Monthly Update – April 2017

I’ve been working on building my brand for awhile, including blogging, but I have always had trouble writing consistently. A few months ago when I launched my Patreon, I swore to do weekly updates with what I was working on, my thoughts on the previous week, etc., but it never really materialized the way I wanted it to. However, I’m still dedicated to doing that sort of thing, so I decided to start up monthly updates available to everyone (not just patrons).

First of all, the Inven Global job is RIP. Today is my last day, and I’ll be pursuing other avenues for future articles. It was an executive decision from Inven to let me go, but it ended mutually, as I was already looking for other jobs. They’ve been nothing but kind to me but, for lack of a better phrase, it just wasn’t a great fit. I’ll still be doing primarily Heroes of the Storm coverage as well as StarCraft: Brood War and a few other minor titles. Not sure exactly where I’ll end up right now, but I’ve received a few offers and I’m actively searching for more.

Second, I have a TON of personal projects that I’ve put aside so that I could write elsewhere, so I’ll be picking up those again during this lull between jobs. I just recently got a new logo (courtesy of @TraZZZZZZ), and I’ll be revamping my site/Patreon/etc. with the new branding. Super excited about all of that!

I still have a lot of big plans, and I want to continue to improve. If you see any job postings, interesting articles, etc., send them my way!

Hopefully I’ll stay consistent with these blog posts and keep everyone up to speed on what I’m doing. If a particularly important series of events happens, I may blog more often. It just depends.

Thanks for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @EsportsJohn or support my Patreon. <3.

HeroesHearth launches a new HotS only social media site

As of today, HeroesHearth is officially online. Touted as a Heroes of the Storm-exclusive social media network, HeroesHearth offers several standard networking features alongside some unique game-specific tools.

HeroesHearth is a social media site like Facebook or Twitter with one small twist: it’s designed entirely around the Heroes of the Storm community. Think about your Facebook account—now imagine your friends list with only people interested in talking about HotS instead of all of your relatives and friends from high school you never talk to anymore.

Formerly TheNexusGG, the site has undergone a complete makeover since the server crash three months ago. In addition to standard features like like status updates, likes, and comments, it also includes several tools specific to Heroes of the Storm including a blog tool, a build publisher, a tier list creator, and a LFG finder.

What makes this different from the Heroes subreddit or any other forum? HeroesHearth is a one-stop shop for all things Heroes-related. If you want to chat with James “Bakery” Baker—the real one—you can easily strike up a conversation or read his latest blog on how pro players aren’t necessarily great balance designers. If you’re looking for a group of similarly skilled friends to queue up Team League with, you can find them. If you want to show off a cool new build you just discovered on Gazlowe, go for it!

The site itself is sleek, modern, and professional. The main page is a standard news feed with a sidebar of recent blog posts, trending tags, Reddit history, and a list of streamers. Some of the controls aren’t very intuitive, but it doesn’t take long to figure out what all of the buttons do. Also, night mode is available, which is always a plus.

Unfortunately, the site does contain some ads, but according to the HeroesHearth Patreon, the site will be become self-sufficient at their first goal of $500 per month.

It’s not clear if the site will be self-sustaining in the long run, but it’s an interesting take on a classic idea in an effort to build a close-knit community of like-minded fans. At the very least, it’s worth signing up and trying it out.

For more updates, you can also follow HeroesHearth on Twitter.

Rumors of Brood War HD Resurface in Korea

Rumors that Blizzard has been hard at work on a remastered version of StarCraft: Brood War, the first major esport, are surfacing in Korea. But don’t get your hopes up—this isn’t the first time these stories have appeared.

According to a post by Waxangel on TeamLiquid.net, an article from Sports Seoul reported Blizzard’s plan to release an updated version of StarCraft: Brood War called StarCraft: Remastered around May or June of this year.

Industry sources say that the remastered version will include upgrades to graphics and the Battle.net service without changing the core gameplay. Further announcements are anticipated as early as next week.

The report cited “industry insiders”, particularly esports broadcasters and sponsors, who were secretly informed during BlizzCon 2016.

However, this isn’t the first time we’ve heard this story. Back in August, a story published via Naver.com sent the StarCraft community on a wild goose chase looking for more information.

The original article also implied that the remastered version would be only a graphical update while maintaining gameplay—a feat which has proven impossible time and time again with games like Counter-Strike: Source and Halo: Anniversary. It was also mentioned that more information would be revealed “in November”, which many took to mean “at BlizzCon”.

BlizzCon came and went, and no further information about a Brood War update was released. The rumor died down in the following months, but now it’s been reignited eight months later for more speculation.

It’s possible that development has actually been taking place throughout this long chain of events—after all, Blizzard is notorious for taking time to perfect their projects. Then again, it could just be another baseless rumor. I guess we’ll find out in June.

A Fond Farewell: An Interview with Kaelaris

Kaelaris

Interview by: EsportsJohn


Table of Contents


I had the unique chance to interview Khaldor last week as he finally sorted out his visa issues and prepared for the move overseas to cast the Heroes Global Championship in Southern California. However, just as one door opens, another one closes; Khaldor is coming to finally claim his spot, but Kaelaris is unfortunately on his way out. The lovable Brit brought us plenty of laughs and epic Core rushes for the first five weeks of HGC, but for now he must part ways with HotS fans until at least the Mid-Season Brawl.

Fascinated by this revolving door, I felt compelled to get both sides of the story and reached out to Kaelaris for an interview. There’s lot of emotions involved in such a fond farewell, and it become quite evident during the interview that, despite his upbeat and optimistic attitude, this was goodbye (for now). Luckily, we also had a chance to chat a bit about the art of commentating and leading the analyst desk as well as his deep love for Ragnaros. All in all, Kaelaris a pretty stand-up guy, and he will be missed.

On Casting HGC

Let’s start off with how you ended up casting HGC. Obviously, you were filling in for Khaldor while he got his visa sorted out. Is there more to that story, or did Blizzard just call you up one day and ask, “Hey, can you come to the US for a few weeks and cast HGC?”

Well, initially it was supposed to be just one or two weeks. Overall, it turned out that Khaldor’s visa would take a little more work and time to figure out, so that turned into five weeks. But yeah, to begin with, they just reached out to my boss [at ESL] and the usual discussions happened from there for an external event. I’ve spent a lot of time in hotels over the now seven years doing this job, but never a full five week stint. It stirred up a lot of negative and positive emotions—from being homesick one day, to never wanting to leave the next haha.

