Thoughts after the Mid-Season Brawl


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Source: DreamHack

 

1) First things first: Huge congratulations to both Fnatic and Team Dignitas. It’s great to see them reap the fruits of their honest labor. Thank you for the great finals.

 

2) Europe is currently the strongest region in the world, both across the board and at the top. Many experts had been suspecting it. Now there is undeniable proof.

 

3) NA might overtake CN by BlizzCon. The best Chinese players are continuing to leave for Honor of Kings. I fail to see how the region can remain competitive without them.

 

4) The tournament format was absolutely fantastic — it should always be done this way. I found the All-Star matches categorically horrible, but I know I’m not the target audience.

 

5) Korea’s slide downwards was to be expected. Relative to the Western regions, there was little incentive for Korean teams to tryhard in 2017.

 

There are no sponsors to impress. Most Korean teams have given up long ago on looking for a financially meaningful sponsorship, because the domestic esports market is barren outside of League of Legends (and to a lesser extent Overwatch). Thus there is no reason for mid-tier teams and lower to attempt to improve their standing in the league. Such will not lead to a single extra cent — in terms of money, all that matters is avoiding relegation.

 

The glamour has dramatically decreased. The vast majority of KR players used to play in an actual arena, in front of a crowd, with casters’ voices booming over the loudspeakers, and a stage host conducting interviews — the whole pizzazz. Sure, viewer numbers have gone way up due to HGC, and I really think this is a great thing. But the problem is that viewer numbers are an intangible. For most players, how many people watch them online doesn’t matter. As such, many players feel that they have been “relegated” to a lesser event, as HGC production is obviously far less prestigious compared to SuperLeague’s.

 

To be clear, I still think moving to the HGC format was a positive for the region as a whole.

 

6) First impressions on the HGC Korea roster changes:

 

MVP Black has clearly taken a hit — Rich will be Rich, but merryday was the best traditional support in the game, at least prior to MSB. MVP Miracle has also been weakened — there isn’t anything positive about the two roster moves they’ve made. Most importantly, L5 as we knew them are gone for good — unless Hooligan can get on Noblesse’s level within three months, they won’t really be able to compete with Europe’s best.

 

The two playoff-level teams to emerge stronger through the swaps are Tempest and Mighty. The former will most likely contend with MVP Black for first place.

 

In any case, I feel that Europe’s top 3 will still have an edge on Korea’s top 3 come BlizzCon.

 

7) A long interview feature with two Korean players should be coming out soon. Keep an eye out for it! I think it’s the most interesting interview I’ve ever conducted in Heroes.

 

MVP Miracle on Ice


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Source: Play XP

 

MVP Miracle has always been impervious to narrative.

 

When MVP Miracle was first founded in June 2016, fans were tempted to paint them as the almost-haves – a team of top-tier veterans who could never quite reach the apex with their flimsier previous squads. It had definite appeal, as the frame fit Min “Darvish” Seong-min, Im “Reset” Jin-woo, and Kang “Ttsst” Oon-sung perfectly. Unfortunately, both Han “CrazyMoving” Ki-soo and Kwon “Sniper” Tae-hoon were former Korean champions, so the take was judged to be a no-go. And all other drafts auditioned soon suffered a similar fate.

 

Even in game, unlike those of other top teams, MVP Miracle’s style of play did not lend itself to catchy characterizations. MVP Black usually stuck to textbook executions of the standard meta, which made their occasional off-the-walls compositions based on Lee “Rich” Jae-won’s godlike mechanics all the more effective. Tempest always was about their flashy unbridled frontline aggression and jaw-dropping prowess in dogfights, best reflected in Chin “Hide” Gyeong-hwan’s unorthodox interpretation of the support role. And whatever L5 did could be attributed to their savant commander Chae “Noblesse” Do-joon’s genius. But MVP Miracle? Other than being MVP Black’s sister team, no one was quite sure how to think of them.

 

Their grasp on the meta was undoubtedly solid, but they very rarely defied it. Their roster was well balanced, but no single player was quite the best at their position. Miracle would prove themselves to be Korea’s third best team in their first season, then second best come next, but still not a single gripping label would come out from it.

 


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Source: Team MVP

 

When it was announced in December 2016 that Yoon “Sign” Ji-hoon and Rich would be leaving MVP Black, the MVP organization wasted little time in picking up the superstar frontline duo of Lee “HongCono” Dae-hyeong and Park “Dami” Ju-dalm as replacements. Instead of plugging them into MVP Black directly, however, the decision was made to slot the two former world champions into MVP Miracle. Room would be made by moving Ttsst and Reset to MVP Black.

