HGC Phase 2–The 5 Big Questions Facing North America

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It’s a bit crazy to think, but the next phase of the Heroes Global Championship is already upon us. Tomorrow teams around the world will return to their regional leagues to begin clawing their way to the top. This time they’re fighting for everything, this time around we’re aiming for Blizzcon.

In North America, we saw a major roster shakeup once again. Teams made strategic moves to try and get better in preparation for this new phase. As we watch Phase 2 of the NA HGC, there are five major questions to be asked. They are as follows.

Is Goku an Upgrade?

On the opening day of the Mid-Season Brawl, Roll20 Esports announced that they would be making a trade with Superstars–Yoda for Goku. The reaction from most analysts was that this would be a strong upgrade for Roll20. Goku is a phenomenal player, and his hero pool would lend some clarity to the murky draft strategy Roll20 had with Glaurung, Yoda, and Prismaticism all playing flexible roles.

However, Yoda showed up at MSB. Many games were won off the back of his stellar Li-Ming. The team had a strong synergy, they took a map from MVP Black in the opening day, and went further than anyone expected. Now returning home from Sweden, the question has to be asked–did Roll20 make a mistake? Is replacing their Li-Ming player with a melee carry the best choice for this team’s playstyle? Who’s going to play Zeratul now?

Talent-wise, Goku seems like a clear improvement for the team. However, will the tradeoff in synergy be worth it? Will we see a repeat of GFE’s issues when Fan was brought in to take over the melee role?

Will Even In Death Win a Game?

In case you missed it, there was a last-minute shakeup in the NA HGC for this phase. B-step, the team helmed by Blizzcon Champions Kingcaffeine, K1pro, and iDream, has disbanded and abdicated their place in the league. To replace them, the team with the best playoff performance in the open division, Even In Death, was elevated to the pro level. EiD did not impress in their cruicible match, and were by no means a dominant amateur team in the regular season. Even open division caster SolidJake spoke passionately on his show Town Hall Heroes about his concerns with EiD’s worthiness for the spot.

The bottom tier teams have all made moves to improve this season, and have plenty of experience over their new colleagues on EiD. The newcomers were not even allowed to make any roster changes after they disbanded and then reformed to secure their trip to the HGC. Can this team hold together? More importantly, can they compete with the pros?

Is Naventic Back?

It’s been a long trip down for the once-dominant Bob Ross Fan Club. As Team Naventic, Zuna and crew seemed unbeatable in the early iterations of their team. Since the departure of Erho we’ve seen a slow downward spiral as the team struggled to find it’s identity without a warrior player. With Bkid at the helm many hoped for a revival, but Naventic’s first phase in the HGC was an unmitigated disappointment to fans and players alike.

Now, the team has made some brilliant roster moves. They moved Kenma, a smart player with awful mechanics, to the coaching role where he can still help the team but not get caught face-checking bushes. They’ve resolved their ranged disputes by moving Bigempct to support. Finally, iDream has come in to shore up the team’s melee position, giving them more flexibility at that role than ever before.

This is the best version of Naventic we’ve seen since the original, but can it hold up? Will the cries of “Zuna Feed” and “lagf” be louder than the team’s performance in the nexus? I expect it will take a few weeks for this roster to fully come together, but the potential is there. It will be up to Team Naventic to fight their way back to their former glory.

Is K1pro a Ranged Assassin Anymore?

If you’re new to the Heroes esports scene, you may not know the k1pro that we all love. There was a version of this player that was the undisputed best ranged assassin in the game. His Tyrande was devastating, his Tassadar revolutionary, and his Jaina unstoppable (even without cleanse). It has been a hot minute since we’ve seen that version.

Of late the version of k1 that’s been on display has been whiffing stuns as Anub’arak and struggling to find any clear identity. Now, k1 has a chance to return to his old ways with Gale Force Esports. The team has already had their identity crisis and has solidified their roles. There’s no room for k1 to play off-tanks and other nonsense. He is replacing Khroen as their ranged assassin. This move is a tall order for the former World Champion. We’ve never seen a truly impressive Li-Ming from him, and his old comfort picks are all out of the meta. In a world full of Vallas, Greymanes, and Tychusis (Tychuses? Tychi?) where does the former best in the world stack up? He’s not had a strong organization and skilled leadership guiding his way since the days of Cloud9, perhaps the leadership of Fan and Udall under the GFE banner will be enough to bring back the k1 of old.

Can Tempo Still Download Everyone?

North America is super weird. On the international level, Tempo Storm is not an especially impressive team. They struggle at every event and their weaknesses are quickly exposed. However, they continue to dominate back in North America. They were the unquestioned kings of NA during Phase 1.

The prevalent theory is that, between their coach and smart drafters, Tempo can just read all of their NA opponents. They know what they like to draft and how to counter it. Heroes is such a draft-focused game, by consistently winning the draft, Tempo essentially goes into every match with an advantage over the enemy. They also happen to be one of the only teams with a genuinely great warrior/support combo.

This season is a little different. For the full break, Tempo’s focus has been on their international opponents at the MSB. They have not been scrimming the new rosters of North America, or studying any footage of them. They have also not been scrimming or practicing on the newest patch. It is virtually impossible for Tempo to have a strong read on the NA meta going into the early weeks of Phase 2.

So, will we finally see a Tempo Storm that has to play without first downloading their opponents? Are Khala and Cattlepillar so smart that they can read the meta with only a week to prepare? Is their duo of Fury and Jun so much better than most teams that they can carry the team through the early weeks?

Or, will we finally see new teams rise up to the top of North America? Will a newly revived Naventic come knocking? Reunited with Fan, can KingCaffeine and k1pro recapture their former glory? With Goku alongside are Roll20 the new team to beat? Is there a new team who finally put the pieces together to challenge the elite? The answers to all the questions and so much more will be revealed on the next episode of Dragonball Z! By which I mean watch the HGC this weekend, it’ll be really cool.
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Community-Generated PGR Prediction Day 2: Raito Rising, K9 Out, What Do We Do With Abadango?

Based on your feedback, I’ve updated our community PGR prediction. You can read the original idea and first draft here. One thing that was clear from yesterday is that there are about 10 names in contention for those last few spots, so we really need to closely compare results to determine who makes it in at the end.  With that said, here’s the new list!

#50 Edge

#49 Regi

#48 Dath

#47 Fow

#46 WaDi

#45 Manny

#44 Zenyou

#43 NAKAT

#42 Javi

#41 Nietono

#40 JK

#39 Rich Brown

#38 AC

#37 T

#36 6WX

#35 Earth

#34 Kameme

#33 Mr. E

#32 Ned

#31 HIKARU

#30 MVD

#29 Elegant

#28 Shuton

#27 Tsu

#26 9B

#25 Zinoto

#24 ANTi

#23 Raito

#22 Samsora

#21 Falln

#20 ESAM

#19 Locus

#18 Rainai

#17 Kirihara

#16 Salem

#15 Tweek

#14 Fatality

#13 Abadango

#12 KEN

#11 VoiD

#10 Marss

#9  Captain Zack

#8  Larry Lurr

#7  Komorikiri

#6  Mr. R

#5  Ally

#4  Dabuz

#3  Nairo

#2  MK Leo

#1 ZeRo

A Serious, Critical Analysis of the Reverse Draft Meta Game–MSB Draft Breakdown

By popular (or one dude on Twitter) demand, we’re returning to our Draft Breakdown series with a bit of a twist. We’ve explored the meta in great detail and examined some amazing draft preparation by the best teams in the world. Click on these links for analysis of real games by good teams. Today, we’re instead going to look at a complete mass of nonsense–the All Star reverse draft.

While this is mostly a silly show match, what’s interesting to examine is how quickly a meta still develops even in something this ridiculous. With that in mind, Let’s take a look at Game 2 of the reverse draft series, played on Sky Temple.

Ban Phase 1

There isn’t one. Both teams skip their first bans, most likely to ensure all the silly picks are still available to give the audience the best show they can. There’s never a good enough strategic reason to skip a ban, even in a reverse draft. Don’t get cute, if you’re playing to win use all your resources.