Khaldor and I talked a little bit about how the HGC production has far exceeded a lot of expectations. After being there on a day-to-day basis, what were your impressions?

So being ESL, I’ve been involved in a lot of productions now, be it in front or behind the camera. In usual British fashion, I’m always sceptical going in and wait for results to prove themselves. Needless to say, I too was pleasantly surprised at how the first couple of weeks went. Leagues like this with usually have a one or two major technical hiccups to start, and many small ones. HGC, though, only really had a few small ones, skipping the larger ones. I think we did well to produce something that technically sound, that fast. There’s always room for improvement though. I have a million and one ideas about segments, additions, etc. But I’m not there full time so…maybe one day!

Kaelaris at Gamescom 2016

The skeptical Brit in his natural habitat. Photo Credit: ESL

The crew there are a pleasure to work with. Everyone smiling and you get a real sense of family there. I felt so comfortable with them on Sundays after EU broadcast had finished, I would commandeer the conference room with our video editor Nick, and switch the screen to WWE PPVs haha. When the crew were on break, they’d come and enjoy the wrestling even though they had no clue really and were probably mocking it a little, but I don’t mind that! I’ll miss them dearly.

I believe this is your first time casting with Trikslyr? How was that? A lot of people on Reddit and social media commented about the playful synergy between you two compared to the more “serious” attitude of other casters like Khaldor or Dreadnaught.

So in terms of a long time partnership, this is the first time we’ve worked together so closely. However, we actually casted SC2 together five years ago! It was one or two times online for some smaller cups that were set up. So of all the people on that crew, he’s the person I’ve known the longest!

I mentioned this in a tweet at the end of last year, but I’ll say it again for sake of context: I have a lot of faith in Trik’s abilities to blossom. During the interview process, I had brought up his name as one of the better people to work with purely based on his outlook and personality. I’ve worked with a lot of people, and as such, I know what makes a good co-commentator. Attitude and personality make up a lot of that, so knowing Trikslyr has a brilliant perspective and upbeat mentality really confirmed to me that our duo would have great potential before we even stood at the desk for the first time. He may not have the technical brilliance of an international level commentator just yet, but the foundation is certainly there. He’s a fast learner with a splendid ambition to improve.

I’m glad the spectators and fans enjoyed our duo as much as we did. We both loved working together and were very sad when I had to leave. It’s rare you find that kind of chemistry with someone in this business where it all just clicks. Hopefully we get more chance to in the near future.

You also mentioned in a tweet that you and Dreadnaught “complement each other perfectly”. Is that a casting duo we might see in the future?

Ha, Dread and I are very good friends. We share intimate secrets and PIN numbers!—(not a recommended form of security). Unusual really, since we’re both just pretty introverted people in real life, but we meshed well together throughout 2016. I think we understand each other very well, and as such, have a different kind of special chemistry to a conventional casting duo. When looking at it from a critical perspective, I think that our strengths and weaknesses balance out each other perfectly. My hosting and play-by-play are very strong from doing this for years, and his analysis is very strong from being an ex-player/shotcaller. That’s not to say we’re not confident in each others proficiency categories, but we compliment each other greatly.

I don’t know when or where we’ll see this duo in the future, but I think we both would like to.

On HGC Teams

Back to HGC, what’s been your favorite storyline throughout HGC EU so far?

There were definitely tiers that we anticipated going in to the first five weeks of HGC. While it was nice to see “The Big Three” establish themselves convincingly, and while I love my Dignitas boys, one of my most eagerly awaited matches was indeed expert vs Dignitas. Just the idea of “What if?” was really delightful. Admittedly, I’d built it up quite a bit the few weeks before (narrative is our job! imagine that!).

Kaelaris and Khaldor at Gamescom

Photo Credit: ESL

So expert was definitely one of them. I’m certain in a few months’ time they’ll start rivaling those top three spots in an even stronger fashion as long as they continue to have good friendship and synergy within the team. I also really enjoyed watching the progression of Playing Ducks and Tricked eSport. They’re another two teams that can only grow stronger with time. Goes to show how deep the quality is in Europe.

Happy to see Sportbilly playing so well on Falstad and Medivh as well. It can be a treat to watch, considering their position in the league.

Do you think that EU is flat out better than NA at the moment, or do you think that the competition at the Western Clash will be close? What about the matchup between EU and KR?

Half the time, I give a troll answer to this, but I’ll be serious for a moment.

NA was in a really odd spot for a long time. I think ever since the era of Tempo Storm and Cloud9 [in 2015], the skill level of the region fell relative to the rest of the world. I can’t pinpoint what it is exactly, but watching HGC NA, my fears for them are drafting patterns and also synergy within the game. None of the teams really show the same level of coordination that we see out of “The Big Three” in Europe right now. I’m not saying they’re bad, I just don’t know if they can match up, especially against Misfits and Fnatic, whose power levels are very strong right now. NA can upset at the Western Clash, though. Team 8 showed promise like I would have never imagined, and in a month or two, they could easily be number one in America if they continue down that path. Overall though, I’m expecting an EU first, second and third victory unless some upsets happen, which they could. NA isn’t that far behind, just need to tighten the play.

As for EU vs KR? I think right now there is still a clear number one in the world, and that’s L5 (previously Ballistix). I hear a lot of opinion about MVP Black being number two in the world, but honestly, I think that title is currently up for debate. Fnatic proved that they weren’t invincible at BlizzCon (admittedly, I don’t think Black were playing to true potency in that series). We’ll see how the new MVP Black roster stacks up against EU come the Mid-Season Brawl. If Fnatic could cause that upset in 2016, who is to say Misfits couldn’t also play at that scale?

On the Role of Host and Commentator

I’ve always loved your role on the analyst desk throughout 2016, especially as desk host. How does that differ from casting for you? Do you prefer one role over the other?