 

No one quite understood why it happened. MVP Miracle had been doing quite well, and Reset had been the team’s centerpiece, their main playmaker. Concerns were squelched at the time – understandably so – by the newcomers’ sheer name value, but the unanswered question would ever linger: why did Korea’s second best team have to be reshuffled?

 


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Source: Blizzard Entertainment

 

Season kickoff rolled around, and the two rebuilt MVP rosters were put on show for the first time. The new MVP Black was a well-oiled machine straight out the door; no lack of synergy could be observed between the locals and the immigrants. Ttsst and Reset looked as good as they had been on their previous team. The other three looked even better.

 

MVP Miracle, on the other hand, was a dumpster fire. To quote: “The aggressive approach of the ex-Tempest frontline proved to be virtually incompatible with the remaining three members’ more risk-averse style, a problem that in hindsight should have been foreseen and prepared for.” The disarrayed superstars would soon plummet to the bottom half of the table, then stay there.

 

When the HGC Eastern Clash was held mid-March, only the 2nd-place MVP Black was invited to Shanghai. 6th-place MVP Miracle stayed in Seoul. Keeping the teamhouse warm, they watched their sister team – on it, former teammates Ttsst and Reset – be crowned Asian champions.

 


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Source: Blizzard Entertainment

 

MVP Miracle has made it to the grand finals of the HGC Korea Playoffs. On the other side is – as fate has it – MVP Black. The winner will head to the Mid-Season Brawl. The loser gets nothing.

 

It has been a miracle run, a miracle climb, from the very bottom of the stepladder, one rung at a time. The fact that none of the slain – GG, Tempest, Mighty – had an unfavorable regular season head-to-head against MVP Miracle says everything. Prior to the playoffs, it was reported that all of MVP Miracle had been putting in insane hours over the last few weeks; they seem to have paid off handsomely, considering how handily their opponents were dispatched up until now.

 

But it will all have been for naught if they fall to MVP Black tomorrow.

 

MVP Black boasts the highest KDA, the lowest time spent dead, and the widest hero pool in HGC Korea. They may have fallen twice to L5 over the regular season, but the exact opposite occurred at the Eastern Clash, where much more was at stake. By any metric, by any qualitative criteria, MVP Black is one of if not the very best teams in the world.

 

There is usually something to be said about momentum when it comes to gauntlet formats; many teams in other titles, such as 2014 Najin White Shield (League of Legends), have ridden it to beat better squads. Yet even accounting for that tailwind, an MVP Miracle win tomorrow is difficult to predict or even foresee – such is the might of their sister team’s dominance.

 

Still, there is reason to believe. The rate of improvement MVP Miracle has shown over the last month is one virtually unprecedented in Heroes; MVP Black has historically been vulnerable to newly formed teams on the rise; and Hongcono and Dami’s in-your-face style of play has always been particularly effective against MVP Black’s disciplined, measured approach to the game.

 

And so has been put a miracle on ice. Ten hours remain.

 


 

HGC Korea Playoffs Preview


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originally published on heroesofthestorm.com/esports (Korean)

 

Following a fairly entertaining final week of the regular season, HGC Korea moves on to the postseason action fans have long been waiting for. The regional meta is very much uncharted at present; a variety of unconventional picks and compositions have seen success over the last few weeks. Upsets at the lower rungs of the stepladder would not be too surprising, seeing how even veteran commentators and players are not yet sure of how to best interpret the current patch.

 


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GG (6th / 5W-9L / 23-33)

 

Most analysts had predicted GG to finish sixth in the regular season, which turned out to be true. A large part of GG’s unimpressive placing was due to their over-reliance on their frontline of Park “Hooligan” Jong-hoon and Moon “Good” Sung-hyun; the two are capable of carrying entire games when the stars align, but their performances deviate severely from week to week, an undesirable trait in a double round-robin. This could, however, work to their advantage in the Playoff format, as one miraculous weekend run is all that is needed to make it to Jonkoping.

 

Something GG will have worked on over the short buildup to the postseason are their relatively narrow and predictable hero pools. Song “WooJae” Woo-jae may co-lead the region in number of heroes played (17), but the team as a whole does suffer from not being able to fully abuse certain heroes in the meta, such as Arthas, Auriel, and Nazeebo.

 

On the flip side, it should be noted that GG have shown decent speed in picking up newly released heroes, and is also the only team in Korea that plays certain ones – most notably Leoric – properly. There is a good chance GG will come up with an effective off-meta take on this patch’s still developing meta.

 

GG’s first match will take place against MVP Miracle on Friday: the two are dead even in the head-to-head at 5-5, and the showdown is expected to be close. A determined Hooligan, vowing to try their best, boldly revealed that GG was thinking about utilizing unorthodox compositions.

