s the ninth best tank. If you want, I have a template drafting spreadsheet that I use for every consultation. Shoot me a DM on Twitter and I’ll give you a copy.

5. Play Battlerite

If only two or three of you can play, you have a limited amount of time, and you are just burnt out on grinding hero league, go install Battlerite. There is no better tool for improving your teamfighting mechanics anywhere in the world. The game’s resource system educates you on how to stay conscious of your own health, how to be constantly creating value during fights, and how to land skillshots.

 It’s literally nothing but teamfights and the session length is very short, so you can grind out fights way more effectively than you could in HOTS or another MOBA. Plus, there’s a giant owl who’s a time wizard!

Obviously, playing the game as a group of five is the best practice you can possibly get. If people want, we can dive into ways to make that time more productive in another blog. These ideas are primarily for that time when you’d like to be improving, or feeling productive, but simply cannot get the time to play together.

Smash 4 Summit–Yes We Can

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Since I’m not actually a host on the Set Count (despite talking to my phone like I’m on the show every week, no I’m not crazy, you shut up) I wanted to take a moment to add my thoughts regarding the discussion about how to do a Smash 4 Summit.

We’re Too Boring

First, lets address in detail the concept of the lack of personalities in Smash 4. I hate this meme so very much. The average Smash 4 fan has only ever seen top level players interviewed before crew battles by an awful MC who is just trying to pull clunky trash talk out of players who just aren’t in that head space. They are focused on winning, not on entertaining. Go watch the streams for any of those players. When they are in a relaxed environment it is a completely different story. Listen to ESAM on commentary at Xanadu, it’s hilarious. Go watch Zero’s interview after winning Frostbite–that is compelling television. Watch EE’s interview with Captain Zach regarding 0.9gate. That boy is not only flashy and fun, but he’s intelligent and well spoken.  READ ANY DAY OF ANTI’S TWITTER WHERE HE TALKS LIKE THIS. Watch Nairo’s stream when he’s playing Falcon dittos with Zero. Go back and watch Mr. R vs Abadongo at TBH6 and listen to TK’s commentary. Smash 4 is dripping with personality.

Look again at Melee and who’s really interesting to listen to there. Armada is barely on the couch and has a thick accent. Mew2king was on the couch for grand finals and barely spoke. Hbox is charismatic, but doesn’t do anything that stirs up drama. Melee’s top player personalities are basically just Mango.  Who were the people that made the biggest splash at the last two summits? They were The Moon and ChuDat. Two players who had no chance at winning the event, but made the event better by being there. We have those people in spades. We also have TK and EE, two of the best in the business. They are better hosts than anyone at the Melee summit. Even if our couch of pro players wasn’t amazing, those two have the skills to bring it out of them, and carry the commentary when the pros on the couch falter.

As far as I’m concerned, this idea needs to be dropped immediately. Look at what Civil War did to Twitter. You’re telling me if you get Void and Zero talking about Yugioh while Esam and Nairo battle in a low tier Iron Man, you wouldn’t watch that? Sign me up, here’s my $100 donation to the incentive.

Here’s my ideal 16 for a smash 4 summit-style event.

Zero–duh
Ally–obv
Nairo–Get them Naifu views
Dabuz–Dude generates memes by accident
Larry–The full top 5 should get in, and his twitter is great
Anti–king of twitter, will likely be amazing on the couch
Void–everyone loves void
Captain Zach–only one Bayo allowed, bring the one that’ll be best on camera
Esam–he has more twitter followers than Anti and the best youtube content in the game
MVD–give him the PPU clause for static doubles team, and having one pair of bestest friends at the even would be fun for games and commentary
Mr. R–EU rep, and I think his stream is great
Abadango–Pac man in low tier event, plus one rep from Japan would be good especially if Vayseth is there. Plus we can all raise our dongers in chat!
Tweek–one cloud allowed, get the best one that speaks english. Plus DK hype!
Marss–no one styles in tournament like Marss
Rich Brown–concert night!
Day–no one talks crap like Day, plus Lucario

Again, remember that with a summit-style event the singles tournament being stacked with talent is not the most important thing. This group of players is crazy diverse and would create conversation and entertainment. Plus, you still have most of the top 10, so the final day of the singles event would still be amazing.