The preparation is very different when it comes to either being a commentator or desk host. I’ll give you an example. So as commentator, a lot of my prep will be figuring out what teams want to play, builds they like, maps they prefer, who is playing what heroes, how they will synergise, etc. Desk host prep is figuring out what questions the panel have a good idea about, how I can weave the narrative of the tournament/teams better, what players and plays we can truly highlight, transitions in speech from break / to graphics / to games. As desk host, I take a lot more time to talk to production pre-show, take a look at all the video segments and graphics so that my lead into them is seamless. Nothing rustles me more than a host saying something like “Let’s take a look at this video”, or “Let’s hear from them now”. There are far more powerful ways to lead into content that can reinforce the message or continue a strong sense of immersion.

Analyst desk at BlizzCon 2016

Kaelaris hosting the analyst desk at BlizzCon 2016

People probably don’t notice it, because I’m paying attention to my preview monitor when I do it, but as a desk host, I’m making a lot of intentional eye contact and hand gestures to the guys at the analysis desk, leading where the conversation is going and checking if others have something to continue a point on.

All too often do I see desk hosts going too deep in to the analysis themselves in an attempt to…I guess “look smart”? I don’t know what the reason is, but that’s not why you’re there! You’re the enabler! I don’t think anyone questions my knowledge of the game when I’m in that role, so I really try to act as the mediator to draw information from the other members of the desk. Gives it a strong structure, and I think people subconsciously appreciate that.

I used to like casting more, but at the moment it’s 50/50. A lot of my casting during StarCraft actually trained me to desk host, but I didn’t realise it until it came time to actually host a desk. Reason being, is most of the time I would just be put alongside either an expert of ex-player, so enabling them in a duo was the same as enabling a desk.

That’s a lot of insight. I think the vast majority of people who watch don’t realize that anything special is going on at the analyst desk at all. It’s so easy from an outsider’s perspective to just think, “Hey, they’re just talking about the game”.

Yeah, it’s actually a fine science that I’ve worked hard at. I won’t say I’m anywhere near perfect, but I suppose my methods stand out more than others because I just have more experience under my belt. That and I live my job—I don’t stop thinking about it 24/7 lol.

You’re also one of the few Heroes of the Storm casters who still covers other esports at the highest levels (StarCraft 2). How do you manage to balance watching, playing, and commentating both games effectively?

Well, I kind of summed that up: I live the job. It’s a little easier for me to do multiple games because technically strong play-by-play is easier to accomplish in more titles than just one at the same time. Analysing multiple games full-time would be the hard part, but I can’t say I’m doing that in SC2. Therefore, most of my time is dedicated to Heroes and being good at understanding how and why the teams are playing as they do…as well as using my play-by-play because I’ve done it for 1,000,000 years now.

How do I balance the watching, playing and commentating? Easy, really; I have no personal life currently haha. Almost all my time is dedicated to this craft. So, be it at home or on the road, I’m either playing, watching or commentating Heroes or SC2. Then even during travel, I’m reading and studying things that can improve my job. For example, I’m reading lots of books right now to up my lore game even more—people seem to enjoy my little tid-bits in casts about that stuff!

eSports has definitely hurt my personal life in the past a lot, it makes it very hard to have proper relationships because most people just don’t understand the job and my passion for it, I guess. I’m probably one of the most secretly introverted people ever because people see me on cam and are like, “dude’s chill!” But I don’t like going outside hahaha.

On Future Plans

Well, it’s unfortunate to watch you leave; we’re definitely sad to see you go. It’s been a wonderful five weeks watching you cast HGC. What are your plans from here?

Thank you, truly. For me, the five weeks doing HGC were a fantastic time. I feel like I’m meant to be there, despite negotiations in 2016 not going the way I wanted them to. Business is business. That being said, I want to be back to doing Heroes ASAP, specifically the HGC. I feel like I can contribute and channel all my energy into that project to make it the great thing we want it to be. I hope I get that opportunity one day, because my mind overflows with ideas for Heroes, as I love this game.

Khaldor and Kaelaris at DreamHack Valencia 2016

The European casting titans Khaldor and Kaelaris at DreamHack Valencia

2017 so far is partially planned out. I know more SC2 stuff for me is on the horizon currently, with who knows what other projects/games that may come along. I’m speaking to a few other devs/publishers about their endeavours into esports with new titles currently. I’m very thankful for my own drive in this space, and especially thankful for how easy it felt to just do any game I wanted to. I think being a gamer who played everything since I was very young left me with a good mindset for adaptation. Thanks Dehaka!

Any parting words?

Thanks for doing the interview with me! Always happy to give my thoughts. Thanks to Blizzard for bringing me out to do HGC, I adored my time there. Shoutout to my mum because I know she reads and watches everything I do haha—love you, mum. And shoutouts to Blizzard again for not giving Ragnaros the Heroic Firelands legs, because that was the worst thing that happened to Ragnaros ever, and I would die a little bit inside if I had to play my bae with legs :D.

TL;DR wanna do all things Heroes, give me Heroes, Ragnaros is Bae. All hail the Firelord. Get off Sulfuras, you dirty insect.


EsportsJohn wishes tri-cast was a thing in the West like it is in the East. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

Ready for Adventure: An Interview with Khaldor

Khaldor

Interview by: EsportsJohn


Table of Contents


When the Heroes Global Championship (HGC) league was announced in early January, Khaldor was slotted as a permanent member of the casting crew for HGC Europe. Due to some difficulties securing a proper work visa, he has been unable to cast for the first half of Phase 1, but luckily Kaelaris has been there with great commentary—and plenty of Core rushes gone haywire—in his stead.

Khaldor has a deep history with Blizzard games ranging a period of over 10 years, from his earlier days of shoutcasting Warcraft 3, to his big casting debut in GSL Code A for StarCraft II, and now over two years of continuous casting, commentary, and analysis for Heroes of the Storm. As such, there’s no doubt that he’s the perfect fit for the job, and many have been eagerly waiting for his return to casting.

I was incredibly fortunate to catch his attention in early January for an exclusive interview. After he finally acquired the work visa, we chatted about the next chapter of his life and the new adventure that awaits him across the ocean at Blizzard’s production studio. We also talked about his aspirations for HGC, plans for the next phase of his life, and the future of Heroes of the Storm. I’m proud to present his thoughts here, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the game as we head into undoubtedly the most successful year of HotS so far.


