After Cloud9 smashed their way through the competition at BlizzCon in November, they were lauded as the international champions and, for once in esports, we finally had an American team rule the world. But did that make North America the best region overall?
A Short-Lived Reign as Kings
Rewind to the World Championship last year. In Korea, Team No Limit secured a surprise victory over an uncharacteristically terrible MVP Black in the finals of Super League to take their spot at BlizzCon. In terms of skill level, though, most would argue that MVP Black was by and large the better team. From China, the first place team eStar Gaming was unable to secure visas and could not attend. In their stead, the second place Team YL—well below eStar in terms of results—and a mish-mashed group of players from the third and fourth placed teams came to compete. That said, the 2015 Global Championship was definitely missing some of the best teams in the world.
Fast forward to March of this year, and we finally got to see the greatest teams in the world matched up against each other in the Spring Global Championship. We knew Europe and North America had had some hiccups due to a myriad of recent roster swaps and problems with organizations, but no one was prepared for what actually happened: the Asians dominated the competition.
The Top 4 consisted entirely of the Chinese and Korean teams. MVP Black, the titans of the East stomped their opponents and won the Championship without dropping a single game. It was a huge blow to the ego of foreigners who had sat on top of the world just months before, but it got us asking some questions. Just because MVP Black was the best team in the world, did that make Korea the strongest region?
Teamwork: The Great Mantra
It’s easy to look at the scoreboard and announce that Korea and China have surpassed their peers, but it’s a lot harder to break down what led to their success and how other regions have succeeded or struggled.
im so tired of seeing all the posts why KR/CN is better than EU/NA. please stop this nonsense. just stop. most of you have really wrong idea
— bkb (@bkbgrnrjefek) April 6, 2016
Team Naventic’s McIntyre made a recent vlog about his experience in Korea, explaining the differences between Western and Eastern playstyles. One of the things that he harps on is the notion of “skill”. In League of Legends, a player like Faker can nearly solo carry a game through mechanics alone; in Heroes of the Storm, that carry potential is still there but in the form of decision making instead.
Most professional players agree that mechanical skill is about even among the upper echelon, but the biggest differences between the regions lie primarily in teamwork and coordination. Europe and America have fallen behind in recent times due to excessive roster swapping in the past six months, and many teams have found themselves unable to work together properly. However, the stable rosters of Chinese and Korean teams have proven their ability to work together with terrifyingly precise snap decision making—when someone decides to fight, the entire team responds instantly to destroy an enemy Hero in seconds.
Getting Ahead of the Meta
Another common discussion we have about regional differences is often on the subject of the metagame. Who understands the current metagame best? Who has figured out how to play the latest patch?
This ingenuity is typically reflected in drafting strategies and how players decide to build Heroes. Since the requirements for mechanical skill are fairly low in Heroes of the Storm, a lot of work goes instead into planning and drafting. In fact, pro players will outright admit that you can win during draft. For this reason, being “ahead of the meta” is a huge asset for teams looking to make their mark.
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Europe is most often hailed as the oracle for future play. The European teams aren’t afraid to deviate from their normal play and experiment, and they seem to have a knack for recognizing what will be powerful ahead of time. When Cleanse was changed and Stitches received some buffs, Europe was already playing him. When Greymane was considered “bad”, Europe had already realized his potential. Even Falstad, who has become a staple of competitive play, was first brought back into the metagame by European teams after almost a full year of absence.
Top-Down Pyramid: The Grassroots Issue
Nonetheless, China and Korea do suffer from one glaring weakness: most of the talent is collected at the top. eStar and MVP Black are far and away the best in their respective regions based on results, and they generally wipe the floor with their opponents in regional tournaments. While it’s great to have superstar teams, the correspondingly weaker teams offer little competition and very lackluster games.
In an interview after the Global Championship, MVP Black’s ranged carry player Sake was asked about the strength of each region. Contrary to the cocky attitude you might expect from a world champion, Sake was cognizant of the region’s weaknesses and willing to admit that the lesser teams in Korea needed some help.
”I think Korea is pretty good if we look at the top few teams, but I think we are still quite behind when we look at the region as a whole. When it comes to average strength, I think it’s EU > NA=CN > KR.”
New players bring new ideas and perspectives into the scene. Regions that lack this diversity of perspective and strategic thinking tend to get stale in strategies and often have a harder time adjusting to new patches. In fact, the reason why Europe is usually ahead in the metagame is because they have so many top notch players who can weigh in on the effects of a patch or changes to a Hero.
It wasn’t always like that. In 2015, North America and Europe faced similar problems. Team Liquid and Natus Vincere ruled Europe while Tempo Storm and Cloud9 (metaphorically) laughed in the face of mid tier teams. There was a rise in mid tier teams in late 2015 as roster swaps between well-established teams began, and some surprisingly good rookie teams emerged in early 2016. The top teams are no longer god tier in comparison to the third and fourth place teams, and great new players are being discovered and invited to the best teams every week.
These are all attributes important to the success of a region. Nonetheless, the competition moves forward and everyone’s mind is already on the Summer Global Championship, with qualifiers for North America and Europe as well as China’s Gold League already underway.
Whatever happened in the Spring season is over; the next few months are an opportunity for each region to prove they have what it takes to be considered the best. A champion doesn’t remain a champion by wearing an old crown.