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?
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!
Embarrasingly nerdy fan-fiction