Heroes Global Championship
What We Learned from the Mid-Season Brawl
Bracket and standings on LiquipediaIn many ways, the Mid-Season Brawl was a landmark achievement for Heroes of the Storm. DreamHack put on the best production ever, more viewers than ever tuned in to watch, and Fnatic became the first ever European World Champion. As we take a look back on the event as a whole, including our Opening Week recap, there's a lot to process through. The metagame evolved drastically, and each region slowly found their identity, perhaps more clearly than ever before.
League play starts back up this weekend, so we're right back into the action immediately. With the recent release of Malthael and more balance changes to come, there's no doubt that things will change quickly over the next few months. But for now, let's talk about what we learned from the Mid-Season Brawl.
Europe #1 (and #2)
Fnatic has been the most consistent team in Europe (if not the world) over the past year, and yet they always failed to beat Dignitas when it mattered. At last, Fnatic overcame their demons and triumphed over Team Dignitas on their home turf, a satisfactory conclusion to a storyline that has developed over months of competition.
But the real talking point is Dignitas, who posted an astonishing 9-3 record against L5 and MVP Black, two world championship teams who were posited by all as the favorites going into the event. That fact alone shows that EU is just as strong as we hoped they were going into the Mid-Season Brawl.
Photo Credit: DreamHack
For a regional barometer, we can look further to the teams that came through the HGC Open Division during the Crucible. The upcoming teams in Korea and North America were vastly inferior to those that they challenged in the Premier League. But in Europe, both teams convincingly seized their places in Phase 2. The high level of competition in Europe can only suggest that, barring some drastic change—and Rich’s return to MVP Black might be a catalyst for that—EU will be the favorites to take BlizzCon as well.
As for the rest....
Korea undoubtedly looked weaker. L5 improved as the event went on, and MVP Black played some great games after their initial humiliation by Roll20, but neither was the unstoppable tour de force we’re accustomed to. Their comparatively poor form can be blamed on a lack of practice, unfamiliarity with the meta, individual mistakes, or a lack of team cohesion— but we can’t be fully sure of the underlying problems. We can only guess.
Noblesse and NaCHoJin are leaving L5 to be replaced by weaker players SDE and Hooligan, and according to Bakery on TownHall Heroes, a number of players from China and Korea including Noblesse and duckdeok are going to a mobile MOBA game owned by Tencent called Strike of Kings which is drawing in huge revenue in China.
Unfortunately, this was merryday’s last tournament before heading back to academia. MVP Black played their hearts out but could not overcome Dignitas or L5 in the bracket stage and fell out in fourth place. We will remember merryday as one of the most iconic support players in Heroes history, and it is a true shame he could not crown his career with one final success. He has been a real treasure of the scene, and his charming personality and phenomenal ability will be sorely missed.
Photo Credit: DreamHack
China is in a state of flux as well. On the back of yet more visa issues, the top ranking Chinese team CE (who beat eStar 3-0) was unable to attend the Brawl. Regardless, eStar showed that Chinese players are still more than capable of competing internationally, and if at least some of the key players remain in the Chinese scene, they can still be formidable opposition.
Still, the future is uncertain. Many organizations are pulling out from Heroes to pursue other games which are more popular among China’s massive viewer base, particularly in the mobile field. Though nothing is completely confirmed yet, it seems that fan favorites eStar will not be playing together under the same banner anymore, a fate also shared by Super Perfect Team. China still has three slots going into BlizzCon, so it remains to be seen what will become of it as the regular season starts up again.
The minor regions were better than anticipated, though. Most predicted that Nomia would play well after their fantastic run at the Western Clash, and getting through to the bracket stage was a huge accomplishment for the aussies. SEA’s DeadlyKittens showed some good games and Taiwan’s Soul Torturers also looked threatening at times too. Only Latam’s Red Canids looked genuinely outclassed, failing to win a single map but coming close on a few occasions. There has been negativity about the level of available competition in the minor regions, but hopefully with the changes coming in Phase 2, there will be more options available to the players.
