Don’t Fear the Rosterpocalypse

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History of the Rosterpocalypse

The release and acquisition periods of the Heroes Global Championship (HGC) is now at an end. Reading Reddit or watching streams will show a crescendo of voices talking about the dreaded ‘Rosterpocalypse’ and the doom it foretells for the affected teams or regions. This is not yet another article about where people landed or the chances for individual teams or regions. Instead I want to focus on what the changes this year mean as they relate to the maturation of the Heroes of the Storm (HotS) competitive scene, specifically because of the HGC. The main contention of this article is that frequent offseason changes shows maturity of the league. I will begin by discussing the the primary reasons roster changes were considered to have negative effects, then discuss the HGC structure and its pressure on roster stability, giving opinions on roster stability and its effect on the game, and providing suggestions to enhance roster stability in the future .

Rosterpocalypse and its History

It is very easy to understand the fear of major roster changes in the competitive eSports scene. The entire industry as a whole is in its infancy and there are very few long standing eSports organizations that are trustworthy or household names. The HotS competitive scene is even younger: while it has had 3 BlizzCon Championships, it has only had one year with a fully structured league.

Prior to the structured HGC league structure, the competitive HotS scene was a hodgepodge of regional leagues, invitationals, and major tournaments. Each of these events were separate entities that did not have the strict roster requirements or organization rules. The prize pools were also very top-heavy which created extreme pressure to be the best in the region or you would not get compensated.

This monetary pressure caused there to be only a few stable organizations in each region; it was not possible for mid-level teams to be financially viable. This decreased the opportunity for scouting and developing new talent and increasing the upper tier teams through scrims and intraregional practice.

The lack of consistent mid-level teams meant it was difficult for high end organizations to be able to locate talented players and bring them onto their rosters. When roster changes happened, they were often made based on comfort level and a limited amount of scouting. This means that any roster changes brought about a high level of variance on what could be expected for each team.

Current HGC Structure

This simple fact is that eSports is a business and in order for teams to continue to participate in the professional scene they have to be able to make a profit. The current HGC creates a viable revenue stream that allows mid-level eSports organization to remain active in the HotS eSports scene.

The league is currently structured so that there are more competitive games over a larger period of time than the prior system. The increased number of games and the increased time period provide three very important things:

  1. Each team in every league has multiple games casted and available for public consumption.
  2. Each team has incentive to put in more practice and scrim time as the league structure covers a longer period of time than the previous structure.
  3. There is a robust semi-pro ‘Open Division’ where many of the games are also casted and available for the public.

In the current league structure, it is now easier for top-tier teams to understand the best way to upgrade their current roster. They have the opportunity over a long period of scrims and professional play to analyze each of their current players strengths and weaknesses. When you add this with the ability to identify potential replacements by reviewing scrim results and broadcasts of other professional games this significantly decreases the risk of bringing in new players for high performing teams.

If you are a team and your roster isn’t working, why keep doing it when there is a healthy body of talent that can be used to upgrade teams throughout the ranks?dorshe1

Roster Stability in the Future

We have already discussed the dangers of the roster changes in the past and provided reasons why the current HGC structure lowers the risk of bringing in a new person on the roster. Now we will focus on what I expect will happen in the future.

The minimum payment structure in the HGC allows mid-level teams to participate, but there is still extreme pressure to perform at the highest levels. The largest rewards in the HGC structure come from winning regional or global tournaments. This puts pressure on the best teams in the regions to strive to get better. Teams that feel that they have plateaued (such as Fnatic this season) have enough player data that they can keep their core players and entice the best mid-level players to join their team. In a league setup like this, one or two top teams making changes will send a domino effect through the rest of the region. The mid-level league teams will likely fight for the scraps that were offloaded from the top-level teams or pull the best players from the lower-level HGC teams. The lower-level HGC teams will likely be scouring the Open Division for players to supplement their rosters to avoid relegation.

The last advantage of the increase in league stability, talent, and scouting, is that teams provide the eSports organizations more power when it comes to roster management. When any roster move could be potentially disastrous and could lead to a team dissolving, it would have to make very difficult choices if they had a mechanically skilled player that didn’t mesh with the team. Now eSport organizations have the opportunity to make changes over multiple seasons to find the right fit.

When it is all said and done, it is likely that every roster release and acquisition phase of the HGC going forward will have some element of the Rosterpocalyse, and that is ok. If you are a team and your roster isn’t working, why keep doing it when there is a healthy body of talent that can be used to upgrade teams throughout the ranks?

Suggestions to Reduce Turnover

The HotS viewer base associates with individuals instead of teams. The first thing that Blizzard needs to do in order to enhance roster turnover is to place an emphasis on organizations rather than players. The 2018 HGC season is a baby step in that direction by requiring each team to funnel all agreements through an organization. The number one thing that Blizzard can do to change the focus to the team is to offer compensation for any team that has a full-time coach. With each team having an organization and a coach behind them it will create stability through the yearly roster changes. Blizzard should strengthen the team mentality by not allowing team name changes during the season. Preferably Blizzard would incentivize the teams to compete under the same name for long periods of time. A longer term goal will be to create exclusive territorial economic zones for each team in the league. That would allow teams to generate revenue from a specific geographic area (city, state, etc…). This setup has proved to be a successful format in the traditional sports and if adapted to eSports can ramp up support, viewership, and revenue for all parties.

My final point is that we will continue to see turnover as long as the HGC continues to be structured on a year-to-year basis. This focus on a single year will also mean the eSports organizations will follow suit by making their contracts for one HGC season. If you want there to be fewer roster changes then HGC will need to step up to the plate and make a commitment to a longer period of time (2 or 3 years), and re-think the relegation system. Organizations today cannot make offers to players for an extended period of time because there is no guarantee that HGC will exist in its current form past the next year. The HotS professional scene has matured from a collection of invitationals and tournaments into a league, but it will not be ready for primetime until there is a commitment from Blizzard that the league will continue in its current form for an extended period of time. Once that commitment is made, eSports organizations will begin to offer longer contracts to their players, causing more roster stability.

Conclusion

It is understandable that the seeing multiple roster changes is a scary proposition given the history of professional HotS. Many people are also used to watching professional sports teams that do not have the same turnover rate that is experience in the eSports realm. As we go through this period we need to adjust our expectations to come in line with the new reality that the pressure for roster changes under the current structure is healthy.

Dorshe1

Nate “dorshe1” Louderback has proved that he can obtain useless scraps of paper with a Masters Degree in Political Science and a Masters in Business Administration. In his day job he is the consummate financial professional, but at night he transforms into a Blizzard fanboi!

He enjoys being an active participant in the amateur Heroes of the Storm scene as an alternate for his team ‘LIT Unknown’ and streams for the Extralife Omaha guild to raise money for the Children’s Hospital in Omaha. If you have ideas for stories or just want to chat, feel free to contact him at dorshe1@trolls.gg or @Nlouderback.