Varian: First Impressions and Pro Opinions

Varian First Impressions

Written by: EsportsJohn


The gladiator king of Stormwind City, Varian Wrynn, has lived many lives. His anger shook the orcish hordes; his devotion preserved a nation. By wielding the sword Shalamayne two-handed, split into twin blades, or with a shield, Varian shifts his combat tactics: charging into melee with multiple opponents, enduring punishment or dueling one-on-one. Whether King Wrynn or Lo’Gosh the Ghost Wolf stands on the battlefield, the prowess of the man remains the same.

WoW nerd? Alliance fanboy? Professional lore historian? There’s a Hero for that.

Varian Wrynn comes into the Nexus as a new “multi-class” Hero, the first of his kind. While it’s not quite the “stance dance” Hero we were hoping for, being able to pick talents and choose between either a warrior or an assassin is a really cool mechanic that pushes the boundaries of the metagame. As the first of many, Varian is a revolutionary archetype for Heroes to come, and once again, Blizzard proves that they’re ready to defy the norms of the standard MOBA.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths

  • Very versatile
  • Tons of crowd control
  • Can solo boss with Twin Blades
  • Great situational talents
  • Potentially huge burst

Weaknesses

  • Poor waveclear
  • Fairly weak before Heroics
  • No reliable escape

Abilities

Varian is somewhat of an enigma. The mere fact that he can change his playstyle drastically at level 10 makes it particularly difficult to make any kind of overarching rules concerning his gameplay. It can be said, however, that his base kit is very bland and underwhelming. To accommodate later power spikes and differing roles, his basic abilities are undertuned and uninspired. It takes talents, particularly at levels 4 and 10, before his abilities start to feel like a natural part of the Hero. As a result, he’s an incomplete Hero pre-10 who tends to slow the team down on fast-paced maps like Dragon Shire or Tomb of the Spider Queen with his clunky movements.

His Trait, Heroic Strike, is basically a cooldown-based crit that you can reduce through auto-attacking. Fresh out of the box, this makes his damage pretty front-loaded. The level 1 talents Overpower and High King’s Quest can also provide more upfront damage. Twin Blades of Fury can convert his Trait into more sustained damage if necessary, but the other two Heroics definitely lend themselves to a bruiser-esque playstyle designed to lock down a target and take them quickly.

Varian on Blackheart's Bay

Screenshot Credit: Blizzard

Lion’s Fang and Charge represent the CC in Varian’s base kit. Perhaps the most important part of his kit, Charge comes baseline with a 75% one-second slow with a high cooldown—quite underwhelming. But with the upgrade of Warbringer at level 4, Charge gains a stun and has a greatly reduced cooldown, making it a terrifying click-stun on a six second cooldown. Lion’s Fang offers much weaker CC, but it’s the only AoE or ranged ability in his kit, making it crucial for wave clear and poke. Against a Varian who is chaining his CC properly, it’s very difficult to get away.

His defensive ability, Parry, works essentially the same as Illidan’s Evasion. The small difference is that Varian has two charges of Parry, allowing players to use it a bit more strategically to block damage or proc effects like Overpower. Parry can even be upgraded to prevent all damage at level 4, but you have to give up Warbringer in return since there are only two choices. It’s important to note, however, that unlike Evasion, Parry does not block the slow from forts and keeps.

At level 10, Varian gains access to one of three Heroics that greatly change his playstyle. This is the turning point for players trying to decide how they want to play him: Taunt equals tank; Colossus Smash equals bruiser; and Twin Blades of Fury equals assassin. Taunt adds another powerful form of CC that allows tank Varian to hold someone more or less in place for nearly four seconds while your allied team wails on them. Twin Blades of Fury greatly increases your attack speed, gives a move speed bonus on attack, and greatly increases the CDR on Heroic Strike so it procs more often. Combined with the CC he already has in his base kit, assassin Varian is very sticky and does a ton of sustained damage. Colossus Smash is essentially the one-shot talent which allows bruiser Varian to instantly delete someone with the aid of his allies.

Varian on Infernal Shrines

Screenshot Credit: Blizzard

All of the Heroics come with passive perks and drawbacks which need to be considered. The result of a slower attack speed, less health, or lower damage needs to be compensated for ahead of time with other talent choices, creating a fairly diverse set of choices for Varian builds. For instance, you might take High King’s Quest at level one to make up for the damage you lose from Twin Blades of Fury or maybe you go for Victory Rush instead of Second Wind for sustain on 7 because of the reduced attack speed from Taunt.

Unlike a similar tank or assassin, he lacks any solid form of disengage; once he’s in, he’s in. Even with Parry, Varian can get into some real trouble if he decides to Charge someone at the wrong time.

Talents

Varian’s talents are obviously the most important part of his kit because they dictate how he will be played. The most influential set of talents are obviously his Heroics, but choices at other tiers can adversely affect his entire playstyle, moreso than any other Hero in the game.

For instance, his first big power spike at level 4 only gives you two choices: Shield Wall or Warbringer. Shield Wall is pure survivability while Warbringer is an incredible boost in CC; ignoring Heroics, this already makes Varian either a tankier dive-in, dive out type of Hero or a hard engage Hero. The same goes for his level 7 talents. Second Wind gets way more healing value than Victory Rush when you pick Twin Blades because of the increased attack speed but pales in comparison with Taunt. In many ways, the talent you pick at 7 justifies the talent you pick at 10.

Varian on Blackheart's Bay

Screenshot Credit: Blizzard

Level 13 is Varian’s utility talent selection. Here can select between three banners which have different effects: speed, damage mitigation, or ability power. Each banner has a large chunk of health and quite a large radius. Currently, the Banner of Ironforge outperforms the others by a great margin. A team-wide 25% reduction in damage is just too powerful to turn down in a teamfight.

Levels 16 and 20 have perhaps the most leeway in usage and can be used with any Heroic. Though some options at 16 lend themselves to certain playstyles like Mortal Strike’s synergy with Twin Blades, any talent is plausible depending on the situation. Shattering Throw is a unique ability that specifically targets shields and is a must have against a Hero like Zarya or Tassadar who rely largely on shields to mitigate damage. The level 20 upgrades for the Heroics are slight but nonetheless make Varian much stronger in his chosen role. If the team needs a bit more overall utility, you can instead opt for Glory to the Alliance to help your team sustain through a long fight or Demoralizing Shout to counter the enemy team’s burst. This is where his talents really start to branch out a bit and give players more opportunities to slightly alter their playstyle rather than define it.

Professional Opinions

On Kit, Design, and Implementation

Blumbi, Misfits
Both [his kit and design] look very promising. This hero will have his place in the meta. Tank Varian feels like an improved Johanna. You are pretty tanky and have one engage tool, one defense tool, and one slow. You trade being a bit less tankier than Johanna for having a click-stun on 6 second cooldown and a lot more utility for the team.

Daihuu, Vox Nihili
Yeah, I think he’s very strong, I haven’t had any chance to play him that much, but a point-and-click stun on a six second cooldown is super omega good. I’ve never felt so troll in my life—just waiting for the Malf silence sound to play, and then I just click him and it goes away.

I tried him as tank, but his other two are OP too. Colossus Smash just one-shots whoever he yells at, and Twin Blades doesn’t die with his Second Wind talent. Blizzard might have been done it too right with Varian.

