What we learned from HotS at BlizzCon Opening Week

by Josh Bury Oct 29 2015
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

The most important day of Heroes of the Storm games yet did not disappoint. The dust has settled until Nov. 6, and the results were often not what was expected.

From Europe's defeat of Korea to the resurgence of Tempo Storm, here's what we learned at the first-ever Heroes of the Storm BlizzCon Opening Week.

Natus Vincere is the team to beat

Going into Opening Week there were two major schools of thought — either Team DK or Natus Vincere was the team to beat, depending on your opinion on the development of the Korean scene and its relative strength compared to other regions.

Na`Vi gave us the answer to that question — at least for the moment — early Thursday morning as they took the Group B Winners' Match against Team DK in a thrilling 2-1 finish.

Na`Vi player triple-warrior in game one, Diablo in game two, and closed out game three using Brightwing, three warriors and Kerrigan. These were must-watch games, especially game three: not only for the quality of play from both sides, but for the creative confidence displayed by Na`Vi.

Earlier in the day, Na`Vi went 2-0 against Brave Heart, wielding the terrifying Butcher/Falstad combination in game one and then bringing back the old-school Diablo/Tyrande setup in game two.

There has been a lot of talk regarding Na`Vi's ability to build creative and unpredictable team compositions. But despite the criticisms of some, Na`Vi are not "cheese" artists. They back up their chaotic strategies with excellent mechanics and razor-sharp execution.

Additionally, in order to build a truly surprising composition, Na`Vi cannot draft the stranger heroes early: if they pick Butcher out of the gate, their team will guess that they are heading for the now-classic Butcher/Falstad.

But passing up picks that are very strong in certain compositions means that they must often opt for heroes that are more "middle-of-the-road" early. And the result is that the team needs solid hero pool depth for all of its members to make it work. They do.

Both North America and Europe have seen highly experimental teams. Both regions have seen squads with strong execution and deep individual hero pools.

But Na`Vi combines all of those things. No region in the world has seen a team quite like this one.

North America has shown up

Another major question was whether the strength of North America, especially Tempo Storm, would be on full display.

Cloud9 looked very strong heading into this event and could reasonably have been considered one of the favorites to enter the top 4, if not contend for the whole thing. Their tournament got off to a scary start as they defeated Taiwanese representatives GIA 2-0, but looked very uncertain in game two.

Derek "Dunktrain" Arabian brought Lt. Morales to Sky Temple for the team's second game and after an early death, he tightened up and made the medic look like a strong option in comps that are able to protect her appropriately.

Morales makes a lot of sense for Dunktrain. He has always been a strong positional player and the medic needs that in order to work well. While it still isn't clear if Cloud9 will opt for the medic against stronger opponents, it certainly remains an option, which could give them a solid draft advantage.

Cloud9 then managed to defeat Team Dignitas 2-1, which further cemented their reputation as a serious contender to take it all. It was an intense series, with Cloud9 going down one game and battling back in the late-game of both the remaining games to win. Two of the best warrior players in the game —John "KingCaffeine" Lopez and Lawrence "Atheroangel" Harper — clashed on the front lines as the two teams fought to a narrow finish.

Cloud9 fans should be emboldened by the late-game shotcalling on display in this series, which was honestly a big step up from their series against GIA despite their loss in this series' first game against Dignitas.

The second game especially is a really good sign for Cloud9. The double melee assassin comp fits the team's skillset very well, as both Fan "Fan" Yang and Kun "iDream" Fang are excellent at the role. Additionally, this is not something we've seen from Cloud9 (or North America) all that much.

The other North American team, Tempo Storm has recently been wracked by internal differences and was a major unknown heading into this week. As mentioned in our Group B preview, this team's individual capabilities were never in question. These players were the dominant force in North America for months. They definitely have the capability to win here.

What was in question was their ability to band together despite interpersonal differences that team manager Jared "Zoia" Eggleston had publicly described. That description included players in tears, players outright refusing to play, and team practice hampered by low morale.

Tempo Storm did not win their series against Team DK, but they did take one game and nearly a second. If morale was low going into this series, Tempo Storm didn't show it.

