In the days before the NA Summer Regional #2, there were a lot of unanswered questions about the teams. Last-minute roster changes, the addition of coaches and multi-day bootcamps were all in play as the competition began.
Three days of competition and 13 matches later, we have the answers. Gale Force eSports will be the second NA team in Sweden, but there was a lot more to take in than just the final result. From surprising triumphs to disappointing defeats, here's what we learned when the region's best clashed.
Gale Force eSports (and Khroen) are finally getting the respect they deserve
It was easy for some to dismiss this group of veterans as a passing fad, but Gale Force eSports proved the haters wrong with their dominant 3-0 grand finals win over Team Naventic.
Every part of this team is a threat on their own. The question was always whether or not they could put those individually talented pieces together into something that could contend with the best in the region.
Manny "Fury" Medina has rekindled the competitive spirit that made him one of the region's most dangerous warriors last summer. David "Roflcopter" Young has continued to be one of the region's most underrated ranged/flex players. The pairing of Mike "MichaelUdall" Udall and Stefen "akaface" Anderson is a tried and true combination that saw them win Heroes of the Dorm as part of Arizona State University.
More than anything, though, the tournament was a veritable coming-out party for Khalif "Khroen" Hashim. Allowed to play Li-Ming in all three of the grand final games against Naventic, he slung orbs mercilessly at the opponent to great effect.
He even predicted over four months ago that the hero would be big for him.
Khroen has quietly been one of the region's rising stars since joining the Gale Force roster in March. His time with 2ARC also saw him garner rave reviews from his teammates, including current GFE coach and former 2ARC warrior Steven "Sunshine" Morgan.
The tournament saw him play mostly Li-Ming, but he is also very capable with a variety of ranged assassins and specialists. Li-Ming's draft priority isn't currently high enough in NA to warrant a first-ban or a first-pick for most teams, so he got to play his favored wizard for much of the tournament.
North America is bringing back Kharazim — and Seven-sided Strike
The Veradani Monk has remained an option in the other major regions but has been mostly missing in action in North America until recently.
Team Naventic support Ken "Kenma" Buechter played him quite a bit at DreamHack Austin and took Seven-sided Strike, so this event is really continuing the trend. But akaface played him frequently at the second regional, often combining Seven-sided with Force Wall to ensure that the opponent had to eat the full duration.
Rehgar still remains the undisputed top "true" support pick, but the recent game-wide nerf to stun durations may have finally pushed the Monk into contention with Uther in some NA compositions.
Bearing in mind the low sample size, Kharazim also met with quite a bit of success, winning seven of his nine games.
Cloud9 and Tempo Storm will be looking for answers
Cloud9 and Tempo Storm both had disappointing finishes at this event, and the next couple weeks could easily see changes to both rosters.
Tempo Storm's performance is perhaps not unexpected, given their recent results. Their last-minute addition of Ed "TigerJK" Hong didn't seem to help the team at all.
The frustrating thing is that the core of this team is very talented. Kurt "Kaeyoh" Ocher and Brian "Zixz" Skarda are both strong players with a history of competitive experience. Francisco "Goku" Avalos has a reputation for outplaying opponents, and Thomas "Tomster" Maguire's aggressive play with King of Blades was what earned him a spot on this roster.
But despite their individual strengths, the team has yet to forge a collective identity. It wouldn't be surprising to see some changes here, if only to shake things up.
Cloud9's situation is less clear-cut. This will be the first global event that the team does not attend, and the first NA Regional where they failed to make it out of the group stage.
Some of their difficulties can undoubtedly be attributed to their last-minute move: adding Brain Power's Ben "Cattlepillar" Bunk in place of Taylor "Arthelon" Eder can be seen as a long-term investment that may have cost them short-term coordination. It's not that Cattle played poorly, it's that the other four players have been together a while, and some time to adapt for both sides is only natural.
That justification becomes tougher when looking at Brain Power, who defeated them twice but also had Quinn "Srey" Fischer on their roster for an even shorter period of time than C9 had had Cattle. Srey seemed to blend pretty well, and helped Cattle's former team defeat his new squad.
Unlike Tempo Storm's current roster, Cloud9 already has a well-formed identity and a recent legacy of strong performances. They don't necessarily have to reinvent the wheel.
Astral Authority and Brain Power continue to improve
Astral Authority's sound defeat of Panda Global in two group stage matches is a promising development for fans of this roster. They made Top 4 at a major Blizzard event for the first time, though four members of the roster came pretty close at the NA Spring Regional as King of Blades.
Jon "Equinox" Peterson looks very comfortable with this team, and he put on some memorable performances with Tracer, even earning some bans. The team's work is obviously paying dividends and, depending on what happens with Tempo Storm and Cloud9, they could be a reliable Top 4 team in the region's immediate future.
Brain Power's performance was unforgettable, given the circumstances. Srey came in and made an immediate impact on this team. The casters mentioned that Glaurung had taken over shotcalling and that Srey was focused on team fights, but whatever the exact circumstance is for BP, they've shown that they are a force to be reckoned with.
A particularly memorable moment was a scattered teamfight around the boss area in Game 3 of their final series against Cloud9. As the rest of the team played as safely as possible around the boss while clearing it, Srey stood alone in the left-hand bush and refused to allow Cloud9 to get an advantageous position.
Before the tournament, Kayla "Faye" Murray made it sound like BP would look primarily for a short-term replacement. But given the team's success, it feels like BP should at the very least see what the team can do long-term with Srey on the roster.
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a bleating winged sheep. You can find him on Twitter.