Rosterpocalypse in North America
Enough is Enough Already
Written by: Inimical
With the conclusion of HGC 2017's Phase One and the Crucible, the North American scene has again found itself in a massive "Rosterpocalypse". At the start of the season, I believed like others that this new HGC structure would prevent the NA scene from cannibalizing itself. But this should be something we’ve come to expect.
As many of us know, it’s far easier to blame a player on our team in Hero League than blame ourselves for our poor play, but that doesn’t help us improve at all. And since 2015, it appears the North American competitive scene hasn't quite learned this lesson either.
If we turn to our European friends, we see the HGC system is working as intended. After a poor showing in Phase One, beGenius and Synergy faced the EU Crucible, where both teams lost rather decisively to former EU pros who had missed out on initially qualifying. Europe has always had a larger pool of players to draw from, but it was clear that the teams who moved up in place of Synergy and beGenius deserved to be there.
Europe experienced its own Rosterpocalypse after BlizzCon 2015, but unlike North America, since then they have matured. The top three teams—Fnatic, Team Dignitas, and Team Liquid—have been relatively consistent with their rosters, and it’s no coincidence that good performance has followed.
Europe has learned from their mistakes
Graphic Credit: Milan Bogojevic
In North America, the tired cliche "any team, no matter the record, can beat another on any given day" has rung true through this recent Phase. While this is supposed to act as a comfort to NA teams, what it actually telegraphs is the lack of consistency in North America. This inconsistency is the result of many forces including all-too frequent roster swaps, lack of serious practice, poor self-critique, etc.
Most NA teams don’t have to look far to see how roster consistency pays off. The current Tempo Storm is the one exception. They have been the most consistent North American team in history, and they’ve held on to the top spot after Phase One. Is their success a product of their roster consistency or is their roster consistency a symptom of their success? I’d like to believe it’s the former; even in Korea, the best teams are the ones who have been together the longest, like L5 and MVP Black.
Tempo Storm is the most consistent North American team for a reason
Photo Credit: Tempo Storm
The North American scene doesn’t need more swapping; what it needs is some tough love.
When Blizzard set up the rules for HGC 2017, they clearly stated in section 4.4a that "North America League Teams may replace one (1) player in the following transfer period: May 29–June 10, 2017." This rule was created in order to prevent the widespread roster changes from occurring, as one player being kicked off a team doesn't change the dynamic of the entire Pro scene but can still benefit a single team.
However, on May 8th, 2017 for reasons unknown, Blizzard changed this rule set to incorporate two roster swaps, citing "We strongly believe [that] this is the right course of action to ensure the health of teams in the HGC, while also maintaining consistency across the board." The health of teams in HGC is important; players should be in an environment which fosters growth and helps them maintain a mentally healthy team atmosphere. However, allowing teams to replace two spots on their roster has already led to widespread roster swapping in North America.
As of right now, rumor has it seven of eight teams will be making some kind of change. Here are the changes to the North American scene which have been announced:
- B-Step completely disbands; aPm steps away, k1pro and KingCaffeine are a packaged deal; McIntyre's fate is unknown
- Gale Force eSports drops Equinox and benches Khroen; KingCaff and k1pro picked up
- Team Freedom drops Insomnia after finishing 4th in the playoffs; Kure picked up in his place
- Goku leaves Superstars
- iDream picked up by Naventic after Kenma switched to coach role; BigE swapping to support role, Zuna to ranged/offtank (seriously wtf)
- erho kicked from No Tomorrow after re-qualifying for Phase Two; Equinox picked up as melee assassin while Casanova switches to tank
- Superstars drops Faye; two open slots now available
The most devastating change to the scene revolves around B-Step disbanding, which opened a spot in the HGC premier league for the first place Open Division team Even in Death. There was already furor over this decision on Reddit, and rightfully so. While EID earned their first place finish, having them grandfathered into HGC Pro Division seems to cheapen the whole HGC experience.
EID did not look great against No Tomorrow in their Crucible match; Imported Support had the better showing against Naventic. You could make the argument that Imported Support deserves as much of a shot at the premier league, and the rushed decision by Blizzard to shove in another team without a proper tiebreaker seems somewhat questionable.
While the two teams did play against each other in the “finals” of the Open Division playoffs, the only thing at stake was their right to choose the team they played against in the Crucible. Had the players known they were fighting for a spot in the Premier League, the circumstances would have been quite different. What’s the point of a premier league that doesn’t actively gather the best teams in the region to play against each other?
The system is also unfair for players kicked from Premier League teams. They lose their salary without the chance to immediately re-qualify unless they get picked up. Instead, top tier players like erho and Insomnia may have to qualify through the Open Division over a six month period without the HGC salary to supplement their income.
Playing in the Premier League is and should be a full-time job, and that’s arguably the main goal of this HGC format. The fact a group of players can simply remove one or two members and cripple that player's source of income seems unreasonably cruel. Yes, it's a job, and like any job, you can get fired. But if we look at North America, teams rarely make the right decisions when it comes to removing players—Fury and Glaurung are two shining examples of this, and Insomnia will likely be the third.
Photo Credit: ESL
Even though these players admit the North American pool for talent is incredibly small, players still believe swapping will propel them to the next level—it hasn’t, and it won’t. Part of the reason for these changes are internal, and we don't always know the whole story, yet NA teams love jumping the gun and moving right into a switch simply because of a little adversity. Just recently, former Heroes of the Dorm champion Kure was courted by multiple teams before landing on Team Freedom. Who else is there? Teams are quick to cut a player without a legitimate alternative, an oversight that comes with little thought.
It is actually beneficial for teams to stick together and improve one another's play simply because the NA pool is so small. While that sounds idealistic and not everyone is capable of the maturity required to follow the Kumbaya model, it doesn't really benefit a team to operate like a disgruntled Target employee who finally had enough, and in dramatic fashion, walked off the job.
Of course, this is North America, and in North America we want instant results. But teams fail to realize getting good as a team-unit takes time. You simply do not form a team and immediately get first place. Most things in life do not work that way. While changes are sometimes necessary, they do not always fix the underlying problems.
GFE's Fan after barely missing out on BlizzCon 2016
Photo Credit: ESL
Ultimately, organizations should take a sterner approach with their players rather than simply nodding along and letting one player become a scapegoat for the team’s failures. NA should look and learn from Europe in order to create some stability and consistency in rosters. Adding hard-nosed coaches and managers in NA to keep in-fighting to a minimum and force players to look at the big picture would be a good first step.
In order to be the best you have to grind. You will lose, and you will have to fight your way through it. Simply resetting a roster every few months isn't going to change much long-term. Attitudes must change. The environment, the culture, the atmosphere in the North American scene has to change.
Europe has no doubt benefited from this with both Dignitas and Fnatic having legitimate chances to take series off Eastern teams at the Mid-Season Brawl, a proposition which would've been seen as ridiculous a year ago. This is the example North America should look toward.
Hopefully two things happen as a result of this recent NA Rosterpocalypse. Either Blizzard reverts the transfer rule back to one player or NA stops "buying the lie" of roster swapping and redirects that energy into improving their patience, minimizing in-fighting, and focusing on productive self critique. Only then can NA hope to match the rest of the world.