Voice of the Pros: Khroen

Welcome to a new series I’m hoping to get rolling on my blog, the Voice of the Pros. We had a ton of fun doing a more in-depth interview series with Roll20 a while back, and the biggest response to that was simply “we want to hear from pros more.” So, in an effort to provide that, I’m going to start trying to get more interviews with top players across every game I cover. The focus of these interviews will be more casual, usually just a few questions about one topic. Drop any feedback, along with topics or players you’d like to see featured, to me on Twitter.

khroen.jpeg

For our inaugural edition of Voice of the Pros, we’ll be featuring Khroen, ranged player for the newly HGC-certified team HeroesHearth. Recently Khroen discovered that he’d hit a new milestone in his career as a pro gamer–streaming every day consistently for over 30 days. In our interview we discussed what that meant for his personal brand, and learned more about what it’s like to be a professional player with an active Twitch stream.


Can you describe your streaming schedule during those 30 days?

Khroen: My schedule varied between streaming from about four hours minimum, to eight hours maximum, usually landing around the five-hour mark. The times I went live varied from around 1 pm EST at the earliest, to even as late as 8 or 9 pm EST start time. However, the usual start time was around 2 or 3 PM EST.

Was all of that time spent playing Heroes or did you play other games as well?

Khroen: The majority of the time was spent playing Heroes of the Storm, however, on Sundays I wouldn’t stream HotS, and instead would stream Dungeons and Dragons. I wouldn’t get as many viewers on these days, but still maybe 20 – 40% of normal viewers.

What sort of increase did you see in views, chat activity, subs, etc during that time?

khroen2.png

 

I saw a steady increase of viewers and subscribers, going from about 100-150 average viewers, to 200-300 average viewers. However, there were also other variables such as if I streamed at the same time as larger streamers, when time I started to stream, etc. Chat activity increased a little bit as the viewer count steadily increased, however my chat is fairly quiet a lot of the time in general. Most people just chill.

How do you think your ability as a streamer improved during your consistent period?

I think my ability as a streamer improved by me learning how to better help myself remain consistent. Sometimes in life I often feel like I need to take a break or just chill out and have some time away from most things. However, this past month or month and a half or so, I’ve learned to handle that urge better. Maybe I just need to be a bit quieter, or stream without a camera sometimes, but it’s worth it because I’ll feel like I’m still enjoying streaming, which I believe to be one of the most important things while streaming; If you’re enjoying streaming, then other people will be more likely to enjoy it as well.

If a HOTS streamer wanted to grow their audience, would you recommend they try to stream every day?

I don’t think a streamer needs to focus on streaming every day to grow an audience, I believe that just having a consistent schedule is one of the most important thing for growth. If I was trying much harder to grow my stream, I would’ve stayed on a schedule to always start at the same time. If you’re able to stream every day without tiring yourself out of streaming, then sure, go for it. But I don’t think that’s a viable option for everyone.

We see a ton of complaints and rage on social media from pros who find solo queue frustrating. How do you keep your stream relaxed and entertaining when playing solo queue?

I think it’s just a mindset thing. Everyone has their own goals when they play [Hero League]. I don’t play it to win every game, but to practice my mechanics and to become a better player. It’s cool when you win, sure. However, you’re not going to win every game, it just won’t happen. So instead of getting frustrated over it, I just try to focus on the positives. I think it’s important to try to convey that in my stream as well, because I think that raging and toxicity is unhealthy, and you should try to refrain as much as possible. Everyone gets frustrated, but it’s important to find an effective outlet for it.

For those that haven’t tuned in yet, pitch your stream a bit–what will viewers find when they check out Khroen?

First and foremost, my stream is a positive place. I keep the salt levels very low, the chill level high, and the love and good vibes are high as well. I also try to be very interactive with chat. If there’s any questions, I’ll try my best to respond to as many as I can. Also being a professional player, I try to be educational when I play and provide a place where people can actively learn how to become a more skilled and smarter player.


Thanks so much to Khroen for sharing his thoughts. Be sure to check out his stream, and give him some love over on the tweet box. If there’s something you’d like to hear about from your favorite pro player, be sure to let me know!

 

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Blizzcon 2017 HGC Power Rankings–Powered by Math!!

Professor giving class at the blackboard

Happy Power Rankings Day to you all!  Today, we’re throwing our hat into the highly opinionated world of analysis, taking a look at all the teams heading to Blizzcon this weekend. However, it would be crazy presumptuous of me to try and rank every team all on my own. This blog covers a range of esports, so there’s no way for me to watch every game in every region. With that in mind, I reached out to a few friends, LiQuiD and Bahgz from the Heroes podcast Trollin HGC These guys watch everything and can defend their opinions with actual data!  So, if you have any issues with the following rankings, go call em out and make them defend their opinion. Trust me, they’ll love it!

So, here’s what you’ll find if you scroll past all these words to just get the results. With a power ranking, we’re not necessarily examining or trying to predict who is going to win Blizzcon. We didn’t take into account groups, potential brackets, tournament format, anything like that. What we’re attempting to do here is to rate the strength of each team as they enter the tournament. Everything is based off of past results and performance.

To actually create the rankings, we broke each team down using the following seven metrics:

  • Rotation: How well a team handles the macro level strategy of Heroes. This includes objective control, wave management, xp soak, and lane ganking.
  • Teamfight: The micro strategy. Essentially, how consistently the team comes out on top of teamfights either at even power level or behind.
  • Comms: Team communication. Shotcalling, teamfight coordination, language barriers, etc.
  • Leadership: This is more focused on out-of-game leadership, including strength of the team captain as a leader, support/organizational staff, etc.
  • Pool: A combination of draft strategy and actual depth of the team’s hero pool. We’re not necessarily looking at “hey, this team played Nova one time and lost,” but more so how many different heroes have actually seen success for the team.
  • Experience: How long has this roster been together? How many players have played in a LAN setting before? Have they been to past Blizzcon finals?
  • Solo Lane: The Heroes meta has evolved to the point where most teams rely on a 4-1 lane split on most maps. As a result, having a solo laner who can consistently win lane and perform in the late game has become essential. This metric examines the individual skill level of each team’s designated solo laner.

