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.