Disconcur, ANZ Caster
Varian’s kit changes over the course of the game. At first, his kit can feel quite bland, as his primary abilities only really offer him a gap closer, peeling, and minor damage mitigation along with a Trait which seems to offer up only a tiny damage bonus. However, it is the character’s design and how “flexible” a player can be with it that truly sets Varian apart from others.

His flexibility is all tied into his talent selections, as they allow a player to customize Varian to meet their desired playstyle (inside the realm of Warrior/Assassin anyway). You can feel these decisions being made as early as level 4 when players are presented with Varian’s first power spike: Shield Wall and Warbringer. Each provides a buff to one of the primary abilities and suddenly change his playstyle and kit. Warbringer changes the slowing effect of the Charge ability to a stun instead, which in turns gives Varian a nice hard form of CC. This increases his capability for 1v1 fights, engaging, and even peeling for a teammate. With Shield Wall, he can take a lot more damage with Parry. This is a massive front line/damage mitigation tool. [After 4], the “bland” kit I talked about now has a huge spark and flare to it: a hard stun or strong damage mitigation.

I feel the flexibility element is a little flawed, however, as a lot of talents seem to synergize with each other, meaning a lot of players are going to get locked into a path. If you take Shield Wall, you’ve pretty much locked yourself into taking Taunt at 10. If you grab Second Wind at level 7, you are most likely grabbing Twin Blades of Fury as your Heroic. Even looking at the level 13 Banner selection, you are kind of not counterpicking vs the other team or choosing what you would like; you’re taking your team’s comp into consideration and what is best for it. While players can always do what they want at the end of the day, I still feel Blizzard kind of made optional paths for each “type” of Varian and did not provide many “counterplay” talents for Varian.

The multi-class nature of Varian makes him a flexible hero, and I feel it is a good design choice. However, I would have liked a stronger “counterplay” talent [selection]. All in all, the choice of playstyle is nice, and I have enjoyed that feeling going into games.

Gela, Pro player and Streamer
Alright, well, the design is pretty cool, and I was happy Blizzard wanted to do something like this. I really like the idea, the idea of making him super versatile so that he could adjust to almost any setup, BUT—there is always a but :D—first, I looked at him and thought: “Wow, that should be super OP”, but when he came out, sadly, it’s not like that at all. And I, personally, think that he needs some buffs. Not to every build, but his tank and Colossus Heroics definitely need that.

JSchritte, Burning Rage
I can talk about my impressions as a bruiser, [it has] so much potential. He can burst any DPS/healer—80% HP in one combo at level 13. His ultimate (Colossus Smash) is broken. It’s like a Tyrande [trait] with burst damage and a low cooldown. One burst combo plus any skill damage from another DPS, the target will die.

The main disadvantage is his waveclear. If you play him like a bruiser, you probably need to put him in a solo lane, and if it’s a map with an important solo lane, you will lose the lane.

I also played him like a tank, but I don’t know what to say because it isn’t my playstyle. I liked the kite with Taunt, then invulnerable two times, but I don’t know…we have broken Muradin and E.T.C. for global, Mosh Pit, etc. The AA build, I have not tested enough to say anything, but if you need an AA DPS, maybe a better pick is Illidan or Samuro?

KendricSwissh, EU Commentator and Streamer
People might know me as the biggest Alliance fanboy to ever be created. But in all seriousness, I really do think that Varian paves the way for a spectacular design idea. The ability to adapt and switch your role according to the team composition and flow of the game creates a new form of in-game depth that we didn’t have before.

Varian’s kit is strong and versatile. However, some aspects could see future changes, such as Taunt and other defensive talents in his tree. I’ve heard people telling me that his Basic Abilities are rather unexciting, but I only agree to a certain extent. In my opinion, Varian feels dynamic and explosive. He immediately brought back the love and good memories I linked to Warriors in vanilla World of WarCraft.

OPrime, KR Caster and Coach
Varian doesn’t really have the best vanilla skillset, but he gets a huge power spike at level 4 and becomes a “complete” hero at level 10. His presence in teamfights is very respectable. His level 4 stun is something enemy heroes have to watch out for, and all of his ultimates bring an oomph to teamfights.

TBKzord, NA Caster
Varian has a unique kit. In some ways, it very much lives up to the “three heroes in one” mantra. Varian is probably one of the most, if not the most, adaptable hero, not only to your comp, but the enemy comp and even the map choice. From a design perspective, Varian is definitely one of the “easier” heroes that Blizzard has released, at least considering the last few. He is much more “point-and-click” oriented, though he does have some great nuances, such as the effective use of Parry, Taunt, stutter stepping, and body blocking, especially with his Twin Blades ultimate.

On Professional Play and Meta Changes

Blumbi, Misfits
Especially as long as Tassadar and Tracer are in the meta, he will be in the meta. Even without those heroes, he will probably be strong enough to be a meta pick because of his chain CC and utility for the team.

Disconcur, ANZ Caster
I think most regions will welcome him into their rosters, as he is a flexible character and thus will find his way into a variety of comps a lot easier. With a hard engage playstyle being one of his options, I feel Korea, ANZ, and SEA will be definitely see him in the their drafts.

He offers an interesting position during drafting because selecting Varian doesn’t provide information on how he will be playing.

Gela, Pro player and Streamer
He is a cool guy, so I hope [he’ll be played] whenever Blizzard gives him a small buff. But right now, I’m really not sure about it. There are a lot of other good heroes.

JSchritte, Burning Rage
I don’t know [about Varian in Asia/EU] because Zeratul now is so strong, and Korea and China prioritize this Hero a lot—and with changes to Illidan too. I really don’t know if this is the type of Asian/EU [Hero]. EU, I think not because EU plays more strategically, and I believe Varian is for being more aggressive with pick offs, etc.

KendricSwissh, EU Commentator and Streamer
If certain issues with his kit get addressed (i.e. his tank talents being a bit underwhelming and his general weak early game pre-10), I think Varian has what it takes to become a very relevant factor. Even in his current state, I expect the Fury build to be utilized in competitive play fairly soon, especially on larger maps that feature multiple mercenary and boss camps. My personal favorite, the burst-heavy Colossus Smash build, certainly does have situational value, too. Similar to Tyrande’s Hunter’s Mark, the Vulnerable effect it applies can greatly boost your team’s performance on Battlefield of Eternity, for instance.

OPrime, KR Caster and Coach
To avoid [drafting] problems, some Korean teams are actually experimenting with using Varian as a replacement for the ranged flex position. All in all, I think Varian is a very solid hero, but I’m not sure whether he will be immediately used in competitive play.

TBKzord, NA Caster
I think the variability of his talent tree/ultimate choice and the potential for some element of surprise in draft will almost guarantee that he will show up in some shape or form in the Heroes meta as a whole. Just judging from some of the tweets I have seen, I would expect Korea to be one of the first to really experiment with him. Though, we might get some surprises in the final HGC qualifier, as he will be allowed at that time.

On Map and Composition Viability

Blumbi, Misfits
Every map. BoE might be especially good for him, as he can easily CC chain by timing the E on a boss-stun when you defend your immortal, so its really dangerous for the enemy team to walk up.

Disconcur, ANZ Caster
I think Varian will always do well alongside another warrior with some form of lockdown or displacement ability (Johanna, Muradin, ETC, Diablo) or burst damage characters (Kerrigan, Li-Ming, Butcher, Greymane).

Waveclear isn’t one of Varian’s strong points, so maps like Dragon Shire and Battlefield of Eternity should play out well for him. However, I don’t think any map will be bad for him. Maps with a lot of mercenaries will work in his favor, as he is quite a capable headhunter.

