Mid-Season Brawl Opening Week
Bracket and standings on LiquipediaAt last, the moment we've all been waiting for! For the first time in 2017, East meets West in one of the biggest international showdowns of the year as 12 teams put it all on the line for their region.
As noted in our preview, the Mid-Season Brawl features a unique format designed to cull the weaker teams out slowly so that the absolute best teams face each other in the grand finals. Opening Week used a Bo2 format which gave a huge advantage to teams that dominated their series and created an environment where every game mattered, and from what we could tell, the result was a high standard of play across the board.
While Opening Week was exciting, it also was an emotional week for some of the teams who are already knocked out of the tournament without experiencing the live stage at DreamHack Sweden. DeadlyKittens showed their claws against MVP Black and Nomia but ultimately fell short, as did Soul Torturers in Group B. Meanwhile, CE-replacements Super Perfect Team and the Red Canids had difficulty getting things together and bombed out of their group with little to show.
Teams ran the gauntlet during the Opening Week, but there's much more to come this weekend at DreamHack Jönköping. For right now, though, let's take a look back on what we learned from Opening Week about the teams, the metagame, and overall strength of each region.
Top 5 Games
There were a lot of great games coming out of the gates. Almost all of them were pretty good, but a few in particular stood out from the others, so we decided to commemorate them here.
#1 Team Dignitas vs L5 on Battlefield of Eternity
The big question on everyone's mind coming into this tournament was, "Are the Koreans infallible? Can they actually be beaten?" Dignitas answered that question immediately with an insane comeback on Battlefield of Eternity that completely stopped L5's momentum dead in its tracks. Down to zero keeps versus full structures against L5 with zero globals versus Falstad and Dehaka, things were looking bleak for Dignitas, but they kept their cool and played the last 10 minutes of the game perfectly to take the win. The mental fortitude required to play so well under pressure is unspeakable, and it more or less broke the indomitable spirit of L5 and made them look weak in the following game and the rest of the week.
#2 eStar Gaming vs L5 on Dragon Shire
eStar came out of nowhere and played some of the best Heroes of the Storm to date during Opening Week. Their drafts were daring, their mechanics crisp, and their aggression primal, but facing off against L5 was still a difficult task. The Korean team was still recovering from their 0-2 loss against Dignitas the day before, and you could tell they were visibly shaken, but even under pressure L5 is a formidable opponent. eStar's draft in this game featured D.Va with Bunny Hop combined with a rather odd split pushing strategy with the Dragon Knight, both aspects very unique in their own rights. The game eventually came down to a late game Dragon Knight push for MVP Black, but everything until that point was full of nonstop action.
#3 Roll20 Esports vs MVP Black on Tomb
So...this game needs some context. Both teams got all of their comfort picks (albeit many Black's comfort picks are more less out of the metagame), and MVP Black decided to have some fun in their first Mid-Season Brawl matchup. The result was one of the most hilariously one-sided stomps ever as a North American team dismantled MVP Black with 22 kills to none. NA looked like gods compared to the titans of the East, and it shook MVP Black's confidence. A Diablo target ban came out against Justing in the next game, and since then MVP Black has adopted many of Roll20's drafting strategies and evolved. It was a wake-up call for the Korean team—they can't just play around in this tournament, they actually have to go 100% all the time.
#4 Tempo Storm vs eStar Gaming on Sky Temple
eStar's crazy drafting strikes again with an old school tankless Illidan composition on Sky Temple. Originally pioneered by Cloud9 in late 2015, the style has been dormant for a long time with the addition of higher burst damage, more crowd control and disengage, and a lack of enabling supports (namely Uther). Following their protocol all week to draft whatever they wanted, eStar proceeded to dismantle Tempo Storm in every single teamfight using their brutal combination of Illidan and Valla supported by Auriel, Tassadar, and Abathur. The game was fairly one-sided, but it showed eStar's comfort in trying crazy things and adjusting to the newly formed metagame at the Mid-Season Brawl.
#5 DeadlyKittens vs MVP Black on Cursed Hollow
DeadlyKittens spent most of the week as everyone's punching bag, but they made a bold move against MVP Black with a Sylvanas/Lost Vikings draft on Cursed Hollow designed to backdoor and win the game as soon as possible. MVP Black was able to thwart any early attempts to cheese them out, but the game turned to a close base race measured in seconds. Even though it's a short game, it will leave you gasping for air.
Honorable (Dishonorable?) Mention -
Fnatic vs SPT on Infernal Shrines
On the final day, Fnatic could rest assured knowing they were advancing to the final round. Up against their weakest opponent with nothing to lose, they decided to speedrun the game and claim the record for the fastest HGC game ever. While it does show a degree of disrespect for their opponent, Fnatic executed a well thought-out cheese with Sylvanas, Greymane, and Artanis to claim a 6:01 victory on Infernal Shrines. Not quite the world record, but at least they beat Dignitas for fastest game at the Mid-Season Brawl.
Regional Strength -
Who's the Strongest?