Pick Phase 1

Terminology is going to get super weird here, because the teams are picking for each other. At this time, the West team is sitting at the East team’s computers locking in their picks for them, and vice versa. Try to keep up, I’ll go carefully.

East is first pick in this game, which means West has to choose what they want East to have first. They’ve got a gameplan for this draft that starts right now. Their choice for first pick in Murky. This is a solid pick in the reverse draft meta as you can deny any picks to your opponent that synergize well with him.

On the other side, East is locking in for West. As we’ll see over the course of this series, the reverse power picks are Samuro and Gazlowe. The team that had both heroes lost every game. With this lesson available from the first game, East quickly gives their Western opponents the two “power picks”.

Back to West picking for East, they unveil their grand strategy for this draft. West has determined that many of the popular picks in this format are bursty assassins with little synergy. They know Samuro will be on their team, and they can reasonably expect picks like The Butcher and Nova to end up there as well. Because of this, West has decided on a counter to that strategy, and are trying to force East into that strategy. With their next two picks, West gives East The Lost Vikings and Abathur.

Now with Murky, Abathur, and The Lost Vikings, East has all of the squishiest heroes in the game. It is very easy for Samuro, Butcher, or Nova to blow up these heroes quickly. The strategy here is two-fold. First, with all their assassins, West will be able to roam and farm vikings in the lanes for free experience. Then, in the temple/team fight phases, Team East will have virtually no staying power on the temples, and will have to concede them away. East will also have virtually no poke damage, so their ability to dance around temples in a 5v5 situation is nonexistant. This strategy is actually very clever for West to have developed. Unfortunately, they’re about to get too clever for their own good.

Ban Phase 2

West again lets the East’s ban disappear. East, however, has identified their opponent’s strategy. The next logical pick for this no-damage no-health team would be Lt. Morales. They actually want a shot at winning this game, so they use their ban appropriately. This is also what sets up the West to screw themselves over in the next phase.

Pick Phase 2

East is picking for West again. They continue to just throw bad heroes into the West’s composition with The Butcher and Azmodan. Both of these heroes actually play pretty well into what the West would like to run, but East has determined that a team with more bad heroes is more likely to lose.

This is interesting to note briefly. Currently the West has four terrible heroes in their comp, possibly the four worst in the game. East, on the other hand, has three specialists that you’d never want to run together. They have very low teamfight damage and, on paper, look like a disaster of a team. However, all three heroes are reasonable, if not powerful, picks in the current tournament meta. Abathur has one of the best win rates of the tournament. Vikings constantly make waves whenever they appear at the pro level. Even Murky is problematic in the right circumstances. In this way, the East actually has a more “powerful” team composition at the pro level.

Now we have to let the West lose themselves this draft. Morales is gone, but they still have their gameplan for the East. They want to follow up these three squishy specialists with absolutely no damage. They don’t want to give Abathur a remotely viable clone target (even though they’ve already done so with Murky). The idea here is to make sure that the East cannot outright contest the temples in a fight. To do this, they give the East Auriel and Lucio.

On paper, this makes perfect sense. Lucio has no damage to speak of, and Auriel will have a hard time generating hope with such a low damage team. She won’t be able to put out meaningful heals at all. Seems like a great plan, but there are a few issues with it.

First, Auriels damage is not bad. With no healer or tank on the enemy team, and the right talent selection, she becomes a bit of a force. West also has a team with very low mobility which will allow her to pile on the AOE damage in an extended engagement. Second, Lucio directly counters the West’s primary win condition. Their best strategy is to go in hard with Butcher, blow up a viking or a support, and then clean up. Lucio can knock Butcher away, and speed up everyone on his team to keep them out of range of Butcher’s auto attacks.

Ultimately, I think the West was simply not prepared for how squishy their team actually was without a healer. Murky and Abathur with the right builds can really pile on the damage. That damage just can’t close out kills generally, so it’s meaningless in the face of a good healer. With no healer, you just have to hold all those spike shots and slimes.

With the last pick, East leaves West with Raynor, another bad hero. It’s now five bad heroes versus, like, two and a half. Five is a bigger number, so the West inevitably will fall in this match.

Community-Generated PGR Prediction–How Close Can We Get?

Hey all, TrentEsports here. You may remember me from such shows as the blog you’re reading right now. Lots of you read and responded to my Mid-Season Mock PGR a few months ago, which was a blast to make.

Making a ranking such as the PGR is utterly fascinating to me. It’s completely based on data, but people respond so emotionally to the results. This kind of stuff really matters to the community, and I think it’s a ton of fun to examine and try to predict. Obviously, no matter what methodology is used, or how carefully the calculations are run, we’re all going to disagree with some aspect of the PGR. We’re all going to make a case for why some player should be higher or lower. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to change the results. We can’t message Suar on Twitter with our compelling argument and get him to re-do the videos based on our feedback.

But what if you could? What if you could present your case for your favorite players, and actually change the rankings based on your argument? What if, with our combined passion and research, we could create an approximation of the PGR together? How close would we get to the real thing? Would we prefer our results, or the ones that the data reveals next week? Could the community ever actually reach consensus?

Here’s what I propose–based on the data from my Mock PGR, I’m going to list below my prediction for the PGRv3. Then, when you disagree with where I’ve ranked a player, state your case either in the Reddit thread, or on Twitter. Based on the feedback, I will go home tonight and edit my top 50. Then tomorrow, I’ll post the new revised top 50 and we’ll start the process again. We’ll keep doing this either until we reach consensus, the PGR actually comes out, or you all get bored.

Rules

I’m doing this first draft with far less research than my midseason mock, but using it as a template. Ideally, you’ll have lots of opinions about this first draft, and then those will be reduced or better defined as we go along.

When you argue your case for a player, it must be based on their results as they are reflected by the PGR. The point of this exercise is to see how our opinions affect the data, so we have to use the PGR rules as a control. Therefore, you must argue based on the Tournament Tier System, the player’s wins against other PGR members, and award bonus points for wins against the PGRv3 top ten. Remember, 50% of a player’s score is based on their placings, and 50% is based on their set count against the rest of the PGR. Use that methodology, and convince me why I’m so wrong about Nairo or whoever.

Last rule: Remember that when a player gets moved up, other players have to move down. It isn’t enough to say that Fow “should be higher”. You need to justify how high he moves by showing that his results are better than players below where you want him to move. That said, lets do this thing!

#50 WaDi [Mewtwo]

We didn’t see WaDi at many events, but Glitch 3 was plenty. That tournament alone gave him an A-tier win and a win against a player in the top 10, Captain Zack.

#49 Dath [Robin, not Sonic]

Dath doesn’t have anything quite like his Shine run from last year to pad the resume, but he did secure 9th at FPS2. He also has more S-tier points than many other players in contention for this spot.

#48 Fow [Ness]

he didn’t come to many events, but he showed up when it mattered. Wins against the top 10 and reasonable placings at S- and A-tiers give Fow a well-deserved spot on this draft.

#47 Raito [Duck Hunt]

Thanks to the generosity of the Duck Hunt Discord, Raito has made waves this season. He has multiple wins against top players and a few respectable placings.

#46 CL | DSS [Meta Knight]

We had DSS at #45 in the Mid-Season Mock. He hasn’t fallen off especially hard, he just hasn’t competed enough in the back half of the season outside of SoCal to stay any higher. However, a few solid showings and some upset wins give him enough juice to stay on.

#45 MF |LH K9sbruce [Shiek/Diddy Kong]

K9 hasn’t had an amazing season, but he made waves at a few 2GG events and should sneak into the bottom of the list.

#44 eM | Zenyou [Mario]

SoCal helped the start of the year for many players, but the consistency fell off as more big events happened on the east coast.

#43 Manny [Sonic]

CEO gave Manny some more upsets that should help his case

#42 CLG | NAKAT [Ness, etc]

People were mad about his absence last time, I think he did enough to make it onto v3.

#41 HY 6S | Javi [Cloud]

If doubles counted he’s be way higher, but it doesn’t. Still, Javi had some decent runs throughout the season.