All three analysts assigned these metrics a score from 1-10. Those values were then added together to assign each team an overall power score with a maximum value of 210. With all of that rambling out of the way, here are the teams in reverse order of strength.


#16 Beyond The Game – 95 points

It’s tough to give a team high marks for Comms, Experience, or even Leadership when most of your roster is stranded back home.

#15 Dark Sided – 135 points

This is a team with tons of promise and great leadership, but a lack of international experience hurts the team’s chances at adapting to the Blizzcon meta quickly.

#14 Super Perfect Team – 141 points

While SPT wasn’t extremely hurt by the Chinese Visa-pocalypse, the team has experienced several roster changes this year, so it’s very difficult to compare their play as a team favorably to more veteran opponents.

#13 CE – 144 points

This team is similarly missing just one member, but xuyu has proven himself a strong player in live tournament play. The team’s record internationally warrants a slightly higher rating than SPT, but that lack of synergy with a new member is still concerning.

#12 Team Freedom – 147 points

Team Freedom stunned everyone with their performance in the final HGC split, but Blizzcon is often where the competitive scene corrects itself. This is a team with potential, but still lacking in championship-caliber experience. Further, looking at the data, Kure actually compares poorly with most solo laners rated above him.

#11 Red Canids – 148 points

A staple at Heroes LANs, HGC fans have grown used to seeing the Red Canids this time of year. That experience will give the team a fighting chance against the best teams, and should help them prepare to surpass those ranked below. (Note: this rating was completed prior to the announcement that Red Canids would play with two subs)

#10 Deadly Kittens – 150 points

This is a tough team for analysts. If any wildcard region is going to make big upsets at Blizzcon, the Deadly Kittens are the most likely candidate. That said, they could just as easily wash out in opening week. That level of variance was reflected in the team’s scores.

#9 Soul Torturers – 155 points

We pretty much know what Soul Torturers are at this point when it comes to international competition. They can’t be slept on and will cause problems in the group stage, but they’ll ultimately be outclassed by the best teams from the major regions.

#8 Team Expert – 157 points

After Liquid’s unfortunate struggles this season, Expert quickly rose into a firm spot behind Dignitas and Fnatic. This is a team with plenty of options in the draft and a few veteran leaders. However, being a very firm third place in Europe doesn’t get you any further than middle of the pack at Blizzcon.

#7 Tempest – 161 points

There’s a simple rule in esports–you don’t bet against Korea. Tempest has had a tough road since their breakout performance in early 2016, but this is a roster that can make plays when it counts. With a strong solo laner and great teamfighting, no one should underestimate the third team from Korea.

#6 Tempo Storm – 162 points

Tempo Storm plays the macro game well. Psalm and Fury give the team a deep hero pool. However, we’ve also seen them consistently struggle this season with role swaps, and they’ve never been a championship contender at LAN events. Tempo can hold their own and keep things interesting, but no one is looking for this squad to upset the heavy favorites.

#5 Dignitas – 177 points

In an instant, Dignitas could swing anywhere within the top 5. The team has some of the best veteran leadership in the world and a great understanding of how to play the map in Heroes. However, we’re still waiting for Zaelia to push himself into the truly elite club of solo laners. That combined with Mene’s extreme preference for mages can be limiting for Dignitas when it comes to drafting against the best in the world.

#4 Roll20 Esports- 178 points

Based on the Mid Season Brawl, Dignitas should be ahead of Roll20. However, the last time these teams did battle, Roll20 was short exactly one Goku. The difference in Solo Lane prowess was exactly enough to give Roll20 enough points to break the tie and move into the fourth place spot.

#3 Ballistix (L5) – 185 points

The defending Blizzcon champions have reunited with their sponsor to take another shot at the crown. Ballistix is obviously a contender, but it’s tough to ignore the team’s most recent international showing at the Mid Season Brawl. We’ve also never seen the level of sheer domination from this roster that has come from our last two teams.

#2 MVP Black – 196 points

MVP Black slumped just as much as L5 at MSB, but the team appears to have returned with a hunger to win Blizzcon. This is a star-studded roster capped off by the best player to ever enter the Nexus, Rich.

#1 Fnatic – 197 points

The current World Champions, Fnatic have not slowed down a bit since the start of the year. This is a cohesive roster filled with veterans, all sorts of wacky pocket strategies, and one of the best solo laners in the world. This will likely be the West’s best chance to claim a Blizzcon championship where elite Korean teams are present.

 

So, there you have it. Every team has been weighed and measured. Who will be found wanting? The only way to decide that is to actually play some games!

Thanks again to the guys over at Trollin HGC for their help with research and analysis for this article. Check them out on Twitter, or take a look at my guest appearance a few months back. It contains lots of cool background on my history in esports, plus you get to look at my face for like two hours!!

 

 

TLDR IN ORDER CAUSE I’M LAZY AND SCROLLED TO THE BOTTOM

Fnatic 197
MVP Black 196
L5 185
Roll20 178
Dignitas 177
Tempo Storm
162
Tempest 161
Team Expert 157
Soul Torturers
155
Deadly Kittens
150
Red Canids 148
Team Freedom
147
CE 144
SPT 141
Dark Sided 135
Beyond The Game
95

Let’s examine some realities of the Smash 4 tournament scene

So, I’ve seen some talk today on Twitter from various smashers about a few topics related to our current competitive structure. I wanted to provide a bit of  a framework for that discussion in order to help move things towards a productive conclusion.

First, I want to talk about a couple of common misconceptions that exist in the community, and help remove them from the conversation.

