What We Learned: Day 1 of GCWC

While most were sound asleep, the final tournament of the 2017 Heroes of the Storm esports season began. NA and EU entered this even with questions surrounding every team. Had Roll20 truly upgraded their roster? How would Fnatic address the hero pool concerns with Quack and Mene? Could Zaelia really fill the shoes of Dignitas’ former support, Bakery? Obviously, none of those questions were fully answered this morning. In fact, we won’t really know the answer to any questions about these teams for several months.

gold club

However, the games this morning gave us a sense of where these teams are headed, and how they stack up against global competition in their current state. With Day 1 of the Gold Club World Championship in the books, let’s take a look at what we learned today, and what to keep an eye on moving into the rest of the round robin phase.

Roll20 Esports

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not yet been able to watch the R2e matches from this morning. However, I’ve received several reports of how the games went, and took a look at the drafts for both games, so I’ll be focusing on that in this article.

We still don’t really know how to fully evaluate the relative strength of China. The teams we saw at Blizzcon were not a fair representation of the region, and one game certainly can’t tell us how SPT stacks up against the other teams in the tournament. However, by all accounts Roll20 took care of their business in solid fashion against a team many expect to finish near the bottom of the standings.

What’s especially interesting and encouraging about these matches for NA’s strongest team is the drafting. In Game 1, Goku was on Ragnaros with Kure on Dehaka. This is a composition that was locked away from Roll20 in the incarnation with Glaurung and Prismaticism. Glau doesn’t have a Ragnaros, and his Dehaka always left much to be desired when compared to Goku. Drafting this composition with the old roster would have left all three flex players in suboptimal positions.  With the new roster, the team clearly has a remarkable degree of flexibility which opens up more mind games during the drafting phase. Locking in Dehaka early reveals nothing about the gameplan of the composition for the remainder of this tournament now that the team has two players who can handle the hero confidently. Even if they never show this sort of composition again, every team has to account for it in their preparation. That alone is useful to Roll20.

The second draft further shows a new interesting development with this roster. Looking at the draft in a vaccuum, you would assume that Kure was on Valla with Daneski on Malfurion. However, for this game those roles were reversed. Now, it’s entirely possible that Roll20 was confident they could defeat SPT 2-0 with unorthodox compositions that didn’t reveal any of their plans to stronger teams. However, the flexibility shown here represents a promising start to this team’s synergy. Goku is willing to give away his trademark Dehaka to a new teammate. Kure can take a back seat on the second support and let Daneski play the hyper carry in the team’s debut set. We literally didn’t see Kure play a single ranged assassin in his first series as a member of Roll20. This leads me to feel a sense of humility from this team. They just want to win, and build whatever composition allows them to reach that goal.

Naturally, this is all speculation, but for me what I saw today confirms my feeling that this team made huge upgrades in the offseason.

Dignitas

We know POILK is really good at shooting things. We know that Wubby is very good at soaking things. The big question mark for Dignitas was how quickly Zaelia could adapt to the support role. Throwing the poor boy on Medic in his debut match was tough, and I think Dig got a bit caught off guard by how well CE played in that game. However, they recovered well for the second game. It’s that Game 2 where I think we saw several instances of Zaelia’s potential in the role.

Simply put, he knew how to play Lucio in a competitive match on Tomb of the Spider Queen. His rotations with Genji were on point, he kept himself in position to land impactful knockbacks, and did not overextend into the opponent’s heavy frontline. In particular, the knockback to interrupt Sanctification was a heads up, veteran play that displayed Zaelia’s understanding of his role in the teamfight as well as his in-game awareness as a player. We still need to see what Zaelia can do on more traditional supports (your Rehgars and Uthers) but I no longer have any concerns about his Lucio.

Oh also, POILK’s Chromie was really fun to watch. It was like that Carbot animation where she drops sand all over the place, only in POILK’s case the sand all landed on top of CE’s heads and made them not be alive.

Fnatic

With such a dominant 2017 behind them, it’s difficult for the average fan to see the new Fnatic roster as anything but a downgrade. There are still huge question marks surrounding the new roster, and I don’t know that we really answered them in these games.

We saw BadBenny’s Arthas, which acquitted itself well, but every tank player should have a reasonably good Arthas in their back pocket for emergencies. In Game 2, we saw his Rehgar which, while solid, does not really give us any indication of the depth of BadBenny’s offlane hero pool.

That said, in the first game on Cursed Hollow we did see that this new roster knows how to execute a team composition. The synergy between Mene and Quackniix was excellent. In a meta without double support, that game showed that this roster can challenge the best team in the world and come out on top.

However, that second game on Tomb only served to reignite the fears regarding Mene’s hero pool. Fnatic opted for a double support strategy, but instead of throwing Mene on the Auriel, they put BadBenny on Rehgar in order to keep Mene on his mage. Yes, for the purposes of this analysis we’re calling Junkrat a mage, leave me alone about it. Dreadnaught said it first, go yell at him. Anyway, where was I?

Right, Badbenny on Rehgar. Going back and looking at this game, the team composition is actually really interesting. They have gobs and gobs of wave clear, and a ton of zone control for the turn ins. In a more passive early game, there’s a real chance that this team composition works out and Fnatic has a 2-0 victory in their first match of GCWC.

Unfortunately, they walked right into a KSV composition that was expressly built to blow nerds up in the early game. Between the silences, Arthas roots, Chromie bombs, and Greymane doing Greymane things, Fnatic were overrun in the early game. Johanna team compositions don’t play well from behind, especially with no other reliable lockdown on the team. The loss had little to do with any sort of hero pool disparities, and far more to do with Fnatic simply trying out an experimental composition that didn’t work out. Ultimately, I think the takeaway from this match is that we re-affirmed that these five European gentlemen are each individually very good at playing the video game Heroes of the Storm. How they come together to perform over the full course of a tournament remains to be seen.

The best news about all of this is that we get to learn even more stuff tomorrow!  The production level at this event is stellar, the casters are having fun, and the games are super interesting. Set your alarm, program your coffee maker, and get up to watch these matches!

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