#40 Nietono [Shiek]

A good showing at Civil War and placings back in Japan keep Nietono on the list.

#39 Yatta Gaming | JK [Bayonetta]

He made top 8 at an A-tier, and has several good wins, enough to be above several of his SoCal bretheren.

#38 AC [Falco/Meta Knight]

AC was a bracket demon for many early in the season, and made Top 8 at an A-tier.

#37 T [Link]

Now with a full season, Civil War weighs far less than it did at the halfway mark. That run gave T many wins and a great placing, but that’s about all he has.

#36 Circa | 6WX [Sonic]

6WX made some waves, but not enough to stay in the top 30.

#35 Earth [Pit/Corrin]

Despite a character crisis, Earth had a solid season in japan, and showed up at Civil War. However, the lack of attendance in the states at S-tiers hurt this season.

#34 DNG | Kameme [Mega Man]

There have been bright moments, but largely the season’s been a disappointment for Kameme following his 2nd at EVO last season.

#33 RVL | Mr. E [Marth]

The season’s been rough for Mr. E, but he managed to put together a few 9th place finishes, and some minor Top 8s.

 

#32 Ned [Cloud]

A win over Zero, multiple top 8s, and a win at a Midwest Mayhem gave Ned a strong start to the season. He just hasn’t followed that start up with a big finish.

#31HIKARU [D.K]

HIKARU racked up the big wins at Civil War, and had several good placements in Japan this season.

#30 PG | MVD [Diddy Kong]

His win over ANTi actually looks better now than it did halfway through the season, and he capped the season with a great run at CEO.

#29 PG | Rich Brown [Mewtwo]

Rich had a promising start to the season, but having to miss so much action for his surgery combined with the struggles coming back to the scene sadly dropped Rich a few spots from PGRv2.

#28 Shuton [Olimar]

Shuton was a terror at the start of the season, but has not returned to the states in the back half of the season to earn any more significant wins.

#27 BSD | Elegant [Luigi]

Those wins over Salem and Fatality look real nice right now. Not to mention Top 8 at Nairo Saga.

#26 Tsu [Lucario]

Tsu doesn’t have a huge resume this season, but the resume he has is rather impressive and includes a coveted win over ZeRo.

#25 SHI-gaming | 9B [Bayonetta]

His wins look slightly less impressive at the end of the season, but 9B has good placings to keep him securely in the top 30.

#24 StDx | Falln [Rosalina & Luma]

Greninja Saga alone gave Falln an A-tier top 8 and a win over ZeRo without considering the rest of his solid resume.

#23 Samsora [Peach]

His run at CEO Dreamland gave Samsora several good wins, but I think some of his final placing will rely on who actually ends up in the top 10. If VoiD misses it, it really hurts Samsora’s resume.

#22 EG | Zinoto [Diddy Kong]

He picked up a shiny new sponsor, but his wins don’t necessarily impress as much as the rest of the list.

#21 IMT | ANTi [Mario and some stuff]

Greninja Saga quite literally saved ANTI’s season with a win over ZeRo and a Top 8 finish, but he wasn’t able to follow that up enough to crack the top 20 in this draft.

#20 PG | ESAM [Pikachu/Samus]

A win over Ally and multiple big Top 8s get ESAM into the top 20 in this draft.

#19 Locus [Ryu]

Civil War was not a fluke for Locus. He followed it up with a great showing at a Midwest Mayhem and Top 8 at Dreamhack Austin.

#18 Ranai [Villager]

We’re still waiting for that same Ranai from Genesis 3 to show up, and unfortunately it didn’t happen this season. That said, his S tier placings were solid and he has wins against the top 10 guaranteed.

#17 Kirihara [Rosalina & Luma]

S-tier top 8, win over ZeRo, win at FPS2–it was a good year for Kirihara, coming in as the most improved player from PGRv2 in this draft.

#16 MVG | Salem [Bayonetta]

Salem was in danger of dropping out of the top 20…and then Nairo Saga. That event alone secured Salem a top 20 spot.

#15 YP | Fatality [Captain Falcon]

The only thing missing from Salem’s resume is a win over ZeRo. Fatality has a win over ZeRo, and most of the things on Salem’s resume.

#14 P1 | Tweek [Cloud]

Tweek really did have a great year, but he wanted top 10 so bad, it’s really hard putting him this close, yet so far. That said, the S-tier results just aren’t there to justify any higher in this first draft.

#13 KEN [Sonic]

KEN is top 15 without question, but where exactly is tough to say. He’s got plenty of placings, but a lack of S-tier results. Fortunately, he made it to Top 8 at CEO, which should secure him this spot on PGRv3. I just don’t think he has the wins to go higher.

#12 CLG | VoiD [Shiek]

There may be an argument for VoiD to fall lower than this. His S-tier placings are just not where you would expect for such an elite player.

#11 Marss [Zero Suit Samus]

Marss has multiple S-tier top 8s. However, he doesn’t have the volume of work, or the top 10 wins to secure a place in the top 10.

#10 2GG | Komorikiri [Cloud]

Komo had a great year, and shows up in the Top 8 of many events, but his peak S-Tier placings are lower than everyone else in the top 10.

#9 LG | Abadango [Mewtwo]

Multiple S-tier top 8s, and a win over Komorikiri are what give Abadango his spot on the top 10.

#8 Misfits | Larry Lurr [Fox]

The first half of this season was tough for Larry, but he brought it back in the final stretch. CEO gave him an S-tier top 8, and Greninja Saga brought him several good wins to get to 2nd place.

#7 Poor | Mr. R [Shiek]

Mr. R secured himself a solid place in the top 10 this season. it’s really only ZeRo’s gatekeeping that prevents him from climbing much higher.

#6 P1 | Captain Zack [Himself]

Three S-tier Top 8s. Three. Dude shows up when it counts. The only thing keeping Zack from climbing any higher is that he doesn’t actually have any tournament wins under his belt.

#5 C9 | Ally [Mario]

To me there’s a clear line drawn at #5. Everyone from this point forward has multiple S-Tier Top 8s, and at least one A-tier tournament win. Ally stops here because the only win on his resume is a single A-tier, and he’s the only member of the top 5 to get absolutely no points from CEO.

#4 NRG | Nairo [Zero Suit Samus]

Win at Momocon along with two S-Tier top 8s. Nairo’s also the only player with finishes in the top 24 at all 4 S-Tier events.

#3 RNG | Dabuz [Rosalina & Luma]

One could make a case for Nairo over Dabuz since Dabuz missed Nairo Saga. However, Dabuz won the most valuable tournament of the entire season, so that should give him the edge.

#2 MVG FOX | MKLeo [Swords]

It felt like half the tournaments this season put Leo against ZeRo for the finals. He has an S-tier win, high placings everywhere–this was absolutely Leo’s season. Except, you know, for that one guy.

#1 TSM | ZeRo [Diddy Kong]

Duh.

How Fnatic Won the Draft–MSB Draft Breakdown eStar vs Fnatic Game 1 (Stitches/Brightwing)

Today we’re continuing our series of draft analysis for the Mid Season Brawl. We saw a ton of interesting drafts this weekend, but few were as clearly prepared and well-executed as Fnatic’s first match against eStar. This is a perfect example of a team coming in having researched their opponent, planned for the battleground, and developing a clear draft strategy.

Sidenote: I’ve gotten a request to do an analysis of the reverse draft All Star matches. I had intended for that to go up today, but the vods are not yet up on the HeroesEsports YouTube channel. I’ll do an analysis of the finals tomorrow, so look out for that on Wednesday. Anyway, on with the breakdown!
This game was played on Cursed Hollow with Fnatic having first pick. Here is the full draft as it appears on Masterleague.net.

Ban Phase 1

We’ve discussed the power picks several times (links for past entries in this series) and emphasized the importance of denying them. Normally, this first ban would be Uther or Dehaka. However, Fnatic have come into this draft with a gameplan, and they start to reveal that fact with a ban on Illidan. As we’ll see soon, this is an important ban for their composition, but it also throws everything out of balance for eStar. Normally they could use a target ban here, and ensure that they get two of the three remaining relevant power picks. Instead, every power pick is still available.