 


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MVP Miracle (5th / 6W-8L / 28-32)

 

Many were confused as to why Kang “Ttsst” Oon-sung and Im “Reset” Jin-woo were transferred to MVP Black over the offseason, as MVP Miracle had been doing very well with Reset as their main playmaker. The sheer name value of their replacements, however – former world champions Lee “HongCono” Dae-hyeong and Park “Dami” Ju-dalm – was massive enough to squelch concerns.

 

Unfortunately, the new MVP Miracle turned out to be a dumpster fire. The aggressive approach of the ex-Tempest frontline proved to be virtually incompatible with the remaining three members’ more risk-averse style, a problem that in hindsight should have been foreseen and prepared for. Less individually talented teams would trample over the disarrayed superstars, week after week, via better teamwork.

 

Come Round 2, however, the team managed to start turning their fortunes around. The lack of synergy, while still observable, became less and less jarring; the meta slowly shifted back into a range favorable for Dami; and HongCono’s form started to rise, at once linearly but then exponentially. While Miracle’s regular season ended with a 1-3 loss against L5, it was made clear throughout the match that the team had finally found firm ground.

 

MVP Miracle reportedly has been putting in insane practice hours over the last few weeks. When asked about his mindset going into the Playoffs, HongCono spoke not of victory but only of effort. Soon the fruits of their labor will be on display.

 


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Tempest (4th / 8W-6L / 31-24)

 

Tempest’s shocking loss to last-place Raven on the final day of the regular season, combined with their less shocking but also unexpected fall to Mighty in the week prior, knocked them down to fourth place right before the Playoffs. While most still expect the Eastern Clash participants to at least make it to the finals against MVP Black, their recent form in the league is definitely a cause for concern.

 

Many fans point to rookie melee flex player Jang “Modernlife” Jin-hak’s narrow and static hero pool as the root of Tempest’s problems, but such analysis is only half true and painfully surficial. There is a fair bit of nuance to the squad’s strengths and weaknesses, and the key to understanding the subtleties lies in examining how exactly shotcaller Yoon “Sign” Ji-hoon’s style of play juxtaposes with his teammates’.

 

Sign’s style of play has always been based around diving in deep for pickoffs, which usually demands his team to follow up on his aggression with as much damage and healing as possible. As such, Tempest’s games tend to revolve around Sign constantly trying to capitalize on good openings, while his teammates try to maintain a position where they can provide immediate backup. While this approach to the game is undoubtedly valid, it does sometimes clash with Chin “Hide” Gyeong-hwan’s interpretation of the support position (generating additional value by being as much of a daredevil frontline bruiser as possible) and Kim “duckdeok” Kyung-deok’s preference for a slower and defensive game (as opposed to high-risk high-reward aggression). Tempest’s occasional total breakdowns in formation come from this.

 

With four former world champions on their roster, Tempest have proven several times over the season they very much are a world class team when they click; the problem is that they fail at it a bit too often. What’s past need not be prologue. Will Tempest aim to win through their heterogeneity, or despite it?

 


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Mighty (3rd / 8W-6L / 28-28)

 

Mighty is Tempest’s polar opposite in many ways. Tempest consists of one newcomer and four legends, whereas Mighty consists of one seasoned veteran and four relative unknowns; Tempest will always be beheld to their former glory, whereas Mighty has yet to claim any royal history. But most interesting is how the core strengths of each squad (Tempest’s sheer individual brilliance vs. Mighty’s gritty cohesion as a team) is what the other must acquire if they are to ascend to the next level.

 

Much of the team’s identity is derived from tank player Kim “JOKER” Ju-hyeong, who is incidentally the only member who has been on the organization’s previous Heroes roster. His consistent fundamentals-first approach to the game anchors his flashier teammates to a reliable big picture, while not robbing of them of the space they need to shine. Behind JOKER’s spearhead, the team forms an incredible balance, with Kim “Magi” Jin-hwan and Kim “SDE” Hyun-tae’s more measured and cerebral style complimenting and offsetting Lee “Sans” Jin-young and Na “NaSang” Sang-min’s audacious and instinctual tendencies.

 

Despite Mighty’s virtues, however, they are not expected to fare well against MVP Black. Mighty is not an impressive team when it comes down to individual mechanics, a quality required to compete at the very top level of competitive play. Mighty is the only team in the Playoffs to have failed to take even a single map from Korea’s two titans: their regular season record against L5 and MVP Black is 0-12.