On commentary, you could have TK, EE, D1, Keitaro, and SKY WILLIAMS.  Y’ALL DONE FORGOT ABOUT SKY WILLIAMS!  Does Melee have friggin Sky friggin Williams?  No, they super don’t. Get Sky friggin Williams on a couch with Anti, Esam, and TK and forget that there’s even a match happening.

We’re Too Poor

Second, the idea that Smash 4 fans can’t put up the money.  How many people are going to Civil War again? How many compendiums have we filled over the last two years? I feel like we’ve proven pretty well that Smash 4 fans are willing to donate money to things. Now you’re telling them that their favorite player’s Summit bid is on the line? Watch the donations roll in.

Quickly, lets also address the idea that the Smash 4 fanbase is younger. Companies seem pretty happy to have Anti shill for their products, so whoever his fans are, these companies must think he’s worth their time. Immortals seems pretty happy with the number of jerseys and other merch he’s moved. I myself own an Anti jersey and hoodie. Further, even if our fanbase is mostly under 18, so what? Go read anything about the CS:GO betting scandals, or look at the data on free to play games like Clash of Clans. Kids today have access to their parents money, have more disposable income of their own than ever before, and know how to purchase things online. If they want to see MVD at the summit, 14 year olds will find a way to make it happen.

Make It Happen

So yea, there’s literally no reason not to make this happen, outside of the work involved in putting it together. I absolutely think that we could make something incredible, and it wouldn’t need nearly the amount of manufacturing that Vayseth and Sage were discussing today. It just needs interesting events, good marketing, and Sky friggin Williams.

Fixing the Region Gap

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As happens with each international competition, there has been a surge in discussion about the skill gap between regions in Heroes of the Storm. At the Western Clash, we saw Europe completely dismantle North America. Outside of Fnatic’s incredible run at Blizzcon, we’ve seen no western team find any success against Korea since the very first world championship. There’s been a great deal of discussion about how to fix this, where the blame lies, etc. However, before we go too far into correcting the “problem”, we first need to properly identify the issue at hand.

First, we need to acknowledge that this regional gap exists in every sport. Does anyone expect any team to be able to touch America in basketball at the Olympics? Is anyone surprised when the finals of every Starcraft world championship pit a Korean against another Korean? This gap is not a situation unique to Heroes.  Nor is it especially bad in Heroes. There are many sports that suffer even worse international parity. Super Smash Bros. Melee, for example, has never seen an eastern player win a major since its inception.

To me, first this idea of the region gap needs to be examined less as a problem to be solved, and more as a reality to be understood. I am NOT saying that teams need to give up, or stop trying to chase stronger regions. However, I think we as fans, and the players themselves need to change the conversation. This is not about NA having too much ego, or Koreans simply being video game robots. There are so many factors at play that create a strong region–each needs to be fully explored and understood before that gap can begin to shrink. So that your eyes don’t fall off from reading, lets look at three of the key factors at play here.

Talent Density

Whether its culture, genetics, or God simply wanting to keep things interesting, certain regions just breed talent at a higher rate. In Smash Bros, you always find a greater talent density in Southern California and Florida than you do in Texas and the Midwest. For whatever reason, Samoans make incredible defensive linemen. South Korea seems to just engineer strategic masterminds with higher APM than everywhere else in the world.