This should instantly reveal to eStar that there are shenanigans afoot. Who enables shenanigans better than any other hero? Abathur. The Chinese squad look to attack whatever strange idea Fnatic has in store by denying the Abathur. That said, with the benefit of hindsight, we can recognize that Fnatic’s draft is actually unlikely to rely on Abathur. Fnatic has the first pick, and there’s too much on the table to safely first-pick Abathur. They would have to risk passing him over to eStar’s first pick phase, and hope he makes it through. With the hero seeing so much success this tournament, it is unlikely that he makes it through, especially if Fnatic first-pick’s Genji. Estar probably should have taken away Uther, the most logical first pick, still leaving them to get two of Genji, Dehaka, and Anub’arak. However, in the situation, the Abathur ban makes perfect sense, and away goes the slug.

Pick Phase 1

Dehaka and Uther are the two strongest power picks on the table at this point. However, Fnatic goes to third on the list and opts for Genji. There are a few clever things happening here. All of what I’m about to say is complete guesswork based on hindsight, but if I’m even half-right Fnatic are geniuses. All tournament, the most terrifying composition from eStar has been their Valla/Auriel setup. Normally they would grab a piece of it in this first pick phase, likely the Valla. We could even see them lock in both Valla and Auriel in this first set to avoid a ban because the comp has been so powerful.

That said, there are still two massive power picks on the table, four if you include the tanks Anub’arak and Tyrael. All tournament the eastern teams have had a lower priority on Anub’arak, and the western teams have likewise put less emphasis on Tyrael. That still leaves Uther and Dehaka as terrifying threats to pass over to Fnatic, especially when they already have Genji. There’s too much power left on the board, so eStar are almost forced to lock in Dehaka and Uther in this phase.

Back on Fnatic’s side, they are happy to snatch up the strongest tank in the meta, so Anub’arak gets locked in. With their next pick, there’s still the opportunity to deny eStar their second best assassin, Greymane. However, Fnatic are ready to reveal that they’ve got something special planned. They use this rotation to lock in Falstad.

It is my belief that Fnatic at this point were set on Brightwing and Stitches in their comp. They want to run double global with tons of disengage and pick potential. This composition is going to make it difficult for eStar to get fights on their terms, and is a powerful counter to the Auriel/Valla strategy. However, revealing Stiches at this point gives too much away and gives eStar too much time to build a counter. They also don’t want to pick Brightwing here, as it is virtually guaranteed they’ll get it later. There’s also the chance that eStar wastes a ban on Malfurion, a very logical pick which Fnatic has no intention of playing.

Falstad is very strong and a favorite of Fnatic, so it actually doesn’t give too much away. It lets eStar know there’s something going on, but isn’t so obvious that it reveals the strategy.

Ban Phase 2

With their next ban, Fnatic make it very clear that they’ve got something in store. However, eStar get the first ban in this phase. They’re not going to play Li-Ming into Fnatic’s Anub’arak, but the wizard has potential to be problematic for whatever eStar decides to play. Because Fnatic didn’t lock in Malfurion, they’ve also correctly identified that he’s not critical to Fnatic’s desired composition. Western teams give away Tyrael regularly, so eStar are safe to make a targeted ban instead of focusing the meta picks.

Next, Fnatic bans Medivh. This is a surprising ban before you see their last picks, but perfect once you understand. Everything in this composition turns on Stitches. More than any other hero, Medivh completely wrecks this strategy. The combination of portals and protection would make it so difficult for Stitches to land a meaningful hook. He’s also untargetable in Raven form, giving you one less valid hook target. As a result, he must go.

Pick Phase 2

The next two picks should be fairly obvious, and easy to predict for Fnatic.Estar still have the chance to take their Valla/Auriel comp, but the combo has also made it all the way to this point in the draft uncontested. The Medivh ban should signal to eStar that Fnatic are trying to bait them into their favorite strategy. They think they’ve discovered a counter to it. Therefore, the correct move for eStar is to pivot into another longstanding strategy.

For over a year, the devastating combo of Tyrael and Greymane have obliterated western teams. Whatever Fnatic have cooked up, it’s going to be difficult to execute that strategy against Sanctification and a Divine Shield Greymane murdering their Falstad. The picks are locked in, and eStar should feel relatively safe at this point.

Now it’s time for Fnatic to unveil their master plan. They slam the picks–Brightwing and Stitches. The picks are locked in almost instantly. The draft has gone exactly as Fnatic wanted. There’s not even a moment of hesitation–this is exactly how they’ve wanted the draft to go.

Cursed Hollow is a very weird map in Heroes of the Storm. It’s the only map where the objective cannot actually win you the game. You could make a case for Tomb and Warhead fitting that category, but both of those objectives interact with the opponent’s core. The curse on this map does nothing except enable pushing. Further, it takes three cycles of the objective for it to be relevant at all.

This is the first half of what makes Fnatic’s comp so great. They have two powerful tanks with good poking tools who can delay the tribute. They also have two (TWO) global heroes. Estar has a solid pick composition, but no matter where they go, Fnatic can get more value in multiple lanes. Once the tribute spawns, Fnatic can delay forever. If eStar tries to commit to a fight, two more heroes can show up immediately. The longer the tributes last, the farther ahead Fnatic gets in experience and structure damage. Then, when it’s finally time to fight, Fnatic have a devastating pick combo. They can hook someone, and then have two forms of disengage with Mighty Gust and Emerald Wind. Even though they don’t have tons of burst damage, they have enough stuns and a polymorph to ensure they get enough time to kill their target. Sanctification doesn’t matter if Tyrael’s been pushed a full screen away. As mentioned during the match, Fnatic also have incredible boss control–the map objective that actually wins you the game.

With their last pick, eStar have little chance to respond to this strategy. Solo tank Tyrael does not give them enough presence around the tribute, nor does it give them enough lockdown to try and counteract Fnatic’s comp. They have Dehaka for some added beef, but he can never hang out around the tribute because he has to try and mitigate Fnatic’s gloabl pressure. At this point, eStar feel forced into another tank, and they choose Varian. They’re left with hardly any damage in their comp, and multiple valid hook targets with bad escape options. Everything has gone exactly as Fnatic wanted it. They execute their strategy, and secure the first victory in the series.

If you have a match you’d like analyze, be sure to shoot me a message on Twitter, or in the Reddit thread for this post. Thanks again for reading, I’ll see you tomorrow!

PGR Season Finale: 16 Players to Watch at CEO

ceo
It’s been an exciting season for the PGR. We’ve seen new stars rise up, veterans seek redemption, and ZeRo continue to body everyone. This weekend will mark the conclusion of the PGR’s third season at CEO down in Florida. This is the very last chance for any player to try and improve their stock before the rankings are finalized. With the help of 2GG and Frostbite bringing in Japanese talent, the competition is fiercer than ever for those 50 precious spots. As the action kicks off, let’s take a look at 16 players looking to solidify their spot, climb higher, or sneak in at the very end.

Raito

Thanks to the efforts of the Duck Hunt Discord channel, we’ve had a chance to see Raito at several major events this season. While he has not climbed all the way to a top 8, his wins are impressive. He’s taken out top 10 talent like Larry Lurr and ANTi.
On my mid-season mock PGR, Raito was one of the players in contention for that last spot. Many players in the bottom half of the PGR will be falling off this season. With a few more wins and a decent placing this weekend, Raito has a real shot at putting Duck Hunt in the Top 50.

Larry Lurr

We’ve seen Larry make amazing plays and take opponents apart on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, we’ve also seen him consistently upset early and having to make epic losers runs. While his placings remain solid, Larry’s only had a few shots to really do damage on the winner’s side of the bracket. At a tournament as stacked as CEO, Larry’s going to need to stay on his game during pools to come out alive.

There are about 15 players genuinely in contention for the top 10 this season. Larry’s going to need to close out CEO with a solid performance this weekend to secure his place once again.

