Response to Town Hall Heroes–NA Professionalism

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On Town Hall Heroes this week, Zoia went on a tear about the lack of professionalism within NA teams. He brought up many interesting points about scrim cancellation, player grudges, and the general reasons why NA appears to be struggling.

I’ve written before about the region gap in HOTS, and I think many of Zoia’s points were valid based on my own observations of both the HGC, and the early days of the League of Legends Championship Series. Today, I want to explore some of those points a bit deeper, and discuss actual solutions for the teams in the HGC, the amateur scene as well as NA fans who want to see growth.

Overall, much of this article is going to be a direct criticism of Blizzard. I believe many of these issues have been solved well by Riot and the LCS, and those lessons were not observed by the HGC organizing team.

Scrim Professionalism

There are a few issues here. First, the core issue of player professionalism, followed by the fundamental problems with the HGC format. Let’s talk about the concept of player professionalism to start.

Zoia’s plan of “NA needs to grow up” is not a realistic solution. You are dealing mostly with children in a culture of individualism and self-promotion. There are too many deep-rooted issues in America that are exacerbated by the sort of personality that you generally find in hardcore gamers. Most of the players in NA were hobbyists one day and suddenly had a full time job the next. Many of them have likely never had a serious job before, or been properly taught the ways to conduct themselves in a business setting.

Now, let me make it clear that I am not saying any stereotypical garbage about “lul millennials” or “kids today are just lazy” or anything about “egos”. I’m sick of the NA meme about egos, and we’ll talk about that more another time. What I am saying is that the vast majority of NA players are simply not equipped with the knowledge and expectations that come with conducting themselves in a professional manner. Those are learned skills that you don’t acquire by sitting in your room playing video games. Obviously, some people have these skills inherently, but the vast majority will not.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of an organization to provide those players with those skills and expectations. Every team should have a coach and manager who’s primary jobs are to protect the players from themselves. They set up the schedule, and they hold the players accountable to that schedule. If a player does not meet expectations, that team must have the power to create discipline for that player.

If I were coaching a team, I would have a very clear policy in place. I would set clear expectations and goals for the team and the players individually. I would sell my team on the importance of these expectations, and make sure every player signed a written statement agreeing that these policies were for the good of the team. Then, if a player broke that agreement, I would have the power and authority to enact consequences. For me, if a player ever missed more than one scrim due to an insufficient reason, that player would be benched for an official game. If we were a sponsored team, I would ask my organization to deduct one game’s worth of salary from that player.

If the current HGC rules do not allow this, then that must change immediately. Players must have some level of fear that they could be replaced. There are certain personalities who need that in order to be properly motivated. I’m not saying that any coach or organization should exclusively use fear as a motivator, but that it needs to be a tool in the toolbox.

Now, let’s talk about the other problem. Scrims are a necessary evil. You are completely reliant on other teams for quality practice. Further, you are revealing strategies and weaknesses to your opponents. In the LCS, top pro teams constantly scrim against the Challenger League. These are amateur teams that are still working with a similar competitive structure. While the talent pool may be slightly lower, the quality of practice is largely the same. This is not true in HOTS.

The open division plays on a completely different patch than the HGC roster. They do not have the same access to the tournament realm. HGC teams are getting terrible practice when scrimming against amateur teams–some of whom may be better than current pro rosters, or more reliable for scrims.

This is a problem that must be addressed by Blizzard. If a team is blacklisted, or cannot locate good scrims from pro teams, they have to be able to look to the amateur scene for practice. As it stands right now, every team could decide to just not scrim Tempo Storm for a month leading up to playoffs, and they would be completely without recourse. That is not acceptable. As fans, we need to hold Blizzard accountable to addressing these fundamental problems that have already been solved in other comparable games. If teams can get quality scrims from the amateur scene, they can start holding pro teams accountable by actively blacklisting them for lack of professionalism. The blacklisted team will also be able to get some practice with amateur teams, but they will fall behind by not receiving any time practicing against the best teams.

Player Grudges

This is one area where I slightly disagree with Zoia. Player synergy is more important than anything in a MOBA. This is proven by the teams who attempt to bring in Korean talent in the LCS. It takes months of practice and hard work to build that synergy, and often the teams fail miserably in their first competitive matches with the new players. Super teams simply don’t work unless the players all get along and fit the system. I’ve seen too many attempts at this across multiple games, and they all fail. In MOBAs, players need to be friends.

Further, this is not an ego thing. Some people don’t like each other. That is ok. There is also a long history between some players in NA, and many of them have been genuinely hurt or wronged by other players in the scene. Yes, some of those beefs may be squashable, especially by good management, but it is ridiculous to suggest that players who hate each other should be forced to get over it and work together. That’s not practical, and it provably doesn’t work in this sort of game.

I’m so unbelievably sick of the false memes in NA. The concept of player egos and the whole “rosterpocalypse” meme are so completely ridiculous to anyone who understands how these games and teams actually function. When one team makes a roster change, it sends ripples throughout the rest of the region. If two players left Fnatic, the whole of EU would implode. We only see more stability in other regions because the rosters of the top teams are so dominant and stable. NA does not have that stability for a wide range of reasons, none of which have anything to do with player egos. Just stop it.

If an organization feels that they need to make certain moves, then they should work with their players to resolve existing grudges. They should treat those emotions and hurt feelings as completely valid, and work to repair those relationships. It isn’t useful to just tell people to “grow up”. That doesn’t teach anyone about interpersonal conflict resolution. Work it out, or if that cannot happen, find someone else.

Get Big Orgs

To me, it is unacceptable that the largest esports organization in NA HOTS is Tempo Storm. That’s nothing against Tempo, they are a great org. However, they are not TSM, CLG, Immortals, or Cloud 9. This is a Blizzard title with a global league, multiple international events, and at least 20k viewers per broadcast. How on earth is Team 8 still unsigned? Are these organizations not courting them? Are Glau and crew being too picky with their contract negotiations?

This is the big step for NA. EU has three massive organizations spearheading the region. Most of NA is still essentially freelancing. That must change. As fans we need to be constantly tweeting, sharing, and discussing the HGC. We need to be really hyping up our love for these teams, showing major sponsors that the HGC is worth an investment. When was the last time you tweeted to Reginald or someone at CLG and told them you’d buy team merch if they sponsored Glaurung? Give these teams the leverage they need to get signed by the right org.

To any of you who are going to be tweeting and commenting on Reddit in the coming weeks about “lul NA” or “omg rosterpocalypse” let me ask you something. What are you doing to fix it? Do you watch the stream? Do you watch supplementary content? Do you follow HGC pros and teams on Twitter? Do you retweet content from teams? Do you actually care, or are you just having fun copy-pasting a meme because you’ve never had an original thought before?

We literally have all the power to change everything. You want more professionalism, stronger teams, better competition? Get Immortals to sign a team. I promise you the whole league will change. If they see meaningful ROI potential, they will absolutely give a team what they need to succeed. Don’t just regurgitate the same tired memes we’ve seen for two years. We’re better than that. You can make a difference, go out and do it.
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Gale Force Esports–Analyzing the roster shuffle

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As most fans are already aware, yesterday Gale Force Esports announced a change to their roster. They have released Equinox and Khroen from the starting lineup. The split appears to be largely amicable between all parties (which certainly speaks to an elevation in the professionalism of the organization since the drama around Fury’s departure).

Now, for the general HOTS fanbase this news is met with PTSD-levels of disappointment. We’ve been subject to many so-called “rosterpocalypse” events in the past, and this change likely signals another such event. However, I believe the actual roster decision itself warrants further scrutiny, and has the potential to be good for all parties involved. Today, I want to examine this change from the perspective of all three parties–Equinox, Khroen, and GFE–and discuss how the move can be beneficial for each, and how it could ultimately be yet another reactionary decision that does not address any inherent team issues.

Equinox

At this point, it appears that Equinox is a known quantity within the Heroes community. He is clearly skilled enough to continue finding work, but not so overwhelmingly dominant so-as to cement a role on any roster for long. There have been comments of toxicity issues in the past, but nothing has been confirmed about that regarding this decision, so it would be irresponsible to assume that team in-fighting had anything to do with the move. Instead, we must examine it purely from a tactical, compositional angle.

GFE tried an experiment with Equinox–they brought in a vocal, talented player and attempted to mold him into their warrior player. Equinox appears to have some leadership qualities, so having a strong voice in that role, even if there was a learning curve for the mechanical play, made sense given the dirth of warriors in NA. Clearly, GFE has determined that the experiment has failed. I have two theories as to why. The first is based on data and history, the other is wild speculation. Lets do data first!

I’ve written recently about the importance of players knowing their role and playing within it. It’s a philosophy I gained from Hall of Fame wide receiver Cris Carter. He said that 95% of NFL pros are “system players” meaning that they can only actually have hall-of-fame-worthy careers if they play in the right system. Cris Carter on the Vikings was one of the best to do it. He himself admitted that in another system he very well could have just had an average career. I believe that Equinox has identified himself as a system player.

This is no disrespect to Equinox at all. As Cris Carter said, the overwhelming majority of players are system players. Equinox needs to be in a system where he can shine as a melee assassin. If he can find a team that has a system can properly utilize a melee assassin player, he will quickly rise back to the top of the league.

