Rozai’s HGC Game of the Week: SSG vs TF Game 1 (Phase 1 Week 4)

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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 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 game 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, 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 HHE vs SIM and TT vs TF), my favorite match is Game 1 of SpaceStation Gaming vs Team Freedom.

BACKGROUND

After their stellar 2017 Phase 2 performance which qualified them for BlizzCon, Team Freedom came into HGC 2018 as one of the top contenders in the league. They have certainly lived up to the hype, with decisive victories over Gale Force Esports, HeroesHearth Esports, and LFM Esports. Their closest series to this point was their nail-biter versus Tempo Storm ending in a 3-2 in favor of Team Freedom. With a 4-0 series record and a commanding 12-4 game record, Team Freedom earned their spot as the number one team in weeks 1-3.

SpaceStation Gaming, on the other hand, had experienced a rough start to the 2018 HGC. While the team made tangible upgrades to their roster with the additions of Jschritte and Tomster, the team had yet to settle into a rhythm that achieved results in the league. Their first series resulted in a 3-1 win over LFM esports, a team still adapting to the rigorous upgrade from Open Division. Since then, SSG suffered crippling defeats at the hands of Simplicity, HeroesHearth, GaleForce, and Tempo Storm. Nothing breaks the honeymoon phase of a new team like a losing streak, which sowed enough doubt to pressure Casanova and Equinox into a temporary role swap that showed no tangible improvements for the team.

This brings us to Week 4, a clash between two teams with completely inverted levels of confidence and morale. One team in control of their destiny versus a team with nothing to lose.

THE DRAFT

Link to the full game: https://www.twitch.tv/videos/227471845

With their first map pick, SpaceStation elects to take Team Freedom to Cursed Hollow. Both teams were relatively untested so far on this map in 2018, with SSG only playing two games and a 50% win rate, and TF having won their only game on the map against GFE. SpaceStation’s victory over LFM on this map involved the usage of The Lost Vikings and Illidan against Dehaka and Abathur, battling for coordinated global play. It is unlikely that would work against Team Freedom, who show a remarkable understanding of rotations and macro play.

1st Ban

E.T.C.

(Click the card to see draft discussion on the flip side)

1st Ban- E.T.C.

ETC is Team Freedom’s most popular 1st ban choice, and rightly so for this map. By removing ETC, Team Freedom wipes out a viable option for strong team fighting and global control, both aspects which SpaceStation is looking to find an angle in. Furthermore, ETC is a strong comfort pick for Equinox, so this helps control his hero pool.

2nd Ban

Abathur

2nd Ban- Abathur

Whether in the hands of YoDa or Nazmas, Team Freedom has shown expert usage of Abathur. They often pair him with a strong Lutano carry like Greymane or Genji, as well as a strong solo laner like Leoric. This allows them to dominate each lane as well as the macro game. This ban made a lot of sense for this map and opponent.

1st Pick

Tyrael (1)

1st Pick- Tyrael

The popularity of new Tyrael showed this weekend, as Team Freedom prioritized him so highly that they diverged from their normal routine of first-picking a Lutano hero. While it may have been surprising in the moment, the logic stands for this map where boss control is key. Tyrael also enables the heroes Team Freedom typically likes to run, such as Greymane and Hanzo. SpaceStation has not won a single game with Tyrael, however, so perhaps the priority could have been somewhat adjusted.

2nd Pick

Anub'arak (1) & Dehaka (2)

2nd Pick- Anub'arak & Dehaka

SpaceStation’s mission is laid out in these two picks. They know how strong Team Freedom’s macro play is, so they grab the Dehaka and attempt to stay on pace. If they can leverage their global effectively, they will aim to win by going all in on the team fight. Anub’arak provides great control and reliability in this area. We will also see that Equinox's Anub’arak was on point in this series, especially when Tomster was there to bail him out.

3rd Pick

Greymane (2) & Malthael (3)

3rd Pick- Greymane & Malthael

Though facing the Cocoon from Anub’arak as direct counter to Tormented Souls, Team Freedom feel that Tyrael's enhancements of Greymane and Malthael would outweigh the risk. The timings of Sanctification and Cocoon would play a lot into this game. All the same, Nazmas’s Malthael is always impressive.

3rd Ban

Arthas

3rd Ban- Arthas

In both Cursed Hollow games played by SSG up to this point, they ran Illidan and once with a Kharazim double support. While the Kharazim was less likely, banning Arthas certainly opened the door take either or both.

4th Ban

Illidan

4th Ban- Illidan

Recognizing a trend, Team Freedom banned the most likely pick to follow SSG’s ban. Team Freedom’s first three picks lacked in the way of CC, leaving too much wiggle room for a skilled Illidan.

4th Pick

Uther (3) & Genji (4)

4th Pick- Uther & Genji

Taking Uther both enables SSG’s lockdown and all-in composition and denies the pick from Team Freedom who would have had two sets of invulnerability for their Greymane and Malthael. This also limits the amount of CC healers available to Team Freedom, who are already lacking in that department. With the road clear of CC, SSG locks in Genji. Casanova can harass without fear of lockdown and have the added security of a Divine Shield.

