Forty of the world’s most frenetic gamers will fight for half a million dollars in the first-ever Heroes of the Storm world championship beginning Wednesday.
How to watch
- What: Heroes of the Storm World Championships
- When: October 28-November 7
- Where: Streaming on BlizzCon.com
Fans of Blizzard Entertainment’s half-dozen game franchises converge on Anaheim, California in early November for the ninth BlizzCon — the annual celebration of Blizzard’s games and, in recent memory, the competitive esports scenes that have emerged in several of them. One of the four games represented — and with the largest single prize pool of $500,000 (each of the other three games has a $250,000 prize pool) — is Heroes of the Storm.
Blizzard’s take on the MOBA genre has had a series of epic tournaments all over the world to identify the top eight teams across five regions, who will now compete live in the first-ever true Heroes of the Storm World Championship. I’m going to take a look at who qualified, how they got here, and who’s most likely to take home the trophy in this inaugural championship.
The Road to BlizzCon
Each of the five regions represented in Heroes of the Storm’s global finals – America, China, Europe, Korea, and Taiwan – had a different regional championship process to identify its top team(s) for BlizzCon. The Americas and Europe ran three qualifiers during the summer to send the top eight teams to their respective regional championships — region-specific seeding tournaments that played out in a group stage into single elimination format (the same format in use for BlizzCon). In South Korea and China, existing league structures were used to find the top teams. Taiwan organized a multi-round tournament involving four teams to identify their best squad.
In the end, these eight teams were the victors or runners-up in their respective regional championships:
- America: Cloud 9, Tempo Storm
- China: Brave Heart, Team YL
- Europe: Natus Vincere, Team Dignitas
- South Korea: Team DK KR
- Taiwan: GIA
There are some worthwhile takeaways from the various regionals:
- Team DK KR came back from the loser’s bracket of the double-elimination playoffs in the South Korean regionals to defeat the arguably strongest Heroes team there, MVP Black. That squad won every premier Heroes tournament they were involved in, including the first-ever cross-regional Heroes tournament, the MSI Masters Gaming Arena 2015, until their defeat by Team DK KR in the finals of the HOT6 Heroes of the Storm Super League that served as the South Korean BlizzCon qualifier. MVP Black would otherwise have been the strong favorite to win BlizzCon based on previous results.
- Cloud 9 beat Tempo Storm to take the Americas Championship, but in every premier tournament prior to that — including all three of the monthly open tournaments that determined qualification to the Americas Championship itself — Tempo Storm went almost undefeated. Cloud 9 has only begun to challenge them in the last six weeks; their performance in the Americas region has otherwise been dominant and nearly uncontested.
- Natus Vincere did not drop a single map in the Europe Championship. Their play looked to be on a totally different level from every other European team, showcasing stylistic variety and still emerging with a flawless record.
- GIA battled back from an overall losing record in Taiwan to win the playoffs from their third place seed.
- Brave Heart replaced eStar Gaming from the China Championship. eStar Gaming looked to be the Na’Vi or Tempo Storm of China, having won all but one of the tournaments they have ever competed in — including the China Championship.
What will it look like when these teams clash in November?
Heroes among Heroes
For a game largely still in its esport infancy, Heroes has a quickly evolving metagame — the compositions of Heroes being chosen based on synergy, countering the opposing team’s selections, and map features. In the only previous international tournament, the MSI Masters, we saw the significant power of the Korean double-warrior style. Korean teams brought two Warrior-type Heroes to provide more survivability and zoning potential, which was very strong against the lower-health Assassin-heavy combinations the other regions had previously preferred. Heroes, compositions, and talents that may have been disregarded by speculative discussion or guides for an average player’s day-to-day ranked play have seen impressive use in the professional scene — for example, Na’Vi doing everything from double Support to double Warrior to a Warrior-less triple Assassin comp in their flawless victory in the EU Championship.
We can look to the data from the AM and EU championships, which Dthehunter compiled over on Reddit, to get a bit of an idea which Heroes are likely to be hotly contested and decide matches (bear in mind, Blizzard has released a major patch since these games were played):
- Kael’thas, Leoric, Uther, and Zeratul were the consistent targets for early bans. These are Heroes that have game-deciding abilities themselves or in tandem with other key choices.
- Arthas, Jaina, Johanna, Muradin, Rehgar, Tyrande, and Valla round out the other standard options (other than the four named above).
- Despite the prevalence of their appearance, Jaina and Rehgar both posted abysmal win ratios. The strongest-performing choices were Arthas and Uther. This tends to suggest that picking good counters is more important than getting the “optimal” Heroes.
Olympics of the Storm
Blizzard released the official world championship brackets yesterday, so we know now that the softer side is absolutely Group A — Cloud9, Team YL, Dignitas, and GIA. The powerhouses got dumped in Group B — Team DK, Na’Vi, Braveheart, and Tempo Storm.
With the absence of MVP Black — who, for all intents and purposes, hold the title of best Heroes of the Storm team in the world right now — this competition looks to be incredibly close. We haven’t seen Na’Vi play outside of Europe yet, but their dominant play in the EU Championship and their compositional flexibility compared to the American teams looked incredible.
But we shouldn’t discount Cloud 9’s breakout success over their Tempo Storm rivals, either. This is a team that consistently arrives to face off against Tempo Storm in the finals of almost every American event, and they showed up with their best performance to date on the most significant stage they’ve played on so far. They also have the benefit of being the previous BlizzCon showmatch winners and the experience of being in that atmosphere before.
And then we have Tempo Storm, the seemingly indomitable American powerhouse until their dethronings at MSI and the Americas Championship. Arguably the most consistent of the teams converging on BlizzCon, it would be a mistake to count this squad out — and a shock if they weren’t in the playoffs at the Anaheim Convention Center.
Expect to see Cloud9 and Team Dignitas advance out of Group A, and Natus Vincere and Tempo Storm advance out of Group B.
A final pitting Na’Vi against one of these two American Heroes dynasties seems the most likely on the heel of how the various regionals played out. But it feels naive to go into this world championship expecting anyone other than Na’Vi to win.
The Heroes of the Storm World Championship will stream live for free over on BlizzCon.com during the opening weekend October 28 to November 1 and November 6 and Novemeber 7 at BlizzCon proper.