What We Learned
from the Western Clash
Written by: Larkin
HGC Bracket and schedules on LiquipediaThe last fires of competition have burned out in Katowice, heralding a new champion and leaving behind the ashes of an extraordinary event. After three days, Team Dignitas emerged from some of the most intense competition in professional Heroes of the Storm history as the number one team in the West by overcoming the dogged challenge of Zealots 4-3 in the final. Dignitas was the undisputed favorite going in to the event, but over those three days, we’ve learned a few key things about where the game is going in terms of teams and the metagame.
Maiev and Blaze were incredibly impactful
It’s incredibly interesting to think about how different this event might have been if it were held in the beginning of February instead of March. The two newest additions to the Nexus, Blaze and Maiev, were hugely influential.
Maiev alone achieved a 100% popularity rate. In the 40% of the games she wasn’t banned, she scored a 67% win rate. Considering her pre-nerf state, it’s no surprise that she’s still highly prioritized. Tons of crowd control, mobility, and damage make Maiev a force to be reckoned with, and the effect she had on games was undeniable.
In the warrior department, Blaze rocketed into first place with a pick rate of 75% (93% overall involvement rate) and a solid 58% win rate. His popularity stemmed from the combination of his powerful base kit—a potential AoE stun, slows, self sustain and waveclear—combined with the use of Bunker. On a comparatively low cooldown, Bunker’s save potential from single target damage such as Pulse Bomb or Dragonblade allowed teams to push even more aggressively than normal. The ability for Blaze to work in rotations and well as handle the solo lane also meant that he had a crucial impact in all phases of the game.
Classic supports are still great
The support meta at the Western Clash went full old school. Despite being among the oldest heroes in the Nexus, Uther, Malfurion and Rehgar were the top supports by far. Alexstrasza, Ana, Auriel, and Lt. Morales were nowhere to be seen, and some of the support staples from only a few months ago like Brightwing, Lucio, and Kharazim were a rare sight. Stukov, as an outlier, was picked 19 times in total—13 of those by Zealots, who also only had the only wins due to Shad’s prowess on the hero.
Despite ostensibly being opposites in terms of their healing styles, Uther and Malfurion share similarities in usage that have led to their dominating popularity over other supports. They both have a hard crowd control tool that can be use for peel or initiation as well as Cleanse-like abilities to save allies in stunlock. Added to the insane healing throughput, self-protection abilities, and game-changing heroics of both heroes, it’s no surprise that they’ve risen to the top. No other support has such a versatile kit. Rehgar’s popularity was perhaps more unexpected, but the value of Cleanse and Ancestral combined with decent waveclear was still more than most other supports offered. He was also a good alternative when Malfurion or Uther were banned or taken.
Overall, both Uther and Malf ended the tournament with 50% win rates, indicating a reasonably healthy spot for support balance. It’s likely that Eastern teams will spice the support meta up a bit with more Kharazim play, but the rest of the supports are still largely out of reach at the moment. It remains to be seen if the recent changes to Ana will encourage more play, but it’s clear that Auriel will need some changes in order to become competitively viable again.
North America is...not that bad?
North America has not taken a single series off Europe since April 2016. Yes, you read that correctly. So it’s honestly a shock that North America not only took maps but even dominated some matchups. There were a few maps in the opening round where European teams looked thoroughly outclassed by their North American counterparts. Tempo Storm and Team Twelve often dictated the pace of the game, and after forcing mistakes out of their opponents, successfully capitalized on those mistakes. NA showed that they were not by any means behind in the meta and altogether looked far more lethal than they have in years.
Tempo Storm were undoubtedly the best-performing team. Despite falling to Zealots in the losers bracket rematch trying to make Kerrigan drafts work, they beat Zealots and Fnatic decisively on their road to third place. HeroesHearth and Team Twelve can take a lot of positives away from the tournament as well. It was really only Team Freedom that fell flat in competition with their brothers across the pond.
The NA teams bring a lot of passion and energy to live matches—Glaurung and Psalm could be heard in the background of the entire broadcast. Europe is still a cut above NA, but with so much uncertainty surrounding the Korean and Chinese teams, North America might have a very real shot at competing for a top four spot at the Mid-Season Brawl.