5th Pick

Kharazim (4) & Tychus (5)

5th Pick- Kharazim & Tychus

As a Kharazim fanboy, I always enjoy watching KzN play his strongest support. To this point he was enjoying a 5-0 record on the hero. While Kharazim surely benefits from the support of Tyrael and serves as a great dive partner with Greymane, I do wonder if Team Freedom missed out on opportunities in these last picks. They could have opted to grab some semblance of CC or layer on more dive and Dragon Blade protection with a Sound Barrier from Lucio. Team Freedom was likely more concerned with the sheer amount of CC on the side of SSG and felt that the multiple Cleanses provided by Kharazim in the late game would benefit them more. It’s certainly a viable concern, and Kharazim is a solid pick up in this scenario. However, SSG realizes the opening provided to them and adjusts accordingly in their final pick.

6th Pick

Cassia (5)

6th Pick- Cassia

Cassia was the perfect ending to this draft for SSG. With no CC to lock her down, Cassia will be able to move uninhibited and maintain her Avoidance while providing anti-dive/anti-melee counter measures in the form of Blinding Light, Charged Strikes, and Ball Lightning.

GAME HIGHLIGHTS

With the strong jungling on the side of Team Freedom, SpaceStation Gaming knew they needed to invade on Team Freedom as much as possible, allowing their greater CC to give them early game control. They were late on a rotation to Team Freedom’s Siege Giant camp at 1:30, but manned up for a successful 4-man invasion on the Knight camp. Dehaka’s Enhanced Agility allowed him to get back to top lane in time to grab the exp soak, making this invasion a net positive.

Zugrug executed a skillful save for YoDa’s Greymane in this clip, which turned into a really cool usage of Wraith Strike from Nazmas to body block Casanova’s Genji into a choke point. This was timed well for the spawning tribute in bot lane, however SpaceStation was able to holdout long enough for Casanova to come back and they were able to take the tribute.

With the curse point about to spawn in the bot lane, SpaceStation looks to catch Nazmas on the rotation down.  As they rotate up, they realize that Nazmas is overextended in the lane, and they make the gank attempt. They were able to bait out a Tormented Souls from Nazmas, who showed little hopes of surviving against a 4-man and 3 levels of CC. This was a misplay from Nazmas, who pushed too far in lane with no vision of SpaceStation. Dropping Tormented Souls also traded a 100 second cooldown for no heroics on the side of SpaceStation, which played heavily into Team Freedom’s ability to contest both the tribute and the boss shortly after.

As mentioned in the previous clip, Nazmas’s lacking of Tormented Souls would come back to bite Team Freedom. Voluntarily giving up the curse, Team Freedom looks to take advantage of the situation and snag their boss. SpaceStation sniffs this out and commits to a full invasion. It’s easy to look at this fight, particularly if you’re in Twitch chat, and marvel (or complain) at the Genji play from Casanova. While it was certainly impressive, the main players of this fight have to be Equinox and Jschritte. Following a Cocoon on Tyrael, a two-man Burrow Charge plus Impale completely locked down Tychus and Kharazim. This allowed Jschritte to unload a full Charged Strikes and Flash of Light combo that annihilated Tychus’s health pool before Sanctification could be activated. This provided the environment for Genji to clean up the rest of Team Freedom. SpaceStation proceeded to take the boss, two forts, and a two-level lead.

This is one of my favorite moments of the game. With a keep down and a two-level deficit, Team Freedom knows they need to turn the tables on SpaceStation. SSG has been rewarded for all of their invades to this point, so Team Freedom wants to be the initiator. Sometimes the best play is to do nothing, so they wait together in a bush. While this is expected behavior from a top-tier team like Team Freedom, the response from SpaceStation is impressive. Patience is key.

Despite the exclamations of Twitch chat, this fight was a not a throw by SpaceStation, but rather a great adaptation from Team Freedom, who habitually show late game adaptations against their opponents. Team Freedom are the initiators of the fight for the first time in this game, flanking Equinox and diving into SSG. This causes a late Cocoon which is immediately Cleansed by KzN and places the ability on full cooldown. Team Freedom is finally able to get off a successful Sanctification and Tormented Souls combo, eliminating the CC threat from SSG and completely turning the fight in their favor.

When the final fight initiated, I wasn’t sure if SpaceStation would continue after their initial engage attempts from Dehaka and Anub’arak failed. Equinox’s sure-fire aggression is ultimately what won them this game and this series, as we would come to find out. Immediately after KzN uses a dash to Cleanse Greymane and attack Anub’arak, Equinox drops the Cocoon onto Malthael during his Tormented Souls. Jschritte throws out Infinite Lightning, which continues through the visual clutter of Sanctification. Team Freedom immediately fans out once Sanctification ends, but the Infinite Lightning bounces between Zugrug, YoDa, and Nazmas 12 times too many. With the team whittled down, Casanova comes in with the Dragon Blade to clean up. Again, Cassia and Anub’arak provided the means for Genji to shine, though I will say the upcoming CDR nerf to The Dragon Becomes Me is more than welcomed. This was the nail in the coffin for Team Freedom, as SpaceStation marched on to the core.

CONCLUSION

This first game set the tone for the rest of a mind-blowing series in which a team like SpaceStation Gaming, who were suffering in the shadow of self-doubt, were able to take down the number one team in NA. There were a handful of great plays in the following games (check out Equinox and Jschritte in Game 2), but I feel that Game 1 stands out above the rest in what it means for SpaceStation Gaming and the league as a whole. HGC NA is in a healthy place and I look forward to what the rest of Phase 1 has in store.

Russell (Rozai) Greene is a composer, arranger, and music educator with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music education. He is the flex player and captain for the amateur Heroes of the Storm team Lords of the Exodar. An avid watcher of the HGC, Rozai’s articles for Trolls.GG include guides, HGC coverage, and the popular Music of the Storm segments.