Road to BlizzCon: A Team Reborn

Reborn lifts the trophy at the ANZ regional final

Written by: EsportsJohn

Table of Contents


Hailing from down under, the Australian boys are back in action. After disbanding and undergoing various roster changes, the majority of former Negative Synergy members have reformed under the new moniker Reborn for their third Global Championship appearance—and this time, they’re looking stronger than ever.

Origins

The story starts in mid 2015 with robadobah, just after Heroes of the Storm was released. Team Immunity was the biggest name in Australia-New Zealand (ANZ) esports and eventually fostered two rosters: White and Black. At the time, robadobah played on White while Daspurtz played opposite of him on Black. White blazed through the 2015 Road to BlizzCon qualifiers but were stopped short at the Americas Championship. Nonetheless, robadobah was not deterred; he had tasted the international stage and was thirsty for more.

During the post-BlizzCon lull, robadobah and current teammate Sashin set out to create the ANZ “Dream Team” by collecting all of the best players under one banner. They first scooped up Daspurtz, who had briefly retired after Immunity Black’s loss in the BlizzCon qualifiers. Then the other big name in the region Exile5 suddenly disbanded and left two of the best flex players, Benjamin94 and Ninja, teamless and ripe for the picking. When the dust settled, robadobah had fulfilled his goal of gathering together the best of the best.

“The very first night that we scrimmed with our team line up, we lived up to our name Negative Synergy and we fought and disagreed with everything ;p. But we stuck it out and managed to make it to both Spring and Summer Championships.”

-Benjamin94

Things didn’t go so smoothly at first—Benjamin comments that the first time they played together they “fought and disagreed with everything”—but the team quickly began to pick up momentum. Half a year later, Negative Synergy had almost effortlessly decimated all other competition in ANZ and landed themselves on the global stage twice.

Negative Synergy’s 2016 Run and Reformation

During the Spring Season, Negative Synergy breezed through the regional qualifiers with an overall record of 15-1. However, their dominance did not translate as well to the global stage. They failed to make it out of the First Group Stage with a record of 2-4 at the Spring Global Championship in Seoul, South Korea. They had a strong showing against Filipino team Renovatio I but got smashed by EDward Gaming and Team Naventic at their primes. This wasn’t an unusual trend—none of the minor regions could take games off of major regions, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

Negative Synergy at the Heroes of the Storm Spring Global Championship

Summer Season went even worse. Despite going completely undefeated in the regional qualifiers, cracks began to form in the Negative Synergy roster. “It was quite obvious…in their Sweden performance—noticeably worse than their results in Korea,” commented Reborn flex player Arcaner. At the Global Championship, they played reckless, sloppy games against X-Team and Renovatio I and got knocked out of the group stage 1-4. After such a poor showing, it was clear that some changes needed to be made.

“Basically, like any esports team, Negative Synergy had been having some internal issues throughout the entire summer season of HotS…so after the team returned from Sweden, everyone sort of parted ways and essentially became free agents. Negative Synergy didn’t exist at that point and forward into the next few weeks.”

-Arcaner

The team split completely after coming back from the Summer Global Championship, creating a little Rosterpocalypse in ANZ. Several new teams developed around the former members of Negative Synergy, including one centered around robadobah, Sashin, and top flex player Arcaner. Nonetheless, nothing seemed to hold firm. Most of the teams had disappointing performances in King of the Hill regional tournaments, and the former Negative Synergy teammates began to gravitate back together.

In the end, everyone except Sashin (robadobah, ninja, Benjamin94, and Daspurtz) ended up back together. The team tried out Arcaner for the flex role, and he proved to be more than capable of filling Sashin’s shoes. Despite playing Assassins on previous teams, Arcaner admitted that he had interest in other roles too: “My main and favourite role whenever I’m a free agent is support…I can cover a lot of Heroes haha.” The team also assumed a new name—The Boys—to commemorate their group camaraderie.

“Brainstorming a team name always presents itself with dead ends haha. It’s not something we are talented at so we just latched on to what we thought represented the team’s atmosphere. We ended up having to change [The Boys] to Reborn so we would suffice as a professional HotS team. ‘The Boys’ was a bit too casual.”

-Arcaner

Over the next few weeks, The Boys took regional tournaments by storm and looked just as strong, if not stronger, than the original Negative Synergy. After the Road the Finals qualifiers were announced, The Boys decided to change their name to Reborn for a more “professional”—and at the same time, very fitting—title. Sashin began rebuilding Negative Synergy with a new roster as well, and soon the two teams would become rivals in the scene.

The Road to Finals qualifier was a fairly straightforward affair for Reborn. They dropped only a single game (to Negative Synergy) before coming face to face with their rivals again in the finals. It was a decent fight, but the sheer mechanical strength of Reborn’s roster overpowered the revamped Negative Synergy and catapulted the two-time world contenders back onto the global stage yet again.

Player Profiles

robadobah

robadobah at DreamHack Summer

On the tank role, Robert “robadobah” Purling is a rock for the team to anchor onto. He’s the soul of the team and often lends the voice of reason to keep his teammate’s aggression in check. If the team begins to falter, it’s robadobah’s words that keep them calm and collected.

