With the first weekend of the June North America Open behind us and the July and August qualifiers yet to come, teams from across the NA scene are set to compete for not only the prize pools, but the chance to represent their continent at BlizzCon.
Some of these names will be familiar, and they’re likely to do well in the events. Teams like TempoStorm, 2ARC and both Cloud9 Maelstrom and Vortex will be dangerous contenders in the quest to secure a ticket to the big show.
But what about the teams that are waiting in the wings to hit that stage themselves? Top-seeded ESL Major League teams are only one source of competitors for The Road to BlizzCon, and other challengers will now get their chance to prove that they have what it takes to represent North America.
Some of them are teams who have arisen from amateur leagues and tournaments. Others are ESL Major League teams who have yet to dominate their North American opponents.
But against a field of experienced and established teams who excel under the bright lights, they are the challengers.
Formed mostly by players who played for Evil Geniuses’ old Heroes team that eventually became Murloc Geniuses, Zeveron’s current roster is composed of Manny “Fury” Medina, Kayla “Faye” Murray, Rori “CauthonLuck” Bryant-Raible, Jon “Equinox” Peterson and Drew “Madtimmy” Rodgers.
Zeveron acquired the team shortly after newcomers Fury and Equinox joined up with the remnants of the old EG roster under the Murloc Geniuses banner.
Fury had parted ways with his previous team, Barrel Boys, and was playing with Goat Gaming until it, too, disbanded. Equinox had been playing with Goat Gaming as well, but had moved to Murloc Geniuses just over a week before Fury did.
“The original iteration of Murloc Geniuses was actually nine or ten different people, and it was just a paring down of which players worked best. As soon as we clicked onto this exact roster, I think within a week everybody pretty much knew that it was going to be good,” CauthonLuck explained.
Though the team meshed well, they did have to learn to work together – a staple in the team-based competitive environment of Heroes of the Storm where one player can’t carry the team.
Madtimmy emphasized how important that team-based play is in the absence of a traditional-style carry, saying he’d rather have a player who fits in and communicates well over a toxic player who is mechanically flawless.
“It’s a game full of communication. It’s not like League, where one person can carry and that mechanical player is much stronger. In this game it’s much different, you have to work as a team. If you don’t, you’re not going to win,” he explained.
Faye agreed, saying that past experience in the game had taught her about personality clashes and how they could impact a team’s performance in-game.
“I personally don’t want to play with anyone who has a bad attitude. I had a team like that when I first started getting into Heroes, and it made the team atmosphere horrible.“
Thankfully, CauthonLuck explained that wasn’t an issue for the team as they began practicing together and learning their own personal styles.
“All five of us instantly got along fine – especially at the start, when we lost a lot of games against good teams – but we didn’t blame each other, we didn’t rage out. We all looked at games objectively and tried to see how we could improve, how we could help each other instead of blaming each other. And it just clicked. We realized that this was going to be a team that worked.”
While the team was putting in work, they had already missed the window to qualify for ESL’s second season of Major League. They would finally get the chance to hit the big stage when they were invited to the World Cyber Arena 2015 North America qualifiers instead of the Major League’s faltering eighth-place team, Rising Taquitos. ESL Heroes game head for North America, Matt MacNeil, explained that choice.
“Zeveron is a team that’s comprised of a lot of really well-known people in the community. Rising Taquitos was one of the newer teams. They were sort of the up-and-comers, the new kids on the block. It’s not that we didn’t want to give them a chance, but they were clearly struggling,” MacNeil said.
That choice ended up working out, as Zeveron won their match against their quarterfinal opponent, compLexity Gaming, 2-1. It was a memorable moment for Equinox, who had bounced around a number of pro teams before exploding onto the scene with this one.
“That was definitely my favorite moment so far. It solidified us as a top four team at that moment,” he said.
For Fury there was a personal vindication, as the compLexity squad’s roster was made up of the Barrel Boys players who had removed him.
“For me it was revenge. That team replaced me because they felt I was holding them back, so after joining Murloc Geniuses/Zeveron, beating that team felt really good. It showed I’m not a weak player; I’m not the reason those guys were held back. It felt really good, winning that series in WCA” Fury said.
Zeveron moved on to the semifinal, where they faced perennial contenders TempoStorm. Zeveron shocked their opponents by taking game one. Game two appeared to be theirs as well after they wiped out TempoStorm in defense of their own core, which was left with only a sliver of health.
TempoStorm’s Arthelon respawned first and ended the game seconds before Zeveron could eliminate the enemy’s core. With Madtimmy left alone in base to defend, Arthelon made a mad dash for the objective and, when Zeveron’s core fell, he was one auto-attack away from death.
Despite being moments away from moving on to the finals in game two, Zeveron lost game three.
“It really sucks. Both sides had their chances to win. I think you have to take the good. On the bigger eSports scene, it made the team look like a real contender. Even though we expected to win, and wanted to win, and are disappointed in how it turned out, I think the public perception of us as a legitimate threat to the top teams was established there. We have to learn from it and go forward. No use dwelling on it,” CauthonLuck explained.
Equinox said that they’ve been working on closing out games and have learned from their experiences against TempoStorm. Their game, he says, is stronger for it.
“We realized that all we need to do, since we’ve got a really solid early to mid-game, is learn how to close out games cleanly and have zero chance of throwing,” he explained.
