North American Summer Regional #2 is nearly here, and the three-day event in Burbank, CA., will determine the second team to represent the region at the Heroes Summer Global Championship at DreamHack Summer.
Team Naventic has already punched their ticket to the event with a 3-2 grand finals win over Cloud9 at the first NA Summer Regional at DreamHack Austin. Now the new-look C9, coming in as the tournament's seventh-seed, will need to adapt quickly to their recent addition to make their play for the second spot.
But other competitors are in play, some of whom have shown that they have what it takes to beat Cloud9, and who could foil those plans before they are realized.
Team Naventic: Consistency matters
Naventic has come a long way since the early days of Bob Ross Fan Club, and their current incarnation is, until proven otherwise, the strongest team in the region.
Adding Fan "Fan" Yang in place of Taylor "Arthelon" Eder has been a very positive long-term move. The team has continued to develop its identity with the addition of Sammuel "bigempct" Hua, and both Chris "Zuna" Buechter and Stafford "McIntyre" McIntyre playing warrior recently.
For Naventic this tournament is a chance to reinforce their identity as the region's strongest team. Cloud9 remains stacked with strong players despite their recent roster change, and there are other teams who could challenge NVT, but none have done so recently.
It should also offer an opportunity to see if long-time rival Cloud9's newest addition affects their draft and shotcalling tendencies.
More than anything, getting the first-place prize money — and finishing the Summer regional season in fine form — is the best thing Naventic can do to head into the Global Championship with the highest confidence.
Panda Global: Pulling the trigger
Even before most of this roster joined Panda Global and they were playing with Team Blaze, it looked like they were about to break through and put up consistent performances against the region's top teams.
We still haven't seen that. At DreamHack Austin they failed to get out of groups: primarily because they played both their initial and decider match against Naventic for a 1-4 total game score versus the eventual champs. They did manage to beat Team Name Change 2-1 in the losers' match.
This group could prove easier than Austin for PG, as C9 and Team Name Change are in Group B this time. Taking their place in A are Astral Authority and the flagging Tempo Storm squad.
Another factor to consider is the value of the week-long bootcamp that PG has had in Las Vegas. This is the kind of experience that has the potential to push a team over the edge, and there is perhaps no better opportunity for them to do so than in Group A.
Astral Authority: Carry the momentum
Whereas Panda Global is trying to find some forward momentum, Astral Authority arguably already possesses it, though they haven't achieved the same kind of objective success as PG.
The core of this team that played for the now-defunct King of Blades was one of the region's fastest-improving teams at the Spring Regional, and with Jon "Equinox" Peterson on board they now also have the benefit of competitive experience stretching back to the scene's early days.
Some research on the tendencies of the opposition will go a long way to getting out of this group. It's unlikely they'll need to beat Naventic to do so, but they will need to be prepared to play the other two teams, and that means scouting. Their coach Kristine "Vaalia" Hutter should be able to provide some help in this area, but Equinox has been around and can also offer a lot of input.
This team has a lot to be proud of so far, and could definitely make it out of groups if they can overcome PG.
Tempo Storm: Oh, how the mighty, etc.
At the risk of understatement: Tempo Storm has seen some tough times of late.
The roster has been in flux since the start of the Spring Season, and despite a long list of strong players, the team is still trying to work things out. At Austin they managed to make it out of groups and even take a game from C9, but since then it's been rough.
Quinn "Srey" Fischer and Aaron "Erho" Kappes have both spent time at the warrior position, but that duty now falls to Brian "Zixz" Skarda as new addition Ed "TigerJK" Hong takes over at support.
Thomas "Tomster" Maguire joined the roster replacing Josh "So1dier" Miller, but had to spend time adapting to his role as a primarily ranged player while Francisco "Goku" Avalos remains mostly at the melee/flex position. Some compositions have seen the T-God play a melee hero, but not most of them.