There’s a difference between a premiere event and an S-tier event

There was a quick exchange between Fatality and Cosmos about this issue today. There’s been so many S-tier events this season, almost one every week, that it’s completely diluted the top events and made the season less interesting for viewers. First, let’s look at the actual reality of that notion. The PGR season began on June 24th, 17 weeks ago. In that time there have been 8 S-tier events, one of which was S+ (Evo). While many of them were back-to-back, that’s only one every other week averaged out over the season. Further, we have two more months left in the season, and likely only one more S-tier event. This will make 9 total events over the course of roughly 26 weeks, or about one S-tier every three weeks. In reality there’s basically 1.5 S-tiers each month, which many have said is acceptable. The issue is that, because of how Summer works in the United States, many of our biggest events are concentrated in the first few months of this PGR season. It feels like the number of S-tiers has been insane, but averaged out over the full season, it’s really not special at all.

There’s more to explore here, but in reality, there is not an over-abundance of S-tier events, they are simply clumped in a 3-month window due to the nature of the Smash year. Beyond this is the fact that having the S-tier status is completely independent from a tournament’s value to viewers. No one puts Evo and Fire Emblem Saga on the same level even if they carry the same PGR weight. Civil War was a bigger deal for storylines than Super Smash Con even though both are S-tiers. The majority of spectators likely don’t even look at the TTS, they simply look at who’s attending, what storylines are happening, is there a pot bonus, etc.

2GG isn’t losing tons of money on every event, therefore other TOs just need to figure out how to run their events better

2GG has a partnership with Esports Arena, which effectively eliminates their venue costs for most events. ESA helps them with sponsorships, prize pool, and crucial infrastructure. 2GGs overhead is substantially lower than every other tournament in the world. Any conversation about tournament organizers and their struggles with money simply cannot include 2GG as a useful data point. They are an outlier.

That’s not to say that 2GG is bad, hurting the scene, or having any negative impact whatsoever. 2GG has been phenomenal for the scene. I have a ton of issues with the way they communicate, but the fact remains that they run fantastic events. However, you simply have to set them aside when discussing event pricing, profit and loss, or other infrastructure concerns. Their model is not reproducible unless ESA expands to have venues in every major region.

We need a monthly circuit or a pro tour so that all regions have equal opportunity and a clear storyline for the season.

Yes, this is the ideal scenario. I’ve written about it before. It will never, EVER happen so long as Smash remains independent. Ever community leader has their own agenda (and rightfully should) and has to work overtime just to keep their own events afloat. We do not have the infrastructure, capacity, capital, etc to create a pro tour or organized circuit. This is not a reasonable solution to discuss when evaluating the current tournament scene. The calendar for 2018 is largely in place at this point anyway. If community leaders and pro players want to radically change how competitive smash operates, I’m happy to have that discussion, but understand that it’s literally impossible for something like that to happen before 2020 unless Nintendo got involved (which they won’t).

Smash needs an offseason

Sorry, that’s just not ever going to be a thing. There’s no way to enforce it, and there are too many people and organizations currently interested in running Smash events. It’s the responsibility of players and the PGR to work together and ensure that the season functions in such a way that provides an accurate representation of the status of each event, while not overly punishing players for taking care of their mental and physical well-being.

The idea that literally anyone is making a fair amount of money in this scene.

They are not. Every person should be making more money. GIMR is not making enough money. ZeRo is not making enough money. 2GG is not making enough money. Any person who commits more than 10 hours per week to the Smash community is making less money than you think they are, and likely relying on other sources of income such as other jobs, donations, or horrifying levels of credit card debt in order to keep providing the content you enjoy.

 

So, with those bits of discussion set to the side, here are some of the useful questions to ask:

  • Does the PGR calendar need to be adjusted to more accurately reflect an even distribution of premier events throughout the season?
  • Is there a problem in the way the TTS evaluates events, or is the issue in the way top players understand it and plan their schedule?
  • What can we do to create more interesting storylines that carry from event to event?
  • How can we introduce more money into the scene as a whole?
  • Are there other revenue streams for tournaments which haven’t been thoroughly explored?
  • Are compendiums being optimized in their current state?
  • Would an increase in venue for A and S-tier events reduce their attendance in a meaningful way?

We should try to answer these questions, or at least follow this line of questioning and allow it to open up potential avenues of discussion, rather than talking in circles about flawed views of reality, misconceptions, or wistfully dreaming about realities that will never come to pass. Smash is where it is today because of raw passion and love from the community. It’s time to channel that passion–to refine it and guide it towards where it can be most useful as we continue to grow.

 

 

Lets Talk About Optics: 2GG Shouldn’t Be “Blamed”

ibp

It’s been a while since I’ve had a good excuse to do one of these. Smash usually gives me lots of opportunities to discuss marketing and PR concepts, but lately the drama’s been relegated to stuff I don’t particularly care about. I still don’t really care about the thing most people are mad about in this instance, but I think there’s an important distinction to be made regarding 2GG, IBuyPower, and every facet of this specific situation.

Real quick, let me be clear: I have been overly critical of 2GG in the past. I also feel like I have been appropriately critical at times. However, in this specific instance with this particular event, 2GG is not at fault for like 98% of the things people are mad about. One of which I’ll rant about in a second. If you’re here looking for me to stir up a witch hunt against 2GG, that’s not this. So, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page, and then we’ll dive in.

Weekend at the Masters

So IBuyPower is a big sponsor in esports. They have their hands in most games, even directly sponsoring teams across games like League of Legends and Rocket League at various times. For three years running, they’ve hosted a CS:GO tournament called IBP Masters. This year, they’ve decided to expand the event to include a Smash 4 tournament with a $10,000 prize pool. IBP reached out to 2GG to help run the Smash side of the event.

Essentially, 2GG took a contract to assist with an event, just like what VGBC does when they stream an event, or when an organization like Great Value Smash travels out of their local area to assist with running a larger event. IBP didn’t have the infrastructure to effectively run a Smash 4 tournament, so they reached out to the local experts. 2GG have proven their ability to partner with big companies and to host exceptional tournaments, so the partnership makes perfect sense.