Mr. R

He puts cereal on his milk and he takes ZeRo to game five with Cloud. Unfortunately, he also gets spiked at 40% in game five. Mr. R has had a very strong year and is virtually guaranteed a spot in the top 10 this season. However, the free agent won’t be satisfied with just sneaking in again. This is a player aiming to be the best in the world, hoping to break into the top five this season.

Mr. R has a number of second place and Top 8 finishes. He has good wins and a strong resume. However, we still haven’t seen that first place at an American major this season. To truly contend for those coveted top spots, Mr. R is going to need to put in some real work this weekend, ideally coming away with a win.

Esam

FREESAM memes might be fun for Twitch chat, but ESAM has had a great year. He’s conquered his biggest demon in Ally, put Samus back on the map, and has made multiple trips to the Top 8. Thanks PAX Arena and those Top 8 runs, ESAM has a great resume against the top of the PGR this season. While he likely can’t contend for top 10, ESAM can certainly make a case for a high placing in the top 20. A top 8 at the final S-tier event would secure his place among the elite. Even a few more wins against the top 10 would go a long way towards boosting the Pikachu main up the list.

Fatality

Second at Civil War, second at Momocon, a shiny new sponsor–it’s a good time to be the best Falcon in the world. Fatality is on a tear of late, proving that a true Captain Falcon main can contend with the best in the world. He’s got multiple wins on the top 10, and seems to be on a hot streak. Really the only thing standing in Fatality’s way is volume.

We haven’t seem him at as many A- and S-tier events this season, particularly the 2GGC events. Another high placing at an S-tier would help fill out his resume and put a Falcon-only player squarely in contention for a high spot in the top 20.

Salem

Salem has not made much noise this season. We haven’t seem him in many high profile Top 8s, and most people had move onto Captain Zack as the best Bayonetta player in the world. Then came Nairo Saga and the conversation changed. Multiple wins on the top 10 in that event alone along with a second place finish at an S-tier suddenly put Salem right back in the conversation at the top of the PGR.

Salem likely can’t climb much higher without getting back to Grand Finals, but he can secure a strong finish with a few more wins and a decent placing. Plus, if he finishes higher than Zack we go right back into that conversation.

Captain Zack

With a shiny new Phoenix 1 jersey, Captain Zack struggled a bit at Nairo Saga. His streak of fourth place at S-tiers came to an end. Before last weekend, Zack was firmly in the top 10. With players like Tweek and Marss nipping at his heels, missing Top 8 this weekend could put that top 10 spot up for debate. The charismatic Bayo main will need to focus hard and bring his very best against a stacked competition in order to stay ahead of his classmates.

Tweek

Captain Zack’s teammate on P1 has lofty aspirations for this season of the PGR. He has been fighting as hard as he can to breach the top 10. Unfortunately, we have not seen Tweek finish strong at any S-tier event this season. His placings at A-tiers and lower are exceptional. He has plenty of relevant wins. This is Tweek’s last chance to break through that barrier and into the true elite class of Smash 4. A Top 8 keeps him firmly in contention for top 15, a win at CEO would put him right into that top 10 conversation.

MVD

While not battling for the top 10, MVD is certainly making a case for himself. Finishing near the bottom of the pack last season, ESAM’s static partner has been putting in work thus far. He has wins against top players and several impressive placings under his belt. He has a real shot at the top 30 this season. Many of the players competing for his spot won’t be at CEO this weekend, so it’s a perfect opportunity for MVD to pad his resume with a few more wins and become one of the most improved players of the season.

Marss

Marss has been solid all season long, but outside of a splash at Civil War we haven’t seen that truly exceptional run out of the Northeast’s favorite son. He wants top 10. He wants it really bad. Unfortunately, he’s probably not going to get it. Unless, of course, he finishes the year with a win at CEO. A second high placing at an S-tier event would be huge for Marss in that crowded top 15 and potentially push him over the edge into the top 10.

Locus

How can you not love Locus? He’s always happy, smiles even in defeat, and also happens to be a stone cold murderer in bracket. It’s become strange to see Locus at an event and not see him in the Top 8. That said, there are still a few demon’s lurking out there for the Canadian Ryu main. The bracket at CEO will be riddled with Rosalinas waiting to send Locus to loser. His resume is solid this season, and almost worthy of a strong top 20 finish. This will be his last chance to really show just how far Ryu can take him.

Javi

He’s very good in doubles, and a powerhouse threat in Mexico, but we’ve yet to see Javi release his full potential at a major this year. My mock PGR had his in a solid spot due to some strong placings early in the year, but we’re still waiting for that true breakout performance from Javi.

As we’ve said before, the back half of the PGR is a war zone. There are dozens of players trying to scramble over each other for a few remaining spots. To stay on top of the pile, Javi will need to lock in a few more wins and a decent placing at CEO this weekend.

Falln

The 2GGC has been kind to the SoCal Rosalina main. We’ve seen multiple Top 8s and some great wins out of Falln this season. Realistically his potentially has continued to soar all season long. Unless your Suar, it’s hard to tell just how high Falln can climb, and a big finish at CEO would only help kick on those afterburners sending him into the stratosphere. Early in the year we had Kirihara firmly locked in as the second best Rosalina on the PGR, but Falln is suddenly calling that claim into question. Since he won’t be at CEO, Japan’s best Rosa will have to sit and watch as Falln tried to come up and take his place.

ANTi

The first half of the season was rough for ANTi. He had a 9th place at Genesis, but little else to his name. Thanks to Greninja Saga he’s back in the Top 8 at an A-tier and has a win over ZeRo to his name. Nothing short of winning CEO will put ANTi back in discussion for the top 10. That said, he did it last year, and the man does like to put on a show. ANTi’s potential for this season is now virtually untapped. All we can do is wait and see what he’ll do next, and just how far Mario can take him.

Kameme

On last season’s PGR, Kameme earned his 11th place largely due to a single good run to second place at EVO. We have no such run this season from everyone’s favorite Japanese Mega Man, and the PGR is less kind to spiky players. Kameme is now desperately fighting to even stay close to the top 20. He needs wins against the top 10 and he needs a Top 8 finish in a bad way.If he can dodge a few Marios, perhaps Kameme can crawl his way back into the upper half of the PGR and set himself up for a better run next season.

Ranai

Ranai has by no means had a bad season. He’s still firmly in contention for the top 15. However, we have not seen that same Ranai yet from Genesis 3. The Ranai who gave ZeRo the fight of his life. We’ve seen bits and pieces of that Ranai. But the whole picture has yet to take shape. This season has been especially rough for the Villager main due to some team kills by his friend and teammate Komorikiri. If the two can dodge each other early in bracket, perhaps they can face off this time in the ring at CEO.

I have thoroughly enjoyed watching this season of Smash 4 through the lens of the PGR. Thanks to Suar and the whole PGR team for providing me with tons of content and intrigue over the last six months, I can’t wait to see how things shake out as we conclude the season this weekend at CEO.

How eStar Won the Draft: MSB Draft Breakdown L5 vs eStar

By (moderately) popular request, we’re continuing our series breaking down the drafts of the group stage at the Mid Season Brawl. In our last two entries (found here and here) I covered drafts that both features NA and EU teams exclusively. Today I’m branching a bit outside my comfort zone to examine a draft between L5 and eStar. I have not watched any regular season play of these two teams, so take my analysis with a few grains of salt. However, we’ll be focusing our analysis on the meta of this tournament.

This is Game 2 of their group stage match, played on Infernal Shrines. eStar barely lost the last game on a bad core call but played strong throughout the match with their terrifying Auriel/Valla comp. Though they earned the victory, the burden is on L5 to adjust their draft strategy going into game 2.

Ban Phase 1

We’ve identified the power picks of this tournament in previous posts. eStar open by taking away the correct power pick in Dehaka. This is important to note briefly. As first pick, you always want to put the burden of banning the best power pick onto your opponent. Uther is far and away the best power pick at this point in the tournament.
Taking away Dehaka denies an incredibly scary option from L5, but still leaves Uther potentially available for eStar. This is made even harder for L5 because eStar actually have a 6th power pick, Valla. Based on the previous game, and everything we’ve seen from eStar up to this point, L5 decide that the Valla is a bigger problem than the Uther and take it away.