Gela, Pro player and Streamer
As I said, he can fit into almost anything. It’s really hard to say right now looking at Hotslogs stats what would be the coolest setup for him, as his tank build is almost never used and Twin Blades is being used almost everywhere. So I guess people want him to be like a melee assassin or maybe a bruiser. Anyways, he fits in any setup, but right now maybe not on any map. I think his damage before level 10 is pretty weak. He also has no waveclear and is a pretty bad solo laner, in my opinion. I haven’t had any problems [laning] against Varian. It makes him hard to play on early game maps such as Tomb, Dragon Shire, BoE, Braxis, Blackheart’s (yes, this is not an early game map, but he is doing nothing here early, which is important to note). But at the same time, he is doing well on Warhead, Cursed, and Garden, so you can see how his power grows by being in a game longer and not losing early.

JSchritte, Burning Rage
I’m not going to talk about Varian’s tanky Taunt build since I think there are numerous other Heroes such as Muradin, E.T.C., Johanna, Arthas, or Chen who all fulfill this role much more efficiently.

Thus, let’s talk about his other two playstyles, namely “Arms” (featuring Colossus Smash at Level 10) and “Fury”. Arms can see a lot of play if two requirements are met. Firstly, the map should have an objective that needs to taken down as fast as possible. Battlefield of Eternity, Garden of Terror, Dragon Shire, or Infernal Shrines would be examples of those kinds of maps. Secondly, your team needs to have decent burst damage (e.g. Li-Ming or Jaina) to follow up on Varian’s Colossus Smash—otherwise his engagement would go to waste.

Fury is less situational. It has a larger tolerance in terms of team composition and maps. Generally speaking, a Fury Varian can oftentimes be compared to Illidan in the way the team composition around him should be built, which means drafting a strong Support or even 1.5 Supports featuring Tassadar. Fury Varian becomes particularly powerful on maps that feature mercenary and boss camps that he can easily solo at or after Level 10. I do, however, want to highlight that it is still wiser to clear those camps together. Please don’t rush to clearing boss camps without carefully thinking about it and, most importantly, informing your allies in time.

KendricSwissh, EU Commentator and Streamer
If certain issues with his kit get addressed (i.e. his tank talents being a bit underwhelming and his general weak early game pre-10), I think Varian has what it takes to become a very relevant factor. Even in his current state, I expect the Fury build to be utilized in competitive play fairly soon, especially on larger maps that feature multiple mercenary and boss camps. My personal favorite, the burst-heavy Colossus Smash build, certainly does have situational value, too. Similar to Tyrande’s Hunter’s Mark, the Vulnerable effect it applies can greatly boost your team’s performance on Battlefield of Eternity, for instance.

OPrime, KR Caster and Coach
His chief weakness is the fact that he doesn’t really have anything to offer during the early game laning phase. He can’t really solo the lane well because he’s a melee with no self heal, and his waveclear is bad. So he’s not too useful on two-lane maps.

He becomes a decent ganker when he gets his stun at level 4, but before then he can’t really do anything, which means he’s not suited to being the main tank/source of CC. If he’s drafted as the off-tank, it usually leaves the team composition without a good solo laner.

TBKzord, NA Caster
Due to the nature of Varian’s kit, you can really find a place for him in most compositions or maps. I think in this case, the question is more like “How will you run him?”

His tank build really has all the tools you need for a solo/main tank. With a taunt on a low cooldown, damage reduction or complete negation from Parry, and the potential of a gap-closing point-and-click slow/stun, plus extra health, you should be able to be a good front line for your team and peel where needed.

Colossus Smash is probably the most team-oriented ult. In my experience, you can really maximize the use of this build with a full team as a dive comp or one that can focus the target of Colossus Smash and get the full value of the vulnerability—as well as a dead enemy hero.

Twin Blades of Fury fills out Varian’s kit with a fantastic assassin build. Not only does Varian do a significant amount of sustained damage with this build, but with his Second Wind talent at level 7, it also enables him to solo mercenary camps with ease—as well as Golem bosses as early as level 10! This ultimate also allows him to be incredibly “sticky” to his intended target [since he gains] movement speed every time his basic attacks are used.

Final Thoughts

Blumbi, Misfits
My prediction: Tank-Varian (I tested the tank spec only) will be picked in this meta, which means Arthas and Leoric might show up more again. The permanent slow from Arthas and Entomb from Leoric are really annoying to deal with as a tank who has no escape. You realize it when you play Johanna, and Varian is actually really similar to her. You are really tanky, but you have no escape like Muradin, ETC, or Tyrael, which makes you vulnerable once you engage.

Daihuu, Vox Nihili
Broken. Quote me on that lmao.

darkmok, Misfits
I’m afraid I haven’t played him enough to give useful info, but I can just tell you that I like him! 😀

Disconcur, ANZ Caster
I think Varian’s design is a good direction, and I would like to see Blizzard attempt this with a few more heroes. But I think they do need to look at improving the talent tree a bit more to allow for some more match-based choices and not “build direction and synergy” choices.

I think he is good xD. Like a good strong hero, all his builds are good. However, I feel his tanking is his weakest. His DPS builds are much stronger and more impactfull. I am very much looking forward to seeing Varian in Competitive play.

Gela, Pro player and Streamer
Well…I thought about it, and I like the idea but, at the very least, I think Blizzard shouldn’t have added such a small talent pool. This hero, literally, has three builds, but only like two talents on level 4. Maybe this is the problem with him not being such a good hero too: not enough damage as well as not enough talents to fit in every build.

JSchritte, Burning Rage
[As a bruiser], he is viable on maps without an important solo lane, has burst damage with a low CD, maybe [good in] one tank + two bruisers meta (idk), has good talents [that let] you choose in different games (levels 13 and 16), and has good sustain on maps where you fight in waves (level 7 talent).

KendricSwissh, EU Commentator and Streamer
Personally, I’m quite happy with the way Varian turned out. While there is still room for improvement—especially his weak early game pre-10 and some of his tank talents—his model and his voice files look and sound amazing and really deliver 100% Alliance goodness.

Something I would have loved to see with Varian is the so-called “stance dance” which allows World of Warcraft warriors to quickly hop between stances depending on which situation they find themselves in. Yet, I do understand that this concept would probably be too hard to balance in a MOBA environment. Still, I imagine such a mechanic to be extremely interesting.

TBKzord, NA Caster
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some of the unique and even completely new mechanics that Varian’s talents have. First, his Banners at level 13 are extremely cool, as they give you yet another way to augment your team. Have a team with low mobility? Grab the Banner of Stormwind to speed your team along. Having trouble with squishies getting bursted down too fast? Grab the Banner of Ironforge for a chunk of damage resistance. Want to make that Li-Ming or Kael’thas even crazier? Grab the Banner of Dalaran for some more ability damage.

Second, his level 16 talents are extremely unique. Mortal Strike adds a second heal reduction [talent] to the game, and at an even earlier level than Xul’s—though, albeit, it’s single-target. And lastly, Shattering Throw brings a completely new mechanic to the game. Up until this point, the only thing that could counter shielding was direct damage. This gives you an ability that will practically delete any shield, plus gives you extra passive damage against them! Niche, yes. Another awesome tool in your toolkit? You bet.


Huge thanks to everyone who contributed their thoughts and opinions! You are the true Heroes of the Storm!

Also, props to RallyJaffa for Korean translations!