He tends toward a more cautious and opportunistic approach to teamfights but isn’t afraid to dive in deep if necessary. Like many of the other players on Reborn, he has a very flexible Hero pool. His choice, from the steadfast presence of Johanna to the engagement potential of Anub’arak, sets the pace for the team to follow.

Benjamin94

Benjamin94 at DreamHack Summer

If robadobah is a rock, then Benjamin “Benjamin94” Vinante-Davies is the glue that holds everything together. He’s the team leader both in and out of the game, guiding them to victory. Though Reborn doesn’t have a designated shotcaller, many of the players point to him as the decision maker for the team.

Benjamin didn’t have as much success in 2015 as some of the other players, but his insane flexibility finally came to fruition and was appreciated on Negative Synergy. He typically plays the role of a secondary tank or melee Assassin on Reborn, but his huge Hero pool gives him room to adapt to literally any composition. He plays a terrifying Kerrigan but he’s not afraid to break out more elastic characters like Tassadar or Sylvanas to fill in any gaps.

Daspurtz

Daspurtz at DreamHack Summer

Photo Credit: DreamHack

The back line is held together by Zac “Daspurtz” Peters on the support role. In the ANZ region, he is often lauded as the best support player by far. Though the team plays rather defensively, it’s Daspurtz’s expert positioning and meticulous timing on his abilities that wins teamfights.

Like many support players, it’s hard to nail down a signature Hero for Daspurtz. He’s good on Uther, he’s good on Rehgar, he’s good on Brightwing, even Auriel. There’s nothing he’s particularly bad at—he just plays them all, and he does so with a high level of precision and patience.

Arcaner

Arcaner at the ANZ Fall season regional qualifiers

In lieu of Sashin, Liam “Arcaner” Simpson has been an apt replacement—even an improvement—in terms of team synergy. He doesn’t have the same unbridled aggression, but his quirky playstyle and offbeat attacks set him apart from the more relaxed, laid back attitude of his teammates.

Arcaner’s fingers are quick and his mind is sharp; as such, he can flex a huge variety of roles within the span of a single series. On his previous teams (Fresh and Gust in 5), he typically played the team’s Assassin, but he admits that his preference goes toward supports. He’s comfortable on many impact Heroes including Zagara, Illidan, and Tracer, but he doesn’t mind taking the backseat and allowing Ninja or Benjamin to take the lead either.

Ninja

Ninja at DreamHack Summer

The most peculiar cog in Reborn’s machine is ranged player Shane “Ninja” Ellem. His focus on the macro game and wave management does wonders for nabbing the incremental advantage for his team and makes his playstyle unique. It’s like he plays the same way as every other ranged carry, but with a completely different mindset.

He’s best known for his outstanding Falstad play. Falstad’s global presence plays into his strengths and allows him to control the pace of the game; on top of that, he almost never uses Gust foolishly. Recently, he also unveiled a creative Medivh pick which has turned some heads, so that will be something to look out for.

Playstyle

For the reformed roster, unity is the most important thing. “I think what is special about Reborn is we are based upon friendship,” said Arcaner about the team. “[We’re] [j]ust a team of great mechanical players who all get along and enjoy each other’s company especially outside of scrims and team practice,” he added.

In a conversation with well-known ANZ caster Disconcur, he agreed and noted the long-running bonds that have held the team together for almost two full years. Whatever may happen at BlizzCon, Reborn’s roster is one of the most cohesive in the world and will stay cool under pressure.

Overall, the team’s playstyle can be considered defensive or passive with a focus on small, marginal advantages. They’re unlikely to rush into fights for the sake of fighting, and they’re more than willing to let an objective or a structure go in order to trade for a greater advantage. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have the chops to back up their teamfights.

The team as a whole is quite mechanically proficient. Arcaner boasted that they “have a mechanical advantage over quite a few international teams” including NA teams, many of the small regions, and even EU powerhouse Fnatic. However, mechanics aren’t everything.

“But mechanics only get you so far. Our weaknesses is that we barely practice compared to the other regions. We have extensive real life commitments and are weighed down and limited in terms of scrim options and scrim block times in ANZ. The other teams going to BlizzCon will be spamming practice games so they’ll all have an advantage over us in that aspect.”

-Arcaner

Like in other minor regions, the dream of becoming a full-time progamer is a distant one for ANZ players. Money and exposure are hard to come by via gaming, and good practice options are limited by their remote location in the world. “I think we have a few issues with our scrim options, shot calling, macro, etc. The other teams will be spamming practice games, so they’ll all have an advantage over us in that aspect,” laments Arcaner. Despite having the mechanical advantage, Reborn will be fighting an uphill battle against the well-practiced and well-prepared teams at BlizzCon.

Heading Into BlizzCon

Nevertheless, the team remains optimistic. Out of the minor region teams going to BlizzCon, Reborn feels that they are hands down the best. They feel confident against them and believe they even have a strong chance against some of the major regions as well.