——-Just briefly, there will ALWAYS be exceptions to the rule. You don’t need to tell me about Armada, or that a Westerner finally won a Starcraft thing. Exceptions aren’t useful when examining trends. If one or two people/teams did a thing, there is little useful data to be gleaned from them when examining larger trends—–

Coming back to HOTS, this essentially means that there will be more top-tier players per team on a Korean squad versus an NA squad. Where GFE has Fan and Khroen carrying the way, L5 has 3 Fans and 2 Khroens.

Now, many people have brought up the idea of a super team. Just put the best player at each role together, and we’ll have one team that can challenge the talent of other regions! This has been tried before in League of Legends, and it failed pretty spectacularly on the global stage. We’ll address more about why it doesn’t work later, for now we’ll simply say this:

 Team synergy is incredibly important in MOBAs. The personalities of the players need to mesh well, their style of play and hero pools need to fit together. IT is unlikely that an NA super team would have any of these factors. In Korea and Europe, because there are simply more good players, it is easier to put together a team of five all stars who all fit well together, because you simply have more people from which to choose. Talent density essentially means that every team is a super team, which bleeds into our next factor.

Quality of Practice

In most games, there is simply no better practice than playing. There’s another blog in the ratio between scrims and solo queue, but the simple fact is this: if you play 10 hours, you will be better at the game than someone who played for six hours.  I know, I’m really breaking new ground here!

However, while volume of practice is important, it pales in comparison to how much the quality of that practice matters. To bring back Dunktrain’s metaphor from this week’s Town Hall, imagine that in order to win Blizzcon, you need to earn 100 points of practice. An NA player starts practicing with solo queue. Each day that he plays five hours of solo queue, he earns one point of practice. Now, a Korean player decides to do the same. However, because of his region’s talent density, he will improve more and learn more in those same five hours. His practice time is worth five points.

Obviously this is an oversimplification, but it essentially means that an NA player needs to practice five times as hard in order to reach the same skill level as a Korean player. The same holds true for scrims. Every time they scrim, Tempo Storm is likely playing a weaker team than MVP Black is when they scrim. They can scrim eight hours a day, but it still won’t give them the same quality of practice that Korean teams are receiving.

The same holds true when comparing to Europe. Every player on Misfits, Fnatic, and Dignitas is exceptional, probably top 3-4 at their position within the region. When these teams scrim each other, they will learn something from every scrim. Tempo Storm, Team 8, and GFE all have great players, but each team has at least one player who is average within the region. Weaker practice means that your mistakes and weaknesses get exposed at a slower rate, which halts your progression. The teams in NA work very hard, but working hard simply isn’t enough when your time is worth provably less than the time invested by every player in every other region. Therefore, in order to catch up, NA teams need to find a way to improve the quality of their practice, which is again limited by our third factor.

Infrastructure

Look at the organizations represented at the Western Clash. In Europe, we have three of the biggest eSports organizations in the world. Fnatic have world championship titles across multiple games, Dignitas is one of the oldest brands in modern eSports, and Misfits are partnered with the freaking Miami Heat! Across the aisle, we have Tempo Storm, an organization run by an angry ex-Hearthstone pro with no other MOBA experience. Next is Team 8, an organization in name only with absolutely zero infrastructure to speak of. Finally, you have GaleForce eSports, a team started by a cool dude with a bunch of money who wanted to own a HOTS team. Both GFE and Tempo have grown considerably in the past year, but they are still infants in the space compared to titans like Fnatic and Dig.

The European elite simply have more resources at their disposal. They can afford bootcamps and high level coaches. They have more stability with things like management and salaries. More people work for Fnatic full time than do for Tempo Storm. Simply put, the experience of being a pro on Dignitas or Misfits is superior to that of being on Team 8. No one on GaleForce can go across the hall to talk to the League of Legends team about how they deal with Korea. Tempo Storm is not lead by people with a MOBA background who know what their team needs to succeed in this genre.