People Mad on the Internet?  Surely Not!

So, unsurprisingly, when the announcement came down from 2GG about the event, Twitter sort of exploded for a minute. There were two sides to the anger, and we’ll address each in turn.

Like many, I immediately lashed out because here was yet another tournament announced late with massive stakes. However, by all accounts 2GG was approached late in September to run this event. Likely they were told by IBP not to announce until now. In a twitlonger, Champ detailed the philosophy behind the event which makes the timeline more reasonable. We’re going to come back to this, but for now the people who are leaping to 2GG’s defense are completely in the right. IBP likely did not understand how impactful a $10k prizepool would be for Smash 4 since they are used to working in the much more lucrative world of Counter Strike. This is meant to just be a fun little side event, a chance for the company to dip their toe into Smash. It is not 2GG’s fault that IBuyPower approached them late, and wasn’t ready to announce the event until now.

The other part of the anger is something so dumb, it needs it’s own header so I can rant about it.

Big Events Stepping on Little Events

Holy cow am I fed up with this. Whenever a big event gets announced, someone complains about how it is hurting the smaller regional events somewhere in the country. It isn’t really even an issue of timing. When Panda Global announced Too Hot To Handle, half the comments were about other events that weekend which were being “ruined” because a bigger organization announced an event.

I’m sure that I’m in the minority here, but I truly think this needs to be said. Competition is a good thing. It forces innovation, demands that even small events run more smoothly, advertise more effectively, and offer more to attendees. The quality of every event is forced to increase. Stay relevant, or get left behind.

“But Trent,” you say, “most regional TOs can’t possibly compete with a $10k prize pool.” You’re absolutely right about that. However, they don’t have to. As my dear friend Suar is fond of saying, prize pools don’t do a thing for attendance. Just look at the numbers for GTX versus Smash Con. Look at the 2GGC events that had weaker themes. The average Smasher is never going to see a pot bonus, so it doesn’t inform their decision to attend an event. I’ve made every argument to the contrary in the past, but the data is just too consistent to ignore. Yes, a couple of top players may decide to attend the IBP event instead of your little regional, but that is not going to affect your bottom line at all. If you have poor numbers at an east coast event, you cannot blame 2GG for it–you need to run a better event and attract more local smashers. If you’re one of the people complaining about how 2GG is hurting another event, stop it. Instead, promote the other event. Focus on appealing to the demographics that can’t be touched by an event in another region. Adapt, improve, grow.

So What is 2GG’s Fault?

In this instance, 2GG really hasn’t done anything wrong to deserve the level of rage thrown at them yesterday. I freely admit that even my own posts were an emotional overreaction. However, I think this is a fantastic opportunity to discuss the concept of optics, and how 2GG could have potentially avoided yesterday’s reaction.

We’ve talked plenty on this blog about 2GG as an organization. They are a phenomenal tournament organizer, but consistently throughout this year there has been an issue with communication. Several sagas had their themes announced mere weeks before the event. An entire event had to be cancelled due to poor communication and timing. So, at this point, 2GG has a history of not communicating details effectively, and announcing events late.

When we’re talking about optics, another way to think about it is “perception”. You’ve likely heard the phrase “perception is reality”. In marketing, the facts of a situation are not the only thing we have to consider. We have to take into account how a situation looks. If your optics are bad, you cannot blame the consumers for getting upset.

Optics Hit Us All

So we’re not just focusing on 2GG, let’s look at a way I screwed up my own optics in the past. Early this year, I wrote an article arguing the case for a Smash 4 Summit-style event. I wanted to combat the notion that Smash 4 players had no personality, and to do so I attacked the big names in Melee. The point I attempted to make was that people were over-valuing the personalities in Melee, and that they weren’t any better or more interesting than the big names in Smash 4.  Then, in the comments of that article’s Reddit thread, I made an inaccurate statement about Mango. If you were a Melee player who’d never read any of my articles before, the optics of that situation are really bad for me. I attacked the gods to try and defend Smash 4, and said something wrong about Melee history. With only those two points of data, it would be entirely reasonable to draw the conclusion that I’m just a Smash 4 fanboy who hates Melee and doesn’t know anything about the scene. I’ve written multiple articles in a specific effort to repair that image, but the damage is done. To many, I will always be that guy who hates Melee and doesn’t know anything about Mango.

Customer-Perception

People can only draw conclusions based on the information they have. Now, there is enough information available that, if someone looked into it, they should be able to reasonably conclude that I’m not just some idiot who hates Melee. However, when their only two pieces of data were something wrong and something negative, that conclusion was entirely reasonable. By the same token, while 2GG did nothing wrong by taking this contract with IBuyPower, they did not properly account for the optics of the situation.

Let’s look at the original announcement by 2GG for IBP Masters. This post looks identical to their saga announcements and partnership posts. Even in the video there’s a screen that says “2GG and IBP present”. If you aren’t familiar with the CS:GO event, it is entirely reasonable to draw the conclusion that 2GG went out, got IBP as a sponsor, and chose to run another event in November, further over-saturating the month. Combining this with their history of late announcements, it was also entirely reasonable for top players to be upset that another event with massive stakes was announced so late.

I said before that I overreacted yesterday on Twitter along with everyone else. Based on the facts and reality of the situation, our anger yesterday was unfounded. However, yesterday when the announcement was made, we had only that announcement and a pattern of behavior on which we could base our reactions. Had 2GG anticipated the reaction, had they considered the optics, they could have limited the negative response.

Optics are incredibly important to consider, especially as TOs start to take these contracts with non-endemic sponsors. Companies like IBP don’t have the pulse of the Smash community. They won’t know how things will be perceived, they can’t anticipate reactions. As members of the community, it’s our job to educate these sponsors on the behaviors and expectations of the community. To a company that runs League of Legends tournaments, a $25k pot bonus would be a pittance. It would be the responsibility of Bear, Vayseth, Champ, or whoever was contracted to run that event, to explain how that pot bonus would impact the community. It’s our job to consider how every announcement, advertisement, and action will be perceived and to adjust accordingly.