On Moving to the States

You’re about to embark on a journey halfway across the world again. How is this different from your move to Korea to cast GSL Code A in 2011?
Well, I guess the first difference is that this time I already know that I’ll be staying for quite some time. When I traveled to Korea to commentate the GSL, I was only supposed to stay there for three months and ended up being there for three years in the end.

With the move to the US, I’m from the start aware that I’ll stay long enough to justify things like renting out an apartment from the get-go, buying a car, and so on. That’s a big difference when it comes to the preparations. And even though the recent politics sure are a roller coaster for the US, it will be much easier for me to adapt to another Western culture compared to the Korean lifestyle I had to adapt to when I moved to Seoul.

How long have you been planning this move? Was it fairly sudden or have you been in talks with Blizzard for a while?
I expected for quite some time that there might be an opportunity in the US. In the second half of 2016, I was already pretty sure that I would not stay in Germany for too much longer. I was thinking about moving to another European country (Spain in particular), and one of the reasons those plans never became concrete was that there was a pretty big chance that Blizzard might want to establish a league system for Heroes of the Storm which would, by default, require the casters to be bound to a specific location. The rumors were around for some time, so it didn’t come as a shock when Blizzard revealed details that confirmed it.

Khaldor Casting

Photo Credit: ESL

For the casting team, those plans became more detailed during BlizzCon when most of us also had interviews set up for the open positions. The decision on who’d be casting the league was made after BlizzCon, [which is when I] also started the planning phase for the move and, of course, the necessary working visa.

It seems like all of the visa issues are finally sorted out now, though.
Yes, the visa process took quite a long time since we had to apply for a proper working visa that would allow me to move and work in the US for an extended period of time. Thankfully though, that’s all sorted out now, and I got my passport including a valid working visa a few days ago.

In my last interview with you, we touched on the difficulty of getting “in” with Blizzard during the early period of HotS…now you’re definitely “in”. How does it feel?
There were definitely moments in 2015 when it wasn’t really easy for me, but I have to say that I was very happy to be so heavily included in 2016. I casted at every major European and Global event throughout the year and the highlight was of course to be part of the casting team at BlizzCon—which was for sure one of my highlights in Heroes of the Storm thus far.

Analysis desk at BlizzCon 2016

The analysis desk at BlizzCon 2016 with SolidJake, Khaldor, Kaelaris, and Dreadnaught.

Coming back to your question though, I have to admit that this is now a completely different level of involvement. It feels absolutely amazing to be chosen as one of the four official casters to commentate Blizzard’s HGC. Even though I haven’t had the chance yet to be part of the live production, the team included me wherever possible, and I can’t wait to be on-site to do my part.

Another big plus for me is the proximity to all the other departments working on Heroes of the Storm. I was always very interested in the game outside of esports, and simply having the option to talk more directly to people that I so far could only contact via email is amazing to me. I’m super happy about the opportunity, and I can’t wait for it all to start.

On the Heroes Global Championship

We talked a bit before about your skepticism of online leagues. What were some of your concerns for HGC? Do you think Blizzard has done a good job addressing those concerns?
I think Blizzard has done an absolute fantastic job with the system they created for HGC. One of my biggest problems with league systems was always that most people have the tendency to try and imitate the established systems in Korea without realizing the big advantages that Korea has.

Korean esports was always very much focused in Seoul. Therefore, it was an easy decision for the Korean Leagues to establish permanent studios in which those games could be played and commentated. Since all of the players live in and around Seoul, there are no real infrastructure challenges to realize such a project.

In the Western scenes of Europe and North America, that poses a much bigger challenge. Especially since, for a lot of players in Western cultures, it’d be huge commitment that they might not be ready for yet. A move might include giving up another job and diving headfirst into a potentially risky career in esports or giving up a place at a university or even jeopardizing a relationship. To justify such a move, the financial benefits would have had to be enormous. I was always very doubtful if such a step would be justifiable at this point.

An online league, on the other hand, also faces a lot of challenges. One of them is the lack of having the players and commentators on site to provide the audience with live shots. The lack of opportunities for the Heroes of the Storm audience to meet the players and enjoy live events can also be problematic. I’m super happy that Blizzard identified all those issues and came up with a system that allows for a fantastic experience for the audience using several offline events throughout the year, a local studio to increase the production quality and including pre-recorded player shots, live interviews, and much more.

Kaelaris and Khaldor at Gamescom

Photo Credit: ESL

I was, by the way, extremely happy about their announcement to pay the players a fixed salary for attending the league. That alone opens up so many opportunities for the players, encourages them and Open Division teams, and allows for a penalty system to ensure that rules are being followed. So even though I was quite skeptical at first, I have to say that they did a great job, and the end result is amazing. The show has been doing very well, and I’m sure it’ll improve even more over the course of the next few months.

We’re only a few weeks in, but do you think the level of play has risen across the board in HGC due to more consistent competition and compensation to allow the players to focus on playing full-time?
Yes, for sure. The level of play has risen already, and I’m sure that trend will continue. It’s also reflected in the amount of time that players currently invest into their practice. I’m watching scrims on a daily basis at the moment to see how players adapt to the patches and changes in the meta. The new system also allowed the teams to prepare in detail for a specific opponent, analyzing drafts and preparing builds.

One still has to remember though that, as you pointed out, we are only observing the first effects of this new system. I’m sure that given time, the effects will be much more distinct, especially since other Open Division teams are eager to push into the league as well, which in turn raises the level of competition and play on the amateur level.

There’s also going to be a lot more international tournaments this year. Do you think that the regional metagames will continue to stay distinct, or will things start to look similar across the globe as regions learn from each other?

I think we will always have regional differences to some extent. There are quite a few differences in the way that Asian and Western teams approach esports, which has not only been very visible in Heroes of the Storm, but in other games as well. I believe there will always be some similarities and points of agreement between regions on which heroes are given priority, but I also believe that especially Western teams are very good at developing cheese strategies that can blindside their opponents and give them an edge.

One of the biggest advantages of Korean and Chinese teams, on the other hand, was always their mechanical superiority and their fantastic team coordination. But I personally believe that the gaps that we’ve witnessed in the past are becoming smaller and smaller in these areas. Fnatic was able to prove that during BlizzCon by taking down MVP Black, and I believe there is an actual chance that a Western team could have a realistic shot at winning BlizzCon at the end of 2017.