Zealots are the real deal
Like Team expert last season, Zealots are the EU wildcard that have the potential to comfortably beat any other team in the region on a good day. In Week 5, Zealots emphatically put a stop to Team Dignitas’ tear through the regular season play and became the only team to beat them in a series—and beat them with apparent ease.
Team expert never lived up to their potential in live events last season, but it appears that Zealots might. The brains of expert, the mad scientist adrd, set sail to Zealots. Along with other arrivals, he transformed them into a unit capable of challenging the best of the best. At the Western Clash, adrd played a somewhat limited pool with a lot of Abathur and an unusually high amount of Tassadar. He also deployed his legendary Medivh when he had the opportunity as well as a mean Chromie in the finals. He has been thoroughly enjoying the reworked Medivh in EU Hero League as of late, so we’ll definitely continue to see him on his signature hero.
But the real shining stars were the flex-turned-support veteran Shad and free-from-Valla-prison Cris. Shad’s support play was world class all tournament long, and he alone demonstrated the immense power of Stukov’s Virulent Reaction talent at level 13, which roots targets in Lurking Arm if they have a Weighted Pustule detonated on them. No other player at the event was able to manage a win with Stukov, proving that it is only Shad who has truly mastered him. Cris meanwhile showed exemplary Tracer play and showed off a fine Lunara and Greymane.
The variety of drafts and the level of coordination on Zealots only improved as the tournament went on, and if they can work out some questionable drafts—like the Abathur composition they ran on Tomb of the Spider Queen—they can get even better, which is scary news for the rest of the competition.
There's a lot of potential in Europe
An esports Cinderella story emerged at the Clash. Fnatic team captain Quackniix had to miss out on the Clash due to illness, so the team went with a substitute that they had only run a few scrim games with before. SonicLeBeast, a notable player from the EU Open Division and a Hero League ladder star holding #1 last season, seemed to fit right in with Fnatic from the start. Formerly a high level Nova player, Sonic recently adapted to playing a more serious hero pool and established some ridiculous win rates on high impact assassins like Genji and Li-Ming. Fortunately, he fit into Quackniix’s role perfectly and was an integral part of Fnatic’s wins.
Sonic’s first game on stage was exemplary. Playing Jaina on Braxis Holdout, he landed huge combos and secured important kills for a comfortable win. His confidence only grew as the games went on, and he was seldom seen without a smile. Who knows what Sonic will do with his newfound spotlight, but perhaps a taste of professional grade action will make him reconsider a career as a Heroes of the Storm pro.
Though Fnatic wasn’t running on full power, they were still a frightening team. Fnatic will likely be getting even scarier in preparation for the Mid-Season Brawl, as will Team Method, who were undoubtedly disappointed to be the only EU team to be knocked out by NA—the first instance of this in almost two years. With other EU premier teams like Tricked, Diamond Skin, and Team Liquid looking on waiting in the wings alongside open division teams with players like Sonic, the future looks bright for competition in Europe.
This was the HGC at its finest
We’ve seen some great tournaments over the years, and this Western Clash was right up there. The decision to turn it into an exclusive North America vs Europe competition proved to be a good one. There were no clear underdogs from minor regions, and NA rose to the challenge and in some cases outperformed EU. The meta led to high intensity action which made for some incredible entertainment, and the finals was one of the closest and best we’ve seen in the game’s history. With the Eastern Clash and several more weeks of regular season play before the Mid-Season Brawl to come, we can look forward to more top quality entertainment for months on end.
- The hero diversity in this tournament was very low with 32 heroes going unpicked. That’s kind of sad, and hopefully the Mid-Season Brawl will see a bit more diversity.
- The average game length was only 18:25 compared to the 20:00 or so of other tournaments. The short game times are indicative of how quickly teams are using an advantage to create game-ending situations.
- Towers of Doom was the most popular map, though, due in no small part to how strong NA feels on it. This led to some really great long games. On the other hand, Braxis was only played a single time. Volskaya is much more interesting now that the Protector actually does something impactful, and it's starting to look like a much better map than Warhead.
- The Oracle behind the scenes videos are great. The clips of the teams running around with the giant flags were a bit too cringey, though.
- Seeing how passionate Mopsio was and how he clearly gave everything to trying to win may well have earned him a few fans. Given his reputation for doing the opposite in Hero League, that’s quite a strange thing to say.
- Vandie did an admirable job for a first appearance on the international stage. She led the casters with impeccable fashion sense too.
- 3rd ban when?