As the Mid-season Brawl started, we thought we knew the relative strength between regions: Korea was the best with Europe just behind, and North America was the worst. China was the outlier—were they as good as Europe? Were they worse than NA? And, of course, the minor regions sat at the bottom.
Five days of group play has changed everything. The minor regions showed up hard, all of the major regions performed beyond expectations, and Bakery’s prophecy that Korea was weaker than ever came true.
The tournament’s format means that 1-1 scores between teams can’t be dismissed as easily as a 2-1 series might be. Every win has to be taken into account when evaluating teams. As a result, both Groups A and B have unexpected win triangles between NA, EU, and KR.
Commenters speculated if China was “worse than NA,” but it turns out eStar is pretty good—and so is NA, for that matter. Roll20 has earned membership in a very small and exclusive club of teams that have beaten MVP Black, and Tempo Storm did what L5 couldn’t by taking points from Dignitas.
We included “minor region upset” as a square on our bingo card, but after Nomia’s early 2-0 against Super Perfect Team on the first day, we immediately had to ask: does Nomia winning even count as an upset? The ANZ team performed so well in the Western Clash that their success is no longer surprising, and even as we head into the final bracket, there's a lot of faith in the team. In Group B, Soul Torturers proved Tempo Storm’s equal, holding an identical record in the group and going 1-1 in their head to head. The minor regions have absolutely been a factor in this tournament, and not just as underdogs. No wins in the MSB have been free.
While it’s unfortunate that the NA teams will be forced to eliminate themselves in the bracket, neither of them underperformed this week, and no one can say they let their region down. Europe still holds an edge in the EU/NA rivalry, and both Fnatic and Dignitas have more definitive victories in their groups. But the gap is much smaller than it was during the Western Clash.
China continues to be a mystery in trying to evaluate regions. SPT bombed out of Group Stages pretty early on, which isn't surprising considering their last minute substitution in place of CE. Remembering how much better CE looked than both eStar and SPT during the season, it’s easy to wonder how CE might have terrorized Group A. Meanwhile, eStar has become the team to beat. Their dominance of Group B has answered whether China could rival Europe or Korea. Despite coming in as the second seed from China, they has had the most dominant performance in the whole tournament during the Group Stage, and hopefully that will continue into the final bracket.
As for our Korean overlords, they’re still incredibly strong, but—there’s a “but” now, and that was unthinkable just a week ago—right now, they're is vulnerable. MVP Black losing their first game of the tournament to North America in humiliating fashion is a lasting sting, even if they’ve won every game since. And L5’s winning image is gone; five days ago they were the undisputed “best team in the world", and now they’re the fifth seed in the playoffs. A 7-3 record would be admirable for anyone else, but by Korean standards it’s unacceptable. The Koreans still have everything it takes to make it to the grand finals, but they’ve got to pull it together.
Perhaps for the first time, it’s impossible to tell which regions will be represented in the finals. Every team looks world-class. Korea is still the strongest region, but China and Europe are both close to overtaking them, with NA and the minor regions right on their heels. The HGC format has helped bring out the best in each team, and things have never been so competitive.
Meta Snapshot -
Genji In, Falstad Out
With the round robin format employed in the Mid Season Brawl, we’ve had the pleasure of viewing a far larger number of games than in most tournaments. This, factored alongside the diverse selection of teams from around the world, has allowed for a huge range of stylistic and strategically different drafts.
New Kids on the Block
As soon as Genji was legal in the HGC, he was involved nearly constantly in Korea and in other regions shortly thereafter. What at first seemed like a pick based on his popularity as a character rather soon developed into a real power pick. In the right hands, he’s suited to a variety of different comps, and if supported well, almost impossible to catch. Alongside his mobility, cleanup, and chase potential, Genji has made his way to first pick/first ban material in 96% of games in the Mid-Season Brawl thus far. Though he sits at a modest 51% win rate, it doesn’t look like his momentum will be slowing down anytime soon.
D.Va’s involvement at the Mid-Season Brawl was less sure. Most teams said that they had practiced and were prepared to use her, but she wasn’t the same sort of power pick as Genji. Right out the gates, Nomia made a sizeable impact with her mech explosion against SPT in their opening series win. She has only been featured a few times since then, and despite her apparent potential for playmaking, zone control and peel, sits at 3 wins and 4 losses.
Dive, Dive, and Dive Again
After a period of consistent double support, double frontline picks, the “dive” meta is starting to emerge at the Mid-Season Brawl, popularized in particular by the hyper aggressive eStar. Dive heroes previously ignored have shot up in popularity as well as enablers like Uther and Tassadar.
After barely being featured at all in the regular season, Illidan now has an involvement rate of 37% and has a 57% win rate. In the last few days, even Chen has bounced back, putting up a solid 6-1 record. After his recent rework, the old reliable diver Anub’arak has a 96% involvement rate and a 63% win rate.
After nerfs, the global value of Brightwing disappeared almost entirely while Falstad and Dehaka rose to the forefront. Falstad remained somewhat relevant (particularly in Korea), but despite his utility, Falstad’s vulnerability to dive has forced him to pull off a disappearing act. So far in the Mid-Season Brawl, he has a 4-5 record with only 4 bans, a far cry from the days of the global meta.