Pick Phase 1

As already discussed, Uther is the obvious first pick. It enables everything eStar wants to do with their aggressive comps, and denies the best support from L5.
On the other side, L5 have decided that they are going to try and focus their draft on denying XingC. They take away his Greymane, and follow it up with a Malfurion. The Malf pick is somewhat interesting here. eStar have their support already. They are unlikely to pick Malf with their next two picks, because they still need so many other things, and so many strong picks are still on the table. What this pick says is that L5 are scared of a Malfurion ban in the second ban phase. They feel their comp will be so much weaker with the third best support, that they are willing to give up any hope of securing the remaining power picks.

With the door opened up, eStar quick snatch their Genji (one of the remaining power picks) and Illidan. Both high value warriors are still available at this point, but eStar are confident that their composition can function with any warrior, or no warrior at all. Essentially, eStar are calling out L5 with this Illidan pick. They are confident that L5 have no way to punish their double assassin strategy, so they can reveal it this early in the draft. They’ve given the opponents a ban phase and three picks to build a composition that deals with Genji/Illidan, it is up to L5 to respond correctly.

Ban Phase 2

There are two remaining components that would perfectly complete eStar’s draft. Abathur gives both assassins additional shields, and the two incredible clone targets. Tyrael provides a beefy dive buddy, shields, and extra protection in Sanctification. L5 can ban either, and both choices would be correct. They decide to prioritize the Abathur, not wanting to deal with the split push on a bigger three lane map. I actually think this is the better choice, because now there is a possibility that eStar bans Tyrael to deny the Koreans their favorite warrior.

Instead, eStar take a gamble. They still want the option to get Tyrael into their composition. Something in their research, their read of the opponent, or simply their hope says that L5 are not going to play Tyrael this game. Alternatively, they just feel like Anub’arak and Cocoon provides a harsher counter to their strategy. Either way, down comes the Anub ban.

Pick Phase 2

Now L5 have one more chance to deny anything from eStar’s composition. The most obvious choice here is to take Tyrael, and follow it up with a strong ranged option that potentially denies eStar’s final pick. Instead, L5 says “nah, screw it, Rag and Diablo.”

Let’s back up for a second. Ragnaros is largely out of the meta at this tournament. Diablo has seen some strong play, but both Tyrael and Muradin present options equal to or better than the Lord of Terror. One could argue that this is just L5 throwing the draft, or being too far behind the meta to properly identify the best picks. However, the goal of these articles is to try and look at why each team felt that these picks were their best option in the current draft.

L5 expect to be on the back foot. The opponent already has so much dive potential and such high mobility, there’s no hope for the Koreans to get a clean engagement on their opponent. They can’t hope to engage in a poke war because Genji and Illidan are going to set up a summer home in their back line. They’ll visit for a few weekends, and then retire there permanently. L5 has decided that if eStar wants to move into their backline, they should just welcome them to the neighborhood. Are you as tired of this analogy as I am? Good, let’s move on.

The hardest part of facing an Illidan comp is dealing with how hard he can chase your team when you lose the fight. Ragnaros gives L5 the option to let themselves be chased back to a fort, and then turn the fight with Molten Core. The Diablo pick also helps L5 just stay in the fight. He provides almost as much disruption as Anub’arak, and Apocalypse follows up quite nicely to Sulfuras Smash. What L5 wants to do is allow eStar to dive them, and then just fight them right there.

Back on the eStar side of things, decisions have become very simple. Tyrael is available, Sanctification is very good, so eStar picks Tyrael. With their last pick, they decide to provide their composition with an alternate win condition. Were I eStar in this position, I would be marginally concerned about a last pick Zeratul from L5. My composition is heavily melee and trying to all dive into the same area. The threat of VP into Apocalypse into Twilight Dream could always give L5 the chance to make a comeback with one good engagement. Instead of leaning harder into their dive composition, they support it with a Tychus. In an extended fight with no Zeratul, Tychus rips through the L5 frontline. Further, this gives them more presence and zone control around a shrine with the odin.

With their final pick, L5 commit further to their “fight where you dive” composition. Alarak is a clear comfort pick for the team. It gives them more displacement, some reasonable poke damage, and good follow up to a Twilight Dream. On paper, L5 had already lost this draft hard the moment they locked in Ragnaros. That said, they’ve identified a strategy, and are trying to piece together a composition that fits that strategy. If they can bait eStar into chasing them too hard, they have a powerful opportunity to turn the fight around on their terms. Obviously that’s not how this game will play out, but it does provide a more reasonable context to this odd draft.

In essence, L5 tried to build a comp that reacted to eStar’s composition rather than trying to weaken the enemy comp during the draft. They did not actively deny any piece of eStar’s ideal composition except for the Abathur. Instead, they put together a team that hoped to punish eStar’s hyper aggression by turning at the right moment and fighting the one member that chased them too far. The problem with this idea is that it relies on the opponent making a mistake. While the Chinese team loves to be aggressive, there is a high level of discipline in their aggression. This composition would likely punish a weaker team in the same situation. It would capitalize perfectly on a shotcaller like Glaurung overreaching, or staying too long to try and get one more kill. eStar is not that sort of team. They remain disciplined while never letting their foot off the gas, and secure the game two victory.

Thanks again for reading! Be sure to check out the other two entries in this series, Fnatic vs Roll20 and Tempo Storm vs Dignitas. If you see a draft this weekend that you’d like me to examine, shoot me a message on Twitter.

MSB Draft Breakdown–Tempo Storm vs Dignitas

For fans of high level strategy, Heroes of the Storm is the best MOBA on the market. The drafting phase requires more planning and adaptation than in any other game. The variety of maps necessitate multiple contingency plans, and the mid-pick ban phase forces teams to be even more flexible.

 

When I wrote for Riot, I used to do a series breaking down a draft in detail. Today I want to do the same with a match from the Mid-Season Brawl. We’re doing to dive deep into the draft of Game 2 between Tempo Storm and Dignitas. We’ll analyze each ban and pick in turn, theorizing on each team’s thought process, and ultimately determining how much impact the draft had on the result of the match. I had fun doing this earlier in the week with Fnatic and Roll20, check out that article here.

A quick note–I will make a couple of logical leaps or assumptions during this article. Obviously, I’m not on comms with the teams, nor have I had the opportunity to talk with any of the players. If any analysts or coaches can dispute a claim or presumption I make, I would encourage them to do so. The purpose of this article series is to help fans understand all the complexities of a high-level draft phase, but I also want to be as accurate as possible. That said, let’s get to it!

This game was played on Cursed Hollow. The VOD above is timestamped to start at the draft.

Ban Phase 1

At this point in the tournament, the power picks have been clearly identified. The power picks are the candidates for early bans or first pick. They are Uther, Dehaka, Genji, Anub’arak, and Tyrael. In standard draft fashion, they first ban one of the power picks, Dehaka. Likely they chose this because they aren’t worried about Anub’arak, have replacements for Genji, and would like the chance to get Uther first pick.

Dignitas opt for the “second pick advantage” strategy. Rather than ban a power pick, they target Tempo Storm’s Zeratul. This means that they have the option to take multiple power picks with their turn while denying something in Zeratul that could upset their gameplan.

Pick Phase 1

Tempo Storm is a unique team that gains power from their support being on comfort. We’ve seen Jun make play after play on Uther throughout his career. Uther also happens to be the best support in the meta, and plays perfectly into their gameplan for this draft. It’s an easy choice to grab the Uther first pick here.

On Dignitas’ pick phase, there are two power picks left in Anub and Genji. However, while Dig quickly snatch the best tank, they leave Genji open and opt for Greymane. This feels like a mistake because it gives the power pick away to Tempo Storm’s Psalm, who has been prioritizing and enjoying Genji of late. However, we can theorize why this might be the better choice. It’s possible Bakery and crew knew they wanted to run a heavy frontline, teamfight-focused composition. They need some decent ranged poke for the tributes, but more emphasis on that hard engagement. Greymane gives them those tools better than Genji.