Welcome to the "Dive, Fight, Kill" meta
Some aspects of the meta arrived at the beginning of the tournament and didn’t leave. Genji, Anub’arak, and Uther were go-to picks across the board and were each involved in almost every game. Dehaka’s relevance was soon made apparent too, with Greymane and Malfurion rounding out the group of heroes with a 75%+ involvement rate.
Art Credit: Blizzard
During the tournament, the meta quickly shifted away from globals and sustained fights to high intensity, dive heavy comps with a focus on securing kills. Illidan and Stitches became increasingly popular as the tournament went on. Combined with Abathur, dive compositions began to come alive. Standard tanks like Leoric, ETC, and Johanna were decidedly less popular compared to ones with dive. Even Artanis put up a respectable win rate, and Chen finished 10-1!
With Malf’s recent changes generally seen as a nerf, it will be interesting to see how the support meta evolves in future competition. Tassadar re-emerged as a viable second support (with even higher damage potential) but Zarya fell by the wayside almost entirely. Li Li and Morales were barely featured, and Tyrande not at all. Kharazim and Rehgar were the only real alternatives when Uther or Malf were not available. Let’s hope that future patches and hero releases will prevent the support meta from stagnating.
There are exactly 3 great maps
Nine maps were available for play, and of these, Infernal Shrines was the most popular with 20 games while Warhead Junction was played only 4 times. Battlefield of Eternity, at 17 games, had the largest differential between game lengths, the shortest being 8:51 and the longest being 31:41.
Infernal Shrines seems to be popular because the objective, particularly in the early game, is not massively strong, which allows for diverse strategies and comebacks. Then again, Fnatic claimed the record for fastest game of the tournament on Infernal Shrines at 6:02...but they did so without the aid of a single punisher. Likewise, Battlefield of Eternity allows for lengthy and tactical matches when teams are evenly matched with the added bonus of allowing stronger teams to snowball the map if they dominate the first objective phase.
Photo Credit: DreamHack
At 12 games played, Towers of Doom was in the middle of the pack in terms of popularity, but it provided some of the most exciting and evenly matched games in the tournament. DeadlyKittens vs Super Perfect Team, Dignitas vs L5 (twice), Soul Torturers vs Red Canids, MVP Black vs L5, Dignitas vs Fnatic—all of the games played on Towers were exceptional.
The unique map objective on Towers of Doom doesn’t give xp or push lanes, and that leads to a significant variety in strategy. There are none of those anti-climactic late game teamfights that win the game or objectives that can take down the Core by themselves, so any and all compositions are viable.
You can clearly see the difference in regional metas on this map too. Korean teams utilize their strong macro while Dignitas loves to use pick-based compositions with Stitches or heavy teamfighting-driven compositions with Abathur. For example, compare the Towers of Doom games between Dignitas and L5 in the tiebreaker and the Loser Bracket Final. In the former, Dignitas’ teamfighting composition wins out while in the latter L5’s superior zoning, control, and overall macro allows for a comprehensive victory.
Battlefield, however, was home to two of the most epic slogs in the tournament: Roll20 vs MVP Black and Dignitas vs L5. Both of those games are a must see for battleground manipulation, teamfight and objective control, and the power of never giving up.
The tournament format was exceptional
Last year’s Gold Club World Championship eclipsed BlizzCon as the best tournament of 2016 with its highly praised lengthy round robin group stage and double elimination bracket. The Mid-Season Brawl followed the same format, and it was all the better for it. The sheer volume of games (104 in total) allowed teams to experiment and hide strategies as the tournament metagame developed. There were a few throwaway games toward the end of the group stage that had no impact on the standings, but this didn’t detract from the overall quality.
The only flaw might have been how heavily the winners bracket was favored. In this instance, Fnatic only had to play eStar (who had already used up their tricks and were easily outdrafted) and then Dignitas twice to win the tournament. The “world champions” won the tournament without having to play a Korean team in an elimination match. Winning the first series against Dignitas 3-2 also gave them a one game advantage going into the grand finals. On the other hand, Dignitas had to go through MVP Black, then Fnatic, then L5, and then Fnatic again in order to win.