Smash is growing fast. The days of grassroots events are essentially gone. Even legacy tournaments like Big House and Genesis have been corporatized. However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The more we continue to grow and adapt to how the scene evolves, the better it will be for everyone involved. Effective growth means more money. More money means better tournaments, stability for pro players, possible income for streamers and TOs, reduced risk for experimentation and innovation. Embrace the new era of Smash, it’s going to continue whether you want it to or not. As a fan or a player, keep fighting for quality at every level. Support your local and regional scene, but don’t bailout something that isn’t working. As TOs and community leaders, become educated about the new era. Learn how to optimize social media, read books about marketing and volunteer coordination. Get your finances in order. Search out contracts and better sponsors. There is so much more opportunity out there. All we have to do is earn it.


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I Will Now Rant About the HOTS Draft Lobby From a Spectator Perspective for 914 Words

So, today will be a bit of a departure from our regularly scheduled programming. Normally I try to be educational, to impart some sort of insight or wisdom into the world of esports. Instead, I just kinda want to vent a frustration today.

Heroes is easily my favorite team-based esport at this point. The intricacies of draft and map preparation, emphasis on teamwork, and reduced game-length make it  a really great spectator experience in almost every aspect. The exception, for me, is the draft lobby. I despise the current HOTS draft screen.

Now, let me be clear–I have very little issue with it from a gameplay perspective. I like having the 3D models, seeing what skins people will use is cool for potential coordination, it’s all great. However, that experience does not translate well to a good spectator experience. Let’s take a look at what we’re talking about.

draft

Take a quick glance at the image–can you even see Tyrael? HOTS purple, cosmic aesthetic is super cool and consistent in-game, but when you’re gearing up for an HGC match it just ends up looking dark, like someone screwed with the brightness on your monitor. This is a huge problem when I’m trying to watch matches on my phone. It’s utterly impossible on mobile to see the hero names. If you’ve got a couple of the angels, or some particularly unique skins, there are times where I pull up a game halfway through the draft and literally don’t know who’s been picked.

Skins are another huge problem I have with the lobby. Overall, Blizzard has done a great job keeping the silhouette of each hero consistent across their various skins. However, when all you’ve got is a little window with the face, that consistency starts to fade. Let’s say someone checks out a game after not playing or watching for a few months. Are you 100% confident they’d be able to tell the difference between every single Muradin and Falstad skin? Can a new player really tell for certain whether a team picked Auriel, or has a bright tint for Malthael?

Staying on skins for a moment, they can be really distracting. When a team locks in a hero, the big 3D model pops up, which is cool, but then the player will cycle rapidly through a bunch of skins. I know this is a really shallow nitpick, but when you’re trying to listen to analysis or think about how the rest of the draft will go, it’s a pointless bit of fluff.

I want my draft lobby to scream esports. I want it to look professional, consistent, and clear. Beyond all that, it should provide more content! So much of the space in the HOTS draft lobby is taken up by useless fluff. Look at how Smite presents the draft during esports events.

smite draft

Look at how clean and uniform it is! The heroes pop out, everything is clearly visible, and they use the hero splash art, meaning that it’s consistent. Even on a little mobile screen, you’ll always see the same image for Odin. There’s room front and center for interesting content. Go sit and watch an HGC draft with the sound off. How quickly do you get bored? You’ve got Gilly and Dread in a tiny window at the bottom, and literally nothing happening on screen as a team decides their pick. In this Smite screen, you can see that they show statistics as each hero is selected. It’s not a crazy amount, but it gives you something else to look at. Further, if someone is watching with the sound off, they know if this is a common pick or something unique.

Smite, Paladins, League of Legends–all these games have in-game draft lobbies and have since their early beta. However, none of these games use the in-game lobby for their esports presentation. Instead, they prioritize the spectator experience and offer something that makes the draft a more pleasant viewing experience.

I remember the awkward days of having to draft for HOTS matches with awkward browser clients. I’m beyond thrilled that we have an in-game draft lobby for custom games and tournament scenarios. It’s far better for the players and tournament organizers. However, that does not mean the same perspective is ideal for people watching at home. HOTS has the shortest game-length of any MOBA. There have literally been games where the draft was as long as the actual match. The draft should be interesting to watch. It should be visually distinct, filled with information, and not require the viewer to work to figure out what heroes have been picked.

Maybe I’m the only one who has that problem, but even so, I think so much more can be done with the presentation of the draft. With any luck, the team has something special in store for Blizzcon to level up the viewer experience. Having followed the scene since beta, it really is remarkable how far we’ve come. The production value for events is consistently top tier. We get awesome supplementary content like the Heroes of the Dorm doc, and the making of Kel’Thuzad stuff. As shown by the reversal of the Junkrat decision, the esports crew listens actively to the community. However, I’m never going to be satisfied with Heroes as an esport. I think there is always more we can do, and to me it is past time to really focus on the at-home spectator experience, starting with a revamp of the draft lobby.

How Pros Prepare: Junkrat Edition ft. Tempo|Kala and Dark Sided|Moops

HeroesoftheStorm-Junkrat-Abilities

This should have been a pretty quiet week for Heroes esports. All the teams are locked in for Blizzcon, and the Cruicible wrapped up last weekend. Teams are preparing to head to their boot camps, and those left at home haven’t yet begun this season’s Rosterpocalypse. What should have been a boring week where I focused my blog on Smash Bros. or something suddenly wasn’t thanks to one little tweet from the official Heroes Esports account. The tweet stated that not only would the Blizzcon finals be played on the upcoming Junkrat patch, but that the brand new hero would be allowed throughout Blizzcon. The patch would be released a mere 9 days before the event, breaking the standard 2-week ban on new heroes.