There’s no doubt that Korea is the strongest it’s ever been, but many of the other major regions have fallen from grace. Two of North America’s strongest and most consistent teams throughout the year will not be at BlizzCon—though that’s not to say that Murloc Geniuses and Denial eSports won’t represent NA well—and China’s greatest teams, eStar and EDG, have all but splintered into nothing.

Robadobah at DreamHack Summer

Photo Credit: DreamHack

“I think that we are better players than Denial, Murloc Geniuses, Super Perfect Team, the other small regions, and maybe Fnatic,” Arcaner stated proudly. Benjamin is also confident, stating, “[W]e definitely can get a top 8 position if we play as well as I know we can, but also, the bracket will play a major role in that.” Even Disconcur gave his vote of confidence for the ANZ region making it to the top 8, even the top 4. “We were considered the worst region based on the Summer Championship…teams won’t look into our team and learn what we do,” Benjamin added, hinting at a chance to blindside some of the stronger teams. As a whole, the team and the region are confident in their play, but only results will prove them right.

“No one expects us to do anything, so it would just feel great to beat some really good teams from the more advanced regions and really show that, you know, we’re good players.”

robadobah

There is the drive going all the way back to the Road to BlizzCon 2015 to beat the major regions and prove the ANZ region is a legitimate competitor on the world stage. It was the light that guided robadobah, convinced him to make a “super team”, and held the boys together through a breakup. Now it’s time for Australia to shine.


Huge thanks to Arcaner, Benjamin94, and Disconcur for chatting with me and helping me learn more about the ANZ region. Without them, this article would not be possible!


EsportsJohn is obsessed with The Lizzie Borden Chronicles right now. You can follow him on Twitter or support him on Patreon.

HotS Esports in 2017: Compromises

Tempest win the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship at DreamHack Summer

Photo Credit: DreamHack

Written by Thigan

Blizzard is showing where the esports future of Heroes of the Storm is headed. To analyze those changes, we have to understand first the current state of Heroes of the Storm esports.

An Overview of Last Year’s Progress

It is no secret that viewership in HotS hasn’t grown; it has been dropping since early this year. Regardless the schedule, tournament structure, production value, teams in competition, metas—there are multiple reasons—the viewership is lower.

Skill-wise, Europe has found stability around the level that Dignitas set during the Spring Season early this year, with mYinsanity (now Misfits) peaking during Summer and then regressing during Fall as the biggest variable there. China seems to be at a weaker point; the talent was scarce during HGC Spring, but China still placed two teams in the top 4 of the Global Championship. Afterwards, during the Spring Gold Series, they fought against MVP Black and influenced the style of the Korean powerhouse. However, the departure of talented players during the Summer Gold Series playoffs manifested in shot calling errors, underwhelming drafts, and individual mistakes. North America is the region that has regressed the most: weaker and unstable teams that lack discipline and innovation, talent scattered, and lack of synergy—low level of execution overall. This region gave us the BlizzCon 2015 Champion but lost to a minor region during HGC Summer and became the only major region to miss playoffs. Afterward that, the best teams had roster changes that prevented them from securing a place at BlizzCon 2016.

Korea is a puzzle. Despite low population on the server, a negative reputation for the game, and lots of talent moving to Overwatch, MVP Miracle and L5 still emerged alongside Tempest (now Tempo Storm) and MVP Black—clearly the best region in the world. This region deserves its own place in terms of talent; Without the support they have in SC2 and LoL or the obscene competition of a populated ladder, they still are the best at the game. It is a testament to the culture of the hardcore fans, professional players, and coaches.

In terms of production value, there has been a general improvement in the West. China is stable but perhaps has had more hiccups in production compared to last season. Korea is still the best at production by a large margin—a margin even bigger than in-game skill. However, you can see how they are saving money here and there.

In short: Viewership is dropping, skill is not improving globally, but production is better.

Currently Blizzard pays for everything:

  1. Prize pools
  2. Production
  3. Travel expenses

With the current results, it sounds reasonable to reduce the spending. However, it is important to change these tendencies from negatives to positives. So this is the old question: How do you improve the results with less money?

An Online League and its Compromises

“Most significantly, in North America, Europe, China, and Korea we’ll be shifting to a uniform online league format. As a result, the players on the top eight teams in each region will be contracted and guaranteed both compensation and regular competition.”

Production standards may be lowered

First compromise: players win a salary, but in exchange China and Korea have to give up some of their current advantages.

  • They live in the same city already, so they can LAN with ease
  • Tournament organizers have a place set up for LAN tournaments
  • LAN has more prestige
  • Production elements like interviews, booths, audience will be gone

The biggest losers are the two tournament organizers in China (NetEase) and Korea (OGN). They get paid by Blizzard, but they money has to be cut somewhere if they want to pay to the players and keep tournaments going. Even if many elements of the productions disappear, many expenses still exist that Blizzard has to cover.

The stage for NetEase's Gold Series Heroes League

“You can look forward to more consistency not only in your favorite rosters, but also in the scheduling, casting, and quality of broadcasts all-year round.”