Fnatic, on the other hand, has been to the top of the mountain. They know how to build rosters in this genre. They’ve been through meta shakeups, player drama, and dozens of international competitions. It should come as no surprise that Dignitas chose to boot camp before an international event–that’s what every single LoL team does! The players on Tempo Storm thought that a bootcamp in Korea was a waste of time, and no one in their organization had the League background to inform them how foolish that was. Without the infrastructure in place, NA teams simply don’t know what they don’t know about being competitive in high level eSports.

Fixing the Problem

These factors are not simple things to overcome. Likely, some never will be. For at least the next decade, Korea will just have a greater density of talent. No amount of blogging, reddit discussion, or money will change that. However, if we recognize this as a reality of the universe, rather than simply saying NA players don’t try hard enough, we can begin to understand how to overcome it.

We cannot reach a high quality of practice by simply scrimming all day against our own region. Instead, more time needs to be devoted to strategy and the mental side of the game. With proper coaching, teams can develop a practice regiment that gives them enough time in scrims/solo queue to keep their mechanics sharp, but then accelerate their mental growth with VOD review, team building, and communication exercises. Teams can spend more time studying their opposition. Not just to copy their meta, but attempting to learn how they can counter it with their own style of play. Remember, Fnatic didn’t beat MVP Black by mastering the Korean meta. They won by forcing MVP to play against strategies that were uniquely Fnatic. They came out with one of the biggest upsets in eSports history because of their mental fortitude and preparation, not because they were better at playing Heroes of the Storm.

In order to create this proper practice atmosphere, teams need the infrastructure to support it. Players need resources at their disposal. They need the stability to focus on their play rather than on paying bills. They need mentors pushing them towards a shared vision. They need plane tickets to Korea so they can bootcamp in the offseason. Ultimately, the job of the players should be to play the game at a high level. The less they need to focus on outside factors such as designing their practice schedule, the more they can focus on successful execution and team dynamics. The key to creating better quality of practice and raising the skill level of the region as a whole is developing the infrastructure of the teams currently at the top.

The Power is Yours

Ultimately, the responsibility lies with us as fans. We directly control how strong the infrastructure is in North America. By tweeting, sharing, and writing about the HGC, we show potential sponsors how much return they can get from investing in an organization with a HOTS team. By purchasing Tempo Storm merch and showing our team pride, we tell our endemic orgs that their HOTS team is worth investing in. By watching the HGC and growing its viewership, we encourage Blizzard to add more money and production value.

The money and infrastructure already exists in the eSports industry. With your views, clicks, and dollars you determine if those resources move into Heroes of the Storm. If you want Tempo Storm to take down Misfits next time around, show your support for Tempo Storm right now. Show Reynad how much his bottom line can be affected by Tempo Storm’s success in the HGC.

If you want Team 8 to stay together and get a shot at Korea come Blizzcon, help them get signed. Be the biggest Team 8 fan you can be right now. Follow every player on social media, watch Glaurung’s content on YouTube, tweet at Immortals and tell them you’d buy a jersey if it had Justing’s name on the back.

So next time you post on Reddit about how much NA sucks, or wonder why NA players can’t get over their egos enough to improve, consider this. What have you done to help? When was the last time you tweeted your support of GFE? How many pro players do you follow? How many episodes of Beyond the Nexus did you watch? When was the last time you tweeted at Jake to bring a certain player onto Town Hall?  Esports orgs see all of these things, and factor them all into their decisions. If you want to see the quality of a region improve, help drive the money and infrastructure to that region.

Team 8—Cloud9 In Disguise!

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Without question, Team 8 has been the surprise hit of the HGC season. They limped in during the final qualifier, lost their namesake, and looked to all the world to be a team that would buster out of the first split. Instead, they have captured our hearts with their phenomenal team play and aggressive rotations. After finishing the first split in second place, and performing better than all other NA teams at the Western Clash, it’s hard not to call Team 8 the best story happening in Heroes right now.