Naturally, the pros and many in the community expressed their displeasure with this decision. Thanks to that feedback, Blizzard reversed their decision and announced that Junkrat would be banned at Blizzcon, though the matches would still be played on the new patch. This wouldn’t normally be blog-worthy. Blizzard responded to feedback from concerned parties, and reversed a decision in less than 24 hours. That should be applauded, and then we should move on. However, I took a look through the various Heroes social platforms to read the comments made about the situation by the community.  I saw an overwhelming number of ignorant statements about competitive integrity, player preparation, and the like. It struck me that many in the community don’t really understand the impact of something like a new hero being added to the rotation before a big tournament.

In an effort to elevate understanding, I have two wonderful folks helping me out: Kala, coach of Tempo Storm, and one of ANZ’s Blizzcon representatives, Dark Sided’s own Moops. Let’s get into it!

If It’s Fair, It’s OK

This was a sentiment I saw expressed again and again. Junkrat is enabled for everyone, so all teams have the same ability to learn the hero and adapt to the new meta. We’ll talk about the problems with that line of thinking in a second, but first I want to make it clear that this idea is just patently untrue. Teams in the major regions have tournament servers and a fairly active PTR on which to start digging into a new hero. They can start exploring Junkrat’s talent builds and learning how his kit functions today. The wildcard team from ANZ has no such opportunity.

“Since we don’t have a tournament server or ANZ PTR servers (probably due to the lack of player base), we have always had to play on the live patch for HGC games,” Moops explained. “At times, patches or bugs resulting in banning heroes have occurred days before a tournament (we were unable to play falstad in the ANZ Finals).” He went on to say that the team would basically be unable to touch the hero until he hit the live servers “other than studying and theorizing with patch notes.” If Junkrat were to become a meta-defining hero at the event, ANZ would automatically be less experienced with him. It would affect the way they had to draft against every other team.

Wildcard teams already have a significant disadvantage at international events due to an inferior practice pool. By adding a new hero so close to the event, you put them yet another step behind. If your only argument for adding Junkrat is that all the teams can just adapt, you’re effectively saying you don’t care if the Wildcard teams start the tournament with equal preparations.

What Makes a World Champion?

c9 win

I personally take greater issue with this line of thinking because it directly undermines what I love about big international events. For HGC teams, the whole year is a road leading to Blizzcon. Every match, every scrim, every bit of theorycrafting is an effort to move players and teams closer to this one goal. Qualifying for the event means you can be counted among the elite in this game. At Blizzcon, we’re witnessing the peak of Heroes of the Storm play as the best teams in the world go head to head. When the event ends, I want the World Champion to be the team who objectively played the video game better than every other team. A world championship should reward the team that has best evolved over the whole year, not the team who adapted best to the most recent patch.

Tempo Storm’s Kala echoed my sentiment. “Any new addition to a game can vastly change the meta, and the tournament at that point becomes ‘who can adapt to the meta quickest’, which in itself is a fun idea, but it’s certainly not an accurate representation of who is the strongest team internationally at that point, which is what Blizzcon should be trying to do.”

Think of it this way: let’s say that a new expansion came out one week before the World Championship for Hearthstone. Over 100 cards are suddenly added to the pool. No one would argue that it’s very cool to see new stuff played in tournaments. In Hearthstone, the first tournament after a new expansion release is often the most exciting. However, the winner of that first tournament is rarely the player in contention for the championship at the end of the year.

This is because the two events reward entirely different skillsets. It can take months for the Hearthstone pro community to fully explore a new expansion and optimize decks. The tournament just after an expansion release doesn’t reward the most skilled player, it rewards the player who found the best deck the fastest. Winning a Hearthstone championship takes a wide range of skills. It requires an ability to read the tournament meta, to prepare the right deck lineup, to select the right tech cards, and to learn every potential matchup fully. A tournament so close to release can be won just because you’re the only guy who figured out N’Zoth Paladin was a thing. That’s a cool story, but is it really worthy of being called a World Champion?

Players Should Just Work Harder

Hoo boy. I’ve been in a lot of esports communities, but the Heroes community really has a lot of these flawed notions. Over and over I saw comments to the effect of “you have plenty of time to learn Junkrat, just put in the effort.” Kala had an opinion on that line of thinking.

“The point in preparing for a tournament isn’t and should never be about learning a brand new Hero and trying to incorporate him into the meta. There’s already enough work involved when it comes to going up against international teams. You need to learn their playstyles and tendencies, and during group stages/scrims a brand new tournament meta starts to evolve, which you need to be able to stay on top of in order to succeed.”

International events are a completely different beast when it comes to preparation. During the regular season, you’re scrimming teams every week and then playing against them on the weekend. The meta evolves and becomes optimized, but it doesn’t radically change outside of patches. Going into an international finals, you suddenly have to learn a bunch of completely diverse meta games. Hero priority in Korea is completely different from ANZ, which is again a unique beast when compared to EU. Hop on Twitter real quick and ask Gillyweed how many hours of video she watches just to be able to commentate an international event. Now imagine doing that preparation with thousands of dollars on the line.

In addition to opposition research, teams still have a ton of their own flaws to work out. Teams like Roll20 and Fnatic were largely unchallenged in their region, but that doesn’t at all mean that they’re playing at their peak. Going back and examining their own VODs, their analysts can identify areas for improvement and theorize new team compositions. The teams who weren’t in first already know what they need to work on, and have that much more work to do just to catch up to the best team in their region. Players need to work on individual performance issues in solo queue, and teams need to optimize their draft and map play through constant scrims.

Piling on, teams are losing entire days of practice to travel. Fnatic are off to Korea for a boot camp, which means a lost day of practice flying out, and at least one useless day travelling to California.