My second thought is based on nothing more than observation and conjecture. I could be completely wrong. I encourage anyone from GFE to correct me, and I will make an edit to this section. One of the reasons GFE said they were bringing in Equinox was to have a vocal leader in the Warrior position. However, the team already had two of the loudest, most influential players in the region in Fan and MichaelUdall. Aside from the “VP Core” memes, Udall seems to be a very strong shotcaller. Fan has also proven to be a solid voice in comms in the past, when his team is on point. My theory is that these two players combined with Equinox lead to a sub-optimal shotcalling situation for the team. This is a team that likely needs a clear voice in comms, and it can be very difficult to make transitions in shotcalling, especially while players are also transitioning in roles. Between a sub-optimal role and a sub-optimal communication plan, Equinox was simply not the right fit for GFE.

Khroen

I do not understand the Khroen move from GFE’s perspective. Even if they pick up Kure or K1pro, those are not necessarily upgrades over Khroen at the ranged assassin position. However, GFE was suffering from misuse of both Udall and Khroen, so one had to go (assuming they were going to keep Fan).

Because of GFE’s lack of clear structure, this move could ultimately be beneficial for Khroen. Like Equinox, this is a player with clear strengths, and a team should look to play to those strengths. GFE’s downfall started in earnest when they stopped using Khroen to his fullest, and tried to get too clever with their drafting. A team with Khroen lobbing damage from the backline and occasionally darting in with Tracer is a terrifying team.

Gale Force Esports

The success of this move will ultimately be determined by the moves GFE makes next. To me, there is still the fundamental issue of what to do with Fan and Udall. Both appear to be at their best in the Melee position, which doesn’t work. Thus far I have been underwhelmed by Udall as a flex player compared to his time as a melee. However, if Fan does not want to move to the true flex role, the team is at an impass now.

My ideal scenario for GFE would be this–keep Fan at melee, pickup a true ranged assassin to replace Khroen, and move Udall to the Warrior spot. He has played the role in the past, and puts their most vocal player filling the role they had hoped to have for Equinox. Lastly, I would find a true flex player who is young in the scene, and take the time to train them up. This is a proven process for MOBA teams, and I think GFE has the time and resources to do it.
Currently there are rumors floating about Caff and K1 filling these two spots. I would be entirely against the move because I do not think it would do anything to solve the inherent issues in communication, or the issue of Udall’s role on the team. That said, if GFE does choose to go this route, a good coach should be able to use the offseason to iron out the communication issues, and work specifically with Udall on solidifying a flex hero pool that fits his style and the team’s needs.

Grab a player from the amateur scene with a diverse hero pool and clear mechanical talent. Make sure his pool fills the gaps in the rest of the roster. You have an entire offseason and first split of summer to prepare this player to become a star that will help you get to Blizzcon.

The worst thing that GFE can do is look to plug their holes with the best available hole-filler currently in the league. As we said before, a team needs to make sure that its players actually fit into that team’s system. If they just grab two talented players who fill the warrior and assassin/flex role, those players may not properly fit the system GFE and its coach want to play. By getting a young player from the amateur scene, GFE can groom him and mold him to fit their system.

Ultimately, I am intrigued by this move by GFE, and excited to see what ripples this move creates within the rest of the league. Personally, the offseason is my favorite time in any sport because I love seeing how teams make these sorts of moves.

Let’s Examine the HGC Structure–reflections on the first season of the pro Heroes league.

 

hotsmsbAll in all, I don’t think we can call the inaugural HGC split anything but an unmitigated success. View numbers rose steadily, HOTS has risen in the Twitch charts since the start of the season, and the quality of play has never been higher. We’ve seen new stars rise up, old veterans start to struggle, and many of the game’s most dominant teams continue to reign over their region. All the hard work and growth will soon come to a head with the Mid-Season Brawl.

Before the Brawl, I thought it might be good to take a look back at the current HGC format for NA and EU. Specifically, I want to examine some key components of the structure, and compare them to the most successful league in esports–the League of Legends Championship Series. We’ll examine what differences are improved in the HGC format, and where Heroes could learn more from its big brother.

League Size

When it first started out, the LCS was an 8-team league in both NA and EU. After three seasons, they expanded both into 10-team leagues. The expansion lead to some positive changes for the relegation process, and obviously lead to more sponsors and organizations funneling money into the scene. However, the LCS still regularly faces criticism that a team or two at the bottom really doesn’t belong at the pro level. It has taken years and a loose region-transition policy to provide any level of parity within the leagues.

We will learn a great deal from the Crucible matches, but I do not think either region is ready to expand beyond the eight teams. Most pros still seem to believe that the amateur teams simply can’t contend the even the bottom of the HGC. If this is true, adding two more teams would just lead to more bad matches, and reduce the quality of the product as a whole. In this way I think the HGC was smart to start out smaller, and should continue to be cautious about expansion.
Coaches as Rostered Team Members

As a pioneer in MOBA esports, the LCS didn’t start out with any structure for coaching. Most people in the community didn’t see the point. However, as teams started to see the value, Riot caught on quick and made a change to the structure of the league. They added an additional roster spot to every team for a head coach. As a rostered team member, this meant that every team would receive a stipend from Riot to pay the coach a salary. This meant that even the un-sponsored teams could afford to recruit a quality, experienced coach. It also made for an attractive transition for retiring players.

I’ve written before about my feelings on the necessity of a good coach in this sport. To me, there is no reason for a coach to be compensated any less than a starting player. This would also help with league parity. There’s no way for low level teams without sponsors to ever afford a quality coach. A coach’s stipend would allow any team to compete for the best coaches available. This may not be in the budget for the HGC in the next six months, but I believe it will be a critical piece for the evolution of the league. Every team needs a coach, and that coach needs to be payed in accordance with their worth.

International Play

Early in the LCS’ lifespan, there was consistent criticism around the structure of the two splits. Only the summer split gave teams any way to qualify for the world championship, which was the only significant international event during the year. Early on there were a few MLGs and LCS teams still compete in the ESL season, but overall the spring felt empty on a global scale.

In this way the HGC has far exceeded even what the LCS does today. We get two significant international events each split, giving every match within the league season added weight. The teams in the top half are constantly fighting to qualify for an international event, while the teams at the bottom are constantly fighting to avoid the Crucible. There are real stakes to every HGC match, and the casters do a fantastic job of making those stakes known clearly to all viewers.

Relegation

The current 10-team format has allowed the LCS to make major changes to their relegation structure that aren’t relevant to this conversation. However, the original eight-team structure saw all four of the bottom teams battling newcomers for the right to stay.

I think I like the current HGC format with the Crucible and Open Division. The system provides a structure for the amateur scene and ensures that the best contenders rise up to challenge the HGC teams. We’ll have to see how the matches play out and evaluate from there to see if the league is strengthened by the process. Ultimately I think the only reason to change this system will be if we see a significant rise in power of the amateur scene and there are teams left out of the league that deserve to be there over existing teams.

Playoffs

This is one area where I feel the LCS structure is far superior. In the LCS, the top six teams are all put into a playoff bracket virtually identical to that of the NFL. They have a true playoff with the winning team being heralded as the split’s champion and earning additional prize money. The championship for the playoffs has an entire extra week of buildup and perfectly caps off the season for each region.

The HGC playoffs and regular season finale both fell flat to me. While the automatic bid for the Brawl gave the regular season added weight, a team simply waltzed into Sweden in each region with very little pomp or circumstance. They fought all season, and no one can say they didn’t earn that spot, but it simply didn’t have the weight of truly crowning a team as the Spring Champion for the region.

Further, the playoffs weren’t really a playoff at all. The system was simply a gauntlet for the final qualifying spot. The terminology is misleading to a causal observer, and lead to my feeling disappointed at the end of the Team 8 vs GFE match. I was thrilled for Team 8 earning their spot at the Brawl, but then the broadcast just sort of ended. And that’s it for the NA season. If I’m a fan of NA and don’t particularly care about the global teams (which represents more fans than Reddit would care to believe) then I didn’t get a champion for my region. I got a winner of the regular season, but they didn’t earn their crown in a playoff format. There was no championship bout for all the marbles.

Obviously this would require major restructuring of the Brawl qualification, but I want a Spring Championship. I want the two teams who fight their way through the playoffs to be flown to a neutral location in their region to have a championship match. When a team wins, I want confetti falling from the ceiling and a trophy handed to the victorious squad.

The current system helps foster the infuriating discrediting of regional accomplishment. No one cares that Tempo Storm won NA if they wash out at the Brawl. Regional dominance should matter. I’m from NA and I want to be able to celebrate my region’s teams. I want to feel pride in my region, and be able to say that someone locally was crowned a champion. Especially in NA where we’ll probably never see another global champion if other MOBAs are any indication.

Overall, I was thrilled with the first split of the HGC. I can’t wait for the Mid-Season Brawl, and am so excited for the future of Heroes. We’ve had a great start, hopefully Blizzard will continue to innovate and improve on the formula.

So You Want to Make a Union

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Today on Twitter there was once again some great discussion on the glut of tournaments in Smash 4 and the need for an offseason. Some great points were brought up, and a central theme came to light–the notion of a player union in Smash.

I wanted to talk a bit more about the concept of an offseason, it’s need, and why it is not the responsibility of individual players to create their own offseason. Then, I want to create a picture of how, if players wanted to make it happen, a Smash 4 players union might be structured, and how it would accomplish it’s goals.

