From an esports perspective, Bloodlust 2017 was a fascinating event. Obviously, the tournament was a ton of fun, Jake and crew were super entertaining, and there were lots of hype matches. However, when your job is to react and analyze data collected over a tournament weekend, this sort of event is tricky. How do you evaluate GFE or Tempo when they’re obviously hiding drafts for the Western Clash? Roll20’s win proves me right to some extent regarding the Goku signing, but you can’t really make a statement about their overall power level when they beat two teams who were holding back.
That said, I think I’ve found the key takeaway from this weekend. What’s more, I believe the lessons we’ll explore today can translate directly to any team or group of players looking to improve. So, let’s get into it and examine what we learned from Team Naventic.
When We Last Left Our Heroes
Some quick background–at the start of HGC Phase 2, Naventic moved Kenma to a coaching role, and brought in iDream to be their melee flex. They then moved Bigempct to support. After a poor showing in the first week, BigE and Tomster swapped roles, with BigE moving to ranged flex, and Tomster going to support. They progressed in this way for a few weeks, struggling every week. This weekend, we saw Zuna committed to main tank, Bkid at melee, and iDream floating around doing all sorts of stuff. There are a number of issues I have with the team’s decision-making on roster changes. We’ll address each one in turn and then extrapolate what you can apply to your own team.
However, before everything we must go into this discussion identifying a MASSIVE caveat. Every bit of analysis we’re about to do falls apart the moment Naventic has determined they actually need to make a change to their 5-man roster. Because of Blizzard’s intense roster restrictions, Naventic is locked into this roster until the end of the season, including their inevitable crucible match. I have lots of issues with this rule, but with it in place, the only thing Naventic can do if they see an unsolveable problem is to shuffle the players around to different roles. I still disagree with much of how they’ve done this process, but that point has to be acknowledged before we get into it. Now, let’s get into it.
BigE to Support….Then Not
The first massive red flag came after week one. Naventic had two available roster moves during the break. They removed their support player in favor of a Melee, but at that point still had a hole at the support position. Rather than pick up and groom an amateur support, the team chose to move BigE to that role. I was hugely in favor of the decision. BigE has great mechanics, and with time likely could have been a great support. However, after one defeat he immediately abandoned the role, either because he disliked it, or because the team decided to make a reactionary change.
First, you have to acknowledge that role changes take time. This is something HOTS players could really learn from the Fighting Game Community. Your role in this game is just like your main character in Street Fighter. You have put the most work into it. You know the ins and outs, the limitations and strengths. There are aspects of the role ingrained in your muscle memory from hundreds of hours of play. For a pro player, your main role is where all of your competitive time has been invested.
There is no possible way for you to quickly transition to a new role and expect to play at the same level. I don’t care how mechanically skilled you are or how many games of Hero League Malfurion you’ve played. It just flat out takes time to transition to a new competitive role. When a top pro in Street Fighter picks up a new character, they spend hundreds of hours practicing before you ever see that character in a big tournament. They have to master all the unique mechanics, learn the matchups, and get the techniques ingrained in their muscle memory before ever hoping to compete with that new character.
Whether by his own decision or the team’s choice, BigE was never given enough time to transition into the role. For the team to make the change that quickly makes me think that there were problems with BigE in the support role all throughout scrims leading up to that first week.
This brings me to the other point here–don’t role swap just to keep your roster. This is a hard lesson to learn, and one I’ve screwed up as a coach many times. 95% of all players in any sport are “system players”. They need to be in the right role, in the right system, or they cannot be truly successful. This doesn’t mean that they are bad or limited players, it’s just the reality of high level competition. If Bigempct is a Ranged Assassin, then he should play Ranged Assassin. This is a core problem that’s plagued Naventic for almost a year now. Zuna and BigE are at their best in literally the same exact role on a team. As long as both players are on the team, Naventic is always going to struggle with solidifying their roles (more on that later).
The same is true for your casual friend group, Chairleague crew, or Open Division roster. If you’re at your best in a specific role, it’s the role you love playing, and it’s where you want to play DO NOT SWAP. You may think you’re helping the team, but really you’re just covering up a true problem and reducing the quality of the team’s play across the board.
Quick rant, but as long as I live I’ll never forgive the people that ruined Tomster’s professional career. On King of Blades, Tomster was the fastest-rising star in the game. His Thrall was unparalleled. He was the unquestioned carry of that roster. Then some enterprising manager scooped him up, put him on Sylvanas, and wondered why the team couldn’t win games. YOU TOOK THE BEST MELEE PROSPECT IN NORTH AMERICA AND PUT HIM ON SYLVANAS. The same thing occurred on Naventic. My prayer when I heard about the signing was that we’d see the return of the melee T-God, but nope. Flexy Sylvanas for all time!
If you are literally carrying a team on your back because of your outstanding play in a role, do—not—change—your—role. Trust yourself, get a team built around you, and earn your right to remain in your carry position. Who knows if Tomster even still has those melee skills left in him after so much wasted Sylvanas time, but my genuine hope is that he is removed from Naventic in the offseason and put on a team who wants to take the time to return him to his former glory.
Anyway, when BigE moved off the role, Tomster got stuck there. It was really the only option and he’s been doing fine. However, if rosters weren’t locked, I would be screaming from the mountaintops for Naventic to release Tomster and sign an Open Division support.
Strap in kids, this is going to get real. We might actually have to use Subheading 3 for, like, the first time ever on this blog. I want to discuss the insanity of this move, the inevitability of the move, and dispel one of the worst myths in HOTS all at the same time. You know what, yea. It’s time for Subheading 3.