EsportsJohn is a freelance esports journalist who loves collaborating with other people and sharing opinions. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

Out of the Ashes: Interview with Arcaner

Australian Heroes of the Storm player Arcaner

Interview by: EsportsJohn


Table of Contents


On October 26th, Australian team Reborn prepared for their first match in the BlizzCon group stages. Having flown across the globe, the boys were settling down and trying to get in the zone after a week of practice and travel. Four members of the team had already gone through this rigorous feat of endurance and disorientation in previous global championships, but for young flex player Liam “Arcaner” Simpson, this was the first time on the global stage.

Their first game was rough and ended in defeat. Stubbornly, Reborn rallied around an all-in Illidan composition for the second game, but were defeated again, this time in draft before the game even began. Subsequent losses caused them fall out of the tournament with a dismal 0-4 record. In retrospect, there were many valuable—albeit harsh—lessons learned that day for the Australian team, but now the future of ANZ rests on how the players move forward from their loss.

A few weeks after BlizzCon, Arcaner reached out to me and asked to do an interview. “I was looking for a platform to voice my large concerns about the future of minor regions, and ANZ in particular,” he told me. As the interview process continued, we began to talk more broadly about his personal performance and plans for 2017. What emerged was not only his concerns for the HGC format and the future of the ANZ region but also a small glimpse into the mind of an improving player. It’s difficult to define what it takes to “make it out” and meet success in a minor region, but one can easily admire the ambition of a player who is only spurred on by defeat. Arcaner is that sort of player.

On BlizzCon

Let’s be honest, your performance at BlizzCon was subpar compared to what you’ve shown in ANZ. Was there any particular reason for the team’s disarray?

Our performance was definitely a shock to the team. Going into the event, we had confidence in making it out of groups [based on] our scrim results at BlizzCon. I think the first mistake we made was that we had expectations which distracted us from being objective about our games, and we didn’t commit enough resources and energy into the drafts and our preparation in general.

During our games, our drafting was terrible—we weren’t building strong or easily executable comps, and we weren’t target banning specific heroes that we should’ve been banning. On Tomb specifically, it showed that we had no prioritisation on wave clear, and even when Denial first-banned Johanna, it didn’t occur to us that we were going to get squeezed out of it.

In-game, the team atmosphere was entirely off, and it felt like there was no energy, belief, or desire to win the games.

Did the Expulsion Zone ban on Zarya affect the team’s drafting strategy?

We understood that Denial weighed priority on Zarya in their drafting, but with the Expulsion Zone ban, we concluded that it was a hero that could be dealt with and wouldn’t be popular during the tournament. Nevertheless, I revise that mindset as a mistake—we should have respected that specific comfort of theirs by banning it in the second phase or adapting our drafts to deal with it, which we didn’t.

How did you personally deal with the loss at BlizzCon? You came to literally the other side of the world and only got to spend a few minutes on stage. Did that bother you?

After the loss, I was extremely depressed and went straight back to our team’s practice room and started queueing Hero League to practice my role swap to support, which is my main role whenever I’m a free agent. I think I played about 100 games in a week and a half, so my response to the loss was one of deep desire to improve and never let a bad performance happen again.

ANZ team Reborn at the HGC Fall Championship at BlizzCon

Photo Credit: Blizzard

Playing Bo3s was pretty sad, as we only got to play four games for the entire tournament. But there was plenty of other stuff to do to make the most out of the trip, so I was still very happy.

What was it like to scrim with the other teams at the Global Championship? Did you learn any valuable lessons from the top Korean or European teams?

It was challenging, efficient, and fun. We got to scrim eStar, Dignitas, PBA, Imperium Pro Team, and Fnatic. We learnt a lot from the scrims, and especially against Dignitas, we began to understand what it takes to be a tier above the Western teams. They played with a lot of control and seemed to play more Korean than they did Western.

You stated pretty explicitly that “NA looks quite weak” during the team intro video. Even though you lost, did you still feel that was the case when you played Denial at BlizzCon?

What I’ve grasped from the event and our result is the importance of context when assessing teams, players, and metas. Retrospectively, the assessment I developed of North American teams was founded upon the analytical comparison of their strength in relation to Europe and Korea. Specifically speaking, Denial’s performance at both of their American regionals when they had an early or mid game lead was precarious. Astral Authority consistently gave me the impression that they understood how to maintain a lead on their American opponents with their engagement and macro decisions—they were always in control. My reasoning for stating NA is weak was due to the comparison of mechanical play of Astral’s players versus the European, Chinese and Koreans—and for Denial it was the more apparent existence of macro and shotcalling mistakes.

Learning from BlizzCon, I’ve altered my previous mindset, and I now look to start comparing the strength of teams to my own—and with that stated, no, NA wasn’t weak. I have a wealth of respect for the region, and what I admire about Astral and Denial is their drive and passion to learn from each international showing and improve. I’m looking forward to watching them during the first split of HGC 2017.

Aside from participating in the tournament, what else did you do at BlizzCon? Did you get a chance to get out and see the city or eat some American food? Disneyland?

We went to Disneyland as a team, but aside from that, we weren’t doing much tourism. I enjoyed the American burgers.

At BlizzCon, we attended the opening ceremony and mostly stayed around the player lounge to watch the HotS games.

Be honest, how bad is the jet lag coming from Australia?

Actually, I didn’t have any jet lag when I arrived in the US. I don’t think my team did either. For me, it was pretty horrendous when I returned to Australia. I remember the first day back at home, I had a 3pm nap and woke up at 3am, and since then my sleep schedule has been ruined with lots of early mornings—I’ve never been so confused haha.

On the HGC Circuit

Minor region issues aside, what do you think was the biggest problem with HGC in 2016? Do you think the 2017 format will fix that issue?

The most substantial complication with HGC in 2016 was the disparity in skill between the East, the West, and Wildcards that developed as a consequence of dissimilar HGC structures. The East received league systems that nurtured teams and reinforced team stability and competitiveness. The West dealt with one-day qualifiers and regional finals that hindered the existence of long term rosters and limited player’s tournament experience. As a result, their mechanics and overall team strength [was hindered].

HGC 2017 bandages the wounds in the West and enables more teams to thrive with financial support and competitive opportunity but does not immediately bridge the gap in team strength. The idea of equal opportunity is what I am passionate about, and I’m sincerely happy for North America and Europe to be rewarded with a league system.

A relatively less significant problem is the international tournament format. We’ve encountered the identical two-phase group stage into single elimination playoffs repeatedly—and it’s getting stale. It’s not ideal to be having Bo3’s in a Swiss format group stage; if it were a round robin, it’d seem warranted. I’d push to witness Bo5’s become baseline in international tournaments and for more experimentation to be done with engaging formats that mix first and second seeds differently. Group stages could become intricate, and playoffs could start at quarterfinals.

Blizzard changed the residency requirements back to six months. Do you think this strict region lock is good or bad for Heroes as a whole?

I think it reinforces the notion that Blizzard wants each region to be explicit in the players that represent it. It’s clear they want to stray away from some form of international player transfer system—or maybe their reason is they don’t want Korean players dominating within any region besides Korea.

The system is understandable. The six month residency lock is strict and does its job of keeping players isolated. I disagree with the idea, but it isn’t like we would see many international transfers occurring if there were no region lock. Players would probably have to fund it themselves, as not many sponsors would want to invest so much money during an early period of Heroes esports.

It seems the people most affected in a bad way would be the minor regions and the teams who don’t make the cut in major regions that have the most competitive relegations (Korea or EU).