So, teams are already spending hours every day studying their opponents, working on personal improvement, theorycrafting, and just getting from place to place. Now they need to add a new hero into that mix? I think the average player may not understand just how much work goes into preparing a new hero for professional-level competition. Fortunately, Moops helped break it down.

“When learning a hero to a proficiency acceptable at competitive play, it takes a lot more than hitting level 5. There’s generally 3 steps to learning each hero.

1. Understanding the basics of the hero – usually done in the first 5 games when getting the hero to level 5 in QM.

2. Learning the in’s and out’s of a specific hero in HL. This includes best/worst maps and matchups. Step 2 probably takes the lengthiest amount of time as you really just need to grind the hero and there’s always more to learn.

3. Syncing up with the team. Learning how best to utilize the hero with the team is the final step. This needs to be done in scrims as while the player might understand the ins and outs of the hero already, the rest of the team members need to know how to play around them.”

Again, looking at our previous points, adding Junkrat to the meta would have rewarded the teams who can get through steps one and two the fastest, and put everyone else a step behind.


Ultimately, I empathize with anyone who was disappointed when Junkrat was removed from the Blizzcon pool. I listen to most of Garrett Weinzierl’s podcasts. I’ve heard your side explained in great detail. It’s natural to want to see the newest stuff, it’s really cool to see teams adapt, and watch the game evolve right before your eyes. Your viewpoint is entirely valid.

However, I want you to take a moment and try to put yourself in the shoes of a professional player who qualified for Blizzcon. There is so much on the line at this event. You’re playing for regional pride, for life-changing money, for the right to be called a World Champion. The winner of this event is immortalized in HGC history. The losers are almost guaranteed to make roster changes–you’re playing for your job and your team’s stability. As a player, you want to arrive at the Blizzcon stage ready to show the world the result of your hard work and preparation. To say that teams should instead just have to adapt to new situations really undermines and de-values all the hard work these players are putting in preparing for the event.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to see Junkrat be played. Heck, I’m hoping we see new drafts, cheese strats, and a surprising tournament meta. I love new stuff, and I love watching pro players learn on the fly. However, I also really enjoy watching the game I love played at its peak. You can’t have it both ways. There are lots of opportunities in esports for wackiness, novelty, and rewarding adaptation. In my humble opinion, the international Grand Finals should not be that place.


I want to say a final thank you to Kala and Moops for taking the time to chat with me. Go say something nice to them. I’m also going to start linking some past articles at the bottom of each new article since that worked so well during the Roll20 interview series. Plus, when you click more links on my site, my value as a person increases!

Heroes

Zoia Got It Wrong: Why HGC Teams Need a Gaming House

Smash

Interview with TSM|ZeRo: Selling Personal Merch

Embarrasingly nerdy fan-fiction

Decisive Action: A Fan-made Ranno Origin Story

Roll20 Esports Interview Series: The Boss

Heroes of the Storm, like all esports, has a unique equalizing effect. Pro players have access to the exact same characters and in-game tools as anyone. To the untrained eye, a Varian, Chromie, or Medivh looks exactly the same in a quick match as they do on the Blizzcon stage. That said, what makes the HGC truly special is the group of hard-working, passionate gamers fighting for the right to keep pursuing their dreams. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at the men on the other side of the screen. It’s time for you to really get to know the Roll20 Esports Heroes of the Storm team. Check out previous interviews at the end of this article.


Last week we finished up the last of the last of our player interviews. Today, we’ll be continuing the series by talking to one of the founders of Roll20, and the face of the company in the Heroes community. Nolan T. Jones and I had a chat about the origins of Roll20 as a company, the founders’ affinity for Blizzard games, and the esports org’s goals at Blizzcon. To change things up, we did today’s article as more of a Q&A session rather than a standard profile. Let me know how you feel about the change in format in this week’s Reddit thread or on Twitter. Now, on to the interview!

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Can you tell us a bit about your history in gaming?

Nolan: Personally, I’ve been playing games as long as I can remember. My parents had an original Nintendo Entertainment System, and I started there. Played computer games since they installed via floppy disk. My partners in Roll20, Richard Zayas and Riley Dutton, are also both lifetime players, and my earliest memories with both of them include video games. Fun story: Riley initially was wary of Richard because on my recommendation Riley loaned Richard a copy of the original Fable, and Richard took a little too long to return it.

In a twist that would surprise a great many Roll20 users, we really didn’t start playing tabletop games until college.

How did you get involved with Roll20.net?

Nolan: Two years after college I moved to Las Vegas, Nevada and Richard to the Washington DC area– both of us following our spouses’ careers– while Riley stayed in Kansas where we had all gone to school. Fast forward a few years later and all three of us were losing touch. I started playing some D&D with a local group and wished I had a way to do it online with my other friends. Riley had a pretty elegant solution to gameplay in-browser, and I thought we could launch it via Kickstarter. Our 2012 Kickstarter was successful far beyond our initial ask, and from that point on the three of us worked together to build the company into what it is today.

Image uploaded from iOS

L to R: Richard Zayas, Riley Dutton, and Nolan T. Jones at the opening of the opening of the Roll20 Esports Lounge on August 31, 2017 in the Student Union at the University of Kansas. The Union asked Roll20 to help establish the space before Roll20 had even moved into esports.

In a fun note for Blizzard fans, our actual company name is The Orr Group, LLC., named after our World of WarCraft guild, the <House of Orr>. Much love to oldschool Andorhal.

What is your role within the company?

Nolan: Initially I did a lot of community management and branding, while Riley did all of the programming, and Richard handled the finances and intangibles (and a head’s up to anyone starting a new business– there are a LOT of intangibles).

As of this year, Riley and Richard have stepped back from the day-to-day of Roll20, but I’m the Managing Partner of the company. I would say my biggest contributions to the platform currently are finding new hires and guiding expansion.

Who’s your favorite hero in Heroes of the Storm?

Nolan: ETC by a hair (with Tyrande a close second). Tanking is probably the role I’m best at, and ETC was the first character that helped me understand positioning in the game.

