The narrative in North America still finds a way to infuriate me. It seems that even content creators are still stuck on the never-ending cycle of blaming NA’s general weakness on frequent roster changes, and attacking all the teams that made moves this offseason (with likely more moves still to come). Personally, I’m tired of this. It has become easy and lazy for the general fanbase to just look at any roster change and scream “lul NA” or “NA egos”, etc. Today, I want to start removing some of the stigma from the concept of roster changes. I want to help educate the community on when roster changes are a smart decision, and examine several scenarios in the NA scene that are actually very intelligent, necessary roster moves.
Before we get into it, I want to quickly dispel on other frequent criticism. People seem to be frustrated that teams are not only making constant roster changes, but they are just recycling veteran players. We see the same players just rotate around between the teams, and never see any new blood come into the scene.
First, this concept is a little bit over-blown. When K1 and Caff formed the team that became Denial, they brought in Prismaticism and aPm, two unproven young players. Tempo Storm’s current roster pulled Jun out of Hero League obscurity. Teams are very obviously looking at the amateur scene and conducting tryouts with newer players. If you actually think that teams are exclusively looking at players that have been in the scene since early 2016, you are just flat out wrong.
That said, bringing in a rookie is a risky move. There is certainly some potential for upside, and there are absolutely amateur players who show promise. However, veterans are often a known quantity. Take a look at a player like Bkid. He’s bounced around several teams. We can pretty safely say at this point that he’ll never be the best tank in the region. However, he has offline experience, and you know that he won’t suddenly lose all his skill and throw games for you. He may not win you the HGC, but he also probably won’t be the reason you lose. For a team feeling like they are close to success, but missing one piece of the puzzle, Bkid is the ideal sort of move. There may be an amateur tank with more potential, but that comes with added risk.
Additionally, the amateur scene has proven that, on the whole, it isn’t worthy of the risk in NA. Neither team was able to rise up in the Crucible. No player on either team stood out and carried their crew over the two failing HGC squads. The NA amateur scene is provably weak. HGC teams scrim these players periodically, and have seen what they can do when their career is on the line. Ultimately, there is just no reason for an NA team to trust that an amateur player can come in and save their roster. If you are a GFE, you are thinking about Blizzcon for this year. You are looking to put together a roster that can win right now. From a management perspective, it makes way more sense to sign two proven veterans than to take a risk on a talented rookie. The success ceiling may not be as high, but the risk of failure is much lower. It is the responsibility of amateur teams and players to prove that they are worth the risk, and they have failed to do so.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the good reasons to make a roster change. My hope is that not only will this blog help fans understand the moves in NA, but also guide those with their own teams through the muddy waters of amateur/casual team management.
Every NFL offseason you’ll hear about players who “look good in shorts.” These are players who have everything you need on paper. They run fast, jump high, and can catch the ball with one hand. However, once they get on the field in a real game, they suddenly struggle. As soon as the enemy team starts to study them, weaknesses get exposed. Maybe the player has a tell which gives away where their going to run, or they don’t have the confidence to make a catch over the middle.
This is essentially what happened to Naventic. They were a dominant team, no one could touch them. For so long no one had an answer for their aggressive playstyle. Then teams started to study. They exposed a weakness: Kenma. Kenma’s positioning was consistently awful. Teams capitalized on this and punished Naventic time and again. Obviously, Kenma and Naventic were aware of the weakness and tried to fix it. However, this was a true gap in Kenma’s play. Over time it has been proven that he cannot overcome this weakness. Therefore, in order for Naventic to improve, that weakness had to be removed.
This is the easiest sort of roster change to make. No one disagreed with Naventice removing Kenma as a starting player. If a player has a clear weakness, the team must identify and address it. If the player cannot overcome that weakness, or your team can not compensate for it, then you have no other choice but to make a change.
As you and your teammates learn more about each other, you start to develop your team system. This is the style of play that brings you the most success. Sometimes a player can be talented and actually play well, but still not perfectly fit your system.
