The HGC 2018 season has already delivered a collection of high intensity matches. We’ve seen dramatic 5-game series, upsets galore, the extension of 2017 rivalries, and the creation of brand new ones. 2018 is proving to be another great year for Heroes esports, which is why I’ve started this new article series to honor my favorite game each weekend. I’ll discuss drafts, highlight special moments, and discuss the significance of the game in relation to the season as a whole.
When considering my favorite match each week, it’s important to understand my point of view as an esports fan. While I have my personal favorite teams that I’m rooting for each week (Wubby fan boy right here), my greatest allegiances are tied to the strength of the league as a whole. Nothing gets me pumped more than a tense 5-game series or the chance for an underdog to beat out the top team, even if my favorite team is at risk. I enjoy seeing teams grow and adapt each week, and the progression of the league. I also find it empowering to the average Heroes of the Storm player that any team can beat anyone if they play their best game.
All this to say, while there were some fantastic series this weekend (shoutouts to Fnatic vs Team Liquid, HeroesHearth Esports vs LFM, and Method vs Tricked Esports), my favorite match was Game 3 of Team Dignitas vs Zealots.
Team Dignitas is one of the undisputed titans of the HGC, and have retained that status since its inception. The 2017 season was one intense rivalry between Dignitas and Fnatic, as it seemed like the two teams were a sizeable cut above the rest of the European scene. Each encounter was more dramatic than the last, with Dignitas claiming 1st place in the Phase 1 Western Clash with a 3-2 victory over Fnatic. Fnatic came back with a vengeance in the second half of Phase 1, winning every match in the winner’s bracket of the Mid-Season Brawl to ultimately beat Dignitas 4-3 in one of the greatest Heroes of the Storm series of all time. As BlizzCon 2017 rolled around, the stage was set for Dignitas and Fnatic to have their long anticipated LAN rematch, only to be interrupted by Team Expert’s surprising upset against Dignitas in the quarter-finals.
After the aptly named “rosterpocalypse” post-BlizzCon, Dignitas looked as if it would be the dominant European force. Their first showing at the 2017 Gold Club World Championship would prove that assumption as their last match against Fnatic resulted in a 3-0 victory. Picking up Wubby, without a doubt the greatest solo laner in the world, was a massive upgrade. Fast forward to weeks 1-4 of 2018 HGC Phase 1, and Team Dignitas would only drop a single map in their 3-1 victory over Team Liquid. Going into their Week 5 series against Zealots, they were sitting comfortably with a well-earned 18-1 map record and 6-0 match record.
Zealots is one of the best working examples of the HGC’s Crucible system. Since their successful climb out of the Open Division in 2017, Zealots has rightly earned in their spot competing against the top team in the European HGC. The team ended 2017 Phase 2 in 4th place, formerly under the ownership of Wish esports.
After the 2017 roster swaps, it was hard to gauge whether the losses and acquisitions would net a positive for Zealots. The loss of POILK to Dignitas was certainly a sizeable blow, as he has proved to be one of the most talented ranged assassins in the game. GranPkt moving to Tricked Esports also necessitated a role swap for Shad into the healer position. In return, Zealots picked up two very strong players in adrd and Cris, who in their respective ranged flex and ranged carry positions are some of the most impressive players to watch.
The first four weeks of the 2018 HGC showed mixed results for the Zealots, with tough losses to Method (0-3), Tricked Esports (1-3), and Team Liquid (2-3). They had a close series against Diamond Skin, winning 3-2, and dominated Leftovers in a 3-1 victory. Their most surprising victory would come in a best of 5 series against Fnatic, which gave fans hope for the Zealots’ potential.
With their 3-3 record, the Zealots’ hopes of traveling to Katowice for the Western Clash rested in an upset victory against an undefeated Dignitas. A victory which they would ultimately seize.
I have selected Game 3 for this week’s breakdown for its significance in the grand scheme of the league and its resulting implications on draft and gameplay. After losing this map, Dignitas was behind in map score for the first time in the season. This was also Dignitas’s first showing on Battlefield of Eternity this season, so it was a great to see how they fared.
With their map pick, Zealots elects to take Team Dignitas to Battlefield of Eternity. As previously mentioned, Dignitas had been untested on BoE this season. It is worth mentioning that these teams obviously scrim every map as much as possible, so it is not as if Dignitas is unpracticed at BoE. That said, Zealots may have recognized Dignitas had not been selecting BoE in their previous matches for a reason. They seeked to exploit that in this game. By comparison, Zealots had played on the map 5 times this season with a 60% win rate.
