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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.