Protect the Players

First, lets understand the issues with tournament over-saturation. To make a career in Smash, one has to be extremely popular with the fanbase. They also need to be on an esports team earning a salary and getting help with travel/expenses. In order to accomplish those things, players need to do three things. They need to be on stream, active on social media, and high on the PGR. All three of these goals are most efficiently accomplished by attending tournaments. By placing well in tournaments, they get more time on the stream, gain more followers on social, and earn more points for the PGR.

When a player skips a tournament, they are giving up their turn in the conversation. This isn’t a big issue for top stars like Nairo, ANTi, or ESAM, but it’s a major issue for the next tier, or any aspiring pros. A player like Samsora is irrelevant to the average smash fan any weekend he’s not at a tournament. That’s not to say anything bad about Samsora, dude’s awesome. However, it should help explain why players feel a need to attend every event. Even players like ZeRo and Dabuz, who’s persona in the community is built around their tournament success, suffer losses in views and interest when they aren’t actively in front of the fans at tournaments.

Players on teams also have a major responsibility to attend all the tournaments they can. Smash 4 content is notoriously poor in terms of view and share metrics. Only Nairo generates relevant stream numbers where big sponsors are concerned, and most YouTube channels for pros have paltry subscriber counts. Tournaments are where the organization and their sponsors get all of their meaningful awareness in Smash. If there is a tournament on a given weekend and your sponsored player is not there, a competing org is getting all of those eyeballs, and your brand is completely out of the conversation for a full week.

Now, obviously none of this is fair, or even reasonable. Organizations shouldn’t put pressure on their players to attend events, players shouldn’t feel obligated to attend every event. However, this is the reality. Any player who feels this pressure is completely reasonable for feeling it. It takes incredible mental fortitude and personal confidence to be able to miss out on tournaments and not immediately fear for the future of your career.

Therefore, a system in which players are responsible for their own attendance at events is simply not practical. If a player wants to protect their Smash career, it is perfectly natural for them to feel a need to attend everything. We can talk about protecting yourself from burnout all we want, but as said before, this takes incredible mental strength that most people simply don’t have. I know I couldn’t do it if I were trying to make a run at being a pro smash player. I would absolutely feel an obligation to attend every PGR-sanctioned tournament I possibly could.

Making A Union

So, there are essentially only two available solutions to this problem. Either A) a committee of TOs and influencers forms to create a global structure for competitive smash, or B) the players unionize and force change to take place. The two are not mutually exclusive and I believe both would be beneficial in the long run, especially if we never see any direct involvement from Nintendo. I’ve written before about a how a smash committee might function, so let’s focus on structuring a players union for now.

First, we need to address the goals of a union. The purpose of any union is to protect the rights of those in the union, and to work towards creating structures that make the workplace better for them. In the context of Smash, a players union would protect players from harmful practices (unjust bans, TOs not paying out, bad team contracts, etc). It would also represent the interests of the players in matters of competitive structure (rulesets, oversaturation, payout structure, PGR methodology, etc). By uniting, the players would have one strong voice in all matters, and be able to create more influence in the competitive structure of the sport.

Members of the union would be in the conversation about stagelists and rulesets. The union would be able to influence which tournaments mattered for points. They’d be able to demand things like an offseason, or scheduled breaks from competition. With this organized force, they would force other forces within smash to become organized in order to work together to find common ground that works for everyone involved in the sport.

Let’s take the example of an offseason. Let’s say that the union determined that players needed one month out of the year where no tournaments could count for rankings or have significant prize support. The union would discuss and vote on how that would be structured. Representatives would meet with major TOs and the PGR crew to discuss their concerns. Then, then union would issue a statement and create a bylaw for its members. The bylaw would state that all players within the union agree to not attend any tournament during that month that offers a pot bonus over $1000, or awards PGR ranking consideration. If the union remained strong and held to this bylaw, no TO or rankings organization would bother breaking it because their tournament would be guaranteed to fail.

Key Players

For a union to work, it has to have influence within the scene. Therefore, at least 80% of the players on the following list would have to agree to join the union and abide by its decisions:

  • ZeRo
  • Nairo
  • Dabuz
  • Ally
  • Larry Lurr
  • VoiD
  • Mr. R
  • Abadango
  • Komorikiri
  • Kameme
  • MKLeo
  • ANTi
  • Marss
  • Zinoto
  • Tweek
  • Captain Zack
  • Rich Brown
  • ESAM
  • Fatality
  • Fow
  • Locus
  • MVD
  • Ned

These are the players with the most influence in the Smash 4 scene based on their competitive careers, social media, content, and general good standing with influencers in the community. They would also be the players most likely to kill a tournament by refusing to attend, thereby giving the union significant influence in policy.

You would obviously want every PGR player and all other relevant competitors in the union, but these would be the key to the success of the organization. Mew2King and Hungrybox would also be helpful players to have in the union, but as their interests are primarily in Melee, it would be unreasonable to expect them to abide by policy which only benefits Smash 4.

Once the union is established, it would then elect three primary representatives and a chairman. The chairman would be responsible for scheduling meetings of the union, making union announcements, and addressing player concerns/complaints. The three representatives would be responsible for representing player interests with other factions within the smash community. They would meet with rules committees and TOs to discuss best practices and be at the table for negotiations on matters like offseasons and payout structure.

Hurdles

Obviously there are significant challenges that come with creating a players union. Many of the players listed above vehemently disagree on matters within smash. Some actively dislike each other. All of these players would have to agree to set aside these differences and accept the decisions made by the union as a whole, and actively support them. If the union decides to actively avoid a tournament, but ANTi goes and tweets about how dumb it is that the union banned it, the union essentially loses all influence.

This sort of union requires commitment, maturity, communication, and professionalism beyond the normal expectations of any pro gamer. However, I certainly think it is possible. If the players want a unified structure, they want protection from bad practices, and they want to be able to hold the smash community accountable, the best way to do so is to unionize.

There are already community members outside of the top players ready to help, and interested in protecting the rights of the players. Whether it’s a union, a TO committee, or a mix of the two, something needs to change. It is time for us to start thinking of ways to create a sustainable future for smash–one where everyone gets paid what they’re worth and the game can continue to grow.

Top 5 Storylines for Greninja Saga

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As the fourth tournament in the 2GGC, Greninja Saga is filled with storylines. From featured characters to dominant players to local hidden bosses, every 2GGC thus far has given us plenty of surprises. As we gear up for the event,  here are five of the biggest storylines going into the event.

Remember, one of the points of storylines is to give new players an easy, emotional connection to the tournament. These are easy storylines that you can share with your mom, girlfriend, or pizza delivery guy to get them invested in watching the tournament. Please do that.

The Greninjas

They’re the featured players of the event. There will be an awesome combo contest featuring all the crazy things that Greninja can do. Many of these players have come close to seeing major success. iStudying has wins over Ally and ESAM, Some is a contender in Japan and has taken out Captain Zack. Many scenes around the world have sent Greninjas that regularly dominate the local events. If there was ever a chance for a Greninja to make his mark as a top player, this is it.

However, the Greninjas will also be facing the strongest opponent in Smash 4, the 2GG curse. No featured player has ever won their own saga. By sheer numbers, the Greninjas have a good chance to compete well, but can they collectively defeat something with a better win percentage than ZeRo?

The Gatekeeper

As we all know, the winner of each 2GGC event gets an automatic spot in the invitational finals in December. So far, the only two players to earn those spots have been ZeRo and Dabuz. ZeRo has won twice, once effectively denying Tweek his qualifying spot. While Dabuz will be absent, ZeRo has returned to once again deny another player entry into the finals. If anyone can defeat him, not only will it mean a huge boost for that player in the PGR, but will guarantee that we see a third player qualified.

The Locals

Players in Southern California have a unique advantage in the 2GG Circuit. Every event takes place at Esports Arena, the same venue for the area’s two most popular local tournaments, Mega Smash Mondays, and Wednesday Night Fights. These players will be virutally guaranteed to attend all 12 circuit events, giving them the best chance to earn enough points to qualify for the championship.

We’ve already seen some surprise local names show up and make top 8 at previous events. Players like Zenyou, JK, AC, and EON have all had fantastic runs at earlier circuit tournaments, putting them right in contention with the best players in the world. Will we see another local hero rise up this weekend? Will a new face suddenly make a name for themselves on the national stage?

Lest we forget, there are local heroes who are already contenders at the national level. Recently sponsored by Beefy Smash Doods, SoCal’s Elegant has all but guaranteed himself a spot on the next PGR. We’ve also seen solid seasons thus far from local PGR players Falln and Panda Global’s Rich Brown. While his season has been less than ideal, Tyrant also has the potential the make waves at any local event. The region is filled with dangerous hidden bosses hungry to defend their house, and every invader will be forced to deal with these local killers.

The Come-Ups

The top of Smash 4 has been secure since early in 2016. However, we’ve recently seen some young blood start to challenge the status quo. Captain Zack has cemented himself as an elite player with top 4 finishes at the two biggest events of the year. Locus is capturing hearts and taking names at every tournament he attends. We also saw Samsora make top 8 and take out top 10 talent like VoiD at CEO Dreamland. Tweek has already been one step away from winning a 2GGC event. For any one of these players to win Greninja Saga would be to secure their spot near the top of the PGR, and signal to the world that these young stars are here to stay.