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This first skirmish around the Immortal is a solid metric for identifying the health percentage considered actionable by Dignitas for a hard engage. Mopsio drops to about 40% health, having not received attention from adrd or Shad for some time. Dignitas seizes the opportunity for a kill, taking down Shad in the aftermath. Zaelia executes a great flank on JayPL, but ultimately succumbs to the rest of Dignitas. Zealots will look to improve their rotation of shields and healing in the rest of the match.
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Dignitas commits 5 to the Immortal push, knowing that if Sonya comes back to defend, Wubby can Brushstalker down to get an experience advantage. Wubby stays a little too long, being delayed by Mopsio, which allows Zarmony to trade structure experience. This was great counter-play from Zealots, with the exception of poor communication of Genji and Lucio’s absence on the mini-map. This led to Zarmony staying 2-3 seconds too long and dying Dignitas’s rotation.
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While there is not a lot of action in this clip, this minute of gameplay is critical to keeping Zealots in the series. Zarmony makes sure he is on top of the solo lane soaking to stay on pace with Wubby, which prevents Dignitas from their traditional tactic of running rampant with a 2-3 level lead.
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With Genji showing in the bot lane and Dehaka showing in the top lane, Zealots take the opportunity to pressure a team fight. Wubby misses a critical Isolation and his Drag is blocked by a well-timed Sanctification from Mopsio. Zarmony’s Wrath of the Berserker + Poisoned Spear obliterates Lunara’s health pool. Zaelia’s Sound Barrier is too late to make a difference.
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In this clip, Wubby goes for a nice flank against adrd, but misses the drag. Zaelia rotates to the team but is intercepted by Wubby with an Isolation. This leads to his death and the commitment of a heroic from Tyrael. While it’s impossible for Zarmony to see what we see as the audience, he should have seen this on the minimap or their should have been some communication from Zealots to warn him on his rotation back. If Zealots wants to improve their standing in the second half of Phase 1, this is one area they could look to improve. This was the second instance of poor minimap communication in this game.
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With Zealots Immortal at 600 health, I was surprised when Dignitas backed off when they did. While they wanted 16 before their next fight, most of the heroics from Zealots were on cooldown, namely Sanctification. This gave Zealots a window to trade Immortal damage and secure a double kill, weakening the Immortal push from Dignitas.
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Perhaps having learned a lesson from his minimap mishaps earlier in the match, Zarmony flips the switch and executes a brilliant Sonya combo from behind a wall against POILK, again catching Zaelia too off guard to save her with Sound Barrier.
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With all members up and a healthy Immortal pushing against a fort and keep, Zealots are in a position to easily secure 20 with one push. After noticing Dehaka is counter pushing bot, they use this as more incentive to aggressively push.
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With 20 secured, Zealots can now take a fight to end the game. Wubby’s Isolation was overlapped by JayPL’s Cocoon, which was subsequently burned by Psionic Storm. A well-timed Divine Shield bails Mopsio out from a collapse from Dehaka and Anub’arak. The Tyrael and Tassadar shields continue to compliment the healing and armor from Uther, negating any and all attempts from Snitch to turn the fight with Dragon Blade. Wubby lands a good Drag on Mopsio, but Snitch’s Swift Strike was on cooldown, leaving only Lunara and Anub’arak to follow up. Freed from the Drag, Mopsio activates Sanctification, securing the fight and the game for Zealots.
The HGC is at its best when good drafting and solid gameplay can lead to a victory for any team. Zealots achieved that in this series. While their play was not perfect, Zealots are looking strong as they’ve ever been and have a clear path towards improvement. Due to good match preparation from Zealots, Dignitas not only found themselves playing on maps in this series they’d not played on all season (BoE and Volkskaya), but were also effectively matched in experience throughout.
Dignitas is the type of team to accept defeat in stride, as Snitch lamented, “Throughout the season, I’ve pushed the idea that we don’t want to be a team who slips up or gives up games for no reason. Yesterday, we let both ourselves and the fans down. We will work hard to fix our mistakes for the upcoming Western Clash.” JayPL would go onto praise the Zealots, “Respect them please. I think there is a reason they won against both Fnatic and us.” The sportsmanship and perfectionist mindset showed by Dignitas is a clear case of why they are the best in the league. Losses such as these are important for patching up the loose ends in strategies so that teams can come back stronger for the next match. While I think it is safe to say Dignitas had an off day, Zealots certainly stepped up their game. GG to both teams!