They lost 2-0 at the third qualifier to Astral Authority, and this is a tough group to fight through. But the team also has Kurt "Kaeyoh" Ocher, who can provide the kind of experienced LAN leadership needed to make such a run.
But with the team's recent results, it sure feels like they're running out of time to put the pieces together.
Brain Power: I need a hero
Group B's top seed, formerly known as COGnitive Gaming, is a mystery for now. Having lost Ben "Cattlepillar" Bunk to Cloud9, they will play this tournament with Quinn "Srey" Fischer at the warrior spot.
While Srey and Cattlepillar are obviously different players with varying styles, they've both spoken about their preference to have a certain amount of control over the team's shotcalling and draft.
That means that despite Cattle's huge influence on the team, this is potentially a very good fit.
Since this replacement happened on such short notice — with the team even being given an extension to do so, based on Cattle's departure so close to the roster deadline — it seems hard to expect flawless coordination from this squad.
But this entire team just oozes talent. They've come close to cracking Top 2 at major tournaments. Doing it here, with their new addition, would be a show of force. Opponents cannot count them out, and should not rely on former drafting or shotcalling tendencies seen from the team, as Srey's inclusion could mean those old reads are no longer valid.
Gale Force eSports: What ceiling?
Gale Force eSports has a talented and deep roster that looks to threaten the top competitors in the region sooner rather than later.
At DreamHack Austin they won Group B handily with victories against COGnitive Gaming and Astral Authority. With C9 and Team Name Change replacing Astral and Tempo Storm in their group this time, it looks like a tougher fight.
Despite the strong Group B, it bears mentioning that both Brain Power and Cloud9 are going through changes that could give GFE the edge they need to make a mark here.
If they come out of the group in second, it's likely that they run into Naventic in the semifinals as they did at Austin. That would be a fight for survival, but one that they've had time to prepare for since their last encounter.
It seems like GFE can even improve on recent results.
Khalif "Khroen" Hashim is finally in a situation where he has the teammates he needs to truly succeed. Manny "Fury" Medina is showing some of his best play in months, but surely hasn't peaked. This team can be even better than they are, and if that happens at this tournament, they will make a deep run.
Team Name Change: Under cover of darkness
Swapping their name after their previous moniker, Team Higher Consciousness, was deemed to be a drug reference, this squad is one of the most surprising to break into the scene's Top 8 in some time.
The addition of Francis "MATRE" Gilbert-Brodeur seemed to be one of the elements that pushed the team over the edge, but there are plenty of veterans on this team.
Hao "HaoNguyen" Nguyen has quietly been an underrated warrior player since he left Gale Force eSports in mid-February. Kyle "Prismaticism" Belaiche was a member of the original Pool Plato Some Tangos squad that played in the North American Opens on the 2015 Road to BlizzCon.
When they defeated Cloud9 at the the third qualifier, TNC actually took a play out of C9's book and ran a tankless composition with Thrall and Sonya. What other pocket strategies does this team have available?
Cloud9: The pressure is on
Cloud9 didn't downgrade when they added Ben "Cattlepillar" Bunk and dropped Taylor "Arthelon" Eder. It bears repeating that Cattle is an incredibly strong drafter and shotcaller as well as one of the region's best warrior players.
But they also became a team that needs to gel immediately to secure their spot to DreamHack Summer. C9 was a team with a different dynamic than Cattle was used to: one that featured no dedicated shotcaller.
It's unclear exactly how the team will operate moving forward but Cattle has mostly taken over melee/flex duties while John Paul "KingCaffeine" Lopez remains at the warrior position.
Any opponent at this tournament, including Naventic, cannot count C9 out. The core of this team is still intact and Cattle's addition should be a long-term boost. The question is primarily how the team will make it work in the short-term.
If their performance in the final invitational qualifier is any indication, the team still has some work to do, but they remain dangerous. They dropped only a single game to Racc Attack, a team that has some former members of Team Nom.
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a tasty lemon drink. You can find him on Twitter.