The first NA Fall Regional wrapped up Sunday night, and Murloc Geniuses emerged as the region's first seed at BlizzCon.
Heading into the event, many picked Naventic, Gale Force eSports or Denial eSports (formerly Crescendo) as likely candidates to be the region's first qualified team. But much like the squat, amphibious humanoids from which they draw their name, the Murloc Geniuses proved to be both persistent and implacable.
In the group stage, Murloc Geniuses lost one match against Naventic but put up a pair of 2-0 matches against Denial eSports to get out of Group A, while Vox Nihili took the top spot in B.
When they met in the semifinal, MG advanced over Vox and faced GFE in the final, where the series went the full five games. Ultimately, a composition that focused on wave control took Game 5 on Blackheart's Bay.
What was clear from MG's play is that, during their time together, the roster's players have started to truly live up to their individual potential. Flex Rori "CauthonLuck" Bryant-Raible's consistency has never been in question, but Panda Global loan Harrison "Psalm" Chang seemed to be completely in sync with the rest of the roster, showing off some impressive Li-Ming play.
While Ben "Cattlepillar" Bunk, who was previously a warrior main, often played at the melee position, Psalm also played both Kerrigan and Zeratul during the tournament. This flexibility was an important part of the team's success, allowing the roster to field more varied compositions while remaining within their comfort zone.
Still, the event felt very much like a coming-out party for support Jun "Jun" Jang, as well as a strong statement from warrior Manny "Fury" Medina that he had previously been underestimated.
Jun had been around the North American scene for some time, and had played on a variety of rosters for short stints. In Burbank, at his first Heroes LAN event, his nerves certainly didn't seem like a factor. He put on a show regardless of which support he played with clutch cleanses and heroic abilties, winning both of his Brightwing games and going 6 for 8 with Uther.
For Fury, the win over GFE — his former team — must bring a fair amount of satisfaction.
GFE removed Fury in late June, with the organization issuing a statement saying that "a number of players felt like [he] was letting his relationship interfere with his work." But his work this weekend was definitely good enough.
During the heights of the original Murloc Geniuses roster, Fury's play was very effective: strong enough at that time to earn him kudos from other top warriors, like then-Cloud9 member John Paul "KingCaffeine" Lopez.
He has returned to that strong form. Regardless of whether it was Psalm or Cattle in the frontline with him, the coordination there was precise.
Murloc Geniuses have come a long way since their decision to reform in early July. They may have been underestimated, but their play this weekend showed that they deserved the win. Their draft preparation and shotcalling was particularly strong, and now, just over a month later, they've already secured their ticket to BlizzCon as NA's first seed.
But that is probably not the most surprising thing to come out of this weekend.
Denial, Naventic and GFE all came into this competition with high expectations.
For Denial, that was maybe a bit unfair. While their performance (as Crescendo) at Qualifier #1 against Vox Nihili saw them prevail, it was a close series and it was clear that the team was nowhere near their maximum potential. Additionally, both their match losses this weekend came to MG, who went on to win the tournament.
The team does have a ton of talent, plus some instant chemistry between KingCaffeine and Keiwan "k1pro" Itakura, who are close friends and were longtime teammates on Cloud9. It wouldn't be surprising to see them playing in the grand finals at the second NA Fall Regional.
GFE probably doesn't feel too badly about the loss, given that they defeated Naventic in five games and then fought a close five-game series against MG. But it may be cold comfort given how many strong teams will be vying for a spot at the second regional.
And though Naventic was eliminated in the semifinals, it's not all doom and gloom. Their draft seemed characteristically surgical, but their in-game play could be tightened up. This might be partially attributed to Chris "Zuna" Buechter's return to the warrior role after Stafford "McIntyre" McIntyre's removal from the team, but it's hard to expect anything less than a resurgent Naventic squad at PAX West come September.
Finally, Vox Nihili exceeded the expectations of many with a Top 4 finish, but seemed unable to deal with the draft strategy of Murloc Geniuses. As Long "Daihuu" Wang told theScore esports in a previous interview, his team has the experience to handle in-game rotational calls instinctively. It feels like with a bit more opponent-specific prep, this squad could upset some favorites at PAX West.
Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.