We were all caught off guard when GFE removed Khroen from the active roster. No one thought he was actually part of GFE’s problem, they just needed a tank! Bringing in K1, a player who has been on the decline for the last year, in the same role didn’t seem to make much sense. Some argued that Caff and K1 were a packaged deal, but the more I think about it the more I don’t quite buy that. GFE was in third, they are easily on the path to Blizzcon. It would be insane to remove one of your good players just to appease the demands of your new tank player. GFE’s manager has also denied that K1 and Caff were a package, so based on analysis and evidence I’m inclined to ignore that narrative.
That said, when you really think about it, Khroen and K1 don’t actually fill the same role. Yes, they were both classified as Ranged Assassin players, but their hero pools are completely different. Khroen made his name on Li-Ming and Tracer, highly mobile assassins with playmaking prowess. K1, on the other hand, has always been an innovator. He pioneered builds for Falstaad and Tassadar, he made his name on Jaina and Tyrande. To me, GFE identified the system they wanted to play with Udall, Fan, and Akaface. In that system, the Khroen style of assassin did not fit. They believe that K1 better fits this new system, and has the added advantage of pre-existing synergy with their new tank, and with Fan.
Khroen wasn’t “the problem” but he also wasn’t the solution with the team’s new structure and philosophy. This is a team that isn’t ever going to be satisfied with third place. Rather than just bring in a new tank and guarantee themselves third place forever, they took a risk to rebuild with a new system, bring in players that fit that system, and aim for the international stage.
When teams find success, the bar gets raised. For fans of the New York Yankees, any season that doesn’t end in playoff success is a failure. Most other teams would just be happy to make the playoffs, but the Yankees have had too much success for that. Their roster can secure a winning record every season. They could usually make no changes in the offseason and still be on track for the playoffs each year. However, that’s not enough for their fans or their management. They make aggressive moves in the offseason because they are aiming higher. They are not satisfied to stagnate in mild success. They want total victory.
This is also the decision facing Tempo Storm. They have kept the same roster for longer than any team in the region by a wide margin. However, they’ve failed at every international competition. This roster can win NA consistently, but it likely cannot win on the global stage. If they perform well at the MSB, there’s no reason for a change. However, if they end up near the bottom yet again, it will be time to change things up. This is no longer a team or an organization that can be satisfied with winning NA. They’ve climbed that hill, they’ve stood atop the peak. Tempo Storm has to keep looking to new challenges and greater heights. Even if there is risk for a downturn, they will have to make changes if this roster has proven it cannot beat international teams.
This is everyone’s favorite phrase in fantasy sports. It’s so much more appealing to take a risk on someone having a big week rather than taking the guaranteed average performance. The unknown is so much more attractive. This is the case for Team Freedom and Kure. Insomnia played well for the team. He was certainly not an exposed weakness. However, there was a free agent in his role with major upside. The team knew what it had in Insomnia, but saw major potential in Kure.
It’s very hard to argue against upside, especially when you’re a middle-of-the-road team. Team Freedom tasted success with their current roster. They took names in the playoffs. Perhaps the upgrade to Kure gives them that extra 5% needed to take a few of those close games throughout the season.
This is a decision I’ve made in the past as well. The last roster change I made with my Infinite Crisis team was purely influenced by another team breaking up. I had no intention of removing the player from my squad, we were seeing pretty consistent success. However, we could never quite crest that hill and reach the next level. The player in question wasn’t even our weakest link. However, there was suddenly a free agent available in his role that was a clear, immediate upgrade. Esports is a cutthroat business where careers turn on a dime. You have no time for loyalty. If there’s a way to make your team better today, you have to take it.
So, the next time a roster change occurs, take a breath before you cry “ego”. Try to see how that change might fit into one of these categories. If it does, give that team the benefit of the doubt and see how it goes. Perhaps their management actually made a smart, calculated decision instead of an emotional, reactionary one.