Differences in meta are also one of the most fascinating things to observe during international tournaments. Teams have to be able to adjust incredibly fast to challenges that are imposed by facing off against a different playstyle, and it’s super entertaining to watch. It’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited for all these events that we will have this year!

I know you’re not supposed to have favorites, but if you had to pick one team in EU to root for, who would it be?

Haha, not a fair question! I think my two favorites at the moment would be Misfits and Fnatic. As a fellow German, I’m obviously always rooting for the “home” team, and I think Misfits has proven in 2016 as well as this year that they are an absolutely amazing team with incredibly strong players.

But I’m also very close with Fnatic and still admire the way they have been able to grow during the last year. Their journey from being a talented but over-aggressive team at the start of 2016 to the disciplined powerhouse that we all witnessed during BlizzCon was amazing. But at the same time, they are now of course in a very different position. They have to prove that they did not get complacent and BlizzCon was not a fluke. With the level of competition continuously rising, they have to make sure that they don’t start to slack off or other teams will be able to leave them behind.

Grubby and Khaldor at Gamescom 2016

Grubby and Khaldor at Gamescom 2016. Photo Credit: ESL

Then entire scene in Europe is absolutely fascinating at the moment, to be honest, especially with the big three (Misfits, Fnatic and Dignitas) being under constant attack by challengers like Team expert or Dignitas themselves once again having to find their rhythm with a new player (Zaelia) joining the team at the start of the season. The dynamic within the scene is extremely fun to watch right now.

On Personal Projects and Future Plans

Do you plan on casting minor tournaments in 2017 or are you going to focus on HGC full-time?
I will still continue to commentate smaller tournaments. HGC will obviously be my main priority, but I’m very serious about continuing to commentate on my private channels as well. I still have several META Madness ideas that I want to realize once my transition to NA is complete, and I still want to cover online tournaments and also the occasional amateur league match.

One of my goals was always to help out the grassroots scene, and that has not changed. It’s important to me that smaller leagues and tournaments get more attention, and especially Heroes Lounge and Chair League have made fantastic progress in the last few months. There’s a lot of up and coming players out there that have potential, and those leagues and tournaments are a first step for them to receive some exposure and transition into more competitive teams.

On the topic of your personal projects, consistent quality is something that many people often lack in esports (in general). How do you manage to maintain excellent quality for all of your casting, VoDs, etc.? Do you ever find yourself struggling with the notion of cutting corners?
I feel it’s always a bit of a balancing act. When it comes to my livestreams and the VoDs, I do everything by myself. So during a broadcast, I talk to admins and players about upcoming games, make sure I get invited to the lobbies and look for upcoming games that might be of interest for the audience. Production, observing and of course the commentating itself are also all done by me including the post production, which entails the video editing of the games that I upload to YouTube.

Khaldor holiday stream

Ho ho ho! A special holiday stream from Khaldor!

Since it’s quite a lot to handle as a single person, I usually try to find a good middle ground when it comes to “cutting corners”. There are a few things that I would love to provide and technically could but where I simply lack the manpower to make it happen. A good example would be instant replays. I’d love to use those, but it’s not possible without a second person to help me with the production, and I’m simply not in a position where I can pay someone to do that. So there’s always a bit of a trade off when it comes to production quality. I try to provide the best show that I can to my audience, but there’s certain aspects where I will always have to make compromises.

Wrap-up

I just have one more big question. You stated in an interview in 2015 that you expected Heroes of the Storm to beat Dota 2 and maybe even League of Legends in terms of viewers and players. Do you think the game still has that potential?

I just recently thought back to that interview. I think I also recorded a video back then talking about my hopes for the game. I honestly believe that Heroes of the Storm is the most entertaining MOBA game to watch. If I didn’t, I would not be casting it anymore. The game eliminates all the criticism that I have toward other MOBA titles, and things like the map diversity and short game length give it a big advantage in my opinion.

At the same time, things have obviously not developed that way in the past. I personally think Blizzard made a lot of mistakes in the past that made it difficult for the game and the esports scene to develop as quickly as I was hoping for at the time of the interview. I believe the game could be much bigger than it already is, but I still think that it will grow a lot more in the future. Blizzard has been working hard to improve the esports infrastructure for Heroes of the Storm and the game itself, and setting up HGC was a major accomplishment. A lot of the initial momentum has been lost though, and we will have to work hard to regain that momentum and continuously improve the game and the esports aspect of it. That’s also something where I see an obligation for myself. Quite often, I come across as overly critical. One of the reasons for that is that I believe in this game and its potential. I’m very passionate about Heroes of the Storm and I want to improve the status quo and raise awareness to aspects that I think should be improved upon, and I will do everything that I can to personally help Heroes of the Storm keep growing.

I don’t think the goal has to be to beat League of Legends or Dota 2, but it certainly should be our goal to do everything we can to show other players how much fun and how amazing Heroes of the Storm can be, especially on a competitive level.

That said, when do we get to see you cast again?

The next time I’ll be casting will be in Katowice for the Western Clash! Shortly after the event, I’ll be moving to the US and will start to commentate the HGC Europe matches together with Trikslyr once the second half of Phase 1 starts in April.


EsportsJohn still believes Brood War will make a huge comeback and beat all esports forever. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

Valeera: First Impressions and Pro Opinions

valeera-wordpress-banner

Written by: EsportsJohn


For a time, the gladiator Valeera Sanguinar served dutifully as one of Varian Wrynn’s personal bodyguards. Now, her shadowy skills find her a natural fit within the secretive rogue order, the Uncrowned, in their fight against the Legion.

Outcast—no word better describes Valeera’s dark and muddled history. Left an orphan after her parents were killed by bandits, Valeera made a living off stealing from others and was soon imprisoned and sold as a gladiator. She formed a tight bond with her fellow gladiators Broll Bearmantle and Varian Wrynn and eventually escaped to find her own destiny. Now a member of The Uncrowned, a secretive order of rogues, she fights to take back what’s been taken from her.