Second compromise: the superior OGN production will be diluted to the level that online production provides and the standard that Blizzard enforces. In exchange, regular schedules and the familiar faces of casters and team names will help to stabilize viewership. Heroes of the Storm viewers will become accustomed to the production. I hope that this brings global statistics for the leagues; in case they don’t provide them themselves (I hope they do), they should at least procure the replays and YouTube VoDs for the four leagues.

The East and West may become disconnected

The next part to be worried about is the possible absence of a Western face in the Eastern scene and vice versa. There may not be English casting for the Korean League, and hope for English casting in the Chinese scene will be gone. This is pure speculation, but if this happens, I ask for a protocol to get clean feeds for translated casting.

“On their journey to the HGC finals, teams playing at the highest level will have opportunities to compete at three international events including a global tournament.”

@BlizzMilkFat on Beyond the Nexus: “There is going to be a clash that involves North America, Europe, Latin America and ANZ, and there are also going to be clashes that involve Korea, China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. This will give us an opportunity to figure out who is the Best in the West and the Beast in the East. So when going into more of the global kinds of tournaments, we are going to actually have more stories to tell and more of juicy drama.”

Third compromise: the East is gone from the West. There are two possible ways to interpret this. First, that there are going to be more international tournaments in 2017 than in 2016; this could be local leagues that feed into international tournaments that then feed into the global tournament in a cycle that repeats more than once per year (just like right now, there are three seasons). The other possible (and more likely) interpretation is grimmer—that the three international events will be:

  1. East Clash
  2. West Clash
  3. BlizzCon (Global)

This makes sense when Blizzard mentions two waves of relegation per year, which seem to point toward two seasons from the three that we had in 2016.

Assuming the latter pessimistic view, the compromise is big: less people will be traveling to each tournament—less casters, less players, etc. It reduces expenses, but retains three international tournaments. The advantage is that the rivalry of Europe versus North America would have a cherry on top—at the end of the Western tournament, one of them will be Champion. This is good for marketing but bad for competition.

The analyst desk at ESL GamesCom 2016

Photo Credit: ESL

There are two dangerous elements. First, when you narrow the view to West and East only, you reduce the value of the West for Easterners and the other way around. For hardcore fans, this could mean the dismissal of English casts for Eastern leagues and possibly even Eastern regionals. For reference, if Spring or Summer used this format, the Eastern Clash would be the tournament with the highest level of Heroes of the Storm; not having English casters for this event would be a travesty for anybody who cares about high level Heroes of the Storm and happen to be in the West. We would have to wait one year to watch Korean and Chinese teams in English.

The second problem is that it perpetuates the idea that Asia is in their ethereal world of superior video gamers that is unreachable for Westerners. A better approach would be a rotation, with two regionals per round. You then change which teams go to each regional, something similar to what the NFL does with their divisions.

  • Round 1
    1. NA vs EU
    2. CN vs KR
  • Round 2
    1. NA vs CN
    2. EU vs KR
  • Round 3
    1. NA vs KR
    2. EU vs CN
  • Repeat

These three rounds may not happen in a single year—perhaps is a three-year cycle (it depends on economics)—but it is an improvement over a system that always splits the world into “East” and “West”.

The gap between top and bottom ends of competition may widen

@BlizzMilkFat: “So we are trying to level up every aspect of our program for next year, and the reason why we are trying to guarantee this regular compensation is because we are going to ask a lot more from our players. We are going to be tripling the amount of content that we are going to be producing for our fans for Heroes esports.”

“Twice a year, after proving themselves in a series of weekly open tournaments with prize pools, the two best teams from the Open Division will get to pit their skills against those of struggling pro teams, whose spots in the top tier of the HGC are on the line.”

Next compromise, mobility. Top players will have more stability; in exchange, the bottom of the professional end will fight twice a year for survival. It’s like having a six month performance review at your job, but instead of looking for areas of opportunity to grow, those that fail lose their job. This is better than current system—I wouldn’t call it a compromise. What changes are the rules to move between to these teams.

Murloc Geniuses after their win at the Heroes of the Storm NA Regional at PAX

Photo Credit: ESL

The North American scene is known for their constant roster changes, but this cannot continue with a league format; the freedom to move from a team to another team searching for a better opportunities will be reduced. What happens when two teams want to trade players or if any team wants a player from the Open Division? What would the regulations be for players kicked from a professional team that want to play on an amateur team? Players will have to accept those—at the moment unknown—regulations in order to participate in the HGC.

Tying up loose ends

As a last comment, these two quotes have elements that puzzle me:

@BlizzMilkFat: “So we are trying to level up every aspect of our program for next year…”

This probably means that there is going to be the same Global Championship as 2016 plus some International Tournaments. Maybe it’s a political phrase without substance. In any case, this article rejects this idea that Blizzard will just add more—compromises are giving up something to gain more.

@BlizzMilkFat: “We are going to be tripling the amount of content…”

This is another sign that the most optimistic view of international tournaments could be true.