No Faith in Bkid
I was shot down in the offseason by a number of people, so let me crow a bit. I called that Bkid was not an elite warrior anymore. I think he is going to be a great situational player for teams that need to fill a hole at the position, but Naventic’s decision to move him to Melee proves their lack of faith in his Warrior play. Think about it. They took iDream out of the role they signed him for, and replaced him with one of the longest-tenured Warrior players in North America. If iDream’s melee play was the core problem, they’d have put Zuna in that role, not swapped him to warrior (ignoring the myth we’ll get into later for a moment). To me, this move says that the team had lost faith in Bkid as a warrior. They moved Zuna there because that’s what the team keeps doing when they struggle ever since Erho left. It was inevitable that the team throw Zuna back there, but it still doesn’t make much sense.
Same Song and Dance
So, this move is completely insane on three fronts. In two different ways, we already know that it is doomed to fail. First, we’ve seen Zuna on warrior before. We know how poorly that goes. His hero pool is limited, he gets caught on a regular basis, and the team just does not succeed with any consistency when Zuna is in this role. They tried it for a really long time last year, we know for a fact it does not work. Further, we’ve also seen iDream play as a Flex. We’ve seen the struggles of his Sylvanas and Kael’thas. Sure his hero pool is a bit weird with stuff like Rexxar, but we’ve never seen him reach that level of dominance when hanging out in the backline. We know that Zuna doesn’t work as a warrior, and we know iDream doesn’t work as a Flex.
Finally, Bkid has only ever been a warrior. He’s one of the longest-standing warrior mains in the region. As we discussed earlier, it takes a long time to transition to a new role. You can’t for a moment expect Bkid to suddenly show up and carry games on Malthael or Genji. Heck, you can’t even expect him to play exceptionally well on Sonya or Thrall–he’s pretty much only ever played tanks at the competitive level. With this roster move, the team put three players on weak positions where we already know they can’t succeed. The only reason this move makes sense is if Naventic wanted to get Zuna into the Warrior position so that he could be in the best role to shotcall.
The Biggest Lie in HOTS
Put simply, I am fed up with this myth. I’ve seen it cripple amateur teams, pro level teams, and everything in between. There is no optimal role for shotcalling, it is a flat out lie. “But Trent,” you type frantically before reading my ensuing argument, “the Warrior player is the one initiating fights! They’re in the best position to call when the team should initiate, so that’s the best place for a shotcaller!”
Let me get a bit condescending for a minute. I apologize in advance, but this lie is ruining teams at every level and it needs to die. So, first, hush for a bit and listen. No, hey! Stop typing. Stop it. Listen, or I guess in this case, read some more before typing. Have you competed at an international event in a MOBA game with your warrior as the shotcaller? If not, then you’re not in a position to refute me on this. I have studied shotcalling across multiple MOBAs. I’ve interviewed the best coaches, analysts, and shotcallers to ever play these games. This myth also cropped up in League of Legends when the tank meta was super prevalent, and we squashed it there too.
Sure, tanks are usually the ones that initiate fights. Based on science, it is always faster for them to call a teamfight initiation because they’ll be able to react to the right opening faster than they would if they had to first hear a command from someone else. Absolutely, your warrior should call out when they are initiating a fight. However, that is one of the smallest aspects of shotcalling. A true shotcaller has to determine whether your team even wants to look for a fight in this situation. They decide when the team retreats, or when they push forward in the fight. They call out focus targets, determine rotations, coordinate objective timings, and so much more.
Being a true shotcaller is incredibly difficult. It is impossible to really understand just how hard it is unless you’ve tried to do it at a high level. You’re basically having to play chess against an opponent of equal skill while also playing Heroes of the Storm at the exact same time. Shotcalling is a talent, not everyone can do it. As a result, it is incredibly rare that you’ll find someone who has the talent to be a true shotcaller and also feels most comfortable in the Warrior role. Shotcalling takes so much mental energy, you cannot be thinking about your in-game execution to the same degree as other players. If you have someone with the capacity to shotcall, that person needs to be on their best role, whatever that is. They need to be playing the game by muscle memory so that their mind can focus on making calls.
So what’s the answer for Naventic? How could they make smarter role swaps in order to save their season? Truthfully, I don’t think there’s a right answer with this roster. The team does not have a support player, they’ve lost faith in their warrior, and they have two ranged assasin players with no true flex. You could have maybe move iDream to warrior with Bkid at melee, but that still doesn’t solve much.
In reality, this is just not a competitive Heroes of the Storm roster. I genuinely believe that every member of this team would be an upgrade for another team in the league. If my theory about Tomster is true, this is a team with 2 ranged, 2 melee, a weak tank, and no support. They need to make three roster changes at minimum, but unless the rules change they can only make two. If I were Naventic, I would release this team the moment their contracts are up (or pay a penalty to release their contracts now) and sign Khroen’s Open Division team. Then, regardless of whether or not they survive the cruicible, I would blow up this roster and scatter the players to the four corners of the NA HGC. Every player would be better for it, and the quality of every team would increase.
People are having a field day crapping on Naventic for their bad play, but every player on this team is an elite talent (with the possible exception of Bkid, we’ll see what he does on a new team). I don’t write any of this to attack the players as individuals, merely to point out the fragile nature of a HOTS roster, and the importance of sticking to your role, or really committing to the time it takes to role swap. HOTS fans love to complain about teams making roster changes to solve problems, but this is a situation where no other option exists. All that’s left is for Naventic to keep shuffling around trying desperately to find wins, until the roster can inevitably disband after they fail to qualify for Blizzcon.
That, or randomly they all show up after the Western Clash break as the most dominant team ever, and I just wasted two hours of my life writing this article. Either way works.