The Ramin

The last year has been a strange one for Mr. R. He was the last top 10 player to sign to an esports organization. Recently he left that organization and still remains unsponsored. He’s trended on Twitter with his provocative food opinions. He also happens to be playing some of the best Smash of his career. Recently, at both CEO Dreamland and Royal Flush, we saw Mr. R very nearly defeat ZeRo to win the event. He even reset the bracket and took TSM’s star to a second game 5 at Royal Flush. Ramin has come so close to tasting victory. If ZeRo knocks out Mr. R again, it will be three events in a row. This time, it will also prevent him from qualifying for the 2GGC championship. Can Poor | Mr. R finally get the monkey off his back, and ideally spike him into the blast zone?

 

Regardless of who wins, we are in for a treat today. Between great exhibitions and top notch talent, Greninja Saga looks to be the premiere event of the month. Be sure to tune in!

Sexism in Smash–A Discussion on Hypocrisy, Double Standards, and More

Genders

At some point this week (I wasn’t following the right people to discover it until today) Chief Brooks posted a rankings list of the hottest women in Smash. I won’t link it here because to do so would be to actively support its existence. As soon as I saw this list, I was immediately disappointed and concerned. This sort of thing is a major issue for the FGC and gamer culture in general, and it was a huge bummer to see my favorite community once again mired in the issues of sexism. This is obviously an extremely complicated issue, so I’m going to try and address each angle of it I can. Strap in, we’re going to get controversial and verbose up in here!

The Problem

First, let’s talk about the fundamental issue. Any objectification of a person’s appearance, male or female, is wrong. Period, end of discussion. When you rank people based on looks, you are establishing a value on that person as a human being based on one subjective aspect of who they are. Even if you do so without meaning harm, that is what you are doing. No matter what, someone at the bottom of that list is being told that they matter less than other humans because of the way they look.

This is one of those things like the speed limit. Going even one mile over the speed limit is absolutely wrong–it is against the law. However, there are lots of situations where we all feel completely ok with breaking the speed limit. No one in their right mind would argue that the law says it’s alright to speed, but we all do it because it’s fun and convenient, and we don’t really see any harm in it most of the time. It’s culturally acceptable.

So yes, before anyone brings up the hypocrisy of male-centered lists who don’t receive the same level of hate (which we’ll get to in a second) let me be clear–all objectification is not a good thing. No one should ever be told they are worth less than another person based on their looks.

Sexism and the FGC

We’re going to get to the male-lists argument, so hang with me. First let’s talk a bit about how we can and cannot discuss sexism. If you are a male human, it’s not your job to determine how serious the problem of sexism is in your community. You don’t live with it every day. You aren’t the target of it on a regular basis. As men, we have absolutely no idea what it is like to be a woman in a sexist environment. If you are a man who has suffered as a result of sexism, I’m sorry that happened.

Personally, I’ve never experienced it. I’ve never lost out on a job, an opportunity, a friendship, or a relationship because of my gender. I’ve never been assigned value as a person based on the size of my breasts or hips. I’ve never had someone try to hit on me while playing in a tournament, and then call me a bitch when I tell them I’m just there to play video games. I don’t feel I have the right to say whether there is or isn’t a sexism problem in gaming.

To me, it’s the same as a white person saying there’s no racism in America, or a straight person saying there’s no homophobia. We don’t live it every day, we can’t possibly understand it completely. Therefore, we have to turn to the experts in the field. There is clear, overwhelming evidence from the women of the Smash community that we have a sexism problem.

 There’s clear evidence in the FGC and gaming as a whole that this issue still runs rampant and actively drives women away from the community. If you are coming to me to tell me that women are just overreacting to this list and things like it, and you are a male human, I’m sorry but I just don’t care. Bring me a female community member who says this is not an issue, and I will listen to their feedback. Until then, we are going to go based on the assumption that this is still a major problem, and incredibly harmful to the women in our community. Now, let me be clear: this does not mean that men don’t have a role to play in the conversation or in solving the problem. Merely that we don’t have the right to decide when the problem is solved or not.
Hopefully, most people reading this are saying “duh, we already knew it was an issue!” If not, I hope you are at least open to the possibility that the women in your community are regularly made to feel uncomfortable, and that there are many women who are actively afraid of joining your community because of the very real issues with sexism.

But What About the Men?

This is the most common argument I’ve seen on social media so far as to why this list doesn’t matter. There’s also a list floating around of the 50 hottest male players in Smash. That list has received very little genuine hate or anger. Everyone knows it’s just for fun, and no one involved seems to be hurt by it. Why is it ok for us to be upset about a list of women, while we celebrate a list of men? Isn’t that a double standard?

Well, yes, of course it is. That is literally the definition of a double standard. I refer you back to the top of this article where we said any objectification that hurts someone is inherently bad. If any person on that list was hurt or made to feel less valid as a person due to their ranking on the male list, that list is also bad.

However, they are not even remotely the same thing. You cannot judge things in a vacuum. As I mentioned before, most men have never really experienced objectification in their lives to the degree that every woman has. Yes, some of you have been attacked for being overweight, too bald, too short, etc. I’m so sorry that happened to you, it isn’t fair or right. However, for most men, even the short, bald, overweight ones, your appearance has not defined your life. Unless you are a public figure, your livelihood and worth as a person has never been defined by your appearance. That is exactly what has been happening for millennia to women.

When sexism happens to a woman, it is being piled on top of all the other sexism that has taken place forever. It is one more pebble added to the mountainous wall that divides men and women. We have made great strides to lower that wall in the last few decades, but it is still miles high. We’re lowering it so slowly that when you add to it it can invalidate years of hard work.

Today women are still losing out on job opportunities because of their gender. In much of the world they still do not have equal rights to men. Even when a woman gets an opportunity, she still has to deal with accusations that she only got the job because she’s pretty. It is still considered culturally acceptable everywhere in the world to approach a woman at any time and attempt to ask her out. In gaming culture, it is still completely acceptable by most to call any woman horrible, offensive names at any time. These things do NOT happen to men to anywhere near the same degree. Simply by virtue of having a penis you start life with advantages over a woman in the exact same economic, family, and geographic situation.

So yes, both lists are examples of objectification. All objectification is bad. However, on the whole male objectification does not need men to come to it’s defense. Male objectification does not ostracize people the same way. It doesn’t make anyone feel afraid for their safety. It doesn’t change anyone’s mind about attending an event or joining a community. The male list may be wrong, but it isn’t offensive. These are two very different things, and it’s a critical distinction. Allow me to explain:

Wrong vs Offensive

My father-in-law is the pastor of a small Pentecostal church in North Carolina. In order to keep his minister’s license with the Pentecostal conference, he is not allowed to drink alcohol in any public setting. If anyone outside of his family might see him, he cannot have a beer, a glass of wine, anything. My wife and I could not have alcohol at our wedding at all because he was involved in the ceremony. For the longest time I thought this was the most backwards, pointless rule in the world.

The bible does not make drinking alcohol a sin. Jesus turned water into wine, used wine as a metaphor for his own blood–dude was totally chill about alcohol. There is nothing in the rulebook for Christians that says our pastors cannot drink alcohol. Consuming alcohol is not wrong. Any Christian who tells you different hasn’t actually read that big book they keep on the coffee table to impress visitors.

However, there are many Christians who are offended by the consumption of alcohol. These are people who come from families where alcoholic fathers abused and molested them. These are people who’s own alcoholism broke their families apart, cost them jobs, and in some cases even landed them in jail. For people in those situations, they have come to Jesus and the church to find a way to overcome their past, to be released from the prison of their sins. To them, alcohol represents all the sin and pain that has dominated their lives for so long. The very presence of alcohol is offensive to them, because of what it represents.

So, for those people, seeing their pastor drink a beer would immediately invalidate his status as leader of the church. Every word he says, every prayer he prays would be tainted because that person could not look past the thing that represents all of the pain and suffering of their life.

The problem is, most of gaming culture has warped the concept of something being “offensive”. When we talk about someone being offended, we imagine someone just overreacting to something harmless. Usually that person just wants attention, and is trying to create drama. However, that’s not really what it means. Something offensive is something that makes a person feel uncomfortable. In many cases, feeling uncomfortable is a good thing. White people needed Richard Pryor’s humor to make them feel slightly uncomfortable, while still laughing, to really gain a bit of perspective about race relations. Often things that offend us cause us to question our perceived understanding of the world, to challenge why we feel offended in the first place.

However, sometimes something offends us because it reminds us of all the times we’ve been hurt before. It reminds us of just how weak and helpless we can be. It puts us back in a place we thought we were free from. It draws us back to all those same insecurities we’ve been fighting our whole life.

Every woman on that list has been told how ugly they are. They’ve been told by our culture how important it is to be pretty. They have fought their whole lives to overcome the inherent disadvantages that come with being a woman. After all that struggle and growth, they then see this list, and are instantly told that no matter how hard they work, they’ll always only matter as much as their looks.

Now, I do not think this was Chief Brooks’ intention with this list. I do not for a moment think that he finds every woman invalid unless she’s hot. I refuse to believe that he intentionally made this list as an effort to keep women from ever feeling truly comfortable in the smash community. I don’t know the dude at all, for me to in any way attack him in this article would be irresponsible.