To move forward, Blizzard has to make compromises. When the time passes, we’ll compare the state of the esports scene again, and Blizzard and the fans will make their final conclusions then.


This is a guest article written by Thigan. He is a well-known redditor who often brings up discussion-worthy topics and provides valuable insight into Heroes of the Storm.

Alarak: First Impressions and Pro Opinions

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Written by: EsportsJohn


Not all heroes are born of altruism…some, like Alarak, simply desire vengeance. As the new Highlord of the Tal’darim, Alarak leads his people to a destiny free of the corrupt influence of the fallen Xel’naga, Amon.

It’s hard not to acknowledge the “cool” factor of Alarak. He’s a no-nonsense guy with telekinetic powers similar to Star Wars baddie Kylo Ren. His lore alone as Highlord of the Tal’Darim, a fanatical religious faction of Protoss, is enough to make any StarCraft fan gush with excitement. Even though his lore was not 100% accurate to his iteration in Heroes of the Storm, he still came out pretty cool (and sith-like). It’s hard not to feel like a badass when playing him.

Overall, he seems fairly well balanced, if a little on the weak side. His damage can be downright insane, but he tends to falter without some dedicated support due to no reliable form of sustain or escape. This has led to a pretty low win rate on Hots Logs, but his power level isn’t far from the sweet spot. In fact, similar to Greymane, a few mistargeted buffs could easily push him over the edge and make him OP.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths

  • Huge burst damage
  • Tons of utility (silence, battlefield manipulation)
  • Strong laning presence
  • Powerful teamfighting capabilities
  • The most kickass voice acting in the game

Weaknesses

  • Poor sustain
  • Cooldown dependent
  • Vulnerable to CC
  • Terrible PvE

Abilities

Alarak is all about the big moments. He lives and dies for those opportunities to jump in and blow all his cooldowns to delete someone instantly. When he dives, he dives hard. The rest of the time, however, he’s mostly just controlling the flow of fights and poking until he has the chance to dive in and finish someone off. In a lot of ways, Alarak is similar to Greymane in concept. Blizzard went through a lot of iterations with Alarak, but the overall product came out pretty nicely.

The unique ability that defines Alarak is Telekinesis, a vector targeting (click + drag) ability that pushes enemies, as well as himself, around. What makes this ability so powerful is its versatility. For instance, it can pull people out of position for a big stun train combo or drag someone out of range of their healer. It also excels as a disengagement tool to push chasing opponents away or boost Alarak out of harm’s way. It can even be used as an interrupt for channeled spells. Talents like Applied Force and Quick Mind allow Alarak to control the flow of battle even more smoothly—but at the cost of some of his damage.

Machines of War promotional art for Heroes of the Storm

Photo Credit: Blizzard

Telekinesis isn’t Alarak’s only utility, though. Discord Strike also brings a brutal AoE silence on top of a hell of a lot of damage. Discord Strike isn’t always easy to hit because of the short delay, but the effects can be devastating when it does, especially in clumped up teamfights.

The final piece of Alarak’s base kit is Lightning Surge, a fairly straightforward point-and-click ability used mostly for sustain. There are some cute tricks that you can do by lining up shots to hit multiple Heroes (especially if you take Thunderstruck), but most of the time, it’s just a good old-fashioned poke ability.

Blizzard took a fascinating approach to Alarak’s Heroics. Instead of choosing one at 10 and then upgrading it, you can just pick up your second Heroic at 20. Right now, Alarak’s level 10 choice is a no-brainer: Deadly Charge. It offers a long-distance engage, guaranteed damage, and even an escape when used properly. Counter-Strike can be picked up at 20 in rare circumstances where Alarak needs to survive a huge burst of damage, but it is simply subpar to Deadly Charge in its current iteration.

Due to his trait, Sadism, he can dish out some serious hurt to anyone that’s unfortunate enough to get close to him, but the drawback is that his PvE is substantially weaker than other melee Assassins. For this reason, he’s not very useful for capturing merc camps, sieging, or clearing waves.

Talents

Blizzard finally made talents with trade-offs that weren’t terrible. I have always been an outspoken critic of talents like Greymane’s original Unfettered Assault and Artanis’s Triple Strike because they trade functionality for random utility, and often made the ability worse with the talent. But this time Blizzard got it right.

Alarak’s trait Sadism is not fixed at 100%. Various talents like Dissonance and Quick Mind will decrease that number by 10% in exchange for extra utility. Overall, this is a genius system for trading functionality for damage, and it really forces players to think through talent choices on a deeper level. Do I need the extra cooldown reduction on Telekinesis? Is it worth sacrificing damage? These questions will pop up in your mind frequently when playing Alarak and influence the way that you play him.

That said, whenever that choice isn’t present, there is actually very little room for flexibility in Alarak’s talent tree at the moment. Most of the Lightning Surge talents aren’t impactful and are usually heavily outweighed by Q and W talents. On top of that, some talents like Chaos Reigns and Pure Malice are so good that they’re nearly impossible to give up except in rare circumstances.