To me, Valeera’s storyline is perhaps one of the most compelling in WoW history and one of the reasons why I’m excited for her entrance into the Nexus. Her cloak and dagger playstyle resonates strongly with her roguish lore and makes her an exciting hero to play. As a high skill cap hero, well-seasoned players with good positioning and proper timing make her look broken while players in the lower echelons have trouble maximizing her kit. This polarizing effect can be seen in her relatively low win rate in the first week, but like Medivh, she appears well-balanced in coordinated play. Let’s take a closer look at kit and abilities to find out why she has such mixed results!

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths

  • Powerful CC on a relatively short cooldown
  • Huge burst damage
  • Elusive abilities to dodge damage

Weaknesses

  • Poor initiation
  • Relies heavily on getting picks
  • Weak PvE and waveclear

Abilities

If you’re familiar with WoW Rogues, you’ll probably be familiar with Valeera’s kit. Designed as a stealthy combatant who uses smoke and misdirection to confuse her opponents, Valeera can whittle away her enemies and prepare them for the killing blow. And, of course, she excels at quickly dispatching isolated enemy heroes.

Compared to similar stealthy assassins, Valeera’s base kit is perhaps the most devastating. Between hard CC with Cheap Shot or Garrote and the insane amount of burst she brings to the table, she’s incredibly dangerous during the laning phase, and can straight up one-shot someone in the late game. Unfortunately, her power falls off dramatically in teamfights where stealth-revealing AoE and burst damage is prevalent.

Her Trait Vanish is the defining characteristic of her playstyle. Using her stealthy tactics, she can gain vision on the map or wrap around an enemy for a flank while gaining a new set of game-changing abilities (Ambush, Cheap Shot, and Garrote). Keep in mind, she’s not actually invisible; Valeera will still show up as a shimmer on the screen, so wary opponents can anticipate her movements and knock her out of stealth before she combos.

Cheap Shot is by far her most powerful ability. With a 1.5 second stun on an 8 second cooldown, she is very dangerous in gank squads and CC chains. If you’re looking to shut someone down in a 1v1 though, the 2 second silence and raw DPS of Garrote tends to be the better choice.

Valeera Hearthstone portrait

Valeera’s Hearthstone portrait

Blade Flurry deals decent damage and provides minor waveclear, and Sinister Strike gives Valeera a small dash to dodge abilities or use as a gap closer. All of her abilities (including stealth) grant Combo Points when used against enemy heroes up to a maximum of three; those Combo Points can then be consumed for massive damage using Eviscerate. The most common combo is stealth ability into Blade Flurry and Sinister Strike before finishing the enemy off with Eviscerate, but various talents allow for several permutations of her basic combo.

Her Heroics are purely defensive and boost her survivability a great deal. Smoke Bomb creates a cloud of smoke that gives Valeera extra Armor and makes her Unrevealable for a short time, allowing her to escape danger and continue throwing out damage. Cloak of Shadows is usually used against heavy mage or burst comps, as it removes all damage over time effects, allows her to become Unstoppable, and greatly boosts her Spell Armor for a second. Smoke Bomb has usually been the favored Heroic, but it usually depends on the situation. If you’re against auto attackers who rely on right-clicking you, take Smoke Bomb; if you’re against lots of spell damage, Cloak of Shadows is the way to go.

Talents

Due to a strong base kit, Valeera’s build paths are quite flexible. The most common builds focus on empowering either Ambush for flat out deletion combos or Garrote for extra utility and damage. Either way, there’s still a lot of room for variation depending on the map and composition.

Valeera’s Ambush build is boosted significantly with talents like Assassinate and Death From Above which allow her to quickly close the gap and dispatch her enemies with extreme prejudice. Initiative and Cold Blood can be added to the mix for a huge boost in burst damage. If the opposing hero is a bit meatier, she can also use Thistle Tea sort of like Rewind to reset her energy costs and get two full combos off in a short time span.

Valeera fan art by Zeronis

Valeera fan art by Zeronis

The Garrote build focuses more on dealing sustained damage and effectively zoning out opponents from their team. Hemorrhage and Rupture are the bread and butter of this build and allow Valeera to deal massive damage if left uncontested. She can also pick up Fatal Finesse to power up Blade Flurry for even more damage over time. This build pairs well with Smoke Bomb because of its synergy with Rupture and the focus on damage over time.

The one downside to Valeera is that she is limited by energy costs for her abilities, but luckily there are talents to mitigate her energy consumption issues. Vigor at level 1 is a globe talent that helps her build up additional energy regeneration as well as a larger energy pool that allows her to stay in the fight a bit longer. Subtlety and Relentless Strikes are also good energy-efficient options.

Professional Opinions

On Kit, Design, and Implementation

Chu8, streamer
Valeera seems to me like she stands somewhere between Nova and Zeratul—really good at player killing but not so much PvE like Nova, lots of potential maneuvers like Zeratul. In the hands of highly skilled mechanical player, Valeera will be really annoying to play against. But at the same time, she seems to be easily countered by stealth detection, which the game has plenty of.

KendricSwissh, Streamer and Commentator
Valeera is probably one of, if not the most accurate, class transfers from World of Warcraft to Heroes of the Storm. She looks, sounds, and feels exactly like if you were playing a Rogue in WoW. When I first played her, I was surprised by how resilient she can be, especially after unlocking one of her Heroic abilities.

McIntyre, B-Step
The only firm opinion I have is that she’s a stealthed hero that has a 1.5 stun on an 8 second cooldown, and Evelynn got nerfed in League of Legends when she did the same thing on a much weaker level.

Jowe, Coach
Her kit is amazing. She has everything: CC, good damage, high HP, a gap closer, an escape, and on top of that, the cooldowns are really short, plus she can restealth instantly. She can definitely snowball games right from the start, and her power continues to grow. Her talents are well designed. Seems like everything is optimal, but I think that’s due to the basic kit being so awesome.

melodyC, ZeroPanda
Valeera is a special hero with two sets of skills. She’s hard to master and requires a lot of practice. She consumes energy very quickly, so it’s very important to control her energy consumption and deal as much damage as possible. Her Cheap Shot with a 1.5 stun is so imba that not only the back line is under pressure—when the front line is not with the team, they are also in danger when caught by Cheap Shot. I think Cheap Shot will be nerfed.

Wings, Super Perfect Team
Valeera has the strongest solo stun and highest burst damage with short cooldowns. For the Heroic ability, personally I prefer Smoke Bomb. With 5 seconds Unrevealable, she can keep attacking and wait for her trait, and the cooldown is only 60 seconds.