So, for anyone using this argument, I hope you now understand my perspective. I don’t want to invalidate your claim–yes, it’s hypocrisy for us to have fun with a male list, and then get offended at a female list. However, I will never agree that this hypocrisy invalidates the problem. Yes, it is a bigger deal that a female list exists. No, that is not unfair, it’s exactly the opposite. The reaction should be proportional to the problem. A male list is not a problem, a female list is. While neither should exist, it’s not worth the effort to fight against the male list. It is, however, your moral obligation to fight against any form of female sexism in our community. To do any less would be to invalidate everything I love and believe in about smashers.

To Women Reading This

This article will likely make little difference. Like old people and racism, it’s almost impossible to change a young man’s mind about sexism. So, for all the comments you’ll see about me making a big deal about nothing, for all the comments that say we should just go rage about the male list, for every person who says there’s not a problem with sexism, or that this list doesn’t represent sexism, let me say how truly sorry I am. I’m sorry that you were born into a broken world. I’m sorry that I couldn’t argue your case better. I’m sorry for my gender, and every hurt we’ve caused you.

Let me tell you something true–you matter so much! You are so important to this community. You are smart, talented, beautiful–exceptional in every way. I am so thrilled to have you as a member of my community. I promise to do whatever I can to make it so that you always feel safe here, and to challenge the other members of my gender to be better.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’m not a social justice activist in any way, this is the first time I’ve ever written something like this. I hope it was in some way useful.

How To Manage Volunteers–A Resource for TOs and Community Leaders

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For three years I worked at a small church in Farmville, North Carolina (yes that’s a real place). We only had two salaried employees, myself and the senior pastor. In a church of 80 members, two people were not enough to do everything necessary to properly run all of our programs. We had to rely on our volunteers.

I’ve been consulting with some local TOs and FGC community members, and this seems to be a recurring challenge. How do you run a professional event when 90% of your staff are working for free? How do you build a business on the backs of volunteers? Today I want to spend some time talking about what I’ve learned from my time leading volunteer teams, and how it can apply to running FGC events. First, I want to look at two of the biggest problems leaders, and then how organizers can properly build and utilize their volunteer pool.

No Pay, No Faith

Some leaders have a hard time relying on volunteers. They feel like they can’t trust them, or hold them to the same standard as a paid employee. As a result, they push away people who want to help, or have a hard time finding tasks that they are willing to give away to a volunteer.

If you find yourself doing this, remember why you got into this line of work in the first place. Likely, you were passionate about your community and wanted to see it grow. When people come to you wanting to volunteer, they are in that same boat. They are looking for a way to help the community they love, but lack the talent or vision to start a project of their own.

You have high standards. You want anyone representing your organization to provide the same level of excellence as you. However, you also have lots of tasks to accomplish, and need to keep growing. At a certain point you’ll have to accept that not everyone is willing to work as hard as you are, or give the same attention to detail.

That said, there are ways to choose the right volunteers, and to manage them in a way that inspires excellence in them. As youth pastor I had a leadership team comprised of middle- and elementary-school students. We were able to run major church events and do so more efficiently than any other team in the church. I expected excellence from a bunch of kids, never paid them anything, and they delivered every time. Here’s how it works.

  1. Only take volunteers that want to help. Don’t try to guilt people into doing work, use the people that naturally want to be involved.
  2. Use them where they want to be used. Let them work on the projects that get them excited. Learn about what they feel passionate about, and show them how that passion can help you accomplish whatever task you need done.
  3. Celebrate small wins. The fact that a volunteer did anything should be cause for celebration. Say thank you constantly, even if they didn’t quite live up to your standards. If they do something genuinely great, overwhelm them with praise. When it comes to volunteers, a kind word or a high five goes a long way.
  4. Have clear expectations. Before someone agrees to a task, make sure they understand specifically what you want accomplished. When they agree to do it, they should also be agreeing to do it the way you asked. This will make it easier to gently hold them accountable. That said, remember that they are ultimately doing the work because they want to, and need to have some freedom in order to get passionate about their work.

Ultimately, remember that you only have 2 hands and 24 hours in a given day. There is a hard limit on how much you can accomplish. If you can inspire a degree of quality from your volunteers, you can grow exponentially. There are people who will do excellent work for little more than a hug and a cookie. Inspire them, lead them, encourage them, and they will reward your efforts in kind.

Sweet, Free Labor!

This is a trap I’ve fallen into in the past. I’ve had amazing volunteers who were willing to do extra work, stay late, and take on any task. I came to rely on these people so much that I actually started giving them work that I could have done myself. Always lead by example. Remember that you are lucky to have anyone willing to volunteer for your project. Do not use your volunteers to avoid work you don’t like. Use them to multiply how much total work can be done.

Actually Ask For Help

I’m amazed at the number of times I’ve seen people lamenting their lack of help, but they’ve never actually asked. People want to be actively involved in a community. If they’re passionate, they really do want to work hard to improve their community. Unfortunately, most people just don’t know how they can help. They don’t have the necessary skills to see where they can be useful. If you want volunteers, you have to make people aware of the specific areas in which you need help.

When recruiting volunteers, be extra specific. “We need two people to come half an hour early and help test setups.” “I need one person to go hang up 10 flyers at the local college.” When there are clear parameters around a task, it is much easier for someone to say “hey, I could do that!”

Empower and Inspire

Even the laziest idiot will do excellent work for a cause they believe in. Often the people who seem least useful to you are the ones who have simply never had someone expect greatness from them. It sounds super hokey, but it’s been proven true to me time and again. When you give someone direction, purpose, and responsibility, they will usually rise to the occasion. They may stumble at first, but if you are a true, compassionate leader, they will work harder the next time in order to make you proud.

If you’re interested, we can talk another time about the concept of Servant Leadership. Essentially, the idea is that a leader’s role is to provide for their followers and serve their needs. By doing so they actually inspire and empower those followers to work far beyond their perceived potential. Invest emotionally in your volunteers. Be a support structure in their lives even when they disappoint you. Obviously don’t keep using a toxic worker that isn’t worthy of trust, but give people a chance to surprise you.

Have Clear, Written Systems

People want to follow directions. They don’t want to be micromanaged, but they want clear instructions, and systems to follow. Any time you are using volunteers, provide them with a clear structure to their task. If someone is helping hang flyers, have a clear, written list of the places those flyers need to be hung. If someone is in charge of registration, have a clear, written policy for registration with documented procedure. If someone is volunteering to do commentary, provide them with a procedure for when to do ad reads, what level of professionalism you want, and any other pertinent info.

Policies and procedures are not micromanagement. They simply provide structure. People have freedom to move within a structure, but they have very clear boundaries that keep them safe and successful. When you provide someone with a clear set of written instructions, you can then empower them by leaving them alone to work. They’ll still have all your instructions, but they will feel more like they accomplished something on their own because they didn’t have to keep asking you questions, and you didn’t have to hover behind them to make sure they didn’t mess up.

Find a Way to Use Everyone

You’ll know you are running an amazing organization when you have too many volunteers. There should come a time where you are literally out of jobs, and still have people asking how they can help. Maybe you’re not at that place, but all your staff positions are full and you can’t think of ways to have people help any more. This is when it’s time for promotions!

Take your best volunteers and give them leadership roles. Put them in charge of a set of volunteers. Make someone head of registration, someone else head of cleaning, make someone the captain of all the pool captains. This is when your job becomes the most awesome! Now, you get to manage your team leads. You check in regularly with each team, give them all clear goals and measurables, and then you let them go to work. They can set up rotations of volunteers, and everyone in your leadership circle takes a step back from doing the actual tasks themselves. This frees up more jobs for new volunteers, but the work is still being overseen by the people who did it correctly in the first place. It is now your job to educate and train those great volunteers on how to become leaders.

To me, this is the most rewarding work possible. You’ve effectively multiplied yourself. Your growth potential is enormous. More importantly, you have given someone a life skill that will help them in every aspect of their life going forward. You haven’t had to pay anyone a cent, but you’ve inspired and rewarded them by giving them purpose, allowing them to achieve real, tangible results from their work, and genuinely changed their lives for the better.

If you are organizing events, you are not actually in the business of event planning, hosting, or gaming. You are in the people business. Your commodity is life experience, both for the players and your volunteers. Invest in your people, and watch all the other stuff you think is your real business suddenly take care of itself.

Role Classification Proposal–Adapting the class concepts to match the competitive meta

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Compared to other games in the genre, HOTS still has a small roster of heroes. That said, they’ve managed to cram as much diversity as possible into the current pool. There’s something for every playstyle, some hero that fulfills any fantasy (even if your fantasy is to sit next to a building and put hats on your friends).

However, despite Blizzard’s willingness to innovate and diversify, their role classification system has become tragically outdated. The four roles of Warrior, Assassin, Support, and Specialist do not properly convey the wide range of playstyles that Heroes has to offer. With the release of D.Va, I feel this issue has reached a critical mass. I’ve seen plenty of discussions on this topic, but I want to dig a bit deeper into why it matters so much, and give a proposal for how I feel the problem should be resolved.

Optimization

I’ve seen many arguments against what I’m about to discuss. Many fans bristle at the idea of designing a game around the high level competitive playerbase. Fans of Heroes are attracted to the game because it does not force the harsh role restrictions of a game like League. In League of Legends, if you do not pick a champion that correctly fits into one of the five well-defined roles within a team, you are dooming your team to a loss, and guaranteeing yourself endless rage. Some people prefer Heroes strictly because the team roles are not so well defined.

