A Comprehensive Review of Summer Worlds
(NVTHotS competing at the 2016 Summer World Championships)
If there is one thing we can take from the recent conclusion of the Heroes Summer Global Championship it's that the Korean teams are incredibly strong. While most people following Heroes of the Storm esports already knew this, Summer HGC confirmed it for any remaining skeptics. However, this is not a time for the Western teams, or the teams from the smaller regions, to become discouraged. If anything HGC showed us , while the gap is still large enough to notice a difference in Korean vs non-Korean matches, the gap isn't as large as it was at Spring Globals.
Summer HGC had a great group of storylines, adding even more depth to an already successful event. Please Buff Arthas (PBA) became the first team from a smaller region to ever qualify for the Round of 8. Their task was not an easy one, as they had secured the Round of 8 bid by back-dooring Gale Force Esports in Game 3. The implications of PBA winning are actually huge for Heroes esports. It is no question PBA had the easier group to make the quarterfinal group stage, but this shouldn't diminish their accomplishment. In fact, PBA advancing to the quarterfinals only means more exposure for Heroes esports in the Taiwanese scene, and more optimistically, in the other smaller regions. More exposure is great for these smaller qualifying regions as it will hopefully, over time, lead other teams to rise up in these respective regions and allow, not only these top teams to actually have legitimate scrimming partners, but also general exposure for Heroes Esports.
Speaking of exposure for Heroes of the Storm, another amazing storyline from HGC is its reported concurrent viewer count, 50k in the West, and 300k internationally. While this may seem like a small number, it's actually impressive. Considering how young Herores Esports is, and the fact this has only been the 2nd global tournament this year, we as longtime fans and players couldn't be more happier about these counts. If anything, this viewership should suggest Heroes Esports isn't declining, or that HotS is a "dead game" contrary to whatever outcry has been occurring on Reddit. It cannot be stressed enough how much this talk, as commonplace as it is, is incredibly trite, has no value, and couldn't be less true. Following this recent HGC, it's time to put the trolls to bed and accept Heroes esports isn't going anywhere, no matter how many NA teams decide it's time to disband, or what happens to be the upvote of the week on Reddit. For me personally, these numbers couldn't be a better sign of what the future holds for HotS, and more importantly I feel it's the best story out of this recent HGC.
While I'm sure people will disagree with me on that last point, as arguably another story, with just as much impact, is likely to be everyone's favorite. Myinsanity, the second qualifying European team, who has looked indomitable since Dreamhack Tours, became, not only the first Western team to make it to the semifinals of an HGC, but the first Western team to also take a map off of MVP Black. Myinsanity tried cheesing MVP Black in Game 1 (not recommended) but in Game 2 they completely out-drafted MVP and forced them off their comfort picks. Granted, MVP Black is an insanely good team mechanically, but this little edge was enough to give Myinsanity the victory. If Estar began to show the blueprint for beating MVP Black in the GHL Finals a month ago, Myinsanity added depth to it: If you can outdraft MVP Black you can beat them. Easier said than done of course. Props to Myinsanity for putting on a good show, but most importantly, solidifying what we probably all assumed at Tours, that they are undoubtedly the best team in EU. One could even go as far to say they are the best Western team at the moment.
Being the best team in the west, though a great title, is just that, a title. It doesn't sound nearly as good "World Champions." Again at an HGC, the Korean teams showcased why they are the best, and what a treat it was. The grand finals was a retelling of the OGN Superleague finals where Tempest beat MVP Black 4-0on the OGN stage. They became the first team to win a series against MVP Black since 2015. At HGC, we were given this rematch, and if you followed the group stages, MVP Black was out for blood. Estar again managed to take a map off of Black, but then a furious Black responded by crushing Estar on Battlefield of Eternity in less than 9 minutes. Black's early performance was an indication, if they were to play Tempest again in the finals, Tempest was going to have to put up another god-tier performance. And Tempest did not disappoint. Again, Tempest's playmakers Dami and Lockdown did ridiculous things on Falstad and Greymane, but early on in the series their backs were against the wall.
If there is one flaw in Tempest's play, it's that their early game suffers. Estar had huge leads in the semifinals against Tempest and ended up throwing them away. MVP was able to capitalize on this weakness early in the series. Surprisingly though, Tempest did win the first map on the MVP favored Battlefield of Eternity. Up until that point in HGC, MVP Black was undefeated on BoE, winning every match in under 13 minutes. But Tempest's victory made MVP Black hungry, and ignited the fire that seemed to be missing in Game 1. Black took the next two maps, Infernal Shrines and Cursed Hollow, pretty convincingly. Game 2 was won by a god-like preclenase from Merryday as MVP Sign used ETC's Tour Bus to get a 3 man mosh and secure the late game teamfight for MVP Black. Merryday's precleanse was Easily the most incredible individual highlight of HGC. Following a Game 3 victory for MVP Black, it looked as though Superleague was a fluke and MVP Black was going to get their revenge, securing the series in Game 4 on Dragon Shire. Again, Tempest did what again looked to be impossible.
