Stepping out onto the Heroes Global Championship stage today we have Fnatic, the number one EU seed, Team Freedom, the number two NA seed, Beyond the Game, the Franken-team that is made up of only two of the actual players from China’s third seed and three subs from from other Chinese teams, and Dark Sided the dark horse team from the ANZ region. Most people expect all of these series to run on rails, with Fnatic coming out top, Freedom coming second, and Dark Sided and BtG being relegated. However, there are two things you can never count out in professional Heroes of the Storm: cheese and superior team fighting. Dark Sided will try to cheese their way out of groups and no Chinese team can ever be discounted on the team fighting front. After all, Frankenstein’s monster caused a lot of havoc.
Fnatic vs Dark Sided
Fnatic has a long term problem with overconfidence. They went from winning 90% of their scrims to 50% because they weren’t trying as hard. They dropped a full set in late phase HGC to Playing Ducks/Diamond Skin out of nowhere. When they are the underdogs, they focus more. As a team they lack the structure and discipline to give consistent results when they are on top until they get a wake up call in the form of a loss. This series demonstrates both their mastery of macro and how strong their mechanics are even when they aren’t showing their mastery of drafting, sticking purely to macro based comfort picks. Given the difference in the level of teams we’d expect a multiple level lead and multiple kills to zero. Dark Sided did lose by four levels in game one and actually fell further behind during their own curse, something that is nearly unprecedented in pro HotS, but they did manage to secure kills and drag the game out when Fnatic tried to pressure for the end. Game two was much closer in terms of both kills and levels, but Dark Sided got consistently out-rotated.
Fnatic is the team to beat at this BlizzCon event, as the current world champions. Realistically, no matter how sloppy they may have played in this series, the odds they don’t take first in this group are minimal.
Team Freedom vs Beyond the Game
It is easy to underestimate a Franken-team. Despite a strong performance by Team Freedom in game one, they completely dropped the ball in game two and allowed BtG to go from a losing position to ending the game on a boss push. Freedom opted to be aggressive and look for a flank into the backline to save their keep, rather than playing conservatively. A single Muradin Storm Bolt interrupting Emerald Wind turned the fight sideways. Kure’s Zeratul play almost saved core, but it wasn’t enough. This is always the risk of playing against Chinese teams – they will make the all-in call to end no matter how slim the odds are, and adapting to different styles of play and changing the shot calling accordingly is a critical thing for teams to learn at international events. To date, no NA team has managed to consistently adjust between the heavy constrictor style play of EU teams and the aggression of KR and CN teams. Until that happens, NA teams will continue to underperform at international events.
Game three ended up being an attempt at cheese by BtG, the first triple support composition we have seen in pro play since Team Expert tried – and won – with one on Battlefield of Eternity in the regular HGC season. Unfortunately, BtG did not understand what makes triple support work and ended up getting out-macroed, out-rotated, and as a result out-fought. Their Muradin and Kharazim picks did nothing to contribute to the long, drawn out fights that triple support looks for. Heroes that want fast fights do not excel when your win condition is to trade damage efficiently over a long period of time. After very close games for the first two, it was a disappointment to see such poor execution by BtG.
Fnatic vs Team Freedom
For the first two games, Fnatic stuck to their strategy of drafting global heroes with Muradin, revealing nothing about what they think is genuinely strong in the meta. They dominated game one handily, but game two we saw signs of life from Freedom. Zugrug’s playmaking on E.T.C. was game winning on Towers of Doom. Zugrug was not always a tank player and he has struggled to become a top tier tank in the pro scene since forming Team Freedom. But to go up against Fnatic and out play them, on E.T.C. of all heroes, is a stunning result, especially considering Breez is the best E.T.C. in the world and Fnatic is keenly aware of the limits of the hero. To beat Fnatic, the macro team, on a macro map on their comfort heroes is remarkable.
Game three was in many ways the best game so far of the group stages. Having dropped game two to being straight up outplayed, Fnatic leaves behind their generic comfort composition and shows us the first real, clearly practiced composition they have prepared for BlizzCon. While triple global is not unusual for them, the addition of Stitches and Kael’Thas on Infernal Shrines, which is typically a Dignitas pocket comp, is a huge divergence to round out the composition. Freedom acquitted themselves well with their own special pocket pick of Nazmas on D.Va, arguably the most accomplished pro D.Va player in the world right now, but Freedom felt forced into a 19 vs 20 fight in the end. The power of the 20 talents on Fnatic gave entirely too much control and Freedom get deleted, leaving Fnatic to walk to core and end the game and series. It shows the desperation Freedom felt that they took a 19 vs 20 fight rather than defending at core 20 vs 20. Hopefully that wasn’t the pressure getting to them.
Dark Sided vs Beyond the Game
The ANZ region has a rough time at every international event. Nomia, the highly wombo based team we usually see at these international events, lost two critical players. Arcaner went to EU to attempt to make it into the HGC in a major region and robadobah started his own team, Dark Sided, to push to the top of the ANZ region. Dark Sided’s judgement in game is fairly strong, but their drafting is very one dimensional. Unfortunately, their mechanics are a huge step below those of the random collection of players from Beyond the Game’s Franken-team, to the point where on Braxis a level 10 vs level 9 team fight was decisively won by Beyond the Game. A triple warrior with Zarya cheese composition, even though executed poorly, was the only reason for their one win. Mechanics are probably best practiced in Hero League and ANZ as a region constantly complains about their lower player pool leading to long queues. One game an hour while chain queuing is not unheard of.
Beyond the Game did manage to take the series, but it is unfortunate that it was purely because of mechanics in such a strategy focused game. The aggressive strategies we see from China are not just running it down, as many viewers constantly praise them for. The art of rotating for picks and giving up the minimum amount of experience while denying the enemy team’s experience is one highly specific approach to manipulating the map. Every team does it. Some do it without missing any soak and looking for only the best trades or most likely kills, Chinese teams will go on anything, under, around, or over towers in some cases with multiple man rotations that are guaranteed to miss soak. Beyond the Game is no exception to this; their execution is lacking against the better teams they faced in groups but they can out mechanic Dark Sided consistently.
Team Freedom vs Beyond the Game
Beyond the Game comes into this set visibly disheartened after their struggle with Dark Sided. Team Freedom, down at heart after dropping a game in their first series against Beyond the Game, are on top of the world after taking a game off of Fnatic. Their confidence and focus is on another level. After a dominant game one, game two on Towers of Doom becomes the biggest comeback game of the tournament so far. With their tournament lives on the line, Beyond the Game dominates the early game in terms of core shots, abusing the early weakness of Abathur on Team Freedom’s side. But Team Freedom, renowned at one point for always playing Nazeebo, is in many ways the team for understanding how to grind out the game to their power spikes. The team fights and awareness of Team Freedom barely allow them to eke out a win over Beyond the Game. Zugrug, KilluZiion, and Kure carrying the game even when Daneski gets focused at the start of every fight.
It must come as a relief to Team Freedom to now be in the top 8 for Blizzcon. Zugrug switched to tank when he formed this roster and has struggled with that role for months. I can confidently say he is now one of the top three tanks in the NA HGC. Kure was uncertain if he should pursue a career in pro HotS after he won dorms and making it to Blizzcon, the largest event for HotS, must have reaffirmed that decision for him. For many people, Team Freedom carries the highest hopes for NA as a region at this event and this is the first step to fulfilling those hopes for their fans and themselves.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, eSports, Heroes of the Storm, HGC, MOBA