On Professional Play and Meta Changes

KendricSwissh, Streamer and Commentator
I am almost certain that Valeera is going to make an appearance in HGC very soon, as her kit designed to be most efficient if used by mechanically strong players.

Jowe, Coach
As for competitive, she will have to fight for the spot with Zeratul who already needs to be respected in drafts, and I found out that the Protoss assassin has a really good matchup against her.

melodyC, ZeroPanda
Her strength is insane solo hero control, burst damage, and great gank potential in the field, which can put a lot of pressure on the enemy team. Her weaknesses are slow wave clear and difficulty engaging in teamfights.

On Map and Composition Viability

Chu8, streamer
I don’t see her having crazy winrates, but she will be played as a niche pick like Nova and sometimes get really good value, sometimes be completely useless and flamed for being first-picked.

Wings, Super Perfect Team
A big flaw of Valeera is she relies on her trait to engage with her combo. If she’s revealed, nearly 70% of her kit functionality is lost. So Tassadar, Valla, Diablo and other heroes with AoE damage are a great counter for Valeera.

Final Thoughts

melodyC, ZeroPanda
Both of Valeera’s Heroic abilities are very strong. When facing a team comp focused on basic attacks, Smoke Bomb would confuse the enemy (she is Unrevealable); if there are mages in the enemy team, Cloak of Shadows could ensure her survivability. Above all, using her trait to engage at the right time is the key.


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

Also, props to yaya for Chinese translations!


EsportsJohn finally found his waifu. You can follow him on Twitter or help support him on Patreon.

Post-Match Interview with Team expert’s BadBenny

Swedish Heroes of the Storm BadBenny on Team expert
Watch out EU, there’s a new kid on the block. The Heroes of the Storm scene in Europe last year was dominated by three giants: Dignitas, Misfits, and Fnatic. Several other teams rose and fell as the premier league dragged on in 2016, but these three behemoths remained a level above their competition. Not anymore.

The advent of HGC in 2017 has breathed new life into the competitive scene, and new challengers are emerging with the potential to cause an upset; among them is Team expert. The roster is led by the “mad scientist” adrd, who often drafts unusual compositions. Backed by solid execution and team synergy that dates back to July of last year, expert is quickly climbing the leaderboards and becoming a real threat to the status quo.

After their victory over French team beGenius this weekend, I sat down with tank player and shotcaller for the team, BadBenny, to find out more about them as well as his own personal goals as a player.


Team expert has been on fire for the last two weeks and is currently sitting at the top of the standings. When you first qualified for HGC, did you foresee such a strong start?
On fire indeed! For me personally, I have considered us top 4 (at least) ever since Nic joined the squad, so I knew we would be able to do well in HGC. Although, our 3-0 track record is partially because we have not played any of the “big three” yet, but hopefully we can keep our streak going!

A lot of your individual success so far has been on E.T.C. Do you think that’s because he’s a flashy playmaker or is he just really strong right now?
I merely play what is drafted. Personally, I am not doing better on E.T.C. than any other tank hero I am playing, but I can see why it looks like that, because his kit is more “flashy”. He is really strong in the current meta; that is why you often see him picked early.

Are there any particular heroes that you’d like to play more often?
I really liked playing Tyrael, who we drafted a lot before, around Gamescom. At the moment, I just want to play different heroes to be honest. Every hero gets a bit boring if you play them in most of your games.

We have to bring up the absolutely mad play from Week 1 where you went for a Mosh Pit under the death zone on Towers of Doom. Did you make that call? What on earth possessed you to do something so crazy?
Haha, that was a funny moment indeed. So it definitely was not planned to dive their Core (obviously), but when Thrall got caught, and we used the Ley Line to save him, I saw the opportunity to secure the game and took it. We are pretty used to doing crazy plays; we prefer pushing the limit and learning from it when we practice!

Next week is obviously a big week for you guys since you have matches against Fnatic and Dignitas. Are you nervous about those games?
Yea, we are all very nervous, but also excited. This is our chance to prove ourselves as a true top 3 team, which I already think we are. The series versus Dignitas is the important one though, since it will most likely decide who will go to the Western Clash.

Well, one thing’s for sure: they’ll probably give you Ragnaros for free every game.
Then I can say now that it will be an easy 3-0 in our favour ;). A lot will be decided by their drafting, in my opinion. They are all very skilled players, and if they can fight on their terms, it might be hard to beat them—but luckily we have adrd, who is extremely good at [preventing them from fighting on their own terms], giving us the favorable draft.
One thing for readers to note, though: the top teams are very consistent in saying that “they might pull out a cheese” or whatever. It is simply their way of keeping their pride while saying “we got outplayed and out-drafted”, which I find very funny. But I really don’t mind what they call it, as long as we win.

You just started streaming for the first time. How has that been going?
So, the streaming thing is purely for my own enjoyment at the moment. I really enjoy teaching people, and streaming lets me do that while practicing—while also making the game itself more enjoyable for me to play, because instead of tilting, I just explain what we did wrong, and it is really working out for me.
So in short: it has been going great! And hopefully the viewers find it entertaining/educating enough that I can grow a viewer base.

Any plans to sell out and become a full-time streamer at some point?
At this point, it’s a big “no”. I crave the competitive aspects of this game way too much. But who knows, anything can happen.

Do you have any last words or shoutouts?
Only a big thanks to everyone who has been supporting me and my team—we wouldn’t have been as driven to be unique (but also good at what we do) if it weren’t for all the comments and posts about it. And of course, a big shoutout to Team expert esports for taking us under its wings and giving us the chance to show ourselves under your name. And last—a big shoutout to my teammates for everything so far and what’s yet to come!


You can follow Benny on Twitter and watch him play on Twitch. Make sure to watch HGC every weekend starting at 9:00am PST and follow the action as it unfolds!

Protests and the post-modern world.

I’m not really a political person. I’ve never really cared about the studied games of politics or social change, but the last election has got me thinking quite a bit. To some degree, I think that’s also the result of getting into journalism: it awakens a relentless search for the truth within you. It’s not okay to see what’s going on and ignore it or stay confused by it; it’s important to be informed, well-studied, and open to the possibility that things aren’t what they appear to be.