Dehaka, however, has seen a resurgence due to recent buffs to Brushstalker. Dehaka has been involved in 93% of games with a 38% banrate and a 55% winrate. He doesn’t have the same insane waveclear that he used to with the removal of Primal Aggression, but his durability and teamfighting have kept him relevant.
The real winner is Abathur, though. The slug compliments dive heroes like Genji and Greymane perfectly, and the added value of his split soak and late game pushing capability make him extremely valuable. He has an 87% winrate in the tournament thus far, winning 14 games and losing just 2. We might have expected to see an increase in Zagara play after her relative success in China and North America, but she has only been picked once and lost that game. Owing to the success of Hunt Illidan and Genji, it’s possible that Zagara is just too fragile to safely split push.
Malfurion and Uther are unquestionably the top supports. Uther is involved in 96% of games (mostly bans) and Malf in 82%. Malfurion continues to hold the role of best support in the game with high sustained healing, poke and Twilight Dream. Uther’s rework gave him better protection against crowd control and allow him to enable hyper carries like Genji or Greymane. With the addition of Divine Shield, dive heroes get tons of value from his kit.
Rehgar, Auriel and Kharazim have similar involvement after the top two at around 32-33% involvement, and all of their win rates are subpar at 42-44% compared to Uther’s 58% and Malf’s 55%. Tassadar, on the other hand, is definitely back in the meta after buffs to his damage and life leeching abilities. His strength in enabling auto attack heroes like Illidan or Valla while being a threat to enemy frontliners and providing waveclear and vision has given him a 43% involvement rate with 9 bans and a 9-9 record. Lt. Morales has yet to register a win from three games, and the reworked Tyrande has not featured.
Tanks a lot....
The extant meta of Anub’arak and Arthas continues. Although Arthas has dropped in popularity, his win rate remains on par with Anub’araks at 63%. Outside of those two, by far the most involved tank is Tyrael, with a 64% involvement rate, but the Archangel’s winrate is only a poor 39%.
Pretty much every warrior fails to impress outside of Anub, Arthas and Dehaka. Only Diablo and Chen have positive winrates after being picked more than three times. Leoric, Muradin, Stitches and new entrant D.Va are floating at 40-50% win rates while Sonya and Varian struggle to put up more than 33%. Johanna has won just one of her four games, and Zarya is shockingly 1-4. While having decent win rates, Artanis and ETC have had almost no involvement, showing that swaps and stuns are no longer the go-to in warrior picks but can still work in the right situation.
Anyone Seen a Mage?
One of the more unexpected shifts in meta has been the complete absence of mages from most drafts. Heroes like Chromie, Kael’thas and Gul’dan had all been picked with some regularity in the HGC season, but Gul’dan has so far featured the most of those three and only with a 19% involvement and 37% winrate. Kael’thas has actually won all four of the games he was involved in, but that hasn’t impacted his popularity in the tournament at all, while Chromie has only popped up in one win and one loss (and three bans).
Li Ming, of course, is a wizard not a mage. Her mobility and reset value from the kill-focused dive meta has seen her shoot up in popularity to a 53% involvement rate and a bang even 50% win rate. In games like Roll20 vs MVP Black Game 1, you can see clearly the huge value she gets from dive/pick compositions.
Niche? What niche?
The usual niche picks of heroes like Lunara and Tracer continue to see action, Lunara with a 5-2 win record and Tracer with a 3-1. On the lower end of the spectrum, Tychus, Nazeebo, and Ragnaros have all been underperforming with sub-50% win rates.
Thanks in no small part to mismatched or relatively meaningless games, Samuro, Valeera, and Thrall have all been picked once and won their respective games. Li Li, The Lost Vikings, Brightwing, Kerrigan and Nova have been picked once without a win, and Lucio is down at the very bottom with two picks and no wins.
Sylvanas has mostly been used for cheese, with 3 wins and 3 losses and just a single ban. Medivh remains the most picked and highest winning specialist apart from Abathur. Although picked five times, Cassia has won just once, and the reworked Alarak likewise with two losses to his name. Zeratul has the highest banrate to pick ratio – he has been banned 18 times but picked only 6 times, winning 4.
What to Expect from the Playoffs
With SPT, DeadlyKittens, Soul Torturers and RED Canids out of the tournament—teams who had played 26-27 heroes each, the widest pools in the tournament—the playoff drafts will likely be a bit smaller. Nonetheless, Fnatic continues to hint that they have more tricks up their sleeve, and L5 has played 27 different heroes. eStar’s tankless Illidan composition also set some ideas in motion for future drafts, so there’s no doubt they’ll be continuing to innovate. Dignitas are also more than comfortable with bringing out some unusual picks like Samuro to catch their opponents off guard.
Furthermore, with so many sample games, teams now know some of each other’s preferred picks and strategies, and so may look to target ban against a particular player. MVP Black have been sticking with what is comfortable, so they may find themselves in some interesting drafts as teams attempt to take them out of their safety zone. All we can do is watch with anticipation for how the meta will continue to shift this weekend.