At levels 4 and 7, Double Cross and Chaos Reigns combo together to greatly increase Alarak’s damage and reliability, making them almost mandatory. Talents at 1 and 16 are flexible, however. Picking both Applied Force and Projected Force gives Alarak the ability to influence teamfights at long range and set up big stun combos but greatly decrease his Sadism damage. Talents like Power Conduit, Without Effort, and Sustaining Power are also options for a poke-oriented style that don’t sacrifice damage.

Alarak’s level 20 talents offer extraordinarily interesting choices. Along with the ability to pick his other Heroic, he also has access to two generic abilities with new, fascinating drawbacks. Last Laugh is a version of Bolt of the Storm that allows you to cleanse all effects at the price of dropping all the way down to 1 HP. In theory, this is a cool talent that Alarak can use to escape in the nick of time, but—at least in my experience—the drawback is simply too punishing. After using Last Laugh, you’re out of the fight for some time anyway, so saving yourself has very little impact on the overall outcome.

Hasty Bargain goes in a different direction and offers more damage via a form of Rewind that permanently reduces the percentage of Sadism; every time you use it, you become weaker overall. The huge risk/reward tradeoff forces you to think critically about how you use Hasty Bargain. However, it’s almost always worth taking despite the drawback because of the potential to double your burst damage, and the Sadism that you lose is also somewhat negligible since the game is unlikely to last much longer after level 20 anyway.

Professional Opinions

On Kit, Design, and Implementation

HongCoNo, Tempo Storm
Design is freaking awesome!

darkmok, Misfits
I would probably be more qualified to say something good after having played with him competitively, but what I can say is that he is a Hero with high skill cap. Basically everything you do depends on your placement of abilities. He has no good wave clear, so he has to shine in brawling and assassinating Heroes since he mostly doesn’t add power to objectives. I do think he’s good and has his place. I think he can surprise enemies with his placement of Telekinesis, and his lvl 20 is insane—the amount of plays you can do with his version of Rewind or taking two ults….

Goku, Dumpster Tier Superstars
His kit and design is very similar to Kerrigan; they both are burst type Heroes that rely on their combo. What separates Alarak from Kerrigan and the rest of the melee Assassins is that his kit provides a 1.5 second silence which can decide teamfights. On top of that, with his ultimate Deadly Charge, he can easily dive the back-line or provide burst damage.

Lockdown, Tempo Storm
Really like the Hero design and abilities. Very mechanically complicated Hero.

Minsc, Caster
When I first heard about his announcement, I said to myself, “Hell yeah! Him!” Then, I realised it will be one more melee Assassin amongst others, and the hype declined. Finally, he got released, and I got him into my very hands—and, oh man, did he deliver.

He’s a mix between a combo-based fragile brawler and a spell damage oriented caster. [He] doesn’t really have his place in a heavy front line like Sonya or Thrall, but definitely has his role to set up fights, create ganks, or force enemies into a fight they might not like. Although this point of view has been debated with some friends, I like to compare him to Kerrigan. He “creates” action with his spells, and [you] need to ponder the choice of whether to use his kit offensively or defensively, which makes him as much of a threat as [a liability because] he can be punished for a lack of patience.

Mudsliide, former GFE manager
I think his kit is really interesting and, at the same time, frustrating. Having to be immobile during Discord Strike is something I dislike personally (it’s a 0.5 second cast time). Standing still on a melee Assassin just feels off to me. His Telekinesis is a strange sort of skillshot to land (I compare it to the League of Legends champion Viktor’s Ray Beam thing) but works well enough as you get used to it. Lightning Surge is your standard point and click ability but feels a bit underwhelming to me. Deadly Charge is my current go-to just for diving the backline and things of that nature. I love that Blizzard continues to give us new toys to play with in the way that abilities work—they just don’t always work well the first try.

On Professional Play and Meta Changes

HongCoNo, Tempo Storm
He’s pretty OP, so most likely going to see competitive play.

Goku, Dumpster Tier Superstars
He’ll pop out in each region, but he won’t have a definite spot. He’s very similar to Kerrigan where you need to build around him for his lack of wave clear.

Lockdown, Tempo Storm
I think Alarak requires a lot of skill, so probably going to take some time before it sees competitive play.

Minsc, Caster
In the future meta, he definitely has his place, but more as a thought choice [special pick] instead of a must-have Hero. I believe his base kit makes him a really strong counter to many Heroes, but he cannot be left on his own. So on an extremely aggressive lineup, his damage and engage potential, combined with the silence, will make him quite interesting to look at.

Mudsliide, former GFE manager
I’m not entirely sure [about the meta]. Korea may run him since they seem open to trying a lot of different styles of play. Between EU and NA though, I don’t think anyone will touch him just yet. He feels slightly underwhelming in raw damage output, and I don’t know why you would grab him over another choice as of the current moment. We have time until Blizzcon though. I see Blizzard giving him a buff or two, so maybe we see him then?