However, to a certain degree they actually are. If both have equal skill, a team with a primary tank, healer, ranged damage, and secondary front line will beat a team of five assassins every single time. The game has already been optimized to the point where at least two team roles are set in stone if you want to win consistently.

I would also like to point out that this is not a bad thing. Optimization elevates the quality of play across every skill level. I promise you that Bronze LoL players today are infinitely better at the game than Bronze players from five years ago. They still have the same skill level, but their game knowledge has been elevated by the game’s meta becoming optimized. When playing a competitive ranked mode, meta optimization removes confusion in the drafting phase, allows the team to quickly identify roles, and create a cohesive strategy.

 In every game you’ll have people who rage, but frankly if you are not playing the game’s ranked mode with the intention of playing in the most optimal way possible, you are actively inviting rage and criticism upon yourself. Heroes has plenty of game modes for sub-optimal, fun styles of play. Optimizing the competitive meta does not detract from those modes, but allows the players who do enjoy high level optimal competition to connect with the game on a deeper level.

Esports Parity

For many players, esports are attractive because they directly mirror the casual player experience. You’ll never get to play baseball at Wrigley Field, but you play Heroes on the exact same Towers of Doom as Tempo Storm. The more the esports game mirrors the game for average players, the easier it is for fans to connect with the esport. Blizzard in particular has struggled in this area across all of their games. The role classification system is no different.

The way hero roles are defined at the pro level differs wildly from the actual game. We call Breez Fnatic’s “warrior player”, but his hero pool has never included even half of the heroes in the warrior class. Bakery is Dignitas’ “support player”, however you’ll likely never see him playing Lili even when she’s viable in the competitive meta. The pros have clearly created different classifications for the heroes in their mind, and that detracts from the new viewer experience.

Think about it. If you want to be like Breez and become a warrior player, you can’t just go look at the game and start learning any hero in the warrior class. Even if you do your research and learn which warriors are played in the HGC, you may not understand that some of them don’t fit the actual role that Breez plays. There is a complete disconnect in the role system between the pro players and what we actually experience in-game. This needs to change.

The role classifications should help a player understand the available positions on a team. They should educate the player on what is important to be successful in a competitive match. Quickly, I want to look at a game that does this very well in a few areas–Paladins.

Paladins Roles

First, get over the “lul Overwatch clone” part of yourself. That’s a different discussion for a different blog. In Paladins, like Overwatch and Heroes, there are currently four role classifications–Damage, Support, Front Line, and Flanker. I want to focus on Front Line and Flanker for the moment.

These two roles do an incredible job of conveying the competitive structure to the player. Paladin’s primary game mode is a point-capture mode which requires the team to control a specific point on the map for a set amount of time. Most heroes in the game are too squishy to sit on the point for a long time, and that’s where the Front Line heroes come in. Every Front Line hero has a form of shield and a high health pool. Just from the name of the role and the heroes available, you get a clear understanding of how those heroes should be played.

The same is true for Flankers. The concept of flanking refers to attacking from the side, bypassing the front line to attack the weaker parts of an enemy army. Flankers in Paladins all have high damage and mobility. They are specifically designed to attack the enemy backline and use their mobility to get around the front line safely. Both of these roles are crucially important to a successful team composition, and all the heroes within each role actually do what their role describes. This is the sort of system that Heroes must adopt. A system that educates the player while also informing the conversation about competitive play.

Role System 2.0

The following are my proposed role classifications. These are designed around the optimal competitive metagame, and should indicate how a hero helps their team win the game. Note: some heroes do not fit perfectly into their assigned role. Most of these heroes are not doing great in the current meta, and need to be reworked. My hope is that a role system like this would inform how those heroes are reworked.

Tank

It’s what we all call the role, so might as well just lean into it. Tanks are the heroes who control the zone around an objective. They have some form of damage mitigation either in their kit or talents, and the tools to initiate a fight, usually through a form of crowd control. Their job is to stand between their team and the enemy, absorbing damage and controlling space. By putting more than one tank for a team composition, you are making a major sacrifice on damage in order to guarantee zone control and protection from ranged threats.
Tank Heroes: Cho, Johanna, Anub’Arak, Diablo, ETC, Muradin, Stitches, Varian, Tyrael

Front Line

Front Line heroes belong in the thick of the fight. They don’t have enough survive-ability to create zone control alone, but they also don’t melt instantly. Their job is to be in the thick of the fight alongside the Tank, working their way towards the primary targets. These heroes don’t have the mobility to bypass the enemy front line completely, but are a significant damage threat to any target if ignored for too long. Their kit focuses on damage or control, but also includes some form of survive-ability.
Front Line Heroes: D.Va, Zarya, Ragnaros, Dehaka, Artanis, Leoric, Chen, Arthas, Sonya, Thrall, Alarak

Assassin

Again, it’s what we call the role, so just commit. An assassins job is to infiltrate the enemy backline and make something not be alive anymore, then escape. Their kit includes high burst damage and usually a form of mobility or escape option. These heroes cannot do meaningful damage or survive long in a poke war. They need to wait for the right moment to strike, and commit their damage all at once.
Assassin Heroes: Genji, Valeera, Samuro, Greymane, The Butcher, Nova, Zeratul, Illidan, Kerrigan, Tracer

Artillery

Sometimes you just need to throw damage at the enemy from far away. These heroes are all about damage. If protected, they can shred through any enemy. They will not last long fighting 1v1 against an assassin, but they shine in a longer poke war.
Artillery Heroes: Cassia, Zul’Jin, Gul’Dan, Chromie, Li-Ming, Lunara, Gall, Kael’Thas, Jaina, Tychus, Valla, Nazeebo, Falstad, Raynor, Sgt. Hammer

Healer

The term support is entirely misleading for how Heroes is played. Many heroes can fill a supporting  role in a variety of ways, but every team must have a healer. These are heroes who have healing as a primary part of their kit. There are many heroes who help keep their team alive, but the true Healers are those who can keep their team alive in a fight without assistance from any other form of support.
Healer Heroes: Lucio, Auriel, Lt. Morales, Kharazim, Rehgar, Uther, Malfurion

Support

While they don’t provide the healing throughput of a Healer, the Support hero’s primary goal is to protect the rest of their team. They will usually also provide some form of crowd control, damage, or utility, but their main function in the composition is to enable other heroes to accomplish their tasks. In certain metas a support can also fill the role of a team’s healer, but generally they will need help to fully protect their team in a fight.
Support Heroes: Medivh, Brightwing, Lili, Tassadar, Tyrande

Pusher

Our last role who are primarily concerned with what happens outside of team fights. These are the heroes who dominate the lanes. They clear minion waves quickly, and if left alone for too long will eliminate enemy structures. You would choose a pusher when you are looking to create pressure on the map, when you want a lane to be constantly threatening forts and keeps. They will often provide other utility, but their primary benefit to the team is to create an advantage through soaking minion XP and destroying structures.
Pusher Heroes: Probius, Xul, Rexxar, Sylvanas, The Lost Vikings, Azmodan, Zagara, Murky, Gazlowe, Abathur,

Role Stability–Defining Player Positions in the HGC

 

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Phase One of the HGC has come to a close. Over the last few months we have learned about the skill gap in each region between the top teams and newcomers. We’ve seen crazy success stories, great international competition, and two heads of beautiful hair tragically cut short by Tempo Storm’s lust for an undefeated season. Perhaps another time we’ll do a deeper retrospective on the HGC as a whole and what it means for Heroes esports moving forward. Today, however, I want to use this season to explore a theory I’ve held since my days coaching teams in the Heroes beta. Let’s get into the concept of role stability.

What is Role Stability?

In traditional MOBAs, every role on a team is clearly defined. In League of Legends, every team will always have a Top-laner, Jungle, Mid-laner, AD Carry, and Support. These roles have remained unchanged since the first competitive season of the game. DOTA and Smite have similarly static team positions. In fact, virtually ever team sport has a clearly defined position for each player on the field.

HOTS is unique in that there are really only two roles that are static for every team–Tank and Support. We specify Tank because the Warrior class in Heroes is no longer a useful classification for the sorts of heroes that the Tank can play. The other roles within the team vary wildly by region and team. Some teams have a dedicated melee and a static ranged damage player. Others define their positions more by each player’s hero pool than their role within the team.

Heroes has this unique team dynamic because the game does not have one static map with well-defined lanes. Every map requires different team compositions and different lane setups. You cannot simply have a Mid-laner because some maps don’t even have a middle lane. Teams have no need for a static AD Carry because forts and keeps don’t prioritize heroes. That said, there is still clear evidence that clear and static team roles are important to success. They simply have more to do with the team itself than the map or overall metagame.

Team Dynamics

As we said, every team must have a Tank and a Support. The other three roles are much more fluid. When the meta shifts, different heroes become more valuable. Certain maps adjust the importance of certain compositions. Some heroes are only viable at all on one or two maps. When looking at this season of competitive HOTS, you will see all sorts of heroes rounding out those last three spots on a team. There appears to be no set rule for how to build a Heroes team. Indeed, there really isn’t. As long as you can build a cohesive draft that plays well on the chosen map, and potentially deny some picks from the opponent, you can find success. This can be done with three ranged, double tank, a melee assassin, two specialists, and so much more.