Since their WCA appearance, the team’s profile in the Heroes scene increased substantially.
In an interview, Cloud9 Maelstrom’s warrior player John Paul “KingCaffeine” Lopez (generally considered one of the strongest warrior players) gave high praise to Fury as one of the better warriors in the NA scene. Fury says he views himself as a top warrior player, having played only that role since he began competing.
“My playstyle, compared to other tanks, is I don’t like to take free damage. I position myself pretty well. I’m in the frontline, but I don’t take free damage, and when my team’s ready to fight I engage or help engage, depending on the heroes we have. Overall, I think my playstyle is pretty simple to learn: you play pretty safe, and then be aggressive when need be,” Fury said.
Without ESL Major League obligations, Zeveron was left to continue practicing and preparing for their next opportunity. They took first place in the 25th installment of the Go4Heroes Americas cup in late May, and turned some heads when they reached rank one in Team League with an undefeated record of 29-0.
“Overall, it was pretty easy. One night was pretty close to losing the record. We went against Kappa Wolves in Team League, and we let them have The Lost Vikings on Garden of Terror. We were down like two or three levels at the beginning, it was pretty bad. We ended up making a comeback, so that was nice,” Equinox explained.
Unlike competitive formats, Team League doesn’t allow bans - something that made the feat somewhat more difficult. The team didn’t start out with the intention of an undefeated record, though.
“Once we got to around 20-0 we were like, hey, let’s just go the rest of the way undefeated, and we just “tryharded” the rest of the way, so to speak, and it was pretty clean,” CauthonLuck said.
The Road to BlizzCon
But their big chance eventually came when Blizzard announced the North America Open events, which will qualify teams to potentially represent North America at BlizzCon.
Along with the tournament announcement came the addition of a Dota-style two-ban system to the competitive format. That shift has been the focus of Zeveron’s current practice and training. Known for using Kerrigan extensively, they needed more options in the new draft environment.
“I think we are all enjoying the variety in drafts now, and the benefit your team gets from being able to run a wide variety of comps. As soon as this double ban system came out, we started focusing immediately on improving our comfortable heroes, to the point where we could run many more comps than we had shown before,” CauthonLuck said.
Equinox said that teams who are used to relying on certain team compositions now have a choice: adapt or die.
“I think what I like about it the most is that there are a couple teams that rely on cheesy comps to win...not going to say which ones. There are a couple teams, and it’s pretty easy to beat them now because they can’t get those cheesy comps anymore.”
The game’s meta has also changed substantially since the release of the newest content patch. Johanna’s ability to draw enemies in lets her peel effectively for her team’s assassins while setting them up for area-of-effect damage that can hit more people than ever. With the arrival of Kael’thas’ there are more assassins than ever available during the draft: a change that has, in some cases, impacted Faye’s choice of hero.
“I’ve been playing less Jaina, because we play a lot of Kael’thas. But Zagara is played a lot less, Tychus is played a bit less. Other than that, I don’t know. With the assassin heroes, there’s like a clearly defined five or six of them that you pick, and after that it’s just whatever you think fills the right comp that you’re going for,” Faye said.
With the arrival of high-burst combinations in the meta, some teams have moved away from using Tassadar, who was often seen as a good utility pick who offered middle-of-the-road damage. However, CauthonLuck thinks the High Templar still has a place on the battlefields of the Nexus.
“He’s kind of on the bubble of the top assassins. Any time he’s with an Illidan, it’s a great pick, just for the shield. Same with Kerrigan. You want to be able to lend your melee assassin some survivability. He’s really good against burst-oriented comps like Tyrael and Falstad, since that’s one less good target to go on. He also fits in really well as a pusher or counterpusher into promote-based comps.”
Asked whether there was another team that they are keeping their eye on outside of the top four, Equinox pointed to COGnitive gaming, who recently went through a roster shakeup, as a possible threat. Adding former TempoStorm assassin and shotcaller Mike “Glaurung” Fisk and longtime community member and support player Jeffrey “iakona” Dolan, the team has a certain unknown quality.
“Overall, it’s an improvement. From scrimming them earlier, they’ve had some pretty poor shotcalling. With Glaurung, their shotcalling is much better, it’s more decisive. You can definitely tell in their rotations. The downfall is that it’s pretty predictable. That’s the only downfall of it. And iakona is definitely an upgrade,” Equinox said.
Faye was less certain, saying that, at least for the moment, the field in North America was pretty thin.
“There’s a pretty big drop-off between the top five or six teams and then everyone else below that, so it’s really hard to say if there’s a team that will do well or not,” she said.
Zeveron has reached the Ro8 in the June North America Open and is set to play Cloud9 Maelstrom in the first match of the double-elimination tournament. Their fans will be watching, drawn in by their near-victory against one of the strongest NA teams at WCA. Fury took a moment to thank those fans for their support of Zeveron.
“Thanks to all the fans. I hope they keep watching. We’re not fancy like Cloud9 or TSM or anything like that, but we’d like to bring very good games against the top organizations as Zeveron.”
Asked what was so “fancy” about those teams, Fury laughed.
“You know, we’re the underdog ... for now.”
Josh Bury is a freelance journalist with a passion for Heroes of the Storm, Basketball and other nerdy activities.You can follow him on Twitter.