Let’s try a thought experiment. If a team like Burning Rage had enough money to move to North America and participate in the league after six months of practice, how well do you think they’d do?

I believe that Burning Rage would make great use of the opportunity to play in NA, and I know that JSchritte and his teammates would be impassioned by the thought of moving. I feel like they are strong and unified in their goals, and I would expect them to place high enough that they’d make it to the Clashes and Brawls.

There will be a distinctive lack of offline events next year (down from 19 in 2016 to just 6 in 2017). Given that it won’t affect the ANZ region much next year, do you have an opinion on that?

I think the more offline events, the better. But with the introduction of salaries and the league systems, there must be some form of compromise from another avenue. Maybe we will see more offline events later down the track once the league settles in and Blizzard makes some better returns for Heroes Esports.

Blizzard mentioned that minor regions can look forward to “local competitions” that feed into international tournaments. Do you think that means there will be more events during the year? Or does that pretty much mean exactly the same thing for minor regions?

To me, it means exactly the same as what 2016 has been—except for the information we received about our prize pool for the year being converted into AUD from USD, which is a loss of about 30% in the prize money.

What is your opinion on the East and West Clashes? Do you like this format better than a full-scale global event?

For ANZ, we are a part of the West, so we will be facing three NA teams, three EU teams, and the LatAm team.

I like the idea of East and West clashes, but I would like to see the second clash be West vs East instead of NA vs EU again. It’s a bit depressing that we will only get to see the Eastern teams twice next year, as we have a great relationship with them. I’m excited to see if the East and West develop their own metas; it’d be cool to see which one is stronger going into the Mid Season Brawl.

On ANZ Region

We’ve talked a bit before about how it’s impossible to make a living as a gamer in Australia because of the lack of money currently available. Do you feel this is mostly the fault of the game developers? Or does the country need to develop esports more?

In regards to the county’s development, a problem is Australia’s culture and stance on gaming. Growing up, kids are told to go outside and play sports and do outdoor activities over other hobbies. There’s an emphasis on physical activity, which creates a pessimistic response to staying indoors and gaming. Because of this, we don’t have as big of a proportion of gamers, and those that are [gamers] refrain from being competitive and stay casual. Another problem is our infrastructure and internet. Not being able to stream because of my internet speed is depressing and a limitation to our potential careers in this industry.

What is the biggest issue plaguing the ANZ region in terms of competitive play? What solutions could you offer to solve this problem?

The biggest issues at the moment are population, sponsor investment, and viewership. The ANZ region is in a chaotic place at the moment, and part of me thinks that a lot of the players in the region do not deserve the amount of investment and rewards Blizzard gives out. When I sit down and try to brainstorm the players who care about the game as much as I do—who care about international results and want to become a great teammate for a great team—I can’t think of more than a few.

Reborn lifts the trophy at the ANZ regional final

It’s depressing to be a part of ANZ. We’ve had multiple organizations and people come to help and organize events, to build the scene back up and inspire us, and it’s met with a lot of disrespect, negativity and trolling.

It would be a refreshing concept to have a clean slate of players come into the competitive scene to replace the current population—or for the current players to have a drastic change in attitude and behaviour. However, I want to emphasise the importance of increasing our region’s [gaming] population as a good solution to all of its issues.

You said yourself that there are very few gamers in ANZ. Perhaps a league system starting with only 4-6 teams and maybe ramping up over time if participation increases?

There are only two other competitive teams in the region, and one of them is pretty unstable right now. I don’t think investing in a league system will be worth it, and it’d be a miracle to get six serious teams signing up for it.

Blizzard has been doing a lot of marketing and advertising in a bid to re-sell this game, so I really hope that we get some new players coming into the scene. One we get a higher number of competitive and serious teams then we can think about implementing a league system and discussing the idea of salaries for players.

Are there any third party weekly/monthly tournaments in ANZ similar to Go4Heroes or ZOTAC?

Not at the moment, but there is a rumour that there will be some next year. Disconcur from ANZ Heroes organizes a lot of the events, and we have another organization called Gamestah who did a lot of work for the scene this year.

Despite some of the other minor regions suffering, Taiwan seems to be doing well. Perhaps it has to do with their ability to play on Chinese or Korean servers?

I attribute PBA’s success to three things. Firstly, I think that keeping a stable roster has been key to their improvement in international results; they really understood how to take advantage their situation. As long as they stay together, regardless of whether or not they had a bad international showing, they can still dominate their region and have a guaranteed place at Sweden and BlizzCon. They can keep their mechanics fresh and begin preparing a specific meta for the international stage and doing research and a lot of observation into NA/EU/CN opponents.

Which leads to the second reason for their success: their own powerful meta. An advantage to being in a minor region is that [major region] teams are less inclined to critique or even pay attention to the meta a minor region team like PBA develops. Call it ego, laziness, or overconfidence—Astral Authority disrespected PBA’s meta. [PBA’s] Auriel and Zeratul comps did well, and a lot of teams butchered their drafts against them.

Lastly, I think PBA’s ability to scrim and play on Korean servers is really beneficial and leads to their players being mechanically superior to other minor regions. I’d go as far to say that ZoLa had the best performance out of all the supports during BlizzCon.

This might be an impossible question to answer. If an ANZ team could reach the level of a Korean team like MVP Black or Ballistix, how would they do it? What would need to change?

It’s clear that there would have to be great mechanical improvement and a drastic change in attitude and mindset in order to beat Koreans. We’d have to move to Korea and play in Super League with a long term goal in mind during scrims and after bad results. It’d begin with a few seasons of low placings in Korean tournaments before eventually climbing to the top; and it’s almost impossible. But if there were a way to do it, it lies in Korea.

If Blizzard still can’t get together an organized schedule and stream next year, where can we go to keep up with events in ANZ?

Next year, I’ll be posting on Twitter regularly about dates of our tournaments so people can tune in and watch my team and me play, if I end up having one in time.

@ANZ_Heroes is a good place to follow events too.

On Future Plans

A few days ago, Benjamin announced that Reborn was breaking up and going their separate ways. What happened? Can you give us any details on the future of the players?

This is very complicated, and I cannot provide the correct answers at this moment regarding the future of the team’s players. When you come out of a tournament with a performance completely opposite to what you expect, it makes you more critical and analytical of every aspect of the team. We have to ask ourselves the difficult questions, and we need to ensure that moving forward into 2017, we have a unified team in regard to friendship, competitive mindset and goals, and performance.

It’s all very uncertain at the moment, but there may be a few players taking a season’s break from competitive HotS.

Not to bring back any bad memories, but how do you stay motivated to keep playing after an 0-4 defeat on the global stage? What makes you want to come back next year?

I think the motivation comes from the same goal that I brought coming into BlizzCon. My personal goal was to prove my skill internationally. It was something that I was very nervous about coming into BlizzCon because ranged flex wasn’t my best suit. But I was confident in my Illidan play and therefore really unhappy and disappointed in myself after the Cursed Hollow game vs Denial.

ANZ player Arcaner

Photo Credit: Blizzard

What makes me want to come back next year is to prove my skill on support and develop myself as a great pro player.

Since you don’t have regular scrims in ANZ, what does a normal practice schedule look like for you?

It’s usually about three hours per day [in total] waiting in queue for Hero League, and another two hours of playing it. And then two to three hours of replay analysis or draft practice. Every other day, I might have a two to three hour scrim block.