However, if you look a bit more closely, you’ll see that there is actually a very clear rule in place for all of the most successful teams in the league. Once every Heroes player begins to understand this core concept, the quality of play at every level will grow exponentially.

Consider Team Dignitas for a moment. Ask yourself–who plays Abathur? Think of every possible team comp that would include an Abathur–who’s on the hero? If you watch the league, you’ll know that the answer every time is Snitch. No matter the map, the comp, or the opponent, Snitch would be the Abathur for Team Dignitas.

Now you might ask yourself–what if Dig wanted to play a comp where they needed Snitch on something else? What if they played Abathur and Lost Vikings on the same team? Let’s assume for the moment that this is a team composition that is viable in the current meta. This is not a composition that Dig would ever prioritize unless it was a dominant strategy. Even then they’d likely just ban out one or the other, or pick one to deny the strategy to the opponent. Few teams have their roles as clearly defined as Team Dignitas.

We know Jaypl and Bakery fill the Tank and Support roles respectively. Let’s look at their other three roles and how they fit into the team. Zaelia is a melee specialist. Even before double warrior was the common meta, Team Dignitas prioritized putting Zaelia on a second front line hero. he will occasionally dip into slightly squisher assassins, but their role will virtually always be do be in the thick of the fight alongside Jay. For Mene, ranged damage is the only job description. You will be unlikely to see any Dignitas team composition that does not have Mene in the back lobbing spells, arrows, or spears. Finally we have Snitch.

Snitch is a true flex player–he has an adaptable hero pool with some unique specialist picks available. However, if you examine the season you will see that Dig has a very clear hero pool for Snitch around which they build their drafts. Despite the perceived flexibility of these three roles on a team, Dignitas has intentionally limited each player to a specific set of available heroes. They do not simply draft heroes that play well on the map and assign players after. Each of their drafts is specifically designed to put each player on a hero that fits into their role within the team. If you look closely, you’ll see that this is true for all three teams at the top of Europe. They don’t necessarily use the same role definitions as Dignitas, but every player has a clear set of heroes available to them in any draft, and those heroes always fulfill a similar role within the team composition.

The Region Gap Explained

It is my belief that this specific issue is the primary reason why NA is so far behind the other regions in Heroes of the Storm. Only our best team, Tempo Storm has even remotely locked down their three flexible roles. They are largely able to do so by virtue of having a true flex player in Psalm, but even they stray from their clear roles at times. This is partly due to the team not having a static ranged damage player. that said, their roles are more clearly defined than any other team in North America. Let’s look at a few of the other teams in the NA league and see where they are struggling in this area.

Team 8

I’ve spoken before about the reasons I believe Team 8 are so successful despite the overall competitive youth of their roster. However, I think the team is still being held back by a lack of definition in their roles. Glaurung, Prismaticisim, and Yoda are all flexible players. We have seen each play bruisers, melee assasins, mages, and specialists. However, Team 8 have found a unique way to overcome this problem in most of their drafts thanks to Glaurung. As we’ve said before, Glaurung’s role within the team is as an initiator. His hero pool is not limited to specific classes or ranged vs melee. His pool is entirely comprised of heroes that let him lead the charge into the enemy team.

 Look at their last game against No Tomorrow. Glaurung could have played either the Leoric or Genji to fill his role. However, the team was limited by Dyrus’ hero pool and had to put him on Leoric. By Glau’s own admission Prismaticism is a better Genji, so he belonged on that hero. Based on the composition, the logical fifth pick would have been a ranged damage–a Falstad, Li-Ming or some such. However, none of those mages and carries would have fit Glaurung’s role within the team. Instead they drafted Greymane. This gave them a bit of ranged poke, but still allowed Glau to play from a position of strength and initiate with Greymane’s massive burst combo. If Team 8 can similarly define the roles for Prismaticism and Yoda, I believe they will quickly challenge Tempo Storm for the number one spot in the league.

B-Step

This team infuriates me from this perspective. The World Champion Cloud 9 was a team with very well-defined roles. They also had the advantage of a true flex in Fan. However, the moment Blizzcon ended, they began to drift away from that clear team dynamic. Look back at those Gold League games. You’ll frequently find iDream relegated to Kael’Thas–a hero that did not fit his role within the team at all.

B-Step’s players remain highly talented, but they’ve regrettably continued their maddening trend of not defining roles well. K1pro is inexplicably playing heroes like Anub’arak, and McIntyre, one of the best melee players in North America, is frequently seen lobbing spells in the backline. To this moment I cannot say what iDream’s actual role is on the team. This is a team that desperately needs a coach to come in and define the team’s roles. Someone needs to sit down with K1pro and show him those Falstad and Jaina games from 2015. They need to figure out why they have two of the best Melee players in the history of NA and neither is consistently on the front line.

Gale Force Esports

GFE is a team that has learned their lesson about role definition. When they added Fan, the team was thrown into utter chaos. They had three amazingly talented players who could seemingly play anything! Unsurprisingly (to me) the team soon found themselves not living up to their full potential. They had bright moments with their whacky team compositions, but ultimately fell short in every critically important game.

After the Western Clash, the team appears to have had a bit of a maturation. They still struggle with clearly defining the roles of Fan and MichaelUdall, but Khroen has returned largely to the backline where he belongs. It may ultimately be that Fan and Udall don’t quite work in the same roster, but I believe both players are talented enough to adapt to any role once those roles are clearly defined.

Naventic

How quickly people forget about the dominance of the Bob Ross Fan Club. “Zuna feed” is a fun meme, but it really seems like the Heroes community has forgotten Zuna’s incredible talent and dominance last spring. Bob Ross Fan Club was a team with amazingly well-defined roles. Both Zuna and Arthelon handled the raw damage output, but did so with clearly distinct hero pools. McIntyre was among the most consistent melee players in the world at the time with a legendary Kerrigan.

However, as soon as they lost Erho, the team went completely insane. Instead of finding a new tank, they tried everything they could to get away from the formula that made them successful. To this day we still see the team trying everything they can to not put their players in the best position to win. I will never forgive the decision makers that ruined Tomster’s promising pro career. On King of Blades, Tomster was quickly rising in the scene as one of the most deadly melee assassins to ever play the game. Now two teams have signed him for his talent, and promptly stuck him in the backline. The team’s current roster simply doesn’t make sense. Should they ever put Tomster on melee, Zuna in the backline (and splash some Zeratul) and replace Bigempct with a true flex, you will quickly see this team return to prominence.

Replace BigE?

Many readers are having a visceral reaction to this statement right now. Replace one of their most talented players? Shouldn’t they be getting rid of Kenma? He sucks and is bad? Also Zuna feed! Remember, the Bob Ross Fan Club was a dominant team with Kenma in the support role. Sure the team may be able to improve with a more talented, less reportedly-toxic support, but this is not the core of their issues from my perspective.

BigE and Zuna are both talented players, easily top 20 in NA. However, both players fill the same role within a team. They are both at their best when they can make plays from a position of high damage. Further, neither has a true flex hero pool. I wouldn’t want either player on Vikings or Abathur. I also would not want to put either player on Zarya or Arthas. Neither is going to be at their best on a Tassadar or secondary support. There are players who shine in these roles, but both Zuna and Bigempct will always perform better when on the Greymanes, Li-Mings, and Tracers of the game. To put both players in the best position possible, they would have to always play compositions with two ranged assassins, or stick Zuna on Zeratul every game. This is too limiting for a team trying to contend for the top.

Were I Naventic’s coach, I would essentially start from scratch. As they’ve started to do I would quickly sign Kure to fill the tank role. Now, obviously Kure is not a tank player currently, he’s a prominent assassin. Should he want to stay in that role he should avoid Naventic like the plague. However, if I’m Naventic’s coach, I would rather work with a player who showed promise in the role and commit a few months to having him learn the role rather than go back down the road of having Zuna tank, or picking up another weak tank player.
We’d discuss as a team what to do with Kenma, but unless there are lots of toxicity issues happening, this would not be a priority change for me. I would then immediately have Tomster regain his former glory as a melee player. Zuna and I would have a long talk about identifying and defining his hero pool. Then, once I’ve got a clear understanding of how to optimize Zuna, I would find a player who’s hero pool compliment’s Zuna.

I’d be looking for a player who has the flexibility to play the odd specialists like Abathur, but also shines when playing a second support. I would also want that player to have a strong stable of Ranged assassins for when Zuna is needed on Zeratul or Genji. Essentially, my team would be built around Zuna and Tomster. Both players would be drafted into their strengths, and the rest of the team would be skilled and flexible enough to give them the support they need to carry.

Limitation is Not Weakness

This is the core concept that NA still struggles to understand. Dreadnaught has talked about it a number of times, but the goal in Heroes is to put the “burden of execution” on the enemy team. People think that you need to be able to play everything, and that more flexibility is always good. This is not the case. The game only has two bans in the draft. It is impossible to truly target-ban a player like you can in other MOBAs. By limiting your team to what works best you are making the team stronger. Drafting becomes easier, practice becomes more efficient, and analysis becomes more useful.