 

Can teamwork alone take a team to the top? This weekend should tell. When asked about his goals for the Playoffs, JOKER answered that win or lose, Mighty would aim to show their competitive potential.

 


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MVP Black (2nd / 12W-2L / 38-10)

 

There is simply no way to discuss this team without demoralizing the entire Playoff competition. Out of all HGC Korea teams, MVP Black boasts the highest KDA, the lowest time spent dead, and the widest hero pool. Most importantly, it has yet to drop even a single match this year to any team not named L5.

 

Prior to HGC kickoff, many had expected MVP Black to suffer heavily from losing their superstar frontline of Sign and Lee “Rich” Jae-won. Such concerns turned out to be false, however; Jeong “KyoCha” Won-ho proved to be a phenomenal melee flex, and Ttsst and Reset both slotted into the team perfectly. Reset, in particular, found phenomenal individual form around the Eastern Clash and has not let go of it since.

 

Objectively speaking, MVP Black’s ticket to Sweden looks to be already secured. The old fox Lee “Sake” Jung-hyuk has proven himself to be the best flex player in Korea, and Yi “merryday” Tae-jun is in peak condition, clearly determined to end his storied career on a high note. There is little reason to believe any team could possibly out-draft the wily KyoCha, or outmuscle the star-studded squad in mechanics.

 

To even stand a chance against MVP Black, as dreadfully trite as it sounds, teams will have to come in with an entirely fresh take on the draft; as evidenced in their showdown in Shanghai against the Chinese giants eStar, MVP Black definitely can make uncharacteristic mistakes when facing alien compositions. With the competitive meta in wild flux, this Sunday just may be the best chance any of the lower teams have at toppling the Eastern Clash champions.

 


 

Shy’s Message in a Bottle


 

Q: “Do you have any messages for your fans abroad? Even if they don’t make it into the article, I can make sure to publish them elsewhere so it still spreads.”

 

A. “I remember one foreign fan from back in 2014, when I visited Paris for All-Stars. She was European, but the handwritten letter she gave me – which was about how she found joy in [supporting] me and how that helped with her life – was all in Korean. I was really touched. ‘Wow… even overseas, there are fans out there who care for me this much,’ I thought. To this day it still remains a warm memory. So I want to send my thanks.”

 


 

From the OGN Backstage: BLS Wiz


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Image courtesy of Team BlossoM

 

“My first Heroes of the Storm team was Stellar Lotus – a North American squad. You see, for some time I had dreamt of becoming a professional gamer in a foreign region. So when Woojae asked me to play with him on NA, I jumped at the chance.”

 

“Soon after I started playing on the North American server, I realized that I was a really good fit in terms of personality. Playing with & against NA players was great fun. My goal became clear: to become a strong NA player and help the region become internationally competitive.”

 


 

“When the 2016 Spring Global Championship was announced to be held in Korea, Naventic asked me if I could coach for them. Since I had been rooting for NA and wanted NA teams to do well, it was a no-brainer. For the most part, I gave a few pointers when watching scrim replays together, and also suggested certain picks and bans for the draft phase.”

 

“I didn’t get to exert too much influence as a coach, though, as Zuna had already been playing a strong leadership role for the team. And the players were prideful about their stylistic approach to the game, so I felt it would not be beneficial to try to force them to do things my way.”

 


 

“Korean teams’ macro play and teamwork are very structured, whereas North American teams often seem to just play things by feel. The largest difference is mindset, I believe. Korean teams and players mostly perceive gaming to be a profession, a job. So it’s common to practice nonstop when not eating or sleeping. Many North American teams and players, however, treat gaming as a hobby. I think the skill gap comes from there.”

 


 

“It was when I was taking an indefinite break from Heroes of the Storm due to health problems – I randomly logged onto Battle.Net out of habit, then out of the blue, N0CHAT messaged me. He asked me to play melee flex for his team, Supreme Mixtape. Apparently the previous melee flex had left the team due to stylistic differences, and the rest had not been able to find any good enough free agents who could play the role. I was quite happy to be thought of so highly despite not having played professionally in Korea.”

 

“Save N0CHAT and DDuDDu, I had not met the other players in person prior to joining the team; I only had met them occasionally in Hero League. So when we first started scrimming and were stuck at a 30% win rate, I did question at times whether we should keep playing together or not. But giving it the benefit of the doubt worked out. Fom a certain point on, we started winning almost every game.”

 

“Unfortunately our scrim performance did not transfer well to tournament play. Most of us had little to no offline experience, me included, so nerves got the best of our team for the first few weeks. It didn’t help that we met the strongest teams – L5 and MVP Black – early on. Getting pummeled so hard right away severely dented our confidence. We will prepare well over the break so we can start showing up on stage from Phase 2 onwards.”

