Hanzo's Hold on HGC
Written by: Midseasons
HGC Bracket and schedules on Liquipedia
HGC 2018 began on a Friday, and by noon on Saturday, one hero had already defined the meta in North America, Europe, and South Korea, and looked poised to conquer China as well.
Hanzo Shimada’s influence on drafts was inescapable this weekend, holding a global 92% involvement rate according to MasterLeague.net. Genji and Greymane, both of whom have already proven themselves as long-term draft staples, were the only heroes to exceed Hanzo’s participation.
Hanzo’s popularity is reminiscent of Genji’s success in 2017. The previous Shimada brother has been a fixture of drafts since his release, and even now surpasses Hanzo’s involvement rate with a full 100%. But while Genji has been game-defining, his win rate has always hovered near the the 50% line. This is where Hanzo truly stands out. Many heroes drop in win rate when they rise too high in draft priority and invite counters, but Hanzo’s win rate cracks the 60% mark, a striking accomplishment given the number of games so far.
From One Draft, Know Ten Thousand Drafts
Hanzo’s relationship with the meta is reciprocal. His popularity defines the current draft atmosphere, but the meta that was already in place gave Hanzo an environment to thrive. Even in games where Hanzo is banned, the game’s current state is friendly towards long-ranged spell-damage assassins. Jaina is the name coming up the most often in social media right now, but Kel’thuzad, Kael’thas, Chromie, and Gul’dan all made appearances this first week as well. Hanzo may not share the same mage hero fantasy, but he still fits into this category as the best in this class. The other mages each have some quality about them that pushes them toward a niche, but Hanzo on the other hand is an outstanding generalist.
Heroes like Greymane or E.T.C. remain popular over long periods of time because they contribute to any composition. Picking them early in draft doesn’t commit the team to any particular strategy and still leaves room to pivot and adjust to the opponent’s draft. Like them, Hanzo has the right mix of mobility, burst, and sustained damage to adapt to any situation.
When Hanzo’s own damage isn’t enough, his kit grants easy access to armor reduction without long cooldowns, a force-multiplier that enhances the effectiveness of the entire team. Hanzo’s main weakness is his low health pool, but even that fits comfortably into the present metagame, allowing the current most popular supports—Lúcio, Malfurion, and Rehgar—to heal Hanzo without expending too many resources.
Defeating the Dragon
We can’t know what future changes might bring, but we can look at the ongoing HGC results to see if Hanzo has any natural predators in the current Heroes ecosystem. Hanzo’s trait gives him a strong escape after engage, so heroes like Anub’arak or Dehaka that can control or match his mobility have countered him most effectively.
Malthael stands out the most as a hero who already has favorable matchups. Master League lists Malthael’s win rate this patch at a dominant 70%, and that number rises to 80% against Hanzo specifically. Malthael’s success would suggest a return to dive strategies to deal with Hanzo and brings to mind another dive-focused angel. However, while Tyrael is performing well overall, his win rate against Hanzo is an abysmal 27%. That sample size is still very small after only one week of play, but traditional dive may not be the answer to Hanzo after all. Dive heroes always carry a certain amount of risk, and Hanzo’s ability to pressure them with negative armor increases that vulnerability. Malthael’s self-sustain and ability to escape his own dives may be the manifestation of specific strengths rather than a glimpse into the upcoming meta.
Less predictably, Uther is performing equally well against Hanzo. Western audiences are focused on Lúcio and Malfurion, and the need to ban a Shimada in the first wave means teams can easily grab their preferred support. His involvement in Western drafts is quite low with only ten games combined for North America and Europe, but of those ten games, he won eight.
The eastern regions have been focusing on Uther more, especially Korea. In the Mecca of esports, he has a 76% pick rate and 81% win rate. Uther has traditionally done well against Genji with his stun and clutch saves, and he brings those same tools to the matchup against Hanzo. Expect to see him become more popular globally in the coming weeks as more teams notice his success.
Given how long Greymane and Genji have stayed in the meta, it’s entirely possible Hanzo will remain a fixture as well. Unless something changes that greatly affects Hanzo’s adaptability, it may be quite a while before the dragon is sated.
Whatever becomes of Hanzo, an interesting element of his rise is how easily it could have been missed. Some heroes enter the Nexus with immediate dramatic impact, the Li-Mings and the Malthaels. Some are outright disappointing and never find their way into competitive play. Others are like Cassia, launching quietly and with little fanfare, fitting into the game like they were always there. Hanzo was much more the latter, unremarkable in his own right and released during a period without any esports. It’s only with the Blaze patch that he received the buffs at play here.
The broadcast schedule for HGC happened to line up perfectly for Hanzo’s spotlight. Whether or not Hanzo stays strong, the lesson we should remember from him is that we cannot always guess the impact a hero will have from their launch. With each path, those launch trajectories can suddenly alter their paths and scatter in new directions.
Fern "Midseasons" Rojas is a Los Angeles-based writer who struggles with a consistent sleep schedule. He was convinced to buy Overwatch thanks to the "Dragons" short. You can follow Fern on Twitter to get live reactions to HGC and Overwatch League.