Alternate Reality

In fact, history tells us that Glaurung’s squad has every chance to become the most dominant team in the west at the end of the year. Since their inception, I was drawn to this team. My eSports career actually began covering the original Team 8 several years ago. For those that don’t know, Chu8 and his friends actually formed this organization in League of Legends in order to try and qualify for the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS). .

In much the same way as this team, Chu left and the team quickly became one of the most dominant teams in amateur LoL. With whacky picks and a scrappy attitude, Team 8 captured the hearts of LCS fans. Eventually that LCS spot was bought out and gave birth to the eSports titan we now know as Immortals. The name Team 8 will always have a special spot in my heart for giving me my first paid gig in the industry.

However, while the parallels exist between this new Team 8 and it’s original incarnation, this HOTS squad actually reminds me of a very different LCS team. Today I’d like to discuss the similarities between Justing, Buds and company to names like Hai, Meteos and Sneaky. I’m referring to the very first roster that birthed the organization we all know and love, Cloud9.

Back in Time

To give a brief history lesson, Cloud9 were nothing when they first joined the LCS. They showed up in the second split of that inaugural year, having failed to qualify the first time. There were no big names on this team–the only name they had was WildTurtle, and he was stolen by TSM before the qualifiers began. This was in the days when the league was full of original veterans like Reginald, Saintvicious, and Dyrus. No one cared about Balls or LemonNation, no one expected this team to compete with the teams that created competitive League of Legends.

Cloud9 was not an established organization at this time. They were a group of players who were driven to succeed. And succeed they did. In their first split, Cloud9 went nearly undefeated, claiming the first seed going into their first World Championship.

What made Cloud9 such an incredible story was their roster. This was not a team of all stars. No one had heard of Sneaky to this point. Balls and Meteos played very well in the amateur scene, but no one knew how well that would translate to the professional level. However, what this team had above every other team was the strength of their shotcaller. In MOBA history there has never been a better shotcaller than Hai Lam. His calls and confidence allowed the team to run away with early leads, and to hold fast when they fell behind.

Every member of Cloud9 was a talented player, but they were made so much better by the power of the team’s shotcalling. Years later, Hai attempted to retire and the team fell apart so spectacularly that they were forced to bring him back to salvage the season.

Success Today

In much the same way, Team 8 has rallied behind Glaurung. A team of rookies, and a flex who has bounced from team to team should not be able to do what this squad has done thus far in the HGC. And yet, under the watchful eye of Glau they were able to control the pace of games against Dignitas. Before HGC, no casual observer would have talked about Justing or Buds when ranking top role players in North America. Now, just a few short weeks later, it would be foolish not to include both players among the top three in their position.

Additionally, this was a roster that stuck together. They were embarrassed at their first international competition. However, it was several years before a single roster change was made. They stuck together, worked hard, and stayed hungry for success as a team. With the help of talented managers and coaches, these five players built Cloud9 into what it is today. From humble beginnings to wealth and eSports stardom, Cloud9 perfectly represent the dream of every pro gamer.

I firmly believe Team 8 has what it takes to repeat Cloud9’s success story. They have so many of the tools that struggling HOTS teams lack. They have a strong shotcaller, a solid front line, and players with well-defined roles within the team. With a stable roster and a decent coach, this team could easily surpass Tempo Storm and take games from EU teams at the next international event. It may seem hyperbolic, but I think that Team 8 represents North America’s best hope at success this year at Blizzcon.

Show Your Support

This team also has a built in fanbase waiting to love them. We adored Team 8 in the LCS. I would strongly encourage Team 8’s management to start leveraging those connections. Personally, I would love to see Team 8 picked up by Immortals. To finish the story of Team 8 the same way twice just feels right to me. If you are reading this and want to see Team 8 continue to find success, I would encourage you to tweet at Immortals. Show them how much we care about this team, and how great it would be to see them represent the Teal and Black that was born out of the original Team 8. Hopefully, Glaurung and crew are already talking to some organizations, but fan outcry can only help in those negotiations.