Do you have any specific practice goals you want to work on before next season? Any particular performance goals for 2017?

At the moment, I’m working on getting my support mechanics back to normal and putting a large amount of time into practicing drafting, which I do for one to two hours a day outside of scrims. For 2017, my goal is to be regarded as one of the best supports internationally—hopefully I can do it.

Any last words? Any shoutouts?

Shoutout to all of my in-game friends from other regions who have given me advice and helped me grow—you know who you are. I want to thank the team at Blizzard for a great trip to BlizzCon—I will never forget it. Also, a sincere thank you to all the casters and international players who cared about my team and me, whether it be casters putting in the effort to study us and get to know us or the pros who approached and talked with us during BlizzCon. It means a lot when people put in this effort, so thank you.

And lastly, thank you to those who support my team and our region, whether you are fans in Australia or around the world. We appreciate everything. I want to apologize to those I let down at BlizzCon. I’m sorry for underwhelming plays, but I will do everything I can to improve and be the best ♥.


EsportsJohn is a freelance journalist on a mission to give minor regions exposure and make esports a worldwide community. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

GCWC Interview with Team Dignitas

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Reprinted with permission from NetEase
Edited by: EsportsJohn

Welcome to the GCWC! Can you describe your team to Chinese HotS fans? As the strongest team in EU pro scene, is there any pressure for you guys?

Bakery: We’ve never felt too much pressure from being the best team in Europe. It’s only when we aren’t the best that we really feel the need to get our reputation back. Nevertheless, we always want to represent Europe the best that we can and show how strong a region Europe really is.

How does the team cooperate? How do you train daily? How do you prepare for tournaments?

Athero: Me and JayPL normally make the decisions when it comes to drafting and shotcalling. However, we draft as a team mostly to get a well rounded comp, so everyone knows what their job is in-game.

What was the original intention for your team? What’s your biggest advantage?

Bakery: When I started the team over a year ago, our sole goal was to dethrone Team Liquid and claim the title of the best team in Europe. After the Global Championship in Seoul, we moved past that goal and set our sights on becoming a true contender for winning an international tournament. Our biggest advantage is that we work together to achieve these goals.

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What’s the secret to keeping the top rank on the HotS pro stage?

Mene: I play the game a lot because I want to be the best in my role and able to make plays for my team when we need it. As a team, you have to think about drafts/combos and not be scared of losing a lot of games in practice when you try them.

JayPL: My personal advice is to keep your feet on the ground. There will always be someone better than you or people trying to catch you, so you need to keep practicing no matter what. Otherwise, you’ll end up losing your spot. You won’t be able to perform at your best every time. Obviously, you will mess up some actions, games, or even series by yourself. You have to keep your cool and focus on the next matches. As soon as you have a strong mentality, you have the core to be a top-rank player.

What’s your opinion of Asian HotS teams? What’s difference between NA and EU?

Mene: The big difference is the meta. I think Asian teams are really good, but if they adapt their meta more, they can stay the best in the world for a long time.

Bakery: I’m a huge fan of the Asian HotS scene—especially Korea. Surprisingly, NA and EU have huge differences in both their meta and approach to practice, and are not very similar at all!

Are there any rivals you want to defeat or any goals you want to achieve at GCWC?

Mene: My goal is to win it! Playing it just after BlizzCon can help us a lot to achieve this.

JayPL: My goal is obviously to win an international tournament. There’s nothing more than that, except keeping your title. If I reach the title of the best team in the World one day, I’ll have the feeling that there’s no goal anymore… I’m actually scared to win and lose my motivation, but I’ll be the happiest guy on earth.

Dignitas holding the first place trophy at DreamHack Valencia

Photo Credit: DreamHack

Bakery: I would really love to beat MVP Black. I’m quite friendly with Sake, and they are the team that I have the most respect for in the whole scene. To convincingly beat them would be a huge deal for me.

What do you think of the current meta/Hero selection? Which Hero do you want to join the Nexus?

Mene: I don’t like like the meta at the moment, there is no Kael’thas! I hope an elemental Shaman will join the Nexus soon!

Athero: I like the meta because there are a lot of things that are viable. However, it makes for a tricky drafting phase, as you have to account for multiple comps when you are picking and banning.

Which team is your old enemy?

Bakery: We’ve been battling for the top spot in Europe with Misfits all year long, but this year has been so busy that it doesn’t feel like they’re old rivals—rather, very recent rivals.

So many pro teams have lineup changed recently. What’s the best way to keep a stable lineup?

Mene: When you have an issue on the team, you have to talk about it to try to fix it, and then you go over it and focus on practice again.

JayPL: As in every relationship, the key is discussion. If you have an issue, you have to talk and fix it. There’s no magic, it’s all about discussion.

It said that many of your team members are a big fans of JayPL, can you tell us the full story?

Mene: For me it’s very simple: his hairstyle is very unique, and when I look at him I’m impressed by how his hair can end up being so beautiful.

Athero: For me, it’s his flip flops. Whenever he comes to LANs, he will wear them whenever possible. They are stylish and neat.

Have you guys ever been to China before? What are you looking forward to doing most in China?

Mene: It will be my first time in China. I’m looking to try real Chinese food and see how the lifestyle is in China.

Athero: I have never been to China. It will be a great experience no matter the outcome of the tournament, and I’m looking forward to it!

Any further thoughts to share with Chinese HotS fans?

Mene: I enjoyed playing vs X-Team at the previous Global Championship. I’m sure it’s going to be great games again, but we are coming to win, so be ready!

Bakery: Elegant is one of the kindest pro players I have met, and I really hope that I can get to spend some more time with him at GCWC!

GCWC Venue - Beijing's Water Cube

Photo Credit: NetEase


This is an interview conducted and translated by NetEase. It is primarily intended for Chinese viewers to get a better sense of Western teams, but NetEase has given the publisher the right to publish for Western audiences as well. The publisher assumes no responsibility for inaccurate information or misrepresentation.


EsportsJohn is a freelance journalist and copyeditor. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

Living with Mental Illness.

If you know anything about me, you know that I’m not the most consistent person. Growing up, I was never the kid who go straight A’s. I never had perfect attendance. I wasn’t the life of the party. I wasn’t the kid cooped up indoors studying all day. I wasn’t the all-star athlete.

I was, for lack of a better word, average.

I had several interests and talents, chief of which was my ability to learn quickly, but I was never able to reach a mastery in any particular field. I would burn out too quickly. I tried to be the best soccer player in the world. I tried to be the best pianist in the world. I tried to be the best StarCraft player in the world. The best I achieved was mediocrity.

Whatever slipped through the cracks at those earlier ages, up until I was about 20, didn’t matter too much. They were passions that wore off quickly. There are definitely moments in my youth when I felt alone—so completely alone, that nothing could ever reach me, but I assumed I was simply like any other teenager prone to emotional outbursts and the feeling that no one could understand.

It wasn’t until I was in my sophomore year in college that I began to realize the full extent of my problems. At the time, I was a music major intent on becoming a composer. I spent almost all of my time at the music school going to classes, studying theory, and practicing into the late hours of the night. It’s where I spent a large chunk of my life, and perhaps the closest thing I’ve had to “home” growing up; it was the only place I felt like I belonged.

One day, for no particular reason, I was unable to get up for my 8am class. Nothing special about that, right? I mean, how many thousands of college kids have trouble waking up for their morning classes? But for some reason, this persisted.