Tempest managed to drag out Game 4 on Dragon Shire to the supreme late game. Both teams were level 23, and Tempest, the best team-fighting team in the world, took an insane team-fight over the bottom shrine, taking everyone down on Black except Rich on Thrall. Throughout the duration of Dragon Shire Tempest was only able to open up the win condition by securing the bottom keep minutes earlier. Top and mid lane on MVP Black's side were relatively untouched. Following the won team fight, Tempest immediately rushed the core through bottom lane, securing the victory and tying the series 2-2. Game 5 was on Towers of Doom and MVP Black's play looked visibly tilted. While the early and mid game was farily even, it didn't take long before the game spun out of control and Tempest crushed Black in almost every engagement. They bullied Black away from altars, got picks, and exploited any questionable decision Black made. Dami's Greymane was really too much for Black to deal with. Some of the plays Dami made, no one else in the world can make. If there was ever a moment when a single player could stand out this much in Heroes of the Storm, it was in this Towers match. Tempest actually demolished MVP Black on Towers to become World Champions, and ultimately the best team in the world. They've shown beating MVP in Superleague wasn't a fluke, and when it comes to team synergy and team fighting Tempest is unrivaled. It's not a long shot to say these guys are easily the favorites to win Blizzcon, and I for one am really excited to see even more games from these two teams.
Although the finals were probably the best series we've ever had in HotS, for fans of NA Heroes concerns were raised. We saw Gale Force depart the tournament in the first group stage in surprising fashion. GFE's skill level entering HGC looked to be growing exponentially without any sign of stopping. However, both GFE and Naventic were served a heavy dose of reality during HGC. For Gale Force it was a complete train wreck. Even with Khroen's assassin play being top notch, and securing Li-ming a lot, it still wasn't enough. GFE made far too many mistakes on too many roles, and as expected, in standard North American fashion, players will be blamed and subsequently removed from the roster because of the loss. It has already begun to happen. I want to make it clear though, GFE as a team, not one individual player, made mistakes. Even Khroen made mistakes in those matches, and in my opinion his mistakes were minimal. He is unquestionably the best player on that team and alongside Akaface, doesn't actually contribute to game-ending mistakes. GFE was given a wake-up call for sure, but these guys have great chemistry together, they just need to tighten their play up in order to have an impact at Blizzcon.
Naventic on the other hand, had the most difficult task in the second group stage. Having qualified as the number one seed from NA, they secured their spot in a group with Estar, and were later joined by MVP Black and Please Buff Arthas. Naventic's group was undoubtedly the Group of Death during Summer HGC. In an interview previous to the event Joker, a Korean warrior player famous for his ETC play in Superleague, suggested in order for Naventic to win Fan had to "play out of his mind." While Fan going off would've been insane to watch, the burden doesn't solely rest on his shoulders. Naventic is the best mechanically skilled team in North America, and they are an incredibly intelligent team who studies and incorporates the Asian meta into their play. However, studying and implementing these strategies is only half the battle. The other half is execution and practice. Plays Naventic gets away with in NA qualifiers and regionals do not work against Asian powerhouses like Estar and MVP Black. And, though the Naventic hate began to flow on Reddit, I would argue no Western team was making it out of that group because they simply aren't used to playing against teams better than them. It feels like a different game when Chinese and Korean teams play against each other. Even though Myinsanity took a map off MVP Black, the West as a whole, isn't practiced enough yet, they just aren't ready. Will they be ready by Blizzcon? I anticipate they will, at least to some extent. Rest assured Naventic will have a much better showing by the time Blizzcon comes around.
For me, NA's performance isn't even the real unfortunate story of HGC. Coming into Summer Globals there were a ton of questions regarding Team Dignitas. Dig's performance at DreamHack Tours was abysmal, but excuses were made as they were fresh off their roster change, removing Wubby for AlexTheProg. I was willing to buy into the roster swap excuses, but barring a few people who sat in on their scrims, nobody really knew how Dignitas was going to perform. Before Tours, Dignitas was unquestionably the best team in Europe. At HGC it wasn't too far out of the realm of possibility they'd see a return to form and everyone would write off Tours as an adjustment period. Well not only did this not happen, but Myinsanity beat Dignitas 4-0. Don't get me wrong, all of Dig's games looked pretty decent, but when it came down to it, they couldn't finish, and this is a huge concern. Dig's inability to close games at HGC could very well be a symptom of the roster, and if it persists during regional qualifiers, I actually fear for their chances of even making it to Blizzcon.
Following all the storylines coming out HGC, the future looks bright for Heroes of the Storm esports no matter what team or region is your favorite. While the Western teams have closed the gap slightly, there is still a ton of work for them to do to catch the skill level of the Asian teams. But the viewership numbers were great and are sure to be even larger for Blizzcon. Ultimately, HGC was an excellent event put on by Blizzard, the production, the talent, and the games were all thoroughly enjoyable. This recent HGC is proof there is a bright future for competitive Heroes of the Storm, and like all of you I couldn't be more pumped.