 


 

“My fans are why I returned from my indefinite break. A number of people have supported me over the years, and I did not want to let them down. My play over Phase 1 has not been up to my standards, however. I’m angry at myself for not playing as well as I could have.”

 


 

“Recently, my wrist has been acting up. A lot. It’s been hurting to the point where the pain and its implications for my career and dreams would send me into depressive spirals. But someone helped me overcome it.”

 

“I stream on Twitch from time to time, and always look at my viewers list when I do. Over many, many streams, I noticed that a certain ‘Higard12’ always tuned into my broadcast, but never really typed anything in chat. So one day I asked Higard12 directly, using the whisper function: why do you always watch my stream? And Higard12 answered: Because to me, you’re the best player in the world.”

 

“That one message was enough, more than enough, for me to shake off depressive thoughts and get back to playing. The doctor told me that my wrists were in need of a rest, but I have no intention of giving up. I’ll take care of them by going easy on the practice for a while once Phase 1 ends. I am absolutely determined to repay my fans’ support by making them proud.”

 

HGC KR Post-Match Interview with L5 sCsC


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The opening match of HGC Korea took place between reigning world champions L5 [formerly known as Ballistix] and newly formed amateur squad Supreme Mixtape (SMT). Most experts had predicted the faceoff to be a blowout, as SMT is considered to be one of the weakest teams in the league. These expectations turned out to be on point, as L5 ran over SMT in a mostly clinical 3-0 sweep.

 

Since coming back from China with two international championships in hand, Seungchul “sCsC” Kim had confessed to being worried about the heightened pressure his team would play with going forward. During our phone call for the post-match interview, however, sCsC sounded quite jovial and lighthearted.

 

When asked about his thoughts on today’s games, sCsC burst into joyful laughter. “I really had fun playing – I think we all did, especially after we won the second game,” he shared. Despite concerns of increased pressure, L5 had clearly craved to resume competing.

 

One of the talking points of the match was L5’s decision to first ban Valla over Zarya in Game 3, and sCsC was happy to provide some insight. “After we won Game 2, we felt we would close 3-0 no matter what unless they got to pick something as flat-out broken as Tassadar + Valla. That’s why we banned Valla instead of Zarya.”

 

I also had to inquire about the sudden emergence of Falstad as a priority pick in Korea. Knowing how NaCHoJin has been spamming the bird in Hero League lately, I wondered if it was more of a pocket pick than anything else. sCsC explained: “It was actually MVP Black who returned Falstad to the meta. They have been shifting the focus of the game to macro map movements again, and all other teams have been picking up their style.”

 

It will be interesting to see if the next two days of HGC Korea’s Week 1 will continue to feature this much Falstad.

 


Banner image source: http://kr.heroesofthestorm.com/esports
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Top 10 Competitive Games of 2016 (Heroes of the Storm)


  • Descriptions have been intentionally left short and ambiguous as to avoid spoilers.

 

1. MVP Black vs Tempest, HGC Summer Grand Finals, Game 5

  • The grand finale of competitive Heroes’ best series thus far.

2. Tempo Storm vs The Lost Five, Powerleague Season 2 Grand Finals, Game 6

  • The greatest assassin carry performance in Heroes of the Storm history.

3. Fnatic vs Ballistix, HGC Fall Grand Finals, Game 3

  • Despite all odds, the Last Western Hope valiantly refuses to bend without a fight.

4. Team No Limit vs Tempest, Superleague Season 2 Semifinals, Game 4

  • The outcome of these razor-edged teamfights changed the Korean scene forever.

5. eStar vs MVP Black, Gold League Spring Grand Finals, Game 6

  • China’s strongest team to date challenges the Black Death in eternal recurrence.

6. Misfits vs Fnatic, Europe Fall Regional #2 Semifinals, Game 5

  • Backs against the wall, Misfits place faith in their one win condition to rule them all.

7. Team Dignitas vs Fnatic, Europe Fall Region #1 Grand Finals, Game 5

  • Europe’s two most pressured shotcallers are left at match point for vindication.

8. MVP Black vs Tempo Storm, Superleague Season 3 Semifinals, Game 2

  • How one genius can singlehandedly leave the best team in the world confuddled.

9. Cloud9 vs Edward Gaming, HGC Spring Group A Winners Bracket, Game 2

  • A quirky but surprisingly refined Abathur vs Murky showdown on Towers of Doom.

10. Team Liquid vs mYinsanity, Europe Fall Regional #1 Group A Winners Final, Game 2

  • All expectations are destroyed as TL pulls out the most unorthodox draft of the year.