At this point, the Genji is an easy choice for Tempo. Now, they are in a familiar place for this tournament. One team has Genji, the other has Greymane. Both are outstanding clone targets for Abathur, and the opponent has an outstanding Abathur player. This is a good map for the slug, and the Greymane pick has signaled Dignitias may be considering it, so Tempo grab Abathur as a denial pick.

Ban Phase 2

Tempo Storm are still without their tank. With their Tyrael ban, Dignitas deny both power pick tanks. Tempo’s next ban is an interesting one. They have the opportunity to deny Malfurion, easily Bakery’s favorite choice with Uther gone. They could also target Arthas, a comfort pick for Zaelia. However, they choose to deny Li-Ming from Mene. We’ve seen Dignitas prioritize Li-Ming early in other drafts, so this is obviously a comfort pick for them, making this a reasonable ban. However, it is by no means the “correct” ban with Malfurion still on the table. That said, with the benefit of hindsight we can theorize why this ban is actually brilliant.

At the end of this draft, Tempo is working towards a Chen pick. They banned Dehaka and picked Uther to deny as many stuns as possible from the enemy team. One of Anub’s stuns wastes his engagement, and he won’t use Cocoon on a Chen. With Malfurion available, that will be Dig’s support pick guaranteed. Greymane will go to Snitch, so there’s nothing in the meta for Mene to play that has an interrupt outside of Li-Ming’s Wave of Force. Ban it away, and Dig will have almost no answers to a Chen in their backline.

Pick Phase 2

Dig’s next two picks go as expected. Zaelia gets cozy with his Arthas, and Bakery has his Malfurion. Comfort all the way around. The high volume of roots will also serve to slow down the two Genjis jumping around everywhere.

Now Tempo can spring their trap. They have enough data on the enemy composition to know Chen is safe. They first lock in Muradin as their tank, who dives in well with Chen and Genji. Then Tempo reveals their surprise pick.

Backing up for a moment, it’s important to note that this composition is actually enabled by Dignitas’ first ban. If you look at it, Tempo has drafted one of the most all-in compositions in history. Every hero (in the teamfight) is melee. They are going to deathball like there’s no tomorrow. A Void Prison could punish this composition hard. However, Dig banned it away, so there’s no chance that they can pick it with their last remaining slot.

Now Dignitas have one final pick to try and counteract Tempo’s unique composition. They see two tanks, so a logical human would immediately think about Tychus. However, Tychus has been struggling in the meta of late. He really hasn’t impressed. Further, Tempo is just too mobile for Tychus to be able to sit still and shred these tanks. There will be three pandas and two Genjis in his face at all times. Kael’thas gives them another potential stun, but again gets ripped apart by the Genji brothers. Instead of trying to deal with the fight, Dignitas pivot to Sylvanas.

This is a decent pick in their current situation. In the teamfights, this is another silence to stack on top of Twilight Dream. Maybe that gives Greymane and Arthas the time they need to do work. More importantly, Sylvanas allows Dig to say “forget the fights, we’re just gonna go where you’re not and push lanes.” Further, if Dig can ever win a fight clean, they will be able to get immense value even if they can’t win tributes. Obviously, this plan will fall apart in the actual game, but it is a sound strategy when faced with Tempo’s cheese.

By reacting to the first ban, and cleverly baiting Dig to avoid picking stuns, Tempo were able to secure one of the most aggressive drafts I’ve ever seen. The gamble paid off and allowed Tempo Storm to steal the upset victory in Game 2.

Draft Breakdown–Fnatic vs Roll20 Esports

 

For fans of high level strategy, Heroes of the Storm is the best MOBA on the market. The drafting phase requires more planning and adaptation than in any other game. The variety of maps necessitate multiple contingency plans, and the mid-pick ban phase forces teams to be even more flexible.

When I wrote for Riot, I used to do a series breaking down a draft in detail. Today I want to do the same with a match from the Mid-Season Brawl. We’re doing to dive deep into the draft of Game 1 between Fnatic and Roll20 Esports. We’ll analyze each ban and pick in turn, theorizing on each team’s thought process, and ultimately determining how much impact the draft had on the result of the match.

A quick note–I will make a couple of logical leaps or assumptions during this article. Obviously, I’m not on comms with the teams, nor have I had the opportunity to talk with any of the players. If any analysts or coaches can dispute a claim or presumption I make, I would encourage them to do so. The purpose of this article series is to help fans understand all the complexities of a high-level draft phase, but I also want to be as accurate as possible. That said, let’s get to it!

Ban Phase 1

Fnatic’s first ban is obvious and simple. Medivh let’s Roll20 do too many wacky things, so get it out of there. On the other side, Roll20’s ban is a bit more interesting. Obviously, Dehaka is a very solid ban, it’s one of the power picks of the tournament. However, it’s another hero that has brought Roll20 a great deal of success. Really, Dehaka is the only secondary warrior that works well for this team. By banning it Glaurung is hoping to do a few things.

First, he’s signaling that the team doesn’t really want to play double warrior in this game. Second, he’s trying to play to the “second pick advantage” This theory states that if there are four power picks in a meta, and first pick does not ban one, second pick has the advantage. They can take more of the power pick heroes. Let’s assume Roll20 thinks the power picks are Dehaka, Uther, Anub’Arak, and Genji. By banning Dehaka, Roll20 gets some combination of the best support, best tank, and Glaurung’s second best hero.

This is great in theory, but as we’ll see it falls apart later on because it ignores a fifth power pick in any international meta–Tyrael. We’ll get to that later. For now, bans are done and we move into the first pick round

Pick Phase 1

Fnatic now have the option to deny Genji, or secure themselves a power pick at support or tank. They choose the best option available by picking Uther. Based on what’s available, Fnatic are virtually guaranteed to get either Genji or Greymane in their next set of picks. Both heroes pair well with Uther, and the pick denies Roll20 the guaranteed Uther-Genji synergy.

Operating under our assumption of Roll20’s second pick advantage, they pick up their two power picks Anub’arak and Genji. This is pretty much the only option available here unless they wanted to go for some hardcore cheese. With Medivh gone, they don’t want to put Justing on Diablo. Fnatic’s Uther pick means they cannot give Genji away. Further, Genji puts Roll20 in a strong yet flexible position. We’ve seen Prismaticisim play Genji well in HGC, so his team actually has not locked Glaurung into his pick yet. They have the ability to pull out some surprise at the end of the draft if needed.

Back on Fnatic’s side, Greymane is an obvious pick. Good on the map, great with Uther, and prevents any sort of crazy Genji-Greymane nonsense from Roll20. The next pick would logically be Tyrael, but here’s where things get interesting. Instead of locking in their best Warrior option, Fnatic pick Li-Ming.

At first glance, Li-Ming is an awful pick here. There are lots of strong options to deny from Roll20 here, and you’re picking a poke mage into Anub’arak. Watching the vod you can hear the shock from the analysts at this pick. However, with hindsight we can reasonably theorize that Fnatic had their entire draft planned out at this precise moment. I’ll explain as we go, but this Li-Ming pick is precisely where Fnatic won the draft.

Ban Phase 2

Li-Ming combined with Greymane signals a pick-style composition from Fnatic. If you are Glaurung in this situation, you are thinking that Fnatic wants to pick off your backline with their high burst damage. It’s unlikely that Fnatic will pick Judgement Tyrael, so now you’re actually more scared of Varian. He enables this composition from Fnatic more than Tyrael, and limits your backline options more. Therefore, instead of the power-ban of Tyrael, you have to go with the reactive ban of Varian. A great ban that plays right into Fnatic’s trap.

At this point, Fnatic are doing everything they can to bait Roll20 into a Tyrael pick. It’s the last power pick left on the table, and it screws over Glaurung and crew. They have not proven that they can play double warrior at the highest level without Dehaka. This is what makes Fnatic’s second ban so smart. You can reasonably theorize that with Medivh gone, Roll20 will want to put Glaurung on the Genji. Therefore, they will be looking to put Prismaticism on something that enables Genji. The two most logical options here are Abathur and Tassadar. Tass is a great enabler, but he doesn’t work nearly as well with Genji as he does with heroes like Tracer or Valla. Further, denying Abathur denies any shennanigans with double Genji. It is unlikely that Rol20 will pick Tassadar if it’s available, so the ban goes to Abathur.