On Map and Composition Viability

HongCoNo, Tempo Storm
Not sure about team comps, but probably gonna be good on Tomb of the Spider Queen and Dragon Shire.

Goku, Dumpster Tier Superstars
I feel like his best maps would have to be rotational maps like Dragon Shire and Tomb of the Spider Queen. But he has the option to play on every map. What he needs most would be a stun tank like E.T.C. or Muradin—that way it becomes very easy for Alarak to use his combo.

Lockdown, Tempo Storm
Can be played on any map, and will most likely be used as a melee DPS.

Minsc, Caster
I think he will work great on teamfight-oriented maps. although his lack of bonus damage towards neutrals/buildings might come as a problem. [But] like I always say: “dead people don’t prevent you from pushing”, meaning that if you kill your opponent, you can easily snowball out of it.

Mudsliide, former GFE manager
I think he works well on smaller maps or maps with good chokes—so for me, Tomb of the Spider Queen, Towers of Doom and Cursed Hollow. I don’t know where he fits into compositions at the moment. I’m not entirely sure if I should be dive heavy and just be in the fight all the time or play a little further back and silence incoming opponents to defend my carry. I think we’ll have to see the players that are clearly miles ahead of me play him in competitive (if and when we see him) to answer that.

Final Thoughts

darkmok, Misfits
His E is like 0 damage to minions. It does provide some laning power and self-sustain though. But apart from that, it’s super underwhelming. They need to buff the numbers of that for sure—or add a slow, I don’t know.

Goku, Dumpster Tier Superstars
I feel like Alarak is underrated in general. He’s a very strong Hero if you play him correctly. His Telekinesis is very strong to disengage a fight or to pull the enemy healer towards your team.

Minsc, Caster
He might be overlooked as a Hero that will not break the game. But in my opinion, a very skilled player within the right team can, as Medivh does, completely turn the tide and overthrow an overconfident opponent.

A point on his talent tree as well: the choice between utility talents that reduce Hero damage or not is insanely well thought out. It offers Alarak the possibility to adapt to many situations within each game, and each talent tier can be a gamebreaker if the opponent doesn’t pay attention.

Mudsliide, former GFE manager
Remember when Artanis came out? Everyone said he was underwhelming. He was not tanky enough to be a full-on Warrior nor did he do enough damage to replace a Hero like Sonya. He was clunky and slow. Alarak reminds me of that. Slow and clunky, unsure where he belongs within the current game. While he has interesting design choices and an aesthetic that I enjoy, I think he needs a little more time in the oven personally.

Huge thanks to Dongmin Jeong for Korean interviews and translations!


EsportsJohn is also a toxic Protoss who only criticizes his team. You can follow him on Twitter or support him on Patreon.

How to Win the Video Game: Checklisting

checklist

A while back I did a short video on When to Engage, which featured an idea that I find essential to solid play: Checklisting. Since then, I’ve made a few updates to the checklist to make it clearer, so I wanted to share it in written form.

What is Checklisting?

Checklisting is a common theme in all games. It’s essentially a deductive procedural list that allows you to make good decisions or play optimally because it allows you to organize a logic tree and multitask. In fact, checklisting is a natural way for the human brain to sort out tasks and keep things in order. Many people don’t even realize that they’re doing it in everyday life when they’re working at a drive-thru, skateboarding, or taking notes from a lecture, much less when they’re gaming. Not all games—or all tasks in life, for that matter—are the same, but we still create lists to deal with daily challenges that we face.

Example: an RTS checklist might be something akin to what’s typically referred to as a “macro cycle”. In this cycle, the player reminds his or herself to spend their money, move their units, and make sure they’re not supply blocked. It’s a simple cycle, but it allows the player to automate macro and focus on decision making and micro.

Some games will have wildly different checklists. One for a game like Chess would analyze the current positions, check the points of power on the board, and go over possible moves and strategies from the most dangerous to the least dangerous. Using this method would allow the player to separate good decisions from bad ones in a procedural way.

The Checklist for Heroes of the Storm

MOBAs sacrifice a lot of macro actions for micro and decision making, and Heroes of the Storm is probably one of the most decision-intensive MOBAs out there. On top of that, bad decisions can be punished hard due to the heavy emphasis on teamwork in the game. For these reasons, it’s very important to get some sort of checklist going so that you can constantly gauge whether it’s safe play aggressively or whether you need to pull back and retreat.

The rules I have laid out here can be used in both a macro and micro sense. Macro decisions are questions like: When does our team engage into a fight? Should we try to turn on the enemy team? Is fighting right now a good idea? Micro decisions typically involve knowing when to attack an enemy, take an objective, and when to retreat.


Levels

  • Check the team levels.
  • Are we a talent tier up? Look for a fight. Are we behind? Avoid a fight.
  • Think about power spikes. Some compositions will be much stronger at 13 than 12, some won’t.

    Objectives

  • Do we have the objective advantage? Do we need to play aggressively or defensively?
  • Should we contest the objective? Can we ignore the objective? Can we delay the objective?
  • Is it better to force a fight or take the objective?

