Things have been heating up as of late in the North American scene, and it should come as no surprise that the red-hot Team Blaze is a big part of it.
The organization has been around for a while. They were formed in April, and they competed in the first North America Open in June during the Road to BlizzCon — but it's only recently that they've shown their proficiency against some of the region's strongest teams.
During the HTC Heroes Brawl in mid-October, they shocked viewers when they eliminated the flagging Tempo Storm squad with a 2-0 set that included Diablo in both games. Days later, Tempo's internal struggles were revealed by their manager.
But since they didn't qualify for the Americas Championship, Blaze spent the period leading up to BlizzCon playing the best of the rest — and amassed a considerable amount of experience and a streak of top-two finishes in Go4Heroes events in the process.
But the question continued to smolder: how would Blaze fare against the NA teams returning from both Vegas and BlizzCon?
So far, they've shown that they belong among NA's top teams. They're ranked fourth in points at the Enter The Storm qualifiers, and have scored victories against competitors that attended Vegas, like Murloc Geniuses and COGnitive Gaming.
Throughout it all, the team has developed a reputation for both their innovative compositions and a unique brand of humor on Twitter.
But Cloud9 is in China, Tempo Storm is presumably working on a new roster, and other competitors remain dangerous.
For Eugene "Yuuj" Tseng, Richard "Kladeous" Tran, Marty "Batterry" Nivinski, David "Roflcopter" Young and Jason "Jason" Mei, the time between now and the first events of the Heroes Global Championship represents a golden opportunity — one that they, along with manager/CEO Patrick "ShadowSmile" Smiley, don't intend to waste.
With that in mind, Team Blaze took some time to answer questions about their playstyle, NA competition, and the accusation that their creative compositions are simply "cheese."
At a glance, how would you describe the team's playstyle? What makes you unique?
Yuuj: Team Blaze has a very different approach to the game compared to other teams, we don’t have a specific playstyle and we often try to diversify our strategies to keep other teams guessing.
What's the interpersonal dynamic like? Who does the drafting? The shotcalling? Is there someone who makes everyone laugh?
Batterry: Everyone on the team gets along great, and we often play games other than Heroes of the Storm together. Drafting is more or less a collaborative effort as we each have a different take on the game, by doing so we are able to identify strengths and weaknesses of team compositions more readily.
Shotcalling is mostly done by Yuuj and Kladeous; however, in reality everyone is a shot caller and contributes ideas as one person cannot see everything. As far as joking around goes, we’re all equally distracting.
For Batterry: What was it like to assume a role on the starting roster after coaching the team?
Batterry: Initially I had tried out for flex role, however after a short while it quickly became apparent that I was better suited for the main tank position on the team. Knowing the strategies from the coaching position I only needed to get accustomed to the execution of the team’s playstyle. Looking back on becoming a starter, I was not as capable at the time, but Team Blaze was too stubborn and didn’t want to start over with someone else, and I’m glad they taught me to be a better player.
Your recent wins include matches against COG, Stellar Lotus and Murloc Geniuses at Enter The Storm Qualifiers. Where do you feel you rank among NA teams right now?
Yuuj: Considering the tournament format for Enter The Storm, it really is hard to say who is better at this point in time. Best-of-ones are not the best measure of competitive skill. With the competitive scene as it is now with Tempo Storm and Cloud9 not even in the picture it’s hard to determine ranks.”
Kladeous: I feel like Team Blaze ranks top 4.20 among NA teams right now.
Roflcopter: 'If you’re not first, you're last' - Ricky Bobby
Who do you consider to be your most dangerous opponent in NA right now?
Yuuj: We’re actually worried about [Bob Ross Fan Club] and Gale Force. New teams are often the most dangerous because you don’t actually know what they are capable of.
Any general thoughts on the scaling changes, and how they will affect the competitive meta? Have teams really figured that out yet, or are you seeing a lot of teams experimenting?
Kladeous: The scaling changes have really shaken up the scene and many teams are still trying to figure out what works best. Overall, several teams have yet to really adapt to the changes, while others have embraced it.
The scaling changes hit the HotS meta hard, most notably making assassins squishier but dealing a lot more damage starting from level one.
The set against COG at the ETS Qualifier looked pretty confident: you got ahead early and didn't let go. What is your assessment of COGnitive right now?
Batterry: We were very confident in the team comp we built. The game was a little bumpy at first with COG taking a few early kills, but once we had secured a lead we were able to keep that momentum going. We definitely felt the game was mostly decided in draft.
Roflcopter: The scaling changes have changed the meta quite drastically. Some teams have been able to adjust rather quickly, while other teams including us have struggled to adjust completely to the scaling changes. For this particular game they gave us a comp we were comfortable with and we were able to run away with it.
You guys lost to BRFC in the final of the recent ETS qualifier but after the match, Kenma tweeted that you guys are "the kings of making games frustrating." What's your reaction to that? What do you say against critics who accuse you of "cheesing?" What does that word mean to you?
Kladeous: To me it means being innovative and doing something different, Cheese means we are able to not only adapt but beat teams with the weird stuff we pull out.
Jason: When Team Blaze plays an unconventional composition it is considered “cheese”. When a well-known team plays that exact same composition it is known as a “pocket strat”; some teams have even been known to borrow strats and then it is ‘conventional play.'
How have you guys grown since the roster stabilized in July?
Yuuj: After the acquisition of Psalm to the roster in July he brought an aggressive playstyle to the team and we were able to learn a lot throughout the process. When Psalm left after the August Open we diversified our hero pools and tried out many different strategies.
Kladeous: Since we have our roster stabilized we have grown to synergize more, and understand each other’s capabilities.
What is the long-term goal for the team? How are you working toward achieving it?
ShadowSmile: The main objective of the team is to make this a sustainable business. The team puts extremely hard work into the amount of time and dedication to the game.
Obviously results help place the organization in a better light for both potential sponsors and in the eyes of the community. I have no doubt that Team Blaze will become one of the Top 4 NA teams. Also, the exposure from Twitter and the Dank Me-mes helps immensely.
What's the best thing about being part of Team Blaze?
Batterry: Our Twitter account, Patrick Smiley is like our Dad.
Yuuj: The team’s racial diversity, 2 white guys, 3 Asians and a Mexican.
Roflcopter: Our manager offers great organization and I get to play with some of my best friends. I have all my winnings pooled for the Team Blaze meet up fund.
Jason: Hidden message if u see this send help HELP!
Kladeous: I get to watch my teammates do the most stupid shit in replays and be like wtf are you DOING?!? this why u r 2k mmr.
ShadowSmile: That Team Blaze is a family. I would give the world to these guys.
Anything else you'd like to mention?
Roflcopter: I once drank a whole 2 liter of mountain dew and professed my love on Teamspeak to the team.
Jason: SMOrc GO FACE SMOrc.
Yuuj: twitch.tv/yuujlol shameless plug.
Kladeous: Watch me whip, watch me naynayヽ༼ຈل͜ຈ༽ﾉ’, thanks to our amazing sponsors Patrick Smiley and the dank squad, AD VICTORIAN, I am a synth.
ShadowSmile: 24/M/Texas – looking for hot grill who enjoys mom's spaghetti and dank memes.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Josh Bury is the Divine Shield that lets your team capture the Dragon Knight. You can find him on Twitter.