Now, Fnatic have denied most strong synergies with Genji, and have denied Prismaticism his best available pick. However, they’ve also left an extremely juicy pick on the table–Tyrael.

Pick Phase 2

This bait is outstanding from Fnatic. Roll20 does not want to play Tyrael here. It’s not their best option. However, Fnatic still has no warrior. Anub’arak and Varian are both gone. By picking Tyrael here, they force Breez onto his fourth best tank option. Heroes of the Storm only gives you two bans. As a result, teams are trained to use their picks as additional bans against the enemy team. Picking Tyrael here gives you a power pick, but more importantly it bans the best available warrior away from Fnatic. It’s not the best pick for Roll20’s style, but this is absolutely the smartest pick available on paper. They then snap up Malfurion to secure the best available support.

Roll20 have made every correct decision up to this point. Glaurung is a brilliant drafter, but that is exactly what allows Fnatic to spring their trap. They let the timer wind down, but snap-pick Diablo and Zeratul together. Suddenly their odd composition has come online. They have Greymane to contest the shrine, but what they truly want is the teamfight before the shrine phase. It’s true that Anub’arak eliminates much of Li-Ming’s power in a poke war. However, with their VP/Apocalypse wombo-combo, Fnatic remove that threat. They stall the enemy team allowing Li-Ming and Greymane to get in position, and then use their high burst to eliminate priority targets. From there they are free to clean up any fight with their resets. It is a devastating teamfight composition that remained hidden behind a strange poke/shrine control composition with their initial picks.

At this point, Roll20 are left with very few options. By picking Tyrael, they’ve locked themselves out of any double support options with their last pick. They can’t take Falstaad or any mage because they get blown up by Zeratul. Tyrael offers some protection, but with Genji and Anub in the frontline the Tyrael needs to be moving forward and using Sanctification aggressively, not protecting a squishy backline. Picking another melee plays right into the Void Prison setup. Really their only option at this point is to pick a low value Tychus and hope to position well enough to deny good engagements from Fnatic.

The game goes to Fnatic. Their plan works and is well executed. They forced two members of Roll20 onto weak picks, and gave them no room to recover. A prime example of the pivotal role of the draft phase in Heroes of the Storm.

Thanks for reading, these are a ton of fun to write. If you have a draft you’d like analyzed in this manner, let me know in the comments on Reddit, or drop me a line on Twitter. Make sure to specify if it’s from Game 1 or 2 of the series.

5 Things We Learned From MSB So Far

msb

The opening weekend of the Mid-Season Brawl surpassed all possible expectations. We saw crazy upsets, unique drafts, and the return of everyone’s favorite voodoo shaman–Kaelaris.

Obviously, there’s plenty of group stage left and anything can happen. These first few matches represent a major learning opportunity for the teams in Sweden. Unexpected holes are discovered, the tournament meta starts to reveal itself, and teams can begin to make adjustments. In the same way, fans of the HGC learned a great deal from those initial games. Here are the top 5 things we learned from the opening weekend of the MSB.

5. Roll20’s Bright Future

We’ll get into their upset of MVP in a bit. This blog has been 90% about justifying NA roster changes, so let’s do that briefly. In their opening games Roll20 showed immense promise. They made Black look like an Open Division team in that first match, and handled business against their wildcard opponent. However, it’s that second game against MVP Black that shows how much further this team can go.

It may seem odd to some that a team with so much promise as Roll20 is making a roster change. Further, bringing in a predominantly melee player with Glaurung on the team appears odd. However, if we really examine that second MVP game, the decision makes perfect sense. Roll20 had a strong draft that played to their strengths on Battlefield of Eternity. They had their Medivh, they had Greymane to race with the immortal, and they had a strong front line. On paper this is a great and correct draft, but it is not an ideal draft for this iteration of Roll20.

Prismaticism has surprised me with his strong showing on many heroes. However, the only place he’s really struggled is with certain melee-focused heroes. Ragnaros and Greymane are particular concerns. Prismat was a key part of every Roll20 victory this weekend, but his Greymane was also a pivotal part of their loss against MVP. Imagine that same draft with Goku on the Greymane and Prismaticism on the Leoric. Suddenly those few micro-misplays in the first few teamfights become clutch plays. Roll20 was winning the early game before the fighting started, it is entirely reasonable to suggest with some slightly better play from Greymane in those opening fights, Roll20 had a legitimate shot at going 2-0 against the favorites to win the whole thing. I expect Roll20 to make it out of groups and give a great show during the remainder of the MSB. However, I am already itching to see how much further they can go once they get home and start practicing with Goku.

4. The Tyrael Rule Still Applies

During the regular season, some regions tend to lose faith in Tyrael. The warrior meta shifts and evolves, and we move onto solo Leoric, Varian, Diablo, and so on. Side note–as a writer HOTS is uniquely frustrating because you can never end a list with the phrase “etc” because it always looks like you just forgot to capitalize a hero’s name.

Anyway, Tyrael is still really good. Korea quickly reminds us of this at every international event. Fortunately, it appears a few teams remembered this lesson from last time and have developed strategies to deal with it. Whether those strategies hold up in the bracket phase remains to be seen, but regardless it’s high time everyone simply acknowledged that Tyrael is not going anywhere–he’s really good and here to stay.

3. 4th Guy OP

3rd guy was not only a great meme, but a solid analyst during playoffs. That said, I have been blown away by Fan at the analyst….lounge? I can’t call it a desk because they’re in weird, like, bachelor pad chairs. Analyst chill-zone? Bro-down game talk area?

Either way, Fan has been impressive. Obviously he knows the game, that shouldn’t shock anyone. However, his ability to communicate far exceeds elite players in most games. Watch any League of Legends analyst desk from the early years and you will see players give the most cringe-worthy interview answers and clunky analysis. Fan can keep up with veteran casters like Kaelaris and Grubby. The way he flows through replays is exceptional. There’s never a moment of dead air. Frankly, if you’re hoping for a job in Heroes as a caster or analyst, I would consider new career aspirations. When players like Cauthon and Fan retire, they will immediately scoop up all those jobs and do them better than you or I ever could.

2. See Hero, Kill Hero

In a weekend filled with surprises, one of the biggest was the sheer dominance of Estar. China has always shown strength, but often visa issues and over-aggression get the best of them. So far, the agressive Chinese playstyle has been serving Estar well. They’ve blown through both their opponents looking strong while doing it. Tempo Storm tried this style and were upset by another Zeratul making plays. Roll20 used a similar method against MVP but still had to cautiously close out the game. It may often be imitated, but no one can quite duplicate the raw aggression of a top team from China.

The big question for Estar at this point is how long they can sustain this style of play. There will be lots more games played at this event, plenty of time for opponents to study Estar and find holes in their gameplan. Can Estar keep suffocating their opponents, or will someone figure out how to gain some breathing room?

1. Even Gods Can Bleed

Since Blizzcon the conversation on Reddit and elsewhere has been borderline depressing. Every time a team makes a great play, announces a smart roster change, or dominates their region we always see the same comments arise. “That’s all well and good, but it’s irrelevant until they can actually beat Korea.”

The apologists will offer plenty of excuses. MVP wasn’t playing seriously, Dignitas got lucky in that first game, Korea is just hiding strats for the bracket phase. The thing is, it doesn’t matter. Fnatic made the first cut last year, but Roll20 and Dignitas have opened the floodgates. The immortal Koreans are human. They can be cut. If they can bleed, they can be defeated. L5 and MVP Black may ultimately meet in the finals of the MSB. They may turn it on and crush their foes from here on out. However, even that is a win for the West at this point.

Like Goku against Freiza, Roll20 and Dignitas made the Koreans fight with both hands. They will be forced to respect their opponents, to show their strength. Teams now have real, genuine hope. They’ll have better data going into the bracket stage. We now have two separate events where Korea has been wounded by the West. The dream of international parity is not dead. I cannot wait to see what happens next.