I began to feel dread. Going to school felt like a chore, and every day my body grew heavier. I began to sleep during the day. There were several times where I skipped classes even when I knew my attendance grade was at stake. At some point, I just stopped caring. For me—the kid who woke up at 5:30am every morning of high school and drove an hour to school—this was uncharacteristic. Like I said, I’ve never been a perfect student, but I had never reached a place where I felt complete apathy. This would be the start of my first major depression.

I tried changing majors to alleviate the problem. It was better for a while, and then I dipped back down. Every six months or so, I’d find a new life goal fueled by resolve and then just slowly sink back into the same sort of slump. For almost five years, the source of the problem eluded me.


My father is an alcoholic with severe Bipolar Disorder. My relationship with him throughout my childhood was…rough. He would go on spending sprees and drain all of the family’s savings, then go on to avoid working for almost a month before coming up with some huge money-making scheme (which sometimes worked).

As I grow up, I see more of myself in him. I recognize that I am not him, but I know he has passed some of his traits onto me.

My grandfather on my mother’s side was similarly afflicted. A meticulous businessman, he had great aspirations to become a millionaire in the sixties and accomplished the feat in under 15 years. Despite all that success, he ostracized everyone in his life and drank himself into oblivion before a successful attempt at suicide—his second attempt, as far as the world knows.


I have not been to see a mental health professional. I simply can’t afford it, and I believe that my symptoms are much more mild. However, I am pretty certain I have a very mild version of Bipolar Disorder II; I have been long fascinated by this disease, and have studied it and case studies rather extensively.

While I tend to describe my condition by depressive episodes, I have had some uncharacteristic swings in the other direction. There have been days when I am sure of literally everything I do. My thinking is quick, precise, and I can’t make any mistakes. It’s like suddenly pulling an image into focus—I can see my entire future laid out for me.

I begin to plan, plan, plan. Fastidiously. My brain races two or three or twenty steps ahead. I don’t just feel bold, I feel correct. The thoughts in my head race at the speed of light, like a chess player running through every possible move. I often reach conclusions before even consciously calculating the results—something I think of as intuition, but on a much more absurd scale.

These periods usually last up to two to three weeks as I plan out a future and feel very optimistic. If you’ve followed my work, you’ll notice that I do a lot of work in bulk; some months will be incredibly dry and others will be brimming with new content almost every day. It’s during these times that I feel I can see clearly for the first time again.

What follows is a horrible, horrible crash. Anyone who has dealt with depression knows how it feels. My mind starts to slow down, and the thoughts run together. My appetite for success diminishes greatly. Projects start to stack up like dirty dishes in the sink. I get a constant headache, and the thought of even writing a single sentence is near impossible. I have tried “pushing through” these episodes, but there is nothing that can really pierce that smoky veil; you just have to wait it out and do what you can.

For someone like me who constantly aspires to greatness, this is like a reset. Every time. It’s as if all of the progress I had made before is gone. Along with weight problems, which have also been the bane of my existence, these feelings turn into a complete shame spiral that barely leaves me standing.

I fold into myself, cutting off all contacts from the outside world. I wonder how many people I’ve just stopped talking to who assumed I was just “doing other things”. I wonder how many people don’t realize that I felt abandoned by them when they never randomly called to check up on me. Depression wraps around you like some ghostly clothing and makes you do strange things.


I’ve learned to deal with these things. I’m not afraid of mental illness or depression, and I sympathize with people like my father whose lives have been ruined by it. I have strategies, and I feel confident I can make it through whatever hits me. I am sure that I want to be involved in esports as a writer, editor, and reporter; this is a conviction I have lived with unquestionably for the past year and a half.

The one thing I very seriously worry about, though, is my inconsistency. Feeling like I’ve been reset every few months is rough stuff, and I don’t know how I’ll ever become successful with constant interruptions to my ability to work. I’ve already been fired for it once, and I’m not sure if I can take dealing with that again. It will probably be a lifelong struggle to prevent these periods from disrupting my daily life.

I know that it’s risky publishing this where future employers can see it. It’s dangerous, in fact, to admit openly that you have any sort of problems in this day and age. However, I want to be open and honest. I have some problems that I face daily, and I’m working on them.

Hopefully my bravery isn’t stupidity. Hopefully others feel like they can talk about their problems too without becoming a burden to others. There are many more people out there dealing with depression and other mental illnesses than you think. They may not always be able to support you in the way that you need, but they can certainly empathize and share their own experiences with you.

Anyways, I don’t really know why I wrote this.

Have a great day :).

Korea Dominates BlizzCon Opening Week

The analyst desk at the Heroes of the 2016 Storm Global Championship in Anaheim

Written by: EsportsJohn


Table of Contents


The opening week of BlizzCon has been full of ups and downs for players and fans alike, but one thing is certain: Korea is king. Some teams are performing better than expected, some are performing far worse, but the Korean teams MVP Black and Ballistix look invincible.

Once again, the world finds itself in an arms race against Korea. In StarCraft, we bred foreigners designed to beat Koreans, many of which failed miserably. In League of Legends, we cheered “TSM” with all of our hearts only to come face to face with yet another all-Korean finals. And now we find ourselves in a similar position with Heroes of the Storm. Who can beat Korea?

Korea, The Undisputed King

Let’s be real here. Korea dominated Opening Week.

MVP Black bullied their way through the first group stage by bludgeoning Burning Rage to death and swatting Denial away like an insect. Then they went on a rampage against Dignitas and Please Buff Arthas (PBA) in the second group stage and advanced to the playoffs with an undefeated 8-0 record. Overall, they have over four times more takedowns than deaths with a record of 122-28 and have ended several games before Level 20.

MVP Black's KyoCha onstage at the 2016 Heroes Global Championship in Anaheim

The road for Ballistix has been shorter but just as bloody. Like MVP Black, they dispatched Denial seemingly without effort before moving on to extinguish Fnatic’s flame 2-0. Their numbers are equally as intimidating with a 37-8 record and a flawless 4-0 record.

We are unbelievably lucky that the Korean teams were seeded into different groups and couldn’t eliminate each other, and now they sit on opposite ends of the playoffs bracket. Truth be told, an all-Korean finals is pretty likely.

North America’s Fall From Grace

With Cloud9’s massive victory over Team DK at BlizzCon 2015 still fresh in our minds, it’s easy for North American fans to feel confident heading into the Global Championship. It has been a roller coaster year, but the core players from C9 are back at BlizzCon under the name of Denial; what could possibly go wrong?

Well, opening week has made it pretty obvious that NA is weaker than we ever imagined. Denial was able to take out Reborn, the weakest team at BlizzCon, with ease but struggled a lot against Brazilian team Burning Rage (BR). Though they managed to come out of the ordeal 2-0, it was a hard-earned victory against a team without their primary shotcaller and playmaker. Had Typhex been able to attend BlizzCon and play with BR, it’s doubtful Denial would have even made it out of the first group stage. For a team that boasts three former BlizzCon champions, they haven’t played anywhere near their full potential.

Denial eSports onstage during the HGC Opening Week

Astral Authority (formerly Murloc Geniuses) hasn’t quite found their stride either. Despite being more or less dominant in North America over the past few months as Gale Force eSports and Naventic declined, Astral wasn’t very impressive in their one series against PBA. PBA’s rather aggressive, skirmishing style unmasked the mechanical failings of Astral and quickly unraveled their usually carefully studied strategies. The series could have gone either way, but if Astral Authority couldn’t beat PBA, they have no chance against Korean teams.

