Stitches Want to Play!
Written by: EsportsJohn
Bracket and schedules on LiquipediaAfter sitting mostly dormant for almost a year, Stitches emerged from the Mid-Season Brawl as a premier tank hero, something no one would have expected only a few weeks ago. His sudden and explicable burst of popularity is unrivaled in the history of Heroes of the Storm—and best of all, no one seems to really know why!
For the first time since beta, Stitches sits as king. Let’s examine how he got there!
From zero to hero almost instantly
Stitches’ popularity was abysmal prior to the Mid-Season Brawl. He wasn’t entirely irrelevant like Gazlowe or Nova, but he definitely wasn’t one of the first heroes to come to mind when you were looking to pick up a tank in draft. In the first week of group play, Stitches was picked sparingly and had an equally unimpressive win rate, but that picked up substantially as the tournament went on.
Stitches' overall involvement in the Mid-Season Brawl was relatively low at 36%, but when we account for his popularity in the later stages of the tournament, that number is closer to 50%. In the last four series of the final bracket involving MVP Black, L5, Fnatic, and Dignitas, his involvement jumped to well over 60%.
The point? As the tournament went on, the very best teams found value in Stitches, and he became an S-class tank very suddenly. The pace at which he transformed from a niche hero into a power pick is stunning, spanning all of one weekend. Stitches has since then been involved in over 50% of the drafts in Phase 2, and in the last three weeks he’s already surpassed his total game count from the last six months. Compared with the 9% involvement in Phase 1, that’s a huge improvement for the chain-hooking abomination.
What's going on here??
Stitches’ last update was in the middle of June. His level 20 Heroic upgrades got at best utility buffs, and the removal of Bolt made Gorge cheeses significantly worse. Other than that, he’s had no balance updates since April, and in any case, that patch wasn’t even played at the Mid-Season Brawl. So his relevance has to do with either a particular affinity for the meta developed at the Mid-Season Brawl, a combination of buffs and nerfs to other heroes, or something in between.
Let’s talk about the heroes that rose to prominence just before the Mid-Season Brawl: Uther, Anub’arak, Genji, and racecar Dehaka. Uther’s re-work made him a powerhouse in terms of damage mitigation, which in turn shut down a lot of the stun-train heroes which had been popular just a few months before like Varian, Malfurion, and ETC (in addition to any nerfs those heroes faced). Dehaka received notable movement speed buffs at the end of May that allowed him to move more quickly around the battleground and easily catch up to the back line during teamfights.
Anub’arak’s meteoric rise in popularity is perhaps as convoluted as Stitches. Despite going through multiple reworks and tons of minor tweaks here and there, Anub’arak remained a fairly ineffectual pick until late April. It would take another article to dissect what happened there, but suffice it to say that Cocoon in a dive-heavy meta has been a big power play for the Nerubian King.
Genji was just a strong, flexible hero on release.
Between these four heroes, dive compositions aided by heroes like Tassadar, Illidan, Abathur, Li-Ming, and Tyrael have become the standard. It’s so easy to get into the back line right now, and not many sustain compositions can outlast the power and efficiency of these dive heroes at the moment, especially not at the mercy of Cocoon to shut down the healer or Guardian of Ancient Kings to completely eliminate the possibility of bursting down an overextended hero.
The return of King Stitches
It’s in these conditions that Stitches has thrived. He is a meaty wall of HP with excellent self-sustain and fairly high sustained damage numbers, meaning that he can survive the dive while slowly wearing down the opposition over time. But what sets him apart from every other tank in the game is the ability to force an engagement from a distance with Hook.
Hook is a multi-purpose tool that allows Stitches to simultaneously create picks or re-engage, giving him a lot of flexibility in draft. In a pick composition, all Stitches has to do is land the hook and let his teammates rain hell on the opposing hero. In a sustain comp, Stitches can outlast his foes and re-engage with Hook just as both teams are disengaging. Compared to the massive cooldowns of Blessed Shield on Johanna or Judgement on Tyrael, Stitches can make a fight happen whenever he wants, forcing the other team to play around Hook at all times.
Is there a solution for Stitches? MVP Black’s response has been ultra mobile compositions focused on getting picks. In their game against L5 two weeks ago, they used Tracer and Valla to maneuver around the Stitches and chip down their opponents while relying on Sound Barrier and Sanctification to turn around Gorge plays.
Tassadar and Nazeebo have also been cited as soft counters to Stitches due to their inherent sustain, utility, and walling abilities which prevent Stitches from retreating with Gorge victims.
Chris "EsportsJohn" Meek is a writer for LiquidHeroes who enjoys Taco Bell way more than he should. You can follow him on Twitter or check out his content on YouTube.