Why was Heroes of the Storm the launching point for Roll20 Esports?

Nolan: It’s a game the three of us know, understand, love, and wanted to share with our company employees and community-at-large. When Heroes of the Storm first launched, I had sworn that I was done with Blizzard games (burnt out from the WoW cross-server swap in the middle of a Grand Marshall grind and high-tier arena play, and disappointed-beyond-reason that the story of StarCraft II was not Raynor out for revenge against Kerrigan for killing Fenix). Richard convinced me to give it a shot, and I’ve become the biggest fan of the game– closing in on 4,000 matches played.

As I’ll say to anyone who listens, I think Dustin Browder’s original inspirations coming out of basketball coaching legend John Wooden’s book “On Leadership” really set Heroes apart from other team games. It was because of that team-based emphasis that I felt this could be an esport that properly represented the camaraderie of the Roll20 roleplaying community in a competitive environment.

 

What made Team 8 the right team to partner with to start Roll20 Esports?

Nolan: They were continuously underestimated, and I liked that about them from the start. What really made them THE team for us was that they were holding out to get properly compensated by a sponsor. That’s a core Roll20 business belief; as creators of a platform and content, we think payment is important, and knowing that this team was aware that they had worth was appealing. Particularly as Blizzard had done so much this year to help put money into the scene with the HGC format, it seemed like the right time to step in and be a part of that process.

So to other teams still looking for an organization, you’d say it’s important to understand your own value?

Nolan: Absolutely. Don’t over-estimate it, but negotiate a value, and then expect your organization to follow through. This situation coming to light in regards to Playing Ducks is disgusting; the fact that the players aren’t being paid is sadly not completely abnormal– which is why players may need unions and the like going forward to help quickly expose organizations looking to take advantage of their playing rosters.

What is your favorite part about owning an esports team?

Nolan: I enjoy supporting the overall community, honestly. I probably take it too seriously for as corny a concept as it is, but I like the idea that I’m helping to contribute joy to players and viewers. Roll20 is a gaming company, and I really believe that means we are supposed to be having some fun.

I’ll also say that the Roll20® in-game stuff still blows me away– that’s a logo made by a good friend of mine that represents a thing I made with two of my best friends and came to represent a whole fantastic community full of folks… and now it’s in the crossover mash-up of these Blizzard games that my friends and I have loved for decades.

 

 

 

 

What does it mean to you to have your team headed to a world championship in its first year of existence?

Nolan: I would have honestly felt that this roster underachieved if we weren’t going to BlizzCon in one of the automatic North America spots. These guys are very talented; when they lose, it is often because they collapse on themselves.

The bigger question is how we can capitalize on this opportunity. Can this roster clean up and elevate their play to its max, and how far does that take us?

Would you say that your goal for the team this year is to win BlizzCon?

Nolan: To give a very honest-but-John-Wooden answer, my goal is for us to play our best. There’s a degree to which I’d be disappointed with winning the whole damn thing if the other great teams sputter and our play is sloppy. What I want is for all five guys to be able to look at their performance at the end of the week and know they did their best to prepare, and then played to the best of their ability. I’ve won and lost a lot of very competitive basketball games over the years, and the result is not what matters the most to me– it’s always the feeling that my teammates and I pushed ourselves to our limits.

Any sidebets planned at BlizzCon with the owners of other teams?

Nolan: I’ve only gotten to talk briefly with two other sponsors in HGC. As such, I’m really just excited to meet folks from some of the other organizations and make relationships.

What should Heroes of the Storm fans know about the Roll20 app if they’re interested in checking it out?

Nolan: Roll20.net is the number one way to play tabletop games online and if you, like me, grew up with computer roleplaying games, let me tell you that tabletop roleplaying games allow a whole new level of freedom that you will cherish. If you’ve ever been frustrated that your imagination seemed trapped by the limitations of a game’s programming– that the dialogue options didn’t have what you wanted to say, or you couldn’t go beyond a certain wall– then you will really, really enjoy what games like Dungeons & Dragons have to offer.

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What’s your favorite class in D&D and why (bonus nerd points for specific edition)?

Nolan: I’m frequently a rogue. My favorite character I’ve ever played was a 4th Edition D&D Dragonborn brawny rogue.

Since you mentioned it (and personally 4th is my favorite edition, Warlord for life) I’ll ask: what’s your take on 4th edition as compared to the other editions of DnD?

Nolan: I think that 4th Edition is a great introduction for people who are coming from video games– Final Fantasy, World of WarCraft— where min-maxing and tactical planning are key. I personally adore it, and hope that it will eventually have the same sort of “Open Gaming” licensing permissions we’ve seen for 3rd and 5th editions.

Is there a specific game or edition you’d recommend to newer tabletop gamers investigating the platform?

Nolan: There is not, because there are so many different games that supply so many different experiences. My advice is to not end up paralyzed by trying to decide what game to try first, but instead simply try and find a group of people that seem like fun and play! Then you can start to refine what parts of tabletop are most appealing to you in the long run.

Anything else you’d like to say to your team’s fans?

Nolan: Thank you. For the outpouring of social media support, the Twitch bits cheering / in-game-item-repping, your excitement about jersey, and onward.

This process of introducing and intermingling fans-of-a-roleplaying-platform and fans-of-an-esports-team has been overall really gratifying. If I might, though, make an ask of our venn diagram of a following: help each other out. Let’s make certain as the Roll20 community expands that we remain known as the folks who will help bring more people into their hobbies and make more friends along the way.


Thank you so much to Nolan for taking the time for this interview, and to Roll20 for the opportunity to chat with these awesome players. As we roll on towards Blizzcon, stay tuned for more HOTS coverage and Roll20 content!

Want to show your support for Roll20? Head to the R2E shop and pickup an official Roll20 Esports jersey! 

 

Check out our previous interviews:

Prismaticism

Buds

Justing

Goku

Glaurung