Bracket luck is bracket luck, but teams made their own luck in this tournament. Fnatic deserved their place from their performance in the group stage games, and beating Dignitas twice is no mean feat, especially given their form against the Koreans.
The format could perhaps take a page out of MLG Halo’s book where if the team knocked out of the Winners Bracket Final made it back to the Grand Final, the series would be “extended” to essentially two Bo5s. The Winners Bracket team had to only win the first Bo5 to win the tournament, but if they lost, they would go into another Bo5 with a potential Game 11 decider. This could be adapted to suit Heroes with a Bo7/Bo5 format, rather than simply giving a one game lead in the finals. The result was an anticlimactic finals “win” after a 3-3 draw. Of course, run time is a factor here—a potential 11 or 13 game series as a grand final would be immensely exhausting, but epic nonetheless!
Bakery suggested that instead of a free win, the upper bracket team should instead be given priority on map picks before the bans so the lower team can’t ban out their opponent’s strongest map. This might be a good compromise.
The Mid Season Brawl was not a perfect tournament, but it was pretty damn close. Over the course of the hundred games, we saw the evolution of a meta, the establishment of a new regional hierarchy, the fairytale story of Fnatic finally overcoming their kryptonite and taking home a championship on their own national soil—if you didn’t tear up watching scHwimpi’s family supporting him, you must be made of stone—amazing comebacks, epic slugfests, super fast games, huge plays, and epic fails. The casting and environment was top drawer, the painting segments and the West vs East showmatches provided a nice bit of comedic relief, and the downtime between series was kept minimal with few technical difficulties. All in all, the tournament was a huge success, and BlizzCon will have to turn it up to 11 to eclipse it.
The beautiful artwork of Quackniix and Bakery
Photo Credit: DreamHack
Blizzard should be criticized though for scheduling the tournament and roster changes at the same time. Did Roll20’s YoDa really feel that much brotherhood with his teammates knowing he wouldn’t be playing with them in Phase 2? Were NaCHoJin and Noblesse really giving 100% knowing they wouldn’t be on L5 the following week, and indeed, may not even be playing Heroes competitively anymore?
The fact that the regular season resumes with just two week’s downtime for the teams to adjust to the new patch is also quite harsh since the teams not involved in the Mid-Season Brawl have had several weeks to prepare. Scheduling problems have always been one of Blizzard’s weaknesses, so hopefully they can smooth things out for Phase 2.
- Huge thanks to MasterLeague.net for tournament statistics! Without them, it would be much harder to write this article.
- Fnatic is literally a boyband. Quackniix is the arrogant lead, scHwimpi is the bad boy, Wubby’s the quiet brooding one, SmX is the strong sexy one, and Breez is the cute one. Quack promised that they would release a music video if they won the tournament, so we’re waiting.
- Speaking of which, it’s great to see so many personalities in the interviews. Quack and Bakery always give good interviews, but XingC, GoDDoG, merryday, and FAT94 were all great in the hotseat too.
- The turnaround in production was great, with graphics additions and footage from backstage coming out really quickly. Generally, the production was close to flawless throughout the event. Hats off to DreamHack and Blizzard for the best HotS tournament production to date.
- The MS Paint replay analysis wasn’t great though. I love detailed replay analysis, but the scribbling over it looks awful. The analysts themselves clearly felt a bit awkward with it.
- I’d love to see some quick reaction shots of players like old school Proleague. The footage of Fnatic as they won the fight and realized they had won the tournament was great; let’s get more of that.
- The possibility of “listen-ins” with teams during the game to hear their comms is something that could be really cool to explore. It’s been well received in FPS games, so why couldn’t it work in a MOBA?
- Bakery’s chest hair is almost as impressive as his ice blocks. And that’s not a euphemism.
Photo Credit: DreamHack