Astral faces elimination against Dignitas at BlizzCon, but based on their previous games, it’s unlikely that they will have the chops to take on the best non-Korean team at BlizzCon. Both teams will need to play out of their minds if they want a shot at the semifinals; a finals appearance is entirely out of the question.

The Fall of China

North America might be very weak compared to their 2015 counterparts, but no region has fallen further than China in the past few months. Once considered the second best region in the world, China is no longer the powerhouse it used to be. The Fall season of Gold League was depressingly mediocre due to a massive wave of retirements and team dissolutions. In particular, the second best team in China (EDG) disbanded, and eStar’s key member xia0t retired from gaming (though he still runs the team).

ZeroPanda looked fairly decent through Gold League and was likely to do well at the Global Championship, but so far they haven’t really delivered. Their series against Fnatic was disappointing; they just looked completely disarrayed and unprepared for the European team.

eStar Gaming at the 2016 Heroes Global Championship in Anaheim

Due to visa issues, three members from eStar joined up with two members from Super Perfect Team to create a makeshift team to represent China.

On the other hand, eStar shouldn’t have even been at this tournament. Instead, perhaps one of the worst Chinese teams pre-Fall season, Super Perfect Team (SPT), qualified through Gold League following an incredibly sloppy performance against eStar in the loser’s finals. Visa problems again plagued the Chinese teams, and three members of eStar were mashed together with two players from SPT (similar to the BraveHeart team we saw last year). As expected, the impromptu team did not do well and dropped out in the first group stage after losing to PBA.

PBA, The Dark Horse

Please Buff Arthas has been all over the standings this week. They surprised everyone at the Summer finals by becoming the first minor region team to ever make it out of the first group stage. Many people attributed it to Gale Force eSports being jetlagged and exhausted, but the team has continued to prove that they are no joke.

PBA at the 2016 Heroes of the Storm Global Championship in Anaheim

ZoLa brought his stuffed penguin to the event, which some claim contains the power to beat NA.

They had a fantastic, close series against Fnatic and absolutely wrecked their Eastern counterparts, IPT and eStar. In the second group stage, they also went toe to toe with Astral Authority and brought the American team down with a 2-1 score. It hasn’t been a perfect road for them, but they’re giving it all they’ve got and it shows. They have a decider match left against either Astral Authority or Dignitas; either way, their chances of making it to playoffs are looking better than originally expected.

PBA is quickly becoming a crowd favorite. They may not be the Hero we want right now, but they’re the Hero we deserve.

The Losers

Unlike PBA, the other minor regions have not been very successful. Burning Rage put up a good fight, but without Typhex, they simply couldn’t make a dent in MVP Black or Denial. Meanwhile, Reborn and IPT were eliminated first with dismal 0-4 records.

When it comes to the Australian team Reborn, it’s clear that they were not prepared for this tournament. Mistakes in rotations, map control, and even basic mechanics showed up in their series against Reborn and Burning Rage. Their coordination was also substantially lacking in several major teamfights. One of the biggest problems with ANZ is that they have very little quality practice, but at least Reborn has a big chance this week to tune up their skills with other regional teams before next season.

Reborn at the 2016 Heroes Global Championship in Anaheim

As for Imperium Pro Team (IPT), there’s not much to say. On paper, they are a SEA region super-team. Zeys and Mirr, best known for their performance on Relics and often holding some of the top spots on the North American ladder, joined up with the best of SEA’s Summer representative Renovatio I. However, their performance was far from dominating. PBA was far superior, and even the crippled eStar still managed to walk over IPT without too much effort.

Burning Rage at the 2016 Heroes Global Championship in Anaheim

We analysts never expect minor regions to do well at global competitions, but there were some obvious disconnects at BlizzCon that made even the most dominant teams in their respective regions look pathetic on the global stage. One can only hope Blizzard has plans to revitalize the minor regions that struggle so much and bring them back into the forefront of the global scene next season (without utilizing a region lock).

Europe, The Only Chance

Who can beat Korea? The only hope lies with Europe. To date, only Team Liquid (Duran brothers era) and mYinsanity (Misfits) have been able to take a game off of MVP Black, but there’s still a small hope that Europe can light the torch for an upset. Both Fnatic and Dignitas haven’t had the best year, but they have proven some level of dominance in their region and looked fairly decent during Opening Week.

Fnatic’s performance so far at BlizzCon has been nothing short of spectacular. They struggled a bit with the upstart Taiwanese team PBA but managed to finish off both Chinese teams 2-0 without breaking a sweat. Ballistix destroyed them in Game 1, but Fnatic was on the brink of tying up the series in Game 2 on Towers of Doom before a disastrous teamfight.

Fnatic beats eStar Gaming at the 2016 Heroes Global Championship in Anaheim

Dignitas also put up a decent fight against MVP Black but fell a bit short. There’s no doubt that the last-minute retirement of AlexTheProG threw a wrench in their practice regimen, but at least the team is familiar with Atheroangel’s playstyle and can adapt to his role quickly. The roster change may prove disastrous for Dignitas in the end, but they are likely to stride out over the NA team Astral Authority on the opening day of BlizzCon.

An over-the-shoulder view of Snitch during the 2016 Heroes Global Championship in Anaheim

Black showed no respect at all for Dignitas—an attribute which may be their eventual downfall—and made several risky plays that paid off only through pure mechanical skill; Ballistix was only slightly less cocky. With another week to scrim and learn the Korean teams’ secrets, Europe may have an actual shot at a 3-2 victory in the semifinals, especially if Korea is underestimating them. There’s even a chance, albeit a very small one, that they could win the whole thing. But probably not.

Games to Watch

MVP Black vs Denial eSports G2 on Braxis Holdout

7/10 In true Cloud9 fashion, Denial brought out the unorthodox picks to try and throw MVP Black off. Denial picked up Solo support Tyrande to aid in the team’s cheesy stun train combo and Dehaka for the global presence. Denial held onto the beacons during the first phase splendidly and looked like they were going to put up a good showing against the Korean powerhouse.

Denial eSports vs Burning Rage G2 on Tomb of the Spider Queen

7/10 Burning Rage took complete control of the early and mid game with fantastic rotations and CC layering. Teamfights in general were top notch with each team baiting out Heroics/combos and each team adapting from the previous fight.

Dignitas vs MVP Black G1 on Tomb of the Spider Queen

6/10 Dignitas drafted a questionable composition into MVP Black’s double tank/Gul’Dan/Auriel composition. Nonetheless, control of the early webweavers went over to Dignitas, and they were able to knock down a few buildings before MVP Black’s insane teamfighting went into effect.

Astral Authority vs Please Buff Arthas G3 on Sky Temple

9/10 Two incredibly well matched opponents going at it. This series wasn’t without some mistakes on either side, but the finale was tense.

MVP Black vs Please Buff Arthas G2 on Towers of Doom

4/10 NOVA

Fnatic vs Ballistix G2 on Towers of Doom

9/10 Two fantastic teams went toe to toe on Towers of Doom. This was the first time we’ve seen Korea bleed at the Global Championship. If not for a disastrous final fight, Fnatic might have taken this game.

MVP Black vs Burning Rage G1 on Infernal Shrines

6.5/10 If you enjoy pure and utter destruction, this game is for you. MVP Black dominated from start to finish, winning the game at a near-record time of 7:16.


EsportsJohn is awaiting the day when minor regions won’t get shafted in every major esport. You can follow him on Twitter or support him on Patreon.