    Numbers

  • Check the minimap.
  • How many of my teammates are here?
  • How many opponents am I fighting? Are any enemies missing on the minimap?

    Health/Mana

  • Is our team low on health?
  • Is our team, particularly the healer and/or spellcaster, low on mana?
  • What is the other team’s status?

    Cooldowns

  • Does our team have Heroics up? Are there any particularly important ones like Mosh Pit or Sanctification that we need to wait on?
  • Does the enemy team have Heroics up? If we have Heroics and they don’t, we can engage and vice versa.
  • Did the enemy blow any significant cooldowns (i.e. Kerrigan combo or Valla Vault)? If so, we can engage immediately.

    Positioning

  • Are my teammates together and in range of the fight?
  • Am I out of position? Are my teammates out of position?
  • Are any of my opponents out of position, particularly squishy back line Heroes? If so, we can punish hard.

    This may seem like a daunting amount of information to process if you’ve never thought about it before. Don’t worry, you’ll get used to it as you internalize it. Like I said, people don’t even realize they’re doing these things; you might have a small checklist in your head that you follow already. Not everyone processes information the same way, but I highly recommend working your way through the checklist in the order presented here, as it will allow you to work from the largest, most important factors to the most minute details.

    If any red flags pop up while doing this checklist, you probably need to reconsider your aggression and pull back. Of course, there are still complicated situations where taking a fight a talent down or with low health/mana isn’t necessarily a bad decision, but they are definitely risks. Risks are important to take in gaming, and only lots of practice and experience will allow you to accurately make those decisions. If you’re new to the game or unsure of your decisions, always take the safe route until you’re comfortable enough to start testing the limits and playing more aggressively.

    Working as a Team

    Checklisting is not just an individual thing. If everyone is doing it, the team will function better as a unit because everyone will be on the same page. Imagine a team where everyone is running through the same checklist and coming to the same conclusions. Even if a player is slower than the others at arriving to a conclusion, the team is more or less on the same page. You wouldn’t have that Illidan who jumps straight into the fight two levels down and starts yelling at the team for not supporting him. You wouldn’t have that one guy who’s sitting there doing the objective while the rest of the team is engaging and trying to force a teamfight. Everyone would think together, move together, and act together.

    Of course, that’s an idealistic goal. Everyone thinks a little bit differently, but if we can all focus on our checklist a little harder and pay attention to our decision making, I’m certain that Hero League might clean itself up a bit. Just a bit.

  • B#4

    B#4

    train stop, stretch, and re-gear
    the task of forward unclear

    the five o’clock news reported
    zero casualties, but failed
    to mention the damage done
    by the sixty ton wreckage

    the young boy watching, too
    naïve to understand the impact,
    vowed “never again” and hid —
    refused to dance in the rain

    what was the point if
    the link between him and earth
    was falling?

    _

    Snow

    Snow

    It lay in drifted flurries on the barren path,
    Covering the stones in silence –
    Quieting them.

    There’s something special about these monoliths –
    Half-eroded, worn-out, and tired-looking…
    Like they too have seen too many winters.

    You’d have thought the patterned ivy
    Would have textured them with twisted shapes by now,
    Intertwining the gravity of repose
    With the tranquility of respite.

    Were their lives faithful to their testaments –
    The dead still stones representing life?
    Did they truly do them justice?

    It settled quietly,
    Covering the stones in history,
    Clouding the bones in mystery.

    _

    Unbroken Light

    Unbroken Light

    Unbroken light floods
    Into endless harmony
    Scattering to infinite suns
    Of solar orbit flight
    And while we’ll never know
    If uncertainty is natural
    We always knew acceptance
    Was simply a way of life

    _

    B#3

    B#3

    (in the momentary silence) i turned to you
    like a lost vessel on a sandy shore
    i said some words i didn’t know
    (and left things as they were before)

    _

    Sleepless Nights

    Sleepless Nights

    there are nights
    i walk – uncertain –
    on bare hardwood

    floors, making those
    unsteady prints
    of empathy,

    regret, longing.
    i push up dust
    on times long

    lost in old books
    and cracked tomes,
    at times a sigh,

    at times a
    whisper
    in the quiet.

    i recall suns
    rising and falling.
    i have walked —

    bewildered,
    in sad rain
    on countless nights,

    in silence,
    in a void —
    wondering.

    _

    Amaranthine

    Amaranthine

    To my Dearest Forever:
    To whom all requests are made in vain
    With whom many eyes have turned about
    In the sockets of their bones
    And to whom constant prayers meant nothing –
    Neither did the sky
    To whom selectivity was a way of life
    And to whom silent pleading went unnoticed
    In whom – You – hearts stored faith and desire
    Vaulted within you their secret thoughts
    For You – every supplication was made in vain
    Every single prayer and wish for happiness
    Simply piled words on top of Liesel Mueller’s words
    Which were becoming breathless
    But to You – All regrets return still
    As every moment wasted comes back –
    In ocean waves and pillow clouds
    Back and forth’s and maybe not’s
    With broken chords and silence and stillness

    _