This is part 1 of a Blizzcon series I'm writing as we begin to really think about what we just witnessed. Part 2, what went wrong for EU, will come later this weekend.
And now, here’s the part where I alienate everyone with my first real article. So, before I begin, let me say that I love NA, I cheer for NA, I want NA to do well. I follow the teams, the players, the casters, and I really just want everyone in NA to do well. I have talked with some of them, I like them, I really do. Please, do not think this is a “NA LOL” post.
North American Teams Overachieved at BlizzCon
Nothing went wrong for NA at Blizzcon. So much went right, NA fans should be dancing in the streets!
Almost no one had all three NA teams going through to the quarter finals. I did. But, look at what happened.
In Group A, Tempo Storm lost 2-0 to CE, dropped down, and had to beat CE 2-0 to get out of the group in the deciders’ match. A team that had their number, Tempo Storm solved that puzzle, avoided having to show anything to MVP Black, and got out of the first group. I’m not saying that Tempo Storm threw that first match. They didn’t. That would be silly. That said, even when they were Murloc Geniuses, they were the kings of “You can’t beat us twice.”
In Group B, Team Freedom took their first match, and even managed to get a game off of FNATIC! They cruised in the deciders’ match. An NA team getting that win off of FNATIC just shows how much Team Freedom grew in 2017, from starting in the basement in phase 1 part 1 with then No Tomorrow and then Naventic. Now, Team Freedom looks like they are becoming very serious contenders.
In Group C, the group of death, Roll20 took down the Summer 2016 Global champions in Tempest, a match that almost no one thought they could win. What’s more, they did it in a 2-0 sweep.
Looking at these results in the group stage, each of the NA teams did better than past international events would have us believe. In truth, NA is on the upswing. NA is competitive against EU and Korea, still not beating them, but the matches are not (all) stomps. NA has, at this point, passed China as the #3 region. Going forward, NA has a lot going for it, and these three teams should make a huge splash in 2018.
NA teams lost in the quarterfinals to 1) the eventual winners, MVP Black, 2) the runners up, FNATIC, and 3) last year’s champs, Ballistix. Those aren’t bad results. They beat everyone else!
So, why do people think something went wrong, well… here’s where I get in trouble.
The Problem Is Cloud9… and Our Nostalgia
It’s hard to believe that so many people look at 2015 and think “back in the day,” but back in the day, Cloud9 made believers of us all. They took all of 2015 to figure out Tempo Storm, finally overtaking them. They cruised through the group stage at BlizzCon 2015, beat the Korean Team DK with Murky in the Semis, and took Dignitas down in a sweep in the finals.
We couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it. I was swept up! I watched those matches and had an amazing time. I still get excited hearing Babael call out “MURKY” when C9 drafts him!
Now, Cloud9 won in 2015. It’s legit. I’m not here to take that away.
In 2015, Korea only had one representative at Blizzcon. NA got two, China got two, EU got two, Taiwan got one, Korea got one. That’s right: in 2015, Korea got the same representation that a minor region gets in the current HGC.
Also, in 2015, MVP Black was on a tear. At MSI in August, MVP Black destroyed Tempo Storm 3-0, and TS had already destroyed Cloud9 2-0. The problem was that MVP Black did not go to Blizzcon because earlier in August, Team DK, in a shocker, upset MVP Black 4-2. Because Korea only got one spot, the best team in the world didn’t go to Blizzcon. You only need to look at the tournament results in August, September, and October, to see what a travesty that was.
Cloud9 won in 2015, and American eSports fans thought they were the best team in the world. The subsequent failure of NA at the Spring, Summer, and Fall globals in 2016, being destroyed in international competition in 2017 until BlizzCon, made us all pine for the time, back in the day, when Cloud9 was the best.
But they weren’t.
They were the best in a bad system that kept the best team out of the global championship. MVP Black would go on to an historic win streak in which they would not drop a map for months.
In the end, Cloud9 was run out of competitive Heroes of the Storm by Brain Power, the former members of COGnitive Gaming, plus Srey, after Cloud9 had poached Cattlepiller.
Our expectations for NA are based on our memories of 2015. And in those memories, we forget the details. This is why everyone was so happy that all three NA teams made it out, and why the crowd went silent after Roll 20 lost to Ballistix.
Even though Roll20 took Ballistix to the limit, having last year’s champs on the ropes after game 1. It wasn’t enough.
So, How Does NA Get Better?
By doing what they have been doing all year. The formation of HGC gave NA the stability it needed. Frankly, NA fans should be furious with Cloud9. Their choice to dump their roster less than a year after winning a world championship, sent a clear message to other eSports orgs: don’t invest in Heroes of the Storm. North American Teams (as well as Korean and European teams), continue to struggle to attract the big name orgs. HGC made that not matter when they decided to pay players a $20K per year salary for being in the league. It’s not a lot, but it means players can actually live off of this.
Also, Blizzard taking control meant there were not endless roster swaps. Rosterpocalypse was a constant after each global in 2016. Now, you can’t do that. There are rules, and Blizzard has improved those rules after each Phase of HGC this year. The latest rule, taking the choice out of players hands on who stays and who goes on a team, and insisting that teams have an owner behind them to make decisions like that is going to make this more like a job, and that’s good for the scene and good for players. So, owners and not orgs. If you are confused by the distinction, so are we all.
Edit notes: A lot of this information has changed since I wrote it. It does reflect what was correct at the time of publication. I will do a full overview of what happened with the Rosterpocalypse to end all Rosterpocalypses in Novermber, 2017, once the dust settles.
NA teams are in a good spot. Team Freedom is poised to be a major player in 2018. Kure, and I said this before and during Blizzcon, is the future best player in the world. Tempo Storm may still have a difficult choice to make, but I don’t know what it is. Roll 20 has already parted ways with Prismaticism, and is looking for a range player to be an upgrade.
GFE will be helped by Michael Udall’s retirement (I’m not saying he’s bad. He’s not. But they couldn’t cut him without a major backlash), which opens up a lot of options for who to bring in. Hopefully, they learned a lot from their collapse down the stretch in Phase 2.
SpaceStation Gaming looks very strong, and already made major roster moves dropping Tiger JK and Talking Trees. Heroes Hearth is promising, but untested. Superstars and Lag Force have a lot of work to do.
NA looks ready to challenge. Instead of asking what went wrong, we should adjust our expectations, and see how much our North American teams grew this year. EU and Korea are on notice. 2018 will see a North American team emerge as a legit global contender for the first time in three years.
Edit Notes: So, a few readers were kind enough to offer up some corrections! Thank you! Mistakes are going to happen, and while I will do my best to always get things right, I am human and errors will slip by me and our amazing editor, Daz. So, corrections have been made. Thank you all for contributing! Please keep me honest!