Blizzard’s second annual Heroes of the Dorm tournament began in earnest this weekend, signaling the beginning of the tournament itself after two weeks of qualification rounds. The tournament is a collegiate level eSports event that started in 2015 while Heroes of the Storm was still in beta, with the finals being broadcast on ESPN 2. This year, as with the last year, the champions of the tournament will receive scholarship money up to $75,000 for tuition with the teams that make the final 4 earning a custom built PC.
Heroes of the Dorm is unusual in that it is an event that is targeting college level athletes while attempting to bring it more and more into the public’s consciousness, perhaps even helping prompt ESPN to develop their own eSports division. All participants must be students, and this year’s competitors contain several professional players including MichaelUdall and akaface on Arizona State’s team. In addition, of the 374 players entering this year’s competition 73 of them are returning from last year’s Heroes of the Dorm competition, increasing the parallels between this new college level eSports league and the more traditional athletic leagues of the NCAA when it comes to assigning the importance of experience to the teams that are competing.
While this year’s tournament has built upon the success and has improved its visibility and production value from last year’s, the start of the tournament was not without issue. The top 64 teams that had survived two weeks of qualifier rounds began facing each other in the Nexus early on March 19th, with only six of the thirty-two matches being broadcast on ESPN 3, YouTube, and Twitch. The broadcast itself was not without some initial problems, with connectivity issues, incorrect graphics, and miscommunications between the teams and the broadcast team but most of those were ironed out by day two.
This year Blizzard included a March Madness style bracket competition, offering prizes to the fans that predict the most accurate way the tournament will proceed. This added an extra level of personal involvement for the fans of the game and also provided Blizzard with a bunch of statistical data that could be referenced to determine favorites in any given match up.
The tournament itself was as exciting and unpredictable as any NCAA March Madness bracket, with multiple upsets and surprises throughout the first two days of tournament play. The bracket itself is split into four groups: A, B, C, and D with each quadrant champion to be flown to Seattle for the Semi and Grand Finals on April 9 and 10 to compete at CenturyLink field.
Since only a handful of games were broadcast (six on each day) it makes it difficult to see what happened in some of the more notable matches, but those that were can be looked at a little more closely.
Bracket A had an initial upset as Waterloo was knocked out by Texas Tech before themselves succumbing to a 2-1 loss to the University of Washington in the Ro32 on day two. The first broadcast game was Illinois vs Miami, where Illinois was touted as the more experienced team. Their organized manner of play made them look professional in the first round as they decisively beat Miami on Sky Temple, but got a little overconfident on the second map when the junior Miami team was able to capitalize on several key over extensions and a failed attempt at going for boss on Tomb of the Spider Queen before rallying and firmly defeating them in the third round on Dragon Shire.
University of California Irvine (UCI) was able to shut out Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) before moving on to beat Illinois on day 2 during the Bo32 in a 2-1 advantage. Both teams looked strong but during the rubber match, questionable decision making and self-destruction on the side of Illinois allowed UCI’s returning team of four veterans to isolate and destroy the Mad Banners firmly.
Elsewhere in group A, Assumption was favored to go deep into the bracket because of their single professional player, Khroen. Despite the expertise brought to the table, and a staggering 18:1 K/D ratio at the start of the Bo32, they were eliminated at the hands of LSU’s second team.
Attention in the B group was dominated by the attention of two teams: UT Arlington and Boston College. UT Arlington has three members of the professional team Blaze, currently one of the top teams in the North America professional scene and is favored by many to make it to the finals. Opposite them, Boston College has two professional players from team Pool Plato Some Tangos as well and are returning from last year’s Final Four with four of their players. Both teams cleared their rounds this weekend with minimum resistance, not losing a single map between them.
Utah’s team advanced from the Bo64 due to a DQ by Michigan, who used an illegal sub during their match only to be wiped out by Johns Hopkins when it they attempted an Illdian/Abathur play that didn’t pay off in the first round and followed up with an impotent Murky pick during their elimination match.
Group C was the source of much bracket anxiety for a majority of the community when the returning champions from last year’s event (UC Berkley) were wiped out by Harvard in the first round.
UCONN is now the favorite to take the group, and they skated easily to victory going 2-0 against both Oregon and Indiana.
Group D is home of Arizona State University’s Dream Team, favored by the majority of players to win the whole tournament. They were last year’s runners up and as stated previously, they’re carrying the highest concentration of professional players in the running. The only thing to come out of both of their 2-0 matches is that MichaelUdall played one of their matches in the Bo64 as Kerrigan, an unusual pick due to the state of her place in the meta. Perhaps ASU is following Cloud 9’s example of taking unusual characters and strategies into the tournament just to demonstrate their prowess over more amateur opponents, or maybe they felt Kerrigan was the proper tool for the job. More information will surely come to light next week when every match will be broadcast.
Also surprising was the defeat of Texas A&M, who were slated to be one of the challenges that ASU would face on the road to the championship. Georgia Tech also made a name for themselves during this qualifier, but ended up facing a much more coordinated Minnesota in the Bo32, who quickly routed them 2-0.
The first weekend of play for Heroes of the Dorm 2016 was certainly as exciting as it was exhausting, and Blizzard has shown remarkable foresight and thoughtfulness in their setup and execution of this tournament, but it has not been without issue. The tournament continues next weekend on Saturday March 26th at 6AM PST on Twitch, ESPN 3, and YouTube and plans to cover every single match from there to the tournament’s completion.Related: Blizzard Entertainment, eSports, Event (Real Life), Heroes of the Dorm, Heroes of the Storm, MOBA, Tournament