There are three simple parts to current politics in the US:

  • Trump is not qualified to be the president
  • The political agenda of the right wing is worrying on many levels
  • The left is not doing a great idea of getting their ideas across

The election and inauguration of Trump is unusual and deeply disturbing on many levels. Worldwide, we took it as a joke for a very long time, but now that things are becoming real, there’s more and more cause for worry. Ignoring the fact that Hilary Clinton was running against Trump, there is no doubt that he should have never been elected as president. He has no (read that as 0) experience in government and governmental planning and is not equipped to play the political mind games in Washington. He has a short fuse and often slips with incredibly offensive and nasty remarks. He has several conflicts of interest while in office, especially regarding his properties and business around the world. He is currently, right now this second, embroiled in several unresolved legal cases. These are just a few of the reasons why he is not qualified.

The executive branch is not the only Republican-owned branch of law, the legislative and even the judicial branches are securely in control of those in charge of conservative policy makers. The laws enacted and enforced over the next four years will stick much harder than those that faced violent opposition from an opposing party. The right wing agenda is straight up scary for a number of reasons. We’ve made a lot of progress socially and environmentally over the last fifteen years, and that is being threatened right now.

Perhaps the biggest and most important issue that is that of climate change. Increasing restrictions placed on businesses and factories worldwide in the last decade or so are super important for slowing (and eventually reversing) the problems of climate change. There is literally nothing more important in the entire world. If we do not fix things now, the entire human race will die out. That’s not a panic statement; it’s a fact. Like we work hard to make money so that our children can have a better future, we should be looking to lower our greenhouse emissions for the benefit of our offspring. The world won’t end in 10 or 20 years, not even for a hundred, but greenhouse gases can reach a critical tipping point where we can’t save the world, so we need to start now. The push for deregulation and the removal of environmental strictures from the right wing is incredibly dangerous, as the US is one of the world leaders in emissions and energy conservation. Analogy: just like a bad team in Heroes of the Storm, one bad teammate can drag the entire team down.

Other issues like women’s reproductive rights, healthcare, and racism are also important. There is a lot of law already in motion to undo a lot of the progress we’ve made and return us to a previous time. Humanity is, essentially, moving backwards in a modern, global culture. We live in a world society in the modern world; you can tune into happenings on the other side of the world as if it’s in your living room—and it is. Now, more than ever, we are all interconnected and intertwined in the strangest and closest ways. The actions of anyone, individual or government, has far-reaching effects on the entire world.

Right wing agenda has told us that it’s important to serve ourselves first and place importance on our needs before those of others. Make America Great Again.

But it’s not a war of us vs them. Nationalism is a thing of the past, extinct the moment we were able to reach out across the endless sea of darkness and speak directly to someone just like us who has feels fear, joy, disappointment, motivation. We no longer live in a world where somehow the people on the other side of an invisible line are dumb creatures we can’t possibly understand. We can relate to one another.

And yet, this is where the left has failed pretty hard in the last few months. For those that don’t understand why people are protesting: it’s because they’re angry and afraid of losing their rights and want their voice to be heard. I feel like this hasn’t been clearly articulated, but it’s evident from how many people care. On the other side, there are hard-working individuals who support Trump and truly and desperately want what’s best for the country. There is middle ground between the parties, even though we don’t like to admit it. Our approaches and even our solutions may differ widely, but we can still take comfort in assuaging each other’s worries and finding some compromise that will work for all of us.

“Punching a Nazi” is not a compromise, it is an exercise in futility. Violence begets violence, and does not create a middle ground which allows us to understand and work with one another.

There is no doubt that great changes will happen in this age. This era of social change was long overdue, and it is only beginning. I never thought I would see the government use tear gas and flashbangs on civilians in my lifetime, but it’s happening and it will continue to happen. There have been several protests, riots, and social media Tweetstorms over the last few months, and there will be many more. Voices will find ways to be heard; my only plea is that we attempt to find a middle ground.

Disease

Disease

i live with a disease
it’s small and discrete
and hides in dark corners
with furtive glances
through narrow windows

(if you ask me,
i’d say i’m doing fine)

it’s not cancer
i won’t lose my hair
and people won’t come
to the hospital
to leave me candy or flowers

no one will wish me well
or tell me everything
is going to be all right—
who would even know
what to say anyway?

it’s not like i’m dying

i don’t need a wheelchair
i can run just fine
and most races i finish
in first or fifth
or some odd number

i have a disease
with a poker face
that never gives out hints
or divulges secrets freely,
it is quiet

it eats days, weeks, even months
of sunshine; it strips trees bare

_

Warcraft 3 is actually amazing.

A few days ago, I was turned onto the Grand Finals of this tournament by RallyJaffa via Twitter, and I have been obsessive about it ever since. I was aware that WC3 was still alive in China, and I knew names like 120, TH000, and Lyn, but I didn’t really give it much attention until recently. I didn’t realize how godlike 120 was or the extreme skill it took to play this game until I looked at it from a fresh perspective.

Warcraft 3 was my first real Blizzard game, and I played it all the way through middle and high school. I never got much into competitive or paid attention to the pro scene (though I had arbitrarily decided that I admired SK.insomnia and hated SK.Madfrog); at the time, I was pretty vaguely aware of what “good” and “bad” play was. Plateauing at around level 20, I was pretty much a scrub with very poor mechanics. It wasn’t until I started to play StarCraft II that I got much much better at gaming and started to appreciate esports more.

Over the last few years, I’ve watched the occasional WC3 stream, especially Grubby. It’s so fascinating to watch how he seemingly knows everything that’s happening without seeing a single unit; that sort of mastery comes from years and years of experience. Even so, watching this Chinese tournament has lit a fire underneath me. I really want to play and watch some WC3 now.

I reinstalled WC3 and began to play a few games against the AI for practice. My mechanics from SC2/BW have carried over pretty nicely, but I’m still having trouble aligning my builds perfectly and I know basically nothing about the maps. I’m going to be playing a bit over the next few weeks and maybe even stream some of my cringe-worthy play. Really excited to load up this game again. It’s a breath of fresh air after all the frustration I’ve faced while playing Heroes of the Storm recently.

P.S. Watch Game 5 of the Grand Finals between 120 and Lyn on Ancient Isles. You will not be disappointed.