My challenge to every player is the really examine your hero pool. Don’t be the guy who applies for my team and tells me “I can play anything”. What you’re telling me is that you actually don’t know where you best fit into a team. You haven’t put in the work to really develop a competitive hero pool. Then, once you understand where you excel, stand by that. If you are a ranged assassin player, only join a team who will play you in that role. If you’re at your best when playing melee, make sure your prospective team understands how to draft for success with a pure melee player. If they want you to develop a Sylvanas, don’t be afraid to say no. Explain why they will be better off learning how to draft around not having that hero, or having another player play it. If a teammate quits the team, replace their role. Don’t shuffle the whole team around just to accommodate the most talented player available. Mechanical skill can grow with practice, player fit is so much more important.

As the HGC continues to grow we will see more teams come to understand the importance of role definition. This will likely be one of the areas where coaches are most helpful. Players often struggle with really identifying their role, and can get bored playing the same small pool of heroes game after game. It’s the job of the coach to put the players in the best position to win–to protect them from themselves. I firmly believe that this is the most critical point of growth for all HGC teams, and the more each team is able to master it, the faster we’ll see them grow into international contenders.

Breaking Down the Dyrus Scrims–Why Team 8’s Shotcalling is So Freaking Good

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I’ve spoken before about why I think Team 8 is so strong. Their synergy, talent, and teamfighting are among the best in the world. Last night, during a streamed scrim block, another reason was confirmed for me. Today I want to dive a bit deeper into the shotcalling of Glaurung and why I think it’s so special.

For anyone unaware, let’s quickly set the stage. Dyrus, formerly of Team SoloMid’s League of Legends squad, has been streaming HOTS in partnership with Blizzard and the MakeAWish foundation. Through some combination of kismet and chicanery, he will be playing in the HGC as a member of Team 8 this weekend. We could talk plenty about just how crazy that is, and what it means for Heroes, but that’s another topic entirely.

Last night, Dyrus and several members of Team 8 streamed a block of scrims against Tempo Storm. We were able to observe the team’s drafting, planning, and full voice comms game after game. It was an incredible peek behind the curtain, and I’d like to personally say thank you to everyone at Team 8 and Tempo Storm for their willingness to let us see that much of their practice, albeit under special circumstances. The players on Team 8 should also be commended for their willingness to embrace Dyrus, and for someone to give up their roster spot for an official HGC match. It takes a lot of humility and team-first attitude to do that.

Now then, let’s get into it. What was really special for me last night was getting to hear Team 8’s voice comms. We’ve heard before that Glaurung is a primary shotcaller, and has been so on several teams. However, we’ve never really gotten to see him in all his leadership glory like we did last night. I want to break down several things I observed that make him so special, and explain much of Team 8’s success. I genuinely believe, based on what I heard last night, that Team 8 has every potential to be the best team in the world based purely on the ability of their shotcaller.

Volume and Consistency

The first thing I observed last night is just the amount and manner in which Glaurung shotcalls. During a game, there are no prolonged moments of silence. Whether the team loses a fight, gets picked off, or wins an engagement, Glau is constantly talking. He’s discussing macro gameplans before the match starts, he’s identifying win conditions throughout the game, and he is just constantly making calls.

Additionally, Glaurung’s tone of voice is exceptional. He is the loudest member of the team at all times, but he’s never just screaming. He has a strong, commanding voice. None of his calls end in that unsure up-turn of a question. At every moment in the game he is a leader. His voice doesn’t get lost in the mess of comms during team fights. He can clearly be heard leading the troops during the heat of battle.

It cannot be overstated how unique this is. I have coached and interviewed enough teams to know that this doesn’t typically happen. On most teams, there are periods of dead silence, especially after losing a teamfight. If the shotcaller falls behind, they often lose the confidence to call engagements, especially if they lost the early game through their own errors. None of that happens to Glau. This means that no matter the situation, Team 8 is still a threat because they can still make confident engagements and utilize all of their teamfighting prowess. They can continue to make macro plays because their shotcaller is constantly talking and looking for opportunities.

We Go Off Me

Every member of Team 8 is talented. They could all be a breakout star on a lower level team. However, on Team 8, everything runs through Glaurung. no matter what hero he’s playing, he knows to make plays around his own abilities. If he’s on Medivh, they engage off of a portal. If he’s on Lunara, they engage off of him landing solid poke. If he’s on Zeratul, they are looking for a pick or a big Void Prison. Given their style of shotcalling, this puts them in a major position of strength for teamfights.

Let me explain. There is an upper limit on your ability to react to audio cues. No matter how quick your reflexes, there will always be a small delay between your brain receiving the audio message, and then interpreting that into muscle movement. This means that if you are told to engage, there will always be a slight delay between the shotcaller seeing the opening, making the call, the team hearing the call, and then responding.

This is such a big deal that there are many in the amateur HOTS scene who believe that only the warrior player can be a truly effective shotcaller. On some level that makes sense–most often they are the one with the engage tools, they should be calling the engage. Obviously, this still holds true on Team 8 to a certain degree. If Justing sees an opportunity for a clutch Mosh Pit, he will take it. However, that’s not Team 8’s position of strength.

Because Glaurung is such a commanding shotcaller, the team is trained to react to his voice more quickly. He’s the one calling all the shots in the teamfight. It is so much easier for your brain to speak what you are doing than it is to play with perfect mechanics, and also dictate an engagement through other players. This is also what allows Glaurung to maintain such a high level of play as a primary shotcaller.

Anyone who’s ever been a primary shotcaller can explain this. You cannot focus perfectly on your own play and command a team the way Glaurung is doing for Team 8. It’s scientifically impossible. Look at Hai from Cloud 9’s League of Legends team. He’s likely one of the most talented players to ever play the game. However, he was always a middle of the pack mid laner at the pro level because his focus was constantly pulled elsewhere by needing to shotcall for his whole team during the laning phase.

 It’s also happened to my teams enough that I learned my lesson. I used to always make my most talented player the primary shotcaller for the team. They had the most game knowledge and best mechanics, so they should be leading the team. However, every time I made this move, that player would suddenly start to struggle. They would get caught more in the early game, get out of position before big fights, and generally just play worse. Inevitably, I would take the shotcalling burden off of them, and their play would skyrocket back to where it had been. Glaurung is able to circumvent this by calling the fights from his own position, and building the game plan around his hero.

Team-First Culture

We won’t even waste time on Glau’s game knowledge. He’s exceptional, and has been since his days with Tempo Storm. Obviously that is important for a shotcaller, and Glaurung has it in spades. However, the last point I want to discuss is something so subtle, most people likely missed it while watching last night. However, this one thing is why I genuinely believe that Glaurung is not only the best shotcaller in the league, but will one day also be the best coach that Heroes has ever seen.

Last night, Dyrus played poorly. That’s obviously to be expected. While he was one of the best to ever play League of Legends, he’s been playing HOTS for two weeks. He simply doesn’t have the game knowledge to play perfectly in every situation. He still doesn’t know all the small interactions, or the optimal way his hero fits into each team comp. Last night, you would be perfectly reasonable if you blamed every Team 8 loss on Dyrus. He certainly gave the team plenty of opportunity. He identified his big mistakes each game and apologized. Any reasonable person would have said “hey dude, it’s cool, you’re new to the game” and moved on. But, if you listen close, that’s not what Glaurung did.

Every time Dyrus offered himself up as a free excuse for the loss, Glaurung stepped up. Go back and listen closely and you’ll here something like this:

Dyrus: Man, I really sucked that game, I still don’t know who to shield with Zarya.

Glaurung: Nah dude, I played like garbage that game. You were awesome, we would have had it if I hadn’t gotten caught.

Dyrus: I didn’t do anything that game, I just died instantly every fight.

Glaurung: Don’t sweat it man, that map is so hard when you get behind, we put you in a tough spot by dying early.

Obviously those aren’t direct quotes, but the point remains valid. Every time Dyrus opened the door for blame, Glaurung immediately put it back on himself. He never even called out another player directly. It was never “hey, it’s all good, Justing had a bad game, he couldn’t keep you alive.” This is the most amazing way to create a healthy team culture. Glaurung never has to tell his players to be critical of themselves, because he’s already living it. The team doesn’t devolve into playing the blame game, because their leader is the first to blame himself during a loss.This is something that NFL coaches preach constantly. Many teams have rules in place where you cannot criticize another player without first identifying a way that you messed up. If the team buys into this culture, there is no limit to what they can do.

As a former coach, I nearly cried hearing these reactions from Glau. So many times my teams would just fall apart because the skilled players never wanted to criticize their own play. They only wanted to talk about how they were being held back by the weakest member of the team. Last night the team had every excuse to not focus, not try their hardest, and put all of the free blame on Dyrus. Instead, they still examined their own play for wholes, and used the night to improve and prepare. That level of professionalism and team-first culture deserves to be commended. You cannot possibly know just how rare it is in esports. Every member of Team 8 deserves praise for their attitude, and it starts with their leader.

If you think I’m being hyperbolic, go back and watch last night’s stream. Watch the game where Dyrus is observing on Dragon Shire. Listen to how amazed he is by Glau’s shotcalling. He recognizes how special it is, and this is from a player who has been on one of the most storied teams in esports history. Team 8 is genuinely amazing. I also believe that this team culture will make them benefit even more from having a top notch coach. If a strong organization were to give them resources, this team more than any other would be able to use those resources to their fullest. The sky is the limit for Team 8, and I cannot wait to see what’s next.