And despite the match loss, morale was definitely high after it. Taylor "Arthelon" Eder hearkened back to the team's unsponsored beginnings to announce that the Tempo Storm that took North America by the throat for months had returned.

Even Zoia, who was level-headed but honest about the team's troubles earlier, expressed his hope in North America's chances as a result of the set against DK.

The Group B elimination match will see Tempo face off against Brave Heart. While Tempo Storm's earlier difficulties were created in part by the roster locks, Brave Heart's participation at this event is only possible because they were allowed to ignore them: as two members of Brave Heart encountered visa difficulties, they were allowed to borrow members of fourth-place EDward Gaming.

The team that has been hamstrung by roster locks could still be eliminated by the team that was allowed to ignore them, but after Wednesday's performance, it sure seems a lot less likely.

Korea can bleed

How good is Korea?

If you listened to Team DK's opinion, you'd hear that they are so far ahead of everyone else that, as they said in an interview, the rest of the teams should just "have fun," since they were

Na`Vi definitely had some fun yesterday, but it was at Team DK's expense.

That's not to say that Korea's only representative at BlizzCon did poorly. They defeated Tempo Storm, even if they gave up a game, and they took a game from Na`Vi.

But the hype around DK was far greater than what their results show, and now the rest of the world knows that Korea can bleed.

But was Korea holding back?

It wouldn't be surprising to see some bizarre picks out of DK later in this tournament. Park "JaeHyun" Jae Hyun said in an interview at the event that they decided to pick Chen, even though he is out-of-meta, for the second game against Tempo Storm. But while Chen as a solo tank is not common, they also had an impressive composition behind him: an Illidan/Abathur combination, along with Uther and DK's favored Valla.

When JaeHyun was interviewed, it sounded like what he was really saying was "we picked Chen because we wanted to see if we could use him to win," which implies that DK is willing to mess around now to get more information for later.

DK did go on to take that series against Tempo. But in their matchup against Na`Vi, they weren't able to close out a tense game three, which saw their opponents complete one of the most exciting comebacks in competitive Heroes of the Storm history with a very unorthodox composition.

If DK is holding back, then they should hope that what they saw at Opening Week will help them win games: with a loss under their belt, courtesy of Natus Vincere, they can't lose any more matches for the rest of the tournament.

Still, the series against Na`Vi was close, and while DK's results were surprising, it would be unwise for opponents or fans to count them out.

China has mixed results; Taiwan isn't there yet

In five games, the two Chinese teams are 1-4 so far at the Heroes World Championship.

The stat is inherently misleading, however, because of the match-ups that these teams have faced.

Brave Heart, a team that has been forced to use last-minute substitutions, faced Natus Vincere, arguably the strongest team at the tournament. Na`Vi pulled out two bizarre comps that Brave Heart may not have anticipated.

And Team YL almost defeated Dignitas, fighting them to a 1-2 match score. It was a close set against Dig, who later went on to lose a close set against Cloud9.

While Brave Heart has yet to show that they are a legitimate threat to the other teams, Team YL remains a dangerous opponent. They will face Taiwanese challengers GIA in the elimination match when play resumes at BlizzCon, and likely continue on in the bracket.

While GIA's results were also unimpressive from a numerical standpoint, they actually played two very close games against Cloud9. Whether it was nerves from C9, or surprise at the raw aggression of GIA's playstyle, the North American champion got off to a rocky start against Taiwan in both games.

But YL plays a much more disciplined game than GIA, and that patience will be important when considering their opponent's heavy-handed tactics. Given YL's play experience against their home region and Korea but relative inexperience with the rest of the world, the chance to review and dissect the day's matches gives them a strong chance at fighting their way back through the bracket.

They have come close to defeating DK in the past, as they went 3-4 in a best-of-seven at the recent China/Korea practice tournament. Now that they've got some recent examples of NA and EU play, they'll need to adapt if they want to keep climbing.

See you on the other side

No teams have been eliminated, but some are only one loss away. The Heroes World Championship action will resume at BlizzCon proper on Nov. 6 at 19:00 EST with the conclusion of the group stage.

The world will be watching — you should be too.

Josh Bury is the guy you want on your side when you've